Sir Mackenzie Bowell was born in England, but emigrated to Canada at the age of nine. He began work as a printer at the Belleville Intelligencer and ended up owning the newspaper.
Before Confederation in 1867, he was an Ensign with the Belleville Rifle Company, and afterwards, he joined the 49th Hastings Battalion, where he achieved the rank of Major. He also held a teaching certificate.
Bowell was an "Orangeman," a member of the Orange Order of British North America; indeed, he held the rank of Grandmaster in this organization.
Sir Mackenzie Bowell was Prime Minister of Canada between 1893 and 1896. He was nearly 71 years old when he took office, and he came to grief over the Manitoba Schools Question, which developed into crisis of considerable proportions.
The province of Manitoba had abolished public funding for Catholic schools in 1890. Subsequently the Supreme Court of Canada overturned this decision, pitting French Catholics against English Protestants, and the government of Manitoba against the federal government.
Bowell was leading the country from the Senate, so could not participate in debates in the Commons, and his cabinet was also divided along Catholic-Protestant lines. A staunch Protestant himself, Bowell supported legislation that would force Manitoba to reinstate funding for Catholic schools; however, his delays and indecisiveness was considered unacceptable by his own ministers, several of whom resigned in order to force him to step down.
Bowell was replaced by Sir Charles Tupper.