The son of a Methodist minister, Pearson grew up in Newtonbrook, Ontario and earned his diplomatic stripes with postings in wartime Washington and London. By the end of the Second World War, Pearson and the rest of the world faced a new diplomatic challenge, as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union emerged.
The chill between the two superpowers left little room for Canada to have a voice in international relations. Now the External Affairs Minister in the Liberal cabinet of Louis St. Laurent, Pearson believed Canada could be an independent force for international peace and goodwill. But as the Cold War locked Canada into the American orbit, Lester Pearson feared his dream was threatened.
"We are constantly faced with the problem of trying to influence United States policy in a manner which will protect our own interests and our conception of what is good for the world, but which will not involve us in public quarrels with a great and friendly neighbour."
But in the mid-1950s events would unfold in the Middle East that finally gave Pearson a chance to realize his vision for Canada's place in the new world order.
In the post-war world, Egypt was growing closer to the Moscow and accepting Soviet arms.
In the summer of 1956, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal, a critical shipping route, which was run by French and British interests. Nasser had acted in response to the two countries withdrawing foreign investment funds to build a dam on the Nile River.
In October, despite American opposition, Britain and France, together with Israel launched attacks on Egypt. Nasser appealed to Soviet leader Khrushchev, who threatened to shower the west with nuclear weapons if the British and French didn't withdraw.
The world appeared to be on the brink of war.
At the United Nations, Pearson proposed a striking solution. The plan called for the British and French to withdraw but would allow for a United Nations