Sir John A. Macdonald

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, though born in Scotland in 1815, was the first Prime Minister of Canada. He travelled to Canada with his parents when he was five years old, and the family settled in Kingston.

Macdonald grew up in Kingston and the surrounding counties, (the family using various towing services each time they moved), grammar school and then private school, where he received excellent education in such traditionally important subjects as Latin, Greek, rhetoric, and grammar.

After articling in Kingston for a few years (and managing a branch by himself), he opened his own law office at the age of 19. He became even better known as a lawyer when he defended accused rebels of the Upper Canada rebellion, such as Nils von Schoultz. After 1874, he began practising law in Toronto, where he focused primarily on business and commercial law.

Macdonald entered political life when he was still living in Kingston, in 1843, when he became alderman there, and was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada the next year, in 1844, at 29-years-old. During this time of political uncertainty (thanks to the British government not having committed to fully supporting responsible government in North America), Macdonald emerged as a very shrewd politician, and thanks to his obvious intelligence, he landed his first Cabinet position in 1847 as receiver general. In 1854, Macdonald became involved in the creation of a new political party known as the Liberal-Conservative Party, which brought together moderate Reformers and Conservatives from Canada West and the bleus from Canada East, who were the French Canadian political bloc.

Due to rising opposition to the union of East and West and the political strife that it caused, Macdonald had little choice, in 1864, but to accept an offer of a coalition from George Brown (then leader of the Clear Grits), which would include Conservatives, Clear Grits, and the Bleus. The leaders of this newly-formed coalition then travelled to the Maritimes to discuss the benefits of a Canadian Union. In 1867, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia came together in the Confederation of British North America, a process helped along in large part by Macdonald and the other leaders of the coalition. Thus, the Dominion of Canada came to be.

On July 1st, 1867, sir John A. Macdonald was named the first Prime Minister of Canada by Lord Monck, who was the former Governor General of the Province of Canada, and now the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada. Between 1867 and 1873, the Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and the North-West Territories (now Saskatchewan and Alberta) all joined with the original provinces of the Confederation.

He was very much a federalist, and ensured that the federal government held significantly more power that the provincial governments, as well as working hard to maintain strong ties with Britain. He didn’t have an easy life, having to watch his first wife die an excruciatingly slow death, losing his first son at the age of 13 months, and having a daughter afflicted with hydrocephalus. But in spite of all that, though his political career would certainly not be without scandal (due in no small part to a drinking problem), he will be remembered as the man who oversaw Confederation, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the protective tariff, a devoted Conservative who has forever left his mark on the great nation of Canada.