Sir John Alexander Macdonald
1867-1873 1878-1891

"When fortune empties her chamberpot on your head, smile - and say 'we are going to have a summer shower'." Sir John A. Macdonald, circa 1875

Sir John A. Macdonald was to become Canada's first Prime Minister.

Private Life

Did You Know?

Macdonald was a Private in the militia and participated in the 1837 raid on Montgomery's Tavern, a well-known meeting place for rebels and their supporters against Britain. Ironically, Macdonald the lawyer would later defend several of these rebels in court.

  • Born: Glasgow, Scotland. January 11, 1815.
    • Emigrated to the Province of Canada in 1820.
  • Education: Midland District Grammar School and John Cruickshank School in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Called to the Bar of Upper Canada in 1836.
  • Articled (contracted) with a Kingston lawyer at 15 years of age.
  • Had his own legal practice by age of 19.
  • Marriage: Isabella Clark (1811-1856) in 1843.
    • Two sons born (one died in infancy).
  • Re-Marriage: Susan Agnes Bernhard (1836-1920) in 1867.
    • One daughter born. (She suffered 'hydrocephaly' which left her both mentally and physically handicapped.)
  • Died: June 6, 1891 of heart failure while still in office. Buried in Cataraqui Cemetery near Kingston, Ontario.

Political Career

Did You Know?

Macdonald's political career was marred by a well-publicized drinking problem. He would often drink throughout meetings and often forgot the proceedings of the day.

The Hon. George Brown, founder of The Globe (now Globe and Mail) newspaper, was Macdonald's arch enemy and, whenever Macdonald went on a binge, Brown printed a 'sick' notice in his paper.

  • Introduced to politics in 1843 when he served as city alderman in Kingston, Ontario.
  • Constituencies: Kingston, Ontario, 1867-1878, 1887-1891; Victoria, British Columbia, 1878-1882; Carleton, Ontario, 1882-1887.
  • Elected Conservative representative for Kingston in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1844.
  • Receiver General for the Province of Canada, 1847-1848.
  • Attorney General for Canada West, 1854-1858, 1858-1862, 1864-1867.
  • Joint Premier with Etienne-Paschal Tache for the Province of Canada, 1856-1857.
  • Joint Premier with George-Etienne Cartier for the Province of Canada, 1857-1858, 1858-1862.
  • Minister of Militia Affairs, 1861-1862, 1865-1867.
  • Co-leader of the Great Coalition with George-Etienne Cartied and George Brown, 1864-1865; Co-leader with George-Etienne Cartier, 1865-1867,
  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General, 1867-1873.
  • Father of Confederation, 1867. (See Photo)
  • Worked throughout the 1860's to promote Confederation.
    • Attended a conference held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on September 1, 1864.
      • Provinces were dealing with their own 'anti-Confederation' forces.
      • Newfoundland rejected union outright.
      • Prosperous Maritime provinces feared that Confederation would weaken their autonomy.
      • Canada East (Quebec) feared that Confederation would dilute French-Canadian interests.
    • The American Civil War, and the Fenian Raids of 1866 and an aggressive American foreign policy caused concern about the future of the colony.
      • Allied with his political rival and Opposition leader, George Brown, to finalize Confederation.
      • Drafted the British North American Act which defined the federal system by which Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were united into the Dominion of Canada. BNA signed on May 8, 1867 and became effective July 1, 1867.
      • Appointed Prime Minister of Canada and won the first federal election one month later.
    Did You Know?

    The Fathers of Confederation originally wanted to name their new country 'The Kingdom of Canada'. However, the United States still harboured ill-feelings toward the word 'kingdom' following their battle for independence against King George III and 'The Dominion of Canada' was selected instead.

  • Liberal-Conservative Party Leader (forerunner of the Conservative Party), 1867-1891.
  • To unite the new nation, Macdonald began the Intercolonial Railway which ran from Halifax to the Pacific coast and included Canada's two newest provinces, British Columbia and Manitoba, and the North-West Territories in 1871.
  • Initiated tariffs protecting Canadian products from foreign imports, especially from the United States, to boost Canadian economy.
  • Created the North West Mounted Police in 1873.
  • Questionable deals between the Conservatives and the railway syndicate lead to the Pacific Scandal in 1873. Macdonald was forced to resign and lost the election in 1874.
  • Leader of the Opposition, 1873-1878.
  • Re-elected in 1878.
  • Minister of the Interior, 1878-1883.
  • Superintendant General of Indian Affairs, 1878-1887,
  • Created Canada's first national park at Banff, Alberta, in 1885.
  • Poorly-handled North-West Rebellion in 1885 and the execution of Louis Riel outraged French-Canadians. Antagonism between French- and English- Canadians lasted for years.
  • Minister of Railways and Canals, 1889-1891.
  • Won 4'th consecutive election in March 1891 and died 3 months later on June 6, 1891, while still in office.

*(Progressive) Conservative *Liberal *Unionist/Conservative

* Macdonald * Mackenzie * Abbott * Thompson * Bowell
* Tupper * Laurier * Borden * Meighen * King
* Bennett * St. Laurent * Diefenbaker * Pearson * Trudeau
* Clark * Turner * Mulroney * Campbell * Chrétien