Let's follow Sir John



Without Macdonald we may not have had a country. He led the meetings at Charlottetown and Quebec City, where our country was first conceived. He was the key architect of the British North America Act, attending to every detail in its passing. And he was chosen by Queen Victoria to serve as Canada's first prime minister, which was confirmed shortly thereafter in our first election. His vision and guiding hand moulded this nation as he steered us through a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles over most of the latter half of the 19th century as he hardened the gristle that was Canada in its early days into bone. We need to celebrate our most profound historical figure and the birth of Canada by recognizing Macdonald's singular achievements. And we do this, not just for a celebration but also for a purpose.

Compared with his American counterpart, George Washington, Macdonald gets short shrift in Ottawa. Ever notice the monument in Washington, D.C. or the name of the capital itself? There is a modest statue of Macdonald on Parliament Hill; plus he gets half-billing along with Sir George-√Čtienne Cartier on Ottawa's international airport -- but most of us simply call it the Ottawa airport. As to the Macdonald-Cartier freeway, most of us call it simply the 401. And how many among us can say for certain which bridge is named for Macdonald and Cartier? Casting Macdonald and Cartier as equal partners is peculiar anyway, given that Cartier was popularly elected only once as a federal MP and died in 1873, while Macdonald ruled Canada for 18 years.

Macdonald's Ottawa home, and place of his death, overlooking the Ottawa River on Sussex Drive, known as Earnscliffe, is a national heritage site. But it is closed to the public, serving instead as the home of the British High Commissioner. But don't blame the Brits for denying us entry: they have lovingly restored, maintained, and celebrated Sir John at Earnscliffe after the Canadian government neglected to act when the property became available for sale in 1930. The Elgin Street pub, Sir John A., is another quaint tribute to our first prime minister, but it hardly ranks as a site of historic significance.

Macdonald certainly took his British and Scottish heritage seriously. This is true, although he did not oppose reform, modernization or responsible government for Canada. His vision was to build an independent nation, which by necessity required the strength and active support of the mighty British Empire to keep us out of the hands of those lusty Americans with their Manifest Destiny.

The real point to this proposal is that future generations of Canadians will benefit if our parliamentarians are forever reminded of the greatness of Sir John's vision and the manner by which he made Canada strong, united and prosperous. Indeed, Sir John A. Macdonald can continue to educate and inspire those Canadians who take the time to know him better. Macdonald is, simply put, as relevant to Canada today as he was 143 years ago at the time of Confederation. 


Comments