Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Canada's first PM, Sir John A. Macdonald

Image of Sir John A. Macdonald from Canada History.

A classic picture of the Fathers of Confederation, presided over by Scottish- born Sir John A. Macdonald, hangs above the fireplace in the Confederation Lounge in the Macdonald Hotel in Edmonton. This castle-like structure, set on the very edge of MacDougal Hill, overlooks the river valley and dates back to the era of the great Railway hotels.

Wall space being limited by wainscoting, high windows, and design, this huge painting, redolent of the past, hangs well above eye level. Though in a sense it dominates the room, one must make an effort to look up and see it.

The original painting was commissioned in 1883, and hung in the Parliament Buildings in 1884. The artist, Robert Harris represented the secretary and the 33 "fathers" of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences that had led up to the creation of Canada in 1867.

In 1916, this painting was destroyed when the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings caught fire. Harris was asked to reproduce his work, but felt he was too old to do so.

In 1964, the Fathers of Confederation painting was replicated by Canadian artist Rex Woods as part of the Centennial celebrations. In 1969 the completed work was unveiled and placed in the Railway Committee Room. Later it was put on permanent display in the Centre Block.

Sir John Eh, as some Canadians fondly call him, also smiles faintly at us -- at least those of us who still use cash -- from the $10 bill. His face may be familiar, but his story and character are less well-known. The By George Journal casts some light on his political life, views and vision.

Under the National Policy of his Conservative government, the CPR, the Canadian Pacific Railway, was completed and new provinces joined the Canadian union.

In sharp contrast to his political achievements, Macdonald's life personal life was filled with tragedy; he lost his wife to a slow illness and a young son as well, and his daughter was born with a swelling of the brain caused by hydrocephalus. Macdonald himself was reputed to be a heavy drinker.

In 1911, the National Post ran a story about the proposed demolition of his birthplace in the Merchant City district in Glasgow, Scotland. The last building to stand in the way as the city prepared to re-develop the area for shopping, the building where Sir John was probably, but not certainly born, was most recently a pub, the Fox and Hounds.

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