IN MEMORIAM: The Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald PC KCB GCB QC MP By Dr Wallace G. Breck, Professor Emeritus, University of Kingston, Ontario

Every year on June 6th, the Kingston Historical Society sponsors a memorial service in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald, a father of the Confederation of Canada in 1867, Canada’s first Prime Minister, and generally regarded as the father of the country as an independent nation.

The ceremony is held just outside of the City of Kingston, Ontario, at Cataraqui Cemetery, where his burial site is located in a beautiful wooded glade setting which serves as an outdoor chapel. Such a natural setting we consider to be more appropriate than any massive lithic structure to mark the place of rest of an emigrant Highland Scot who became the definitive Canadian.

In Kingston we have a special affection for him we call “Sir John A”, since he grew up and trained here and was for two long periods our own Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands.

The Order of Service for June 6th, 1990 follows:

Choir Truedell Public School

O Canada

President’s remarks  Isobel Trumpour
Prayer   The Rev. Lincoln Bryant
Scripture Father Claude Ouillet

“Sir John A. Macdonald and the Idea of Canada”

Professor Kenneth McNaught

Laying of Wreaths

Lament) Fort Henry Guard and Piper
Last Post-Silence-Reveille)
Benediction The Rev. James Dalrymple
Chairman’s Closing RemarksGeorge F. Henderson
March Off Guard and Piper

At this gravesite, as directed in his will, are also located the graves of his first wife, Isabella; his mother, Helen; his father Hugh; his son, John Alexander; his sisters, Margaret and Louisa; and his brother-in-law, the Rev. James Williamson.

With the assistance of Fort Henry Guardsmen, wreaths were placed on behalf of: the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, the City of Kingston, the Townships of Kingston and Pittsburgh, Queen’s University, Clan Donald Council of Canada, Manufacturers Life Insurance Company, the Ancient St. John’s Lodge No. 3, the Marshall Loyal Orange Lodge No. 6, Kingston and the Islands New Democrats, the Progressive Conservative Association of Kingston and the Islands, the Kingston and District Folk Art Council, and the Frontenac Law Association. All of the above organizations have reason to respect the various contributions to Canadian life by Sir John A. Macdonald. Knight Grand Cross of the Honourable Order of the Bath.

Our speaker, Dr. Kenneth McNaught, is a distinguished academic and author who has specialized in Canadian historical studies in Winnipeg, Toronto, Berlin, Warwick and Hamilton. Professor McNaught has been active in several historical societies and has received such significant honours as a Killam Award and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship.

The constant loyalty and service of Lt. Col. Gordon D. Leggett to the memory of Sir John A Macdonald was recognised by the Kingston Historical Society by the presentation to him by the President of an engraved commemorative quaich.

Sir John A. Macdonald’s Idea of Canada

According to Professor McNaught, Sir John A. was a “romantic realist” who could relate “symbol and fact” and carry a dream to implementation. His idea of Canada was based on a model of the Monarchy and the Parliament of Westminster, but with the clear distinction that the relation with the mother nation from which the model was derived be recognised as an alliance. He sought to avoid subordination to continentalism from south of the border and colonization from over the sea. To quote Professor McNaught: “Macdonald’s idea of Canada, then, demanded new and complex loyalties” and “with Burke (and Scots everywhere) he knew that true patriotism springs from love of one’s native valley”.

It is patent that Macdonald’s strategy for creating the nation of Canada out of such an immense territory and overcoming such daunting obstacles required an ingenuity special to the task. He essentially welded the country together from sea to sea against the north-south geographical and geological grain by a policy the implementation of which included the founding of such famous and distinctly Canadian institutions as the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Northwest Mounted Police (later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). This weld has been a sound one for over a century, but lately has shown evidence of threatening strains.

One of the complex policies which strains the weld of Canada as a nation is the preference for allowing minorities (French, Indian, Scots, Irish, German, etc.) not only to retain, but also cultivate and celebrate their distinct ethnic cultures in a national mosaic, as opposed to mashing them into a national brew which is more the American way. In particular, the problem of recognition of French Canadian and Native Indian communities as “distinct societies” with their own “sovereignty” (whatever the definition of those terms), has caused constitutional impasse. For this reason McNaught believes that we are in sore need of a booster injection of Macdonald’s brand of conservatism today whereby we should “treat French Canadians as a nation and they will act as a free people usually do… generously”. Since Dr McNaught’s quote of Macdonald on June 6th, 1990, the same sentiment might be applied to the relation between the Province of Quebec and the Native Mohawks near Montreal.

McNaught concludes with, “finally, then, Macdonald’s idea of Canada was that of a humanist. It envisioned a country not fearful of planning, of collective action, of compassion”.