John Alexander Macdonald was born in Glasgow on this day, 11 January, 200 years ago. An opportune moment to celebrate his achievements and role in the making of the Canada we know today. John spent the first few years of his life in Scotland, but then emigrated to Kingston in what was then Upper Canada when he was five years old. His father, Hugh, had been a merchant in Glasgow and continued in the profession, opening up a number of shops in Kingston and beyond. Like many Scots, Hugh greatly valued education and was keen for John to be well-educated. Consequently, John first attended Midland District Grammar School, as well as a private co-educational school. In 1830, aged 15, John commenced working for a lawyer in, George Mackenzie, and soon made a good name for himself. So much so, in fact, that only two years later John was promoted to become the manager of a branch of Mackenzie’s firm. By the summer of 1835, John had opened his own firm in Kingston.
While Macdonald was quick to attract public attention as a lawyer, primarily as a result of a ‘number of difficult and even sensational cases’, John has left a profound legacy throughout his political career. Having been one of the principal architects of Canadian Confederation, John became Canada’s first Prime Minister in 1867. He served in that role, with a brief interruption, for 19 years in total. Prior to that he had served in the legislature of the colonial United Province of Canada, later becoming its premier. From the difficulties that arose from governing the United Province, initial ideas of political reform and federation developed, eventually leading to the British North America Act and the birth of Canada as a nation on 1 July 1867. By the time of John’s death, in 1891, the confederation had extended its territory, securing almost all of the territory we know Canada to comprise today.
Read more about Macdonald in his full biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.