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Remembering the Scottish boy who became Canada's first PM

12 May 2010

A CEREMONY has taken place in the Highlands to honour one of Scotland’s most famous sons – a boy who rose from humble Scottish beginnings to become Canada’s first prime minister.

The Canadian deputy high commissioner to the UK, Claude Boucher, and Scotland’s community safety minister, Fergus Ewing, joined together with historians and community representatives to commemorate the life of John A. Macdonald.

The son of a merchant, Macdonald was born in 1815 and had strong family links to the Highlands. His mother and first wife were from Dalnavert, Badenoch, scene of the commemorative event held on May 12.

The Macdonald family emigrated to Canada when John was five. By the age of 15 he was working for a Kingston lawyer, and by age 19 he had set up his own legal practice.

At age 26, Macdonald entered politics and worked tirelessly promoting the Canadian Confederation. In 1867, following a rapid rise through the system, his hard work was rewarded when he was appointed Canada’s first-ever prime minister.

In the years that followed, Macdonald made it his priority to create a modern Canadian nation, developing the Canadian Transcontinental Railway which ran from Halifax to the Pacific coast – and the two new provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia – as well as the Northwest Territories. He even founded the Canadian Mounted Police, the Mounties.

After a successful career in politics, Macdonald died in 1891, aged 76, but his legacy continues – his face is still depicted on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.

A cairn and a plaque to honour his memory were unveiled at the family home in Dalnavert. The celebrations coincided with Manitoba Day in Canada – it’s a province that Macdonald was credited with creating, and which enjoys close links with Scotland to this day.

Fergus Ewing said: “Scotland has long enjoyed a close bond with Canada and its people. It is a relationship which stretches back centuries and continues today with our strong social, cultural and economic links.

“The early Scots who left these shores from the Highlands, and elsewhere in Scotland, left an incredible mark on Canada – you only need to look at how many towns, rivers and mountains have been named after Scottish explorers, traders and adventurers to see the impact they had and the affection in which they are still held. None more so than the man we are commemorating today.

“Sir John A. Macdonald is one of Scotland’s most famous sons and had a huge impact on Canada and its people. He is credited with creating the building blocks of the modern country we all know today and has strong links with the Highlands and Badenoch.

“The ceremony today will allow us all to pay tribute to his extraordinary life and the fantastic contribution he made. The plaque and cairn will serve as a lasting memory to the great man and we hope it will also encourage a large number of Canadian tourists of Scottish descent to come and visit the area to see where it all began.”

Born in Glasgow in January 1815, John A. Macdonald moved to Ontario, Canada, in 1820. His mother, Helen Shaw, was from Dalnavert and his first wife Isabella was related to the Shaws of Dalnavert.

Mr Macdonald’s tenure in office spanned 18 years, making him the second longest-serving Prime Minister of Canada. He is the only Canadian PM to win six majority governments.

Queen Victoria knighted Macdonald for playing an integral role in bringing about Confederation. His appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George was announced at the birth of the Dominion, July 1, 1867.

Hugh John Macdonald, the son of John A. Macdonald, followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming premier of Manitoba and gave his Canadian residence in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the name Dalnavert. This is now a museum restored by the Manitoba Historical Society.

Image of Sir John A. Macdonald: William James Topley / Library and Archives Canada  

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