TORONTO – It was 200 years ago that John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister and a man hailed as the one of the country’s founding fathers, was born.
Macdonald’s likeness marks our $10 bills. He has roadways bearing his name, and countless schools. Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a special bicentennial stamp from Canada Post and a coin from the Royal Canadian Mint in honour of the day.
However the commemoration of Macdonald’s birthday and legacy has ripped open some old wounds. The Assembly of First Nations wrote a respectful yet blunt press release, appealing for the day to be an “opportunity for reflection and education on the history of this country.”
“For many First Nations the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald is a painful one, linked to discriminatory and oppressive practices, policies and legislation that continue to have impacts today like the Indian Act, residential schools, and discriminatory laws that denied and disenfranchised First Nations people from their rights and their lands.”
You can read the full release here.
The conversation was healthy on Twitter, with #SirJAM trending on Sunday afternoon, among hockey and football hashtags.
Not a bad feat for a guy who has been dead for over 100 years.
There was a small protest in Hamilton.
And opinion pieces published by many of the country’s news organizations.
This comes in the wake a recent poll by Ipsos-Reid that found that many Canadians could use a history lesson. More than a quarter of those polled could not answer that Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, with 11 per cent having no idea who he was.
While debate over Macdonald’s character swirls, here are some facts, according to the Office of the Prime Minister’s official release:
- MacDonald was born on January 11, 1815 in Glasgow, Scotland
- He is credited as being instrumental, along with Sir George-Étienne Cartier, in the negotiations that led to Confederation and later in expanding Canada to the Pacific Ocean
- He was prime minister from 1867 to 1873, and again in 1878 to 1891
- He played a large role in the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the establishment of the North-West Mounted Police and the first Canadian national park in Banff, Alberta