Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online
of the Death of the Rt. Hon. Sir John Alexander Macdonald KCB, GCB,
by Dr. Wallace G. Breck, Professor
Emeritus Queen's University, Kingston,Canada
annual ceremony commemorating the death of Canada's first Prime
Minister, Sir John A Macdonald, is conducted on June 6th each year
by the Kingston Historical Society. Details of the family of Sir
John A. (as he is affectionately termed in Kingston) and of his
honours and burial site have been given in the
Clan Donald Magazine No. 12, p. 188, but
since 1991 was the centennial of his death, some special
arrangements and events were planned and effected.
example, it was fitting that the serving Prime Minister (in 1991),
Brian Mulroney, attended as the guest speaker. Clerical
contributions were by Archbishop Francis Spence (prayer), The Rev.
William Hendry (scripture), and the Rev. Lincoln Bryant
(benediction). Choral music was provided by a young choir from
Truedell Public School. And the winning pibroch, entitled "A Salute
to Sir John A. Macdonald", selected from a competition initiated by
P/M Robert MacDonald of Clan Donald, Toronto Branch (see
Clan Donald Magazine no. 12, p.17), was
composed and played by P/M Colin MacLellan of Glengarry (Canada).
Commemorative wreaths were laid by the following, escorted by
members of the Fort Henry Guard:
The Rt. Hon.
Brian Mulroney MP
Joan Murray for
Gary Wilson MPP
City of Kingston
Fire Chief Gary
Council of Canada
Lt. Col. G.D.
Life Insurance Co.
The Ancient St
John's Lodge No. 3
Orange Lodge No.6
supported by Dufferin
Orange Lodge No. 709
the Islands New Democrats
Progressive-Conservative Association of Kingston and the
District Folk Art Council
Parks Commission - Foil Henry
Regular readers of this Magazine may recognize Lt. Col. Gordon D.
Leggett as the author of several papers, particularly that of No.7,
p.92. He and his wife were instrumental in establishing and
publishing the heraldic arms of Sir John A. Gordon Leggett was fora
long time the Chairman of the Clan Donald Council of Canada and
always a loyal supporter of the Sir John A. memorial service. It is
a moving reflection to realize that his attendance at this
Centennial would be his last. He was quite frail and was ably
assisted by P/M Robert MacDonald in negotiating the limestone steps
while laying the Clan Donald wreath. In 1992 he was admitted to
hospital on June 4th and died September 22nd, 1992. A
loyal soldier and gentleman who is a credit to Clan Donald,
recognized in 1990 by the Kingston Historical Society with the
presentation to him of an inscribed quaich.
laying of wreaths proceeded in silence, apart from the
announcements, with the exception of the cases of Flora MacDonald
and Ian H. Macdonald, who evoked generous applause.
attendance of the Prime Minister on this auspicious occasion was
much appreciated, particularly as guest speaker. And although at
this stage in his career his popularity was at a low ebb as judged
by polls, nevertheless his talk was well written, well presented,
and well received, with genuine applause.
Rather than presenting his speech or even paraphrasing it, in order
to achieve brevity and to let his own words ring, some key
quotations are given below:
the death or Sir John A.
"One hundred years ago today, a light went out in this country.
Sir John A. Macdonald, bom in Glasgow, Scotland inl815, died in
Ottawa in 1891. An adoptive son of colonial Canada, he became
the father of our country."
"...they took him on his final journey, home to Kingston on the
railway he had built to unite the nation from Atlantic to
Pacific... the City Hall was decked in crepe. When he came to
his final resting place, here at Cataraqui, it seemed that all
of Kingston had walked out to the cemetery."
"There is one quotation in which the Old Chieftain (Macdonald)
speaks to us all across a century, 'Let us be English or let us
be French, but let us always be loyal, and above all, let us be
Canadians', he said"
"It matters not who wins the next election; the only thing that
matters is the unity of Canada."
"In choosing federalism, we put and end to the notion that the
path to Canadian unity lay through submerging our diversity in a
unitary state. Rather, we chose a system in which provinces are
sovereign in their respective areas, but Canadians are
associated on matters that we have in common. This has never
been an easy country to govern; it isn't today; and I doubt it
ever will be."
"Our challenge is to recognize that a strong economic and
political union are fundamental to our collective prosperity."
"Let us guard, however, against the expectation of perfection as
perfection doesn't exist in constitutional arrangements any more
than it does in our daily lives."
"In gathering here today at the grave of Sir John A. Macdonald
we should bear in mind that we are all heirs to the fathers of
Confederation... It is our turn now to build a better country
for our children and theirs."
Credit for the planning and conduct of the memorial service must go
to Chairman George Henderson, President
members Wallace Breck, Jack Grenville, John Grenville, and Fred
the memorial service refreshments were served at a marquee in the
cemetery, offering a chance to socialize and meet the Prime
Minister, other dignitaries and participants. Further to this, Parks
Canada hosted a special reception at Bellevue House, one of Sir John
A.'s Kingston residences, nicknamed Pekoe Pagoda, as its first owner
was a tea merchant. I personally had the privilege of escorting Ian
H. Macdonald, and thoroughly enjoyed his company, owing to his
congeniality and the fact that as veterans we were always at ease
with experiences to share. We appreciated his presence as an
the evening a banquet was held in the Ambassador Convention Centre,
including a sumptuous feast, entertainment by the Rob Roy Pipe Band
and Dancers, a talk by Ian H. Macdonald on the Clan Donald Lands
Trust, and an inspiring talk by Judge John Matheson of Perth
(Ontario) on Sir John A.
of the projects of the Kingston Historical Society in this year was
to produce a book containing papers and speeches on various facets
of Sir John A.'s life and career from the perspective of his own
folk in his home political riding of Kingston and the Islands, in
other words and inside view.
H. Macdonald OBE was given a personal copy of the above book and a
copy to be taken to the Clan Donald Centre, as well as a can of
Canadian salmon, symbolic of that royal fish on the MacDonald arms.
He spoke of the fund raising, formation and function of the Clan
Donald Lands Trust and the Clan Donald Centre on the Isle of Skye at
Armadale. He invited all interested in the heritage of the Clan and
their own family history to visit the Centre for unique
accommodation, meals, gardens, views, and woodland walks and a
chance to trace family roots in the museum library in the stabilized
castle of Lord MacDonald.
his address, the Hon. Mr. Justice John R. Matheson
quoted Lord Tweedsmuir:
"Give me men to match my mountains, Give me men to match my
plains Men with empire for a vision, Men with eons in their
being an apt description of Sir John A., and further,
"I am old enough to remember that civilized people too may lose
their self-confidence and sense of direction. People as
cultivated and sophisticated as the Italians and Germans
foundered in the turbulent and terrible sea of fascism."
"The fortitude and trusting spirit of Sir John A. Macdonald is
very much needed now."
"This day we heard a truly significant address at the graveside
from Prime Minister Mulroney." (This from a Whig about a Tory.)
"Both his paternal grandparents were Macdonalds and though his
family were dirt poor, he knew that Macdonald was Lord of the
Isles, that wherever Macdonald sat was head of the table. I see
Flora vigorously nodding her head in agreement."
"Here in Kingston we remember John A. as an important influence
in the beginnings of Queen's University ... his influence was
particularly important in establishing a School of Medicine."
"I am moved by reading the diary of his second wife, Agnes, who
speaks of John A. as being one of the most tender, dearest and
kindest people and of his compassionate treatment of their
little girl, Mary, who through hydrocephalic difficulties never
matured... this great man read her nursery rhymes."
"Macdonald has been described as adroit, amiable, bawdy,
boisterous, conciliatory, disreputable, droll, fun-loving,
gentle, homemaking, jolly, kind, lonely, loyal, melancholy,
perceptive, pragmatic, profound, quaint, resourceful, sensitive,
studious, thoughtful, tough, urbane, vigorous, warm, wary,
witty, and wretched (in alphabetical order). All those
descriptions have some truth."
"John A. was a mix between Disraeli and the great president
"...Canada's need of Quebec's spirituality. It is to the
Scottish mentality, with cultured memories reaching back to
Culloden, and indeed further back to Balliol who dared to
fashion the historic 'ancient alliance'..."
"His legacy was a constitution that has survived as the envy of
the world for nearly a century and a quarter. Consider how few
countries have been so fortunate!"
banquet evening was organized by a committee of the Kingston
Historical Society under President Isobel Trumpour. The 1991
commemorative book, "Sir John A. Macdonald, 1815-1891, A Remembrance
to Mark the Centennial of his Death", was edited by George Henderson
and Peggy Cohoe. It is available from:
Kingston Historical Society
Kingston, Canada K7L 4V6
available from the same source are the full texts of the speeches of
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Judge John Matheson in the annual
publication, "Historic Kingston", Vol. 40 1992.
members may be interested to know that a new branch "Clan Donald,
Kingston and the Isles", as part of Clan Donald Canada, was founded
in 1993 and represented at the 1994 Sir John A. ceremony by John
Donaldson, who laid a wreath. The elected officers are Commissioner
Richard Donaldson, Deputy Commissioner David Macdonald, and
Secretary/Treasurer Stuart MacDonald, 571 Earl Street, Kingston,
Canada, K7L 2K5.
Matheson served with the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery in World War
II and was severely wounded. Following the war he practised law and
sat in the House of Commons 1962-68 after which he was
appointed to the
bench, becoming a justice in 1990. Queen's University presented him
with its Distinguished Service Award in 1984. Return
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