Macdonald, Sir John A. (1815-1891)

[photo of Sir John A. Macdonald]

Canada's founding Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, also played a supporting role in the founding of Queen's.

Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland and emigrated with his family to Canada in 1820.

He was brought up in Kingston and area, and began articling with a local law firm at the age of 15. By 19, he had his own legal practice. As a 24-year-old lawyer in 1839, he attended a meeting at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, where the men who would become the founding Trustees of Queen's discussed "the proposed college to be erected in this town."

Macdonald moved or seconded several motions in favour of establishing Queen's but, by his own admission, did not cut much of a figure at the meeting. He recalled the occasion in a speech at Queen's 50th anniversary celebrations in 1889:

I was modest then [laughter], modest as those young friends of mine in the gallery [a group of students], and when I arose to move the resolution that was placed in my hands, and although I had prepared an eloquent oration, I was in such a mortal fright that I did not say a single word.

He then handed the resolution to the chairman and sat down.

Sir John A. Macdonald became involved in politics first as an alderman in Kingston, but soon moved on to more influential positions. He was one of the architects of Confederation and served as the first Prime Minister of Canada when it was created by the British North America Act in 1867. Faced with the task of building a nation, Macdonald began construction of the Transcontinental Railway. Events, such as the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 and the subsequent execution of Louis Riel, challenged his leadership but he remained in office until his death in 1891.

Macdonald never ceased to have a great interest in Queen's throughout his career, although he was never affiliated with the university in any official way. He provided legal advice in the early days, and made several donations to Queen's libraries over the years. His sister was married to one of Queen's best loved professors, Rev. James Williamson.

See also: