May 8, 2019
John A. Macdonald: Canada’s Great Son
John A. Macdonald dominates the face of Canadian confederation. His achievements in creating a nation extending from sea to sea makes him a common face, even being portrayed on the Canadian ten dollar bill for almost five decades. Recently, however, some Canadians started to take a different perspective on this founding father. According to a survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institution in 2018, “one-in-ten (11%) [Canadians] say [Macdonald’s] name and image should be removed” (“In Debate Over”). Critics claim his discriminatory policies towards Indigenous and Chinese peoples makes his name undeserving of the public eye, while supporters claim the opposite; his leadership as Canada’s first prime minister and nation builder triumphs his faults. Despite polarizing views on John A. Macdonald’s policies and actions, Macdonald’s name should stay. His undeniable role in keeping Canada afloat through his ambitious railway, and his leadership in maintaining cordial relations between French and English-speaking Canadians, makes Macdonald’s name more than deserving to remain in the public sphere.
“Without the Canadian Pacific Railway, there would be no Canada” (Topechka). The Canadian Pacific Railway, a key component of Macdonald’s ‘National Policy’, was a railway “built to unite the new nation of Canada” (“The University of British Columbia”). De jure, Canada after confederation was one country, but in de facto terms, rough terrain and thousands of miles of uninhabited land separated the western provinces from the east. Through creating a method of transportation between the parallel extremities of Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway not only connected the distant provinces economically, but also connected the countries culturally. Through allowing easy transportation for Canadians on both sides of the country, the railway allowed the provinces to develop a common national identity. Furthermore, the Canadian Pacific Railway allowed the federal government to put down rebellions that threatened the integrity of Canada. “When Louis Riel launched the Red River Rebellion, it was the CPR that brought troops in” to put down the resistance (Topechka). Without the ability to quickly move government troops to enforce control in a vast country, Canada wouldn’t be able to maintain such a large country united under one government, causing the country to be broken up into multiple different states, if not absorbed into the United States amid the turmoil. Hence, for orchestrating the unity of Canadian provinces through the creation and maintenance of a common national identity, Canadians should publicly commemorate Macdonald.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in favor of removing Macdonald’s name claim he worsened relations between Indigenous and white Canadian communities through methods such as withholding “food from (…) First Nations subjects in the Northwest” (“The ‘Trial’ of”). However, his neglect of the Indigenous peoples was the consequence of a larger vision; the unity and friendship between English and French-speaking Canadians. Macdonald “resisted complaints about ‘French domination,’ calling for French-Canadians to be treated as a nation” (Mackay). His actions earned trust and respect from the French-Canadian community, which made up a third of Canada’s population at confederation. Instead of giving in to the xenophobic atmosphere of the two opposing groups, Macdonald, an English-speaking Canadian, searched and found a solution to unite the bickering communities. Today, modern Canadians can enjoy the benefits of Macdonald’s actions. The racist attitudes between French and English-speaking Canadians have largely disappeared, and Quebec still remains a part of Canada, all thanks to Macdonald’s efforts.
Despite defenders supporting Macdonald for his invaluable contributions in creating Canada as a nation, some Canadian communities took action to remove Macdonald’s name for his discriminatory policies towards Indigenous and Chinese peoples. Most notably, the residents of Victoria “remove[d] the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front doors of [their] city hall” (Helps). However, when one takes a look at a larger scale, one can see that Macdonald’s role as a nation builder through his advocacy of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and his ability to improve relations between French and English-speaking Canadians in an era of xenophobia, makes him a Canadian worthy of remaining in the public eye. Often, when we view historical figures through the modern lens, we become too fixated on their faults and unalignment with our modern values, which prevents us from seeing their overall achievements in a positive light. In the case of Sir John A Macdonald, he had his share of faults, but it is because of Macdonald that thirty six million Canadians still have a place to call home; one hundred fifty one years and counting.
Lam, Adrian. “Victoria Removing Sir John A. Macdonald Statue from City Hall.” Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun, 9 Aug. 2018, vancouversun.com/news/local-news/victoria-removing-john-a-macdonald-statue-from-city-hall.
“The University of British Columbia.” Canadian Pacific Railway | Chung Collection, 2011, chung.library.ubc.ca/collection-themes/canadian-pacific-railway/canadian-pacific-railway.
Topechka, Randy. “What Are the Ways in Which the Canadian Pacific Railway Changed Canada?” Quora, 2017, www.quora.com/What-are-the-ways-in-which-the-Canadian-Pacific-Railway-changed-Canada.
“The ‘Trial’ of Sir John A. Macdonald: Would He Be Guilty of War Crimes Today? | CBC Radio.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 21 Dec. 2018, www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-trial-of-sir-john-a-macdonald-would-he-be-guilty-of-war-crimes-today-1.4614303.
Mackay, Peter. “Sir John A. Macdonald Left a Lasting Imprint on Canada’s Character.” The Globe and Mail, 1 July 2017, www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/sir-john-a-macdonalds-lasting-imprint-on-canadas-character/article35529928/.
“In Debate over First PM’s Legacy, Vast Majority Say John A. Macdonald’s Name, Image Should Stay in Public View.” Angus Reid Institute, 12 Oct. 2018, angusreid.org/macdonald-reconciliation/.