David Frum

11.17.12

Let's Properly Honor Canadian Icon John A. Macdonald

My National Post column honors Canada's first Prime Minister.

This may come as a surprise to the 60% of Canadians who cannot recognize a photo of John A. Macdonald, but the bicentenary of the pre-eminent Father of Confederation is rapidly approaching. Jan. 11, 2015, will be the day. How should it be marked?

My Prince Edward County, Ont., neighbours have an idea.

Macdonald spent about 11 years of his early life in or near the county. Macdonald, whose parents brought him to Canada from Scotland at the age of five, began his practice of law in the county seat, the town of Picton (then called Hallowell). In 1835, Macdonald moved to Kingston and launched there his political career. The rest, as they say, is history.

Prince Edward County has preserved important relics of its most distinguished resident. The courthouse in which Macdonald argued his first case still stands. (The case arose from a scuffle in front of a local tavern. Embarrassingly, Macdonald was not only the advocate in the case, but also the defendant. Had he lost, he would have forfeited his right to practice law, and who knows how that would have altered the course of Canadian history.) Instead, Macdonald became an attorney four months later while running his cousin’s law office in downtown Picton.

Now the town of Picton is considering an ambitious new plan to honour Macdonald: a bronze statue of Macdonald as a young lawyer. The plan has been forcefully advocated by David Warrick, a champion of county preservation and renewal. Warrick, who taught humanities at Toronto’s Humber College, lives now in the house that once belonged to Judge Edwards Merrill, son of one of Macdonald’s local legal competitors back in the 1830s.

The Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County has collaborated with Ruth Abernethy, the artist who produced the sculpture of Glenn Gould located in front of the CBC building on Toronto’s Front Street.

Abernethy’s sculptures are realistic, but she is not interested in reproducing the solemn 19th-century bronzes that seem nowadays to serve mainly as plinths for pigeons. Her work invites the viewer to approach, to touch, to interact. The Gould statue, for example, captures the great musician in cap and coat, slouching on a park bench, turned toward the adjoining seat — as if waiting for a passerby to sit and join him. Which is exactly what happens, as pedestrians and tourists stop and have their photos taken.

Read the entire thing at the National Post.