PHOENIX MASONIC FORUM
An article by V.W. Bro. Barry D. Thom St. Clair Lodge No. 577 GL of Canada
Sir John A. MacDonald a.k.a. R.W. Bro. John A. MacDonald
John Alexander MacDonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1815. At age five his family immigrated to Canada. He was called to the Bar of Upper Canada in 1836, at the age of 21 years. At 28 he had acquired a large practice and was an Alderman of the City of Kingston. In 1844, he was elected to the Legislature of (old) Canada, served as Attorney General from 1854 to 1857, and as Premier from 1857 to 1867.
In 1867, he became Prime Minister of the new Dominion of Canada. A formation that he had worked so hard to establish over a period of many years.
The first Prime Minister of Canada was truly a founding father. Instrumental in the politics of Upper and Lower Canada he helped bring the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick together in 1867 to form the Dominion of Canada. He persevered on to bring British Columbia, PEI, and the great North West Territories into the Canadian Federation.
His main accomplishments as Prime Minister of Canada, also include the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, his deft handling of relations with the United States, rising to the challenge of the Northwest rebellion and his balancing of French and English interests in acceptable terms for most.
His private life was full of tragedy and sorrow. He watched for more than a decade while his first wife, desperately ill, died slowly. His son died as a baby and his daughter was born with hydrocephalus, which caused a swelling of the brain and brain damage. He would return late at night from a session in the Commons to hold and rock his little baby girl to sleep. It is little wonder, in his day and age that he sometimes turned to the bottle for solace. The public, however was quite tolerant of his indulgence and MacDonald himself often claimed that the public quite frankly, preferred John A. drunk to his enemies being sober. During a campaign speech, after a particularly long evening he was unable to hold his own and threw up on the back of the platform. His opponent pointed and said "Is this the man you want running your country, a drunker." MacDonald pulled himself together and stood up for his rebuttal and quietly said, "I get sick sometimes not because of drink or any other cause, except that I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent."
Although MacDonald was a late convert to federalism he did become its main supporter. MacDonald’s influence is reflected throughout the documents and most of it is in fact written in his hand. He and his colleagues tried to learn from the American experience what not to do and come up with a better option.
In the spring of 1866, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act and set July 1st, 1867 as the date when the new nation would come into being. MacDonald was chosen as the obvious man to become the first Prime Minister and was proclaimed Knight Commander of the Bath and hence became Sir John A. MacDonald. In November of 1867, Macdonald at the age of 52 opened the first Canadian Parliament in Ottawa.
British Columbia was cut off from the rest of Canada by the mountains and a large number of its inhabitants were pushing to join with the United States. MacDonald, as shrewd as he could be, offered the people of BC a link to the east by railroad as an inducement to joining Canada. The deal was done and the railway issue became the one overwhelming projects of the remainder of his career.
The Canadian Pacific was awarded to right to build the railway in 1880 and were given 10 years to complete it. By November 1885 the last spike of the railway was driven at Cragellachie by Donald Smith. Many people lost their lives in the building of the railway due to rock slides and the accidental explosions of nitro glycerin, most were Chinese labourers.
The following is a short but humorous encounter:
When in 1887 a Canadian delegation went to Washington to negotiate a treaty with the United States, their hosts treated them to a boat ride on the Potomac. One Canadian delegate arrived early and while waiting for the others struck up a conversation with a lady, the wife of a US senator.
"I guess you are from Canada, she said.
"You've got a very smart man over there, the Honorable John A. Macdonald.
"Yes, ma'am, he is.
"But they say he is a perfect rascal.
"Yes, ma'am, he is a perfect rascal.
"But why do they keep such a man in power?
"Well, you see, they cannot get along without him.
Just then the woman's husband arrived and said: "My dear, let me introduce you to the Honorable John A. MacDonald.
Sir John A. MacDonald a.k.a. R.W. Bro. John A.MacDonald
R.W. Bro. MacDonald was initiated in Ancient St. John's Lodge No. 3, at Kingston, Upper Canada, on March 14th, 1844, passed April 22, 1844 and raised June 27, 1844. He does not seem ever to have served as Master of any Lodge, but remained a member of the Lodge until his death.
In 1868, he was named by the United Grand Lodge of England as its Grand Representative to the Grand Lodge of Canada (in Ontario) and the rank of Past Grand Senior Warden was conferred upon him. He continued to represent the Grand Lodge of England until his death in 1891. His commission, together with his apron and gauntlets, are in the Masonic Temple at Kingston, along with his regalia as Past Grand Senior Warden. There is no record of him ever being the Worship Master of a lodge. GL has the right to bestow whatever rank they wish on a deserving Brother.
On July 23, 1875, he affiliated with Zetland Lodge No. 326, Toronto, on the proposal of James Norris and J.G. Burns. He demitted from the Lodge on May 9th, 1884. He was made a life member of Ottawa Lodge in 1888. He was exalted as a Royal Arch Mason (R.A.M.) in Victoria Chapter (St Paul's) in Montreal in 1847, and later became a member of Cataraqui Chapter No. 12, Kingston. Hon. Life Member Lafayete R.A. Chapter No. 5, Washington, D.C.
His R.A.M. Jewel bears the date 1847; it later passed to Robert Spence 1859; John Lash, 1868; Kenneth J. Dunstan 1898; and to Dr. Lewis F. Riggs 1946. The Jewel is now on display in the Masonic Temple, Davenport and Yonge Sts, Toronto, along with his apron and sash.
The minutes of St. Paul's Chapter, Toronto, for December 14th, 1898, read as follows:
Sir John A. MacDonald's Regalia:
"With fitting comment, Comp. John F. Lash presented the R.A. apron and sash, M.M.M.'s and R.A.M.'s Jewels, all of which had historical interest, being the former property of, and worn by, our late Companion the Rt. Hon. Sir John A. MacDonald, of St. Paul's R.A. Chapter in Montreal. In making this presentation, Comp. Lash referred to the personal friendship exisitng between Comp. Dunstan and himself and expressed his assurance that Comp. Dunstan's Masonic career would justify passing these valuable relics into his keeping. Comp. Dunstan offered his grateful thanks for the honour thus conferred upon him by this legacy. He assured Comp. Lash this honour carried with it the obligation to so wear this regalia that no spot or stain of dishonour could ever be placed on it."
KNIGHTS TEMPLAR ORDER
His petition for the Knights Templar Order was received by Hugh de Paens Preceptory, Kingston, on January 14, 1854, and the degree was conferred the same evening. In 1855 he was elected as 1st Captain. He demitted May 9, 1884.
On December 6, 1868, he was named by the United Grand Lodge of England as its Grand Representative near the Grand Lodge of Canada (in Ontario) and the rank of Past Grand Senior Warden conferred upon him. He continued to represent the Grand Lodge of England until his death in 1891. His commission, together with his apron and gauntlets, are in the Masonic Temple at Kingston, along with his regalia as Past Grand Senior Warden.
Among the books in his library was a very rare copy of the first Masonic book published in Canada, "A History of Freemasonry in Nova Scotia," (1786).