A Double-edged Sword: J. A. Macdonald’s Soul Soup

Mr. Morris

Humanities

April 19, 2018

Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald once remarked, “let us be English or let us be French . . . and above all let us be Canadians,” leading the two opposing cultures to unite as Canada.  John A. Macdonald’s efforts in bonding the North and giving birth to the Confederation has long granted him a place as one of the greatest prime ministers in Canada, but recent reformations and value changes shed light on his not-so-great acts. Like the much loved and scrutinized fast-food chain Mcdonald’s, John A. Macdonald is under debate of whether his physical presence is a healthy contribution to the society. Many critics urged for the removal of his figure and likeness from the public sphere, but due to his indispensable contributions the newborn Canada and the influences his legacy still have on us, I firmly believe that John A. Macdonald’s name should remain in the public sphere.

Throughout the history of mankind, many notable people have come and past, their best ideas and contributions engraved in our brains and our society, and Macdonald is one of those visionaries and missionaries. There can be no denial of his part in founding Canada, from solidifying the notion of two official languages, to building and expanding the confederations, Macdonald is someone who deserves to go remembered. Macdonald believed that “[Canada is] a great country and shall become one of the greatest in the universe if we preserve it; [but] we shall sink into insignificance and adversity if we suffer it to be broken,” and held on to his beliefs with the National Policy to insist on an independent and free Canada (Gwyn; Crane). That was a time when “one in five Canadians left for a better life below the border” (Gwyn). Canada is forever changed for the better with Macdonald’s contributions. While he did make some mistakes, “so did [all] Canadians, collectively,” and it is unjust to impose our current criticisms on someone who is irreplaceable in Canadian history (Gwyn). Macdonald deserves to be remembered by not just those who can afford to learn history in the private sphere, but everyone who have the right to walk the streets. Removing his name and figure not only removes his contributions, but also an opportunity to connect with the past.

Many critics argue that having John A. Macdonald’s representation in the public sphere show that we as Canadians support racism and all of Macdonald’s values, and that keeping the values of the past discourages change. However, change does not occur through a removal of the past, but instead through knowledge of mistakes and admittance of what is wrong. John A. Macdonald’s statues highlight his contributions while shedding light on how we as Canadians have changed, not the deeds of the past that reflects old values. Macdonald is known for “preserving the larger half of North America as a country of its own” and maintaining multiculturalism to a degree unheard of in his time, and his statues illustrate just that (Symons). The statues are not made to glorify Macdonald as a saint, or to show endorsement for every single idea of his. Just like how a war general would be portrayed in uniform, highlighting military talents and nothing else like his drinking habits or temper; John A. Macdonald is portrayed as the founding father of Canada, a respectable political figure, and not much else. It would be irrational to treat every representation of Macdonald as supportive acknowledgement for his not-so-great ideas, just as regarding statues as idol worshiping is silly. Erasing Macdonald from the public sphere will remove his legacy from most of known history, encompassing not just the contributions worth praising, but a bit of the past values worth reflecting about.

Although many have argued for the removal of John A. Macdonald’s figure from the public sphere due to changing values, he remains the founding father of Canada that shaped us like no other. When considering the effects of Macdonald’s figure on current Canadians, we conclude that his’s deeds not only deserve to be remembered and nodded-to, but reflected and act upon, both important reasons for his name to be in the public sphere. Through Macdonald’s figure, Canadians can wonder about the political, social and economical challenges of early Canada, review and learn from discriminatory actions committed from arrogant and self-righteous societies, and cheer about how far the social values have progressed to be more inclusive and supportive. Macdonald always had his nation in mind, and his ideas outshone and outpaced other ideas then, a strikingly similar attribute to Canadians now, who are progressive and empathetic. Macdonald’s case will prove Kelly Clarkson’s famous line, “what doesn’t kill [us] makes [us] stronger,” as Canadians have walked out of discrimination strong and free. Sir John A. Macdonald would be proud looking from above.


Crane, David. “Canada–US Economic Relations.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, 3 Sept. 2009, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/economic-canadian-american-relations/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *