Macdonald’s Legacy (Part 1): Reclaiming a Foundational Leader

Part 1 of a 5 part series
Published on May 22, 2023

A statue of Canada’s first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 3, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)


At the hands of Canada’s didactic elites, the powerful liberal-conservative consensus that guided the development of the Canadian nation has all but expired.

The lives and times of foundational leaders, like Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald or Liberal Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, are no longer seen as worthy subjects of study for Canadian schoolchildren.

Today, our roots are considered to be irredeemably poisoned by the flaws of those who came before us. The reputations of departed founders are stationary targets on the rhetorical fields of cultural warfare.

Killing off Canada’s forefathers has become a top priority for the country’s educators.

Cancelling Macdonald

It has become clear that, for Canada’s new “woke” establishment, one of the prime targets for destruction is the legacy of the country’s founding prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

Statues of John A. have been removed or vandalized and his picture on our $10 bill has been replaced. Several high schools named after Macdonald have undergone a name change, and post-modern academics have worked overtime to deconstruct his contribution to the development of the Canadian nation.

Close to my own residence in Nova Scotia, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education announced earlier this year that Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon should be renamed Bay View High School.


Sir John A. Macdonald date unknown – Sir John Alexander Macdonald 1815-1891 (CP PHOTO)  1998 National Archives of Canada C-021290


Outspoken students and educators eagerly lined up to cast the first stone at the memory of Canada’s long-departed founder.

In a video statement posted on YouTube, student council co-president Grace Alberts said: “By having our name, we’re upholding values that our school does not support. In changing this name we’re able to better support our minority groups at the school, specifically indigenous people who’ve had to experience much generational trauma from the effects of Sir John A. Macdonald, and to move toward truth and reconciliation.”

Some local objections to the name change were voiced, but in a letter to parents, school principal Darlene Fitzgerald unequivocally supported the decision. “This is really a no-brainer for me,” she said last November upon announcing that the name would be changed.

Accusations of Genocide

The “oppressor-oppressed” paradigm is central to the neo-Marxist mega-narrative that prevails in the faculty rooms of Canadian schools and universities.

The Canadian left’s present contempt for Macdonald is laser-focused on the widely acknowledged mistreatment of indigenous peoples by a succession of colonial empires and national governments in North America.

The deadly clash of cultures between European migrants and native peoples in North America unfolded over a period of some four centuries. At times it led to what would be considered by present standards as merciless levels of oppression and injustice.

A majority of contemporary academics, educators, and civil rights activists are telling anyone who will listen that Canada’s founding prime minister, and the nation at large, bear a unique burden of responsibility for the tragic suffering of indigenous peoples.

Macdonald’s most severe critics argue that the plight of indigenous peoples and the placement of native children in federal residential school systems were not just tragic accidents of history or products of misguided policy. They contend that Canada’s first prime minister set out to eradicate the indigenous population in a deliberate act of genocide.

Canadians Deserve a Fair-Minded Account of Our History

Like most of us, John Alexander Macdonald was significantly influenced by personal experience. He descended from Scottish families who had been loyal subjects of the Crown since the defeat of the Pretender at the Battle of Culloden.

In the Victorian-era British Empire, it was commonly believed that supplanting indigenous cultures with European civilization was a pragmatic and moral course of action. Establishment Victorian reformers and missionaries regarded “primitive” natives in the same way that today’s woke social justice warriors regard Brexit voters, MAGA supporters, and members of Canada’s Peoples Party.

The Victorian equivalent of present-day progressive elites wanted everyone integrated into an orderly, Christian, Protestant, Enlightenment culture. In former French and Spanish territories, assimilation into an agrarian, Roman Catholic society was regarded as the most “uplifting” and productive path that could be taken by indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, few would deny that the Macdonald government’s indigenous peoples policy was a traumatic product of those times.

In Defence of Macdonald

There are still dispassionate observers of history who admire Macdonald for what he accomplished in the context of his era.

In early January, a joint initiative by Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) brought together some 200 historians, policy experts, educators, business leaders, public figures, and thought leaders to sign a joint statement in defence of Macdonald.

Their statement was published as a full-page ad in the National Post, but it received scant attention from Canada’s legacy media. Signatories departed from the progressive mega-narrative and pushed back against the contempt heaped on the legacy of John A. They held that Macdonald deserved thoughtful and measured thanks for his contribution to the development of the Canadian nation.

“All Canadians deserve to hear the full story about Macdonald, the founding of Canada, and Canadian history generally. Only then can we form reasoned views about that historical record,” they argued.

Like those at Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald and the MLI, Epoch Times readers are generally well inclined toward open and fair-minded modes of historical inquiry. Mature citizens, parents, and grandparents also have a vested interest in understanding what is being taught in Canada’s schools.

It is our hope that a more complete understanding of the man, his times, and his legacy will contribute to the authentic spirit of truth and reconciliation that all Canadians are seeking.


William Brooks is a Senior Fellow at Frontier Centre For Public Policy. This 5 part series was originally published in the Epoch Times. This essay originally appeared here.

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