Tuesday, January 11, 2011



This day should be a special day for all Canadians. In few other countries would a national hero be so neglected. In comparing Macdonald to Washington it is probably safe to say that Sir John played a greater role in forging the Canadian nation-state than Washington did in determining the nature of his United States. In addition, Macdonald was the more interesting personality.

- John Turner, 17th Prime Minister of Canada
Orillia Museum of Art and History annual Macdonald birthday dinner, January 11, 2008

Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was born in Scotland, on January 11, 1815. Although January 10 is the date recorded in the General Register Office in Edinburgh, January 11th is the day that Macdonald and those who remember him have celebrated his birthday.

As former Prime Minister John Turner pointed out so eloquently in his speech at Maconald's bithday dinner, Sir John is neglected in his own country.  The architect of the Canadian Confederation does not get the recognition he deserves. In fact, there is a woeful ignorance among Canadians about Sir John A.  In the lead-up to Macdonald's 194th birth anniversary in 2008, a Dominion Institute poll found that more than two in five Canadians (42%) could not identify Macdonald as the country's first prime minister.

It’s quite likely that more school children in Canada can identify George Washington than John A. Macdonald.  A far greater number are able to recognize Ronald MacDonald than our first prime minister.  History lover that I am, I made certain my nephew and niece were able to identify the name “John A. Macdonald” at an early age. I showed them a ten dollar bill with Sir John A.’s portrait on it and explained to them who he was.

In honour of the 196th anniversary of Sir John A.’s birth, Number 16 presents a quiz of ten questions about our first prime minister. Test yourself and see how much you really know about him.


1. What does the “A” in Macdonald’s middle name stand for?

A. Albert

B. Alexander

C. Andrew

D. Anthony

E. Aloysius

2. Where was Sir John A. born?

A. St. Andrews, Scotland

B. Edinburgh, Scotland

C. Glasgow, Scotland

D. Dundee, Scotland

E. Aberdeen Scotland

3. Sir John A.’s son, Hugh John Macdonald, was premier of which province for a brief period in the year 1900?

A. Manitoba

B. Ontario

C. Alberta

D. Nova Scotia

E. British Columbia

4. What was Sir John A.’s occupation in Kingston, Ontario?

A. Journalist

B. Librarian

C. Professor

D. Lawyer

E. Newspaper publisher

5. Sir John A.’s nickname was

A. Kingston Johnny

B. Old Tomorrow

C. Johnny Canuck

D. Canada’s Father

E. Mr. Confederation

6. Sir John’s A.’s daughter, Mary Margaret (born 1869), had an affliction. What was it?

A. Polio

B. Blindness

C. Kidney disease

D. Heart condition

E. Hydrocephaly

7. How many majority governments did Macdonald win during his political career?

A. Six

B. None. He only had minority governments.

C. Four

D. Three

E. One

8. Sir John A. had a weakness for

A. Women

B. Bad jokes

C. Alcohol

D. Cocaine

E. Gambling

9. Macdonald’s first wife Isabella Clark

A. Drowned in 1855

B. Was an invalid and died in 1856

C. Was run over by a horse and carriage and died

D. Died in childbirth in 1856

E. Died of tuberculosis

10. What was the name given to Sir John A’s economic program in which he called for an increase in immigration to Western Canada, the building of a railway to the West and high tariffs on imported manufactured goods to protect Canadian industry? (This is a bonus question. Give yourself an extra point if you get the correct answer.)

A. The Canada First Policy

B. The National Policy

C. The Macdonald Program

D. The Canadian Economic Policy

E. The Canadian Settlement Program

1.   B.  Alexander
2.  C.  Glasgow, Scotland
3.  A.  Manitoba
4.  D.  Lawyer (Sir John A. became a lawyer in 1836.  He remained in the practice of law with a series of partners, in Kingston until 1874 and then in Toronto.  His firm was involved mainly in commercial law and his clients were businessmen or corporations.)
5.  B.  Old Tomorrow (Sir John A. was affectionately dubbed "Old Tomorrow" due to his habit of procrastinating.)
6.  E.  Hydrocephaly (A condition characterized by an abnormal amount of fluid in the cranium, especially in young children, causing enlargement of the head and deterioration of the brain.  It leads to both mental and physical disabilities)  Note: Mary, who died in 1933, was the only child of Sir John A. and his second wife, Susan Agnes Bernard, known as Agnes.  Macdonald and his first wife, Isabella, had two children: a son, John, who died suddenly at 13 months and a second son, Hugh John (born 1850, died 1929 at the age of 79).
7.  A.  Six
8.  C.  Alcohol 
9.  B.  Isabella was an invalid and died in 1856.  Sir John A. remarried in 1867, the year of Confederation.

10.  B.  The National Policy

ON THIS DAY : Walla Walla and Sweet Onions

The city of Walla Walla, Washington was incorporated on January 11, 1862.  Happy 149th anniversary, Walla Walla, from Number 16.

Did you know that Walla Walla is famous for sweet onions and that they are called Walla Walla Sweet Onions?  Over a century ago, on the Island of Corsica (off the West Coast of Italy), a French soldier named Peter Pieri found an Italian sweet onion seed.  He brought the onion seed to the Walla Walla Valley.  The sweet onion was cultivated and developed there over several generations.  Its sweetness comes from its low sulphur content.  Walla Walla Sweets are 90 per cent water.  Walla Walla has a mild climate and rich soil.

I’ve always liked the name “Walla Walla” because it sounds quite quirky. I’m very amused by the alliteration of the three “W”s in Walla Walla, Washington. Walla Walla is actually a Native American name meaning “Place of Many Waters”. Residents of the town describe it as “the town so nice they named it twice.”

Although Adam West of Batman fame was born in Seattle, Washington, he grew up in Walla Walla. He attended Walla Wall High School and later received a degree in Literature and Psychology from the city’s Whitman College.

The population of Walla Walla is only 31,350 (2008 estimate, Washington State Office of Financial Management).


I invite my readers to e-mail interesting and funny photos to me and I will publish them as the Number 16 Featrure Photo. I will not use your name if you do not wish to be identified.  Send photos to jmadden16@yahoo.ca

- Joanne

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