Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times
Format: Hardcover, 688 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-35644-4 (0-307-35644-2)
Pub Date: September 27, 2011
Add this item to your cart
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
An exciting story, passionately told and rich in detail, this major biography is the second volume of the bestselling, award-winning John A: The Man Who Made Us, by well-known journalist and highly respected author Richard Gwyn.
John A. Macdonald, Canada's first and most important prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen, who built this country over the next quarter century, and who shaped what it is today. From Confederation Day in 1867, where this volume picks up, Macdonald finessed a reluctant union of four provinces in central and eastern Canada into a strong nation, despite indifference from Britain and annexationist sentiment in the United States.
But it wasn't easy. The wily Macdonald faced constant crises throughout these years, from Louis Riel's two rebellions through to the Pacific Scandal that almost undid his government and his quest to find the spine of the nation: the railroad that would link east to west. Gwyn paints a superb portrait of Canada and its leaders through these formative years and also delves deep to show us Macdonald the man, as he marries for the second time, deals with the birth of a disabled child, and the assassination of his close friend Darcy McGee, and wrestles with whether Riel should hang.
Indelibly, Gwyn shows us Macdonald's love of this country and his ability to joust with forces who would have been just as happy to see the end of Canada before it had really begun, creating a must-read for all Canadians.
NOMINEE 2011 - Hilary Weston Writers Trust Non-Fiction Prize
FINALIST 2011 - Governor General's Literary Award - Nonfiction
FINALIST 2011 - British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2012 - Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
WINNER 2012 - Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing
WINNER 2012 - Dafoe Book Prize
In one vital matter, Mackenzie’s performance was a good deal more than just creditable. He found a way to settle the longstanding issue of an amnesty for Louis Riel. And he did it by employing the same skills that the Conservatives had perfected: “the fine arts of double-talk, put-it-off, dodge-the-issue, and fool the voters.” As magnified the accomplishment even more, Mackenzie had been a member of the Liberal government in Ontario that had escalated sectarian hostilities by offering a five thousand- dollar reward for Riel’s capture.
The root problem, as Dufferin identified it in an 1874 memorandum to Lord Carnarvon, who had succeeded Lord Kimberley as the colonial secretary, was that “no administration feels itself strong enough to grapple with the question.” It was no easier for Mackenzie and the Liberals than for Macdonald and the Conservatives to choose one of the two available ways to settle the affair: either to issue a general pardon that would include Riel, despite his execution of Thomas Scott, or to grant a pardon for all routine misdeeds, but excluding Riel and Ambroise Lépine, who had presided over Scott’s trial. The former would cost Ontario’s political support, and the latter Quebec’s, with either of these choices stirring up sectarian suspicions. Macdonald’s solution had been to delay, and to secretly subsidize Riel’s exile in the United States while proclaiming his eagerness to bring him to justice. This policy was thoroughly deceitful, and the Liberals discovered that Macdonald, after losing office, had dipped into the secret-service fund to take out $6,600, almost certainly as a further bribe to Riel. Nevertheless, it had served to gain time—the one solution that might heal most of the wounds.
The amnesty issue came to the fore again in the spring of 1874, when Riel, having won the Provencher seat in Manitoba held earlier by Cartier, travelled secretly to Ottawa and, abetted by some French-Canadian MPs, signed the members’ register before slipping out of town. Quebec was delighted by Riel’s defiance; Ontario, outraged. Mackenzie resorted to a classic Macdonald device— setting up a parliamentary committee, its majority now Liberal, to examine the entire issue, particularly whether the preceding government had made a formal offer of an amnesty. Over six weeks, the committee heard twenty-one witnesses, among them Macdonald, Bishop Alexandre Taché, and Father Noël-Joseph Ritchot. Macdonald summarized his government’s involvement by saying that Cartier and Ritchot had always moved “on different planes” as they discussed the contentious issue—Cartier excluding those involved in Scott’s death, and Ritchot including them. After hearing all the witnesses, the committee reached no conclusion but simply published the evidence presented to it.
WINNER 2012 – Writers’ Trust of Canada Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
WINNER 2012 – Dafoe Book Prize
FINALIST 2011 – Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2011 – BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2011 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2011 – Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction
A Globe and Mail Best Book
“Having digested prodigious quantities of research, and woven his knowledge into a seamless and stylish whole, Gwyn…has given us a first prime minister for the 21st century…. A towering achievement, a glittering career-capper, and it may prove impossible to beat.”
—Ken McGoogan, The Globe and Mail
“All the key historical characters are deftly described, which contributes hugely to making this book such an engaging read…. Nation Maker brings a fresh, welcome perspective to the life of our founding father. Anyone who reads it will no longer be able to take this powerful, charismatic, and dedicated man for granted.”
—Quill & Quire (starred review)
“Gwyn knows how to tell a good story…. This is John A., warts and all.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“It was widely expected that the veteran journalist Richard Gwyn would write an extremely readable biography of Sir John A. Macdonald, and he has. It was expected that his books would address many recent Canadian issues, and they do. What particularly surprises and delights students of Canadian political history, however, is the amount of new material Gwyn has uncovered about the life and political times of the country’s first Prime Minister. If he does not know absolutely everything about Sir John A., Richard Gwyn knows far more than any previous biographer, including Donald Creighton. In a tour de force of research, he has mastered the sources, weaves them beautifully into his text, and presents to us a more lifelike, more credible Macdonald than we had previously imagined. In passing Richard Gwyn puts a generation of Canadian political historians to shame with his scholarship and energy. Thanks to him we now have a John A. Macdonald for twenty-first century Canada.”
“Charming, difficult, far-sighted, devious, Sir John A. Macdonald was a master politician who spoke to Canadians in a way that few others have ever done. Writing with his usual elegance and insight, Richard Gwyn has done full justice to the man whose own story is inextricably interwoven with that of Canada.”
—Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919
About this Author
RICHARD GWYN is an award-winning author and political columnist. He is widely known as a commentator for the Toronto Star on national and international affairs and as a frequent contributor to television and radio programs. His books include two highly praised biographies, Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary on Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood, and The Northern Magus on Pierre Elliott Trudeau. His book, Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian, was selected by the Literary Review of Canada as one of the 100 most important books published in Canada. The first volume of Gwyn's biography of Macdonald was published in 2007, became a national bestseller and won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.
Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!