By Robert P. Tchegus
As Sir John A. Macdonald Day, Jan. 11, gets even closer, it is important to remember that Canada is now only one year away from the Father of Confederation’s bicentennial year.
I’m proud to report that a group of volunteers and staff at the non-profit, non-partisan Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission, www.sirjohna2015.ca, has been hard at work since 2010 planning and encouraging Canadians to mark this important date.
In order to help us achieve this worthy goal, our commission has been joined by all six living past prime ministers of Canada who serve proudly as our honorary commissioners. Former premiers Jean Charest and Bob Rae also serve in this role as does Sir John Major of the United Kingdom and Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. Canada’s longest serving House of Commons Speaker, Peter Milliken is our Patron.
The federal government’s Department of Canadian Heritage and City of Kingston, joined by corporate sponsors such as Manulife Financial, Via Rail and generous donors like Power Corporation, Morgan Meighen & Associates, Stewart Title, the Davies Foundation, Homestead Landholdings, the Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy and others, are making our success possible.
In a country that traditionally has not celebrated its history and past leaders, we believe Sir John A.’s 200th birthday is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to engage citizens, particularly young people, in learning more about Canada’s founding as a nation in 1867. By studying our past and re-discovering Canada’s earliest days as a country, we hope that young Canadians and adults alike will learn more about our institutions and the compromises – and successes and failures – that have made us who and what we are as Canadians.
We have been busy assembling a collection of Sir John A.’s most important speeches that we hope to distribute to Canadian schools in book form or on-line. Our commission has also been taking our play, “Sir John, Eh? The Roadshow,” to Canadian schools. Students and educators tell us over and over again how the presentation of Canada’s history by our professional actors from the SALON Acting Company truly brings the past alive.
Canadian teachers have proven excellent partners and there have been Sir John A. Macdonald birthday parties in various classrooms, a Sir John A. Macdonald portrait contest was held in another school and former prime minister John Turner served as the judge of the final entries; there have been Macdonald-themed videos created by young people and so much more.
Thanks to a partnership with the experts at Library and Archives Canada, the Macdonald Library is taking shape. Visitors to the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission’s website will find that we are bringing together primary and educational materials about Sir John A. in one place so they’ll be available to students and researchers for many years to come.
To further these educational programs, we are also working closely with Queen’s University – which Sir John A. helped found – and engaging leading academics in the Macdonald bicentennial movement. In January 2013 more than 50 experts from top Canadian universities, joined by political figures such as Government House Leader Peter Van Loan and former House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, gathered for a one-day conference, “Macdonald and Federalism”that sparked impressive academic debate and discussion.
On Sir John A. Macdonald Day this year the Queen’s School of Policy Studies and the Queen’s Law School are presenting another conference, “Sir John A. Macdonald Then and Now,” that will continue to build on the Macdonald momentum. Experts from a variety of Canadian universities will be in attendance. It is our hope that a multi-day academic conference will also take place in 2015.
As a lawyer myself I’ve been proud of the increasing involvement by members of my profession in the Macdonald bicentennial movement. Sir John A. Macdonald, of course, was one of the leading lawyers of his day.
Distinguished jurists such as the Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, and Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court have even taken time from punishing schedules to lead our educational Sir John A. walks for students.
The Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission has also been busy building a national network of citizens in communities from coast-to-coast-to-coast who are interested in the celebrations. Through our free monthly newsletter Canadians share ideas and plans for 2015 with each other.
This month, we will start an important series of town hall meetings in Atlantic Canada where Canadians will be asked how they think this important national milestone should be marked. These consultations build on successful discussions we have already held in the Ontario communities of Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa and Orillia.
For those who can’t attend our town halls in person, I hope you will consider still providing us your input. You can always email us at email@example.com to ensure your voice will be heard.
As we enter 2014, I heartily encourage all Canadians to become involved in the Macdonald bicentennial movement. Sir John A.’s story – that of an immigrant child who came to our shores and went on to found a transcontinental nation – can inspire us still as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
Happy Sir John A. Macdonald Day 2014!
Robert P. Tchegus is a partner at the law firm of Cunningham Swan and the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission’s volunteer steering committee’s chair.