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Kingston and Canada's Great Politicians

March 3, 2017 -

This year, Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary of confederation. Canadians from coast-to-coast-to coast will join families, friends and neighbours to honour our great country in meaningful ways. Throughout this historic year, Kingston will be showcasing our ongoing contributions to the nation. 

Kingston is perhaps best known for being the home of Sir John Alexander Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada and the "Father of Confederation." Born in Scotland in 1815, Macdonald moved with his family to Upper Canada and settled in Kingston when he was five years old. He opened his own law office in Kingston at the age of 19 and was elected as the Kingston representative in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada at the age of 29.

A man of considerable intelligence and ability, Macdonald quickly rose within the government of British North America. His crowning achievement was the Confederation of British North America in 1867, which brought together four new provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) to form the Dominion of Canada, with Kingston as its first capital city. To unite a society with strong linguistic, religious and regional differences, Macdonald implemented a highly centralized federal system of government to foster the development the nation. He was appointed as the first prime minister of Canada on July 1, 1867, serving as Prime Minister until 1873, and then again from 1878 until his death in 1891.

Throughout his administrative terms, Macdonald pursued policies that contributed greatly to the expansion and national unification of Canada. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the support and construction of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. Not only did it link Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and enabled settlement in the Canadian West, it served as a material symbol of national unity.

After Macdonald was called to the bar in 1836, two of his protégés were young Kingston law students, Oliver Mowat and Alexander Campbell. They too were destined to play leading roles in the Confederation of Canada and went on to do great things in their own rights. Mowat was the Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896, while Campbell became the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1887 to 1892.

Although Sir John A. Macdonald is a controversial figure, especially in regards to his policies and their impacts on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples and on Chinese-Canadians, his political work had a profound influence on the development and evolution of Canada.

Kingston marks its role in the life of Canada's first prime minister with commemorative plaques at his many homes, including Bellevue House, a National Historic Site open to the public at 35 Centre St., as well as at his many law offices, including 171 Wellington St. and 343 King St. East. He is buried in Kingston's Cataraqui Cemetery in the Macdonald family gravesite. In 1895, to honour the legendary nation-builder, the City of Kingston erected a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in City Park.

There are many other politicians of note who have called Kingston home.

Flora Isabel MacDonald (June 3, 1926 - July 26, 2015), a Canadian politician and humanitarian, first came to Kingston to work in the Department of Political Studies at Queen's University. She was elected to the House of Commons in 1972 as the Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for the Kingston and the Islands riding. In 1976, she was one of the first women to vie for the leadership of a major Canadian political party and in 1979, she became the Secretary of State for making her the first female foreign minister in Canada, and one of the first in the world. During her time as Secretary of State for External Affairs, MacDonald was involved in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 and was instrumental in resolving the refugee crisis following the end of the Vietnam War by making it possible for more than 60,000 Vietnamese "boat-people" to find sanctuary in Canada. Her policies paved the way for Canada's immigration policies and greatly influenced Canadian multiculturalism. For her contributions, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992 and advanced to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998.  

The Honourable Peter Milliken is another Kingstonian who has played a major part in Canadian politics. A Kingston local and a graduate of Queen's University, Milliken presided over four different Parliaments, serving as a Member of the Canadian Parliament for Kingston and the Islands from 1988 until 2011. As Speaker of the House of Commons from 2001 to 2011, he is the longest serving Speaker in Canadian history. During his Speakership, Milliken made several historical rulings, including his ruling on Parliament's right to information that set precedent throughout Canada and the Commonwealth.

These Kingston politicians and their legacies continue to influence Canadian politics. Their work remains integral to the conversation that continues to define Canada as a democratic nation.

Kingston is at the heart of Canada's story – shaping our past and building our future.

About the City of Kingston

The City of Kingston provides municipal services to 125,000 residents living in this visually stunning, historic city, often ranked one of the best places to live in Canada. Kingston is focusing on being smart and livable as it pursues its vision to become Canada's most sustainable city. We focus on environmental responsibility, social equity, economic health and cultural vitality –ensuring that today's decisions don't compromise our future. 

Please visit www.CityofKingston.ca and join the conversation on social media.

Twitter: @CityofKingston

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheCityofKingston

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