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Sir John A Macdonald: His past is our past

in Just in Time/Opinion by

Sometimes when I walk by Lindsay’s iconic municipal building — our former Town Hall — I look up at that top-level balcony and imagine Sir John A. Macdonald speaking from there. Our first prime minister – whose birthday is Jan. 11 – visited Lindsay twice. The first time was as prime minister, in either 1872 or 1874 (records vary), and a second time he visited as leader of the opposition in 1877.

Lindsay Advocate Publisher, Roderick Benns.

Canada is a great nation that has been blessed with many fine leaders – and that certainly includes our first prime minister, at least in many aspects. Like any other country, though, we have segments of our history from the distant past that we are having trouble reconciling now. Macdonald’s treatment of indigenous people is one such aspect that has come under scrutiny, and rightly so. But too many are addressing this in an unhelpful way. Statues are being defaced or moved. Some school teachers now paint Macdonald one dimensionally. And all the while we are lashing out at Macdonald as if somehow he were separate from us.

If our high opinion of ourselves as Canadians has taken a hit with the realization of what the residential school system was, then it is an opportunity for us to learn and grow as a society. Leadership is a collective responsibility. We see it embodied in one person, but in reality it is the personification of all of us.

For 19 years we entrusted Macdonald with the unfolding of Canada as his life’s work. I truly believe we would be part of the U.S. and their hungry manifest destiny had it not been for the political ability of Macdonald.

We look back now and we realize that many of the social policies we enacted – like the residential school system — were indisputably wrong. But politicians always echo the population they serve. So if we don’t like some things we now see in Macdonald, then we don’t like this past version of ourselves, either, from more than a century ago. We can only choose to learn from this.

As we elect our present crop of leaders, listen carefully for those who speak of curtailing rights or opportunities for others. Choose carefully, for how will our grandchildren’s grandchildren feel about the leaders we choose today?

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Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Lindsay Advocate. He is the author of 'Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World,' and is also Vice Chair of the Ontario Basic Income Network. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, Roderick has interviewed former Prime Ministers of Canada, Senators, and Mayors across Canada. He also wrote and published a series of books for youth about Canada's Prime Ministers as teens.


  1. Well said Roderick! Much truth to your article! We can’t change the past,but we need to be careful how we pave the future!

  2. Well written article Mr, Benns. It is hard to believe some people really think it was all Macdonald’s doing, wasn’t supported by anyone else but himself. How do they imagine voted him in? I make these same comments to friends and family. Some of them just shake their heads……which makes me shake my own.

  3. An excellent article. In a number of ways the residential schools were similar to the boarding schools of Britain in that time. We have come along way in the last 100+ years in our respect for individuals and cultural groups yet there is still a lot of road in front of us.

  4. My father worked in that building from the late 60’s until the mid 80’s. His office window was in the part of the building that protrudes out on Kent St. I think of him every time I see it. I still remember going in there to visit sometimes as a kid and then playing in the old court room in there.

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