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Sir John A. Macdonald lives on at St. Lawrence College

2009-06-17

More than 100 years after his death, Canada’s first and founding Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, is back on the Canadian political scene. Students in the Memoirs Writing I course have made sure of it.

As part of a class assignment, the continuing education students each wrote the first page of the imaginary Memoirs of Sir John A. Macdonald (Sir John A. never had time to write his own memoirs) and their work was judged by one of Canada’s premiere journalists, Macdonald biographer Richard Gwyn. Gwyn, who is now in the midst of research for Volume II of his acclaimed biography of Canada’s Father of Confederation, The Man Who Made Us, chose Kingston’s Lisa Russell’s submission the winner.

"This was the one that came the closest to John A.’s own voice and style," Gwyn said. "John A. wasn't introspective. He wasted no time second-guessing his decisions and none at all on preening about having done this or that well. So he would never have written a memoir. Or, if he did, it’s been buried with him."

Russell was presented with a copy of Volume I of Gwyn’s Macdonald biography as her prize. Fittingly, the presentation took place at the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald at City Park in Kingston.

"To have our work judged by a writer of the statue of Mr. Gwyn is such an honour," Lisa Russell said. Russell’s winning entry, read by her, will be broadcast nationally across the CBC Radio network on Canada Day.

Course instructor Arthur Milnes said all his students approached the assignment with a great deal of Macdonald-like enthusiasm. Milnes served as research assistant to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on his 2007 memoirs, and has edited two volumes of Prime Ministerial speeches for the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s University and McGill-Queen’s University Press.

"I didn’t envy Richard Gywn," Milnes said. "Each entry was excellent but Lisa’s captured Macdonald’s spirit best of all. As the voters shouted during his last campaign, ‘Sir John, You’ll Never Die!’ Lisa and all my students have proven just how accurate that prophecy was."

Due to the success of the Memoirs Writing course and the Macdonald Memoirs assignment, Milnes will be teaching a full course this fall called The Prime Ministers of Canada. For eight weeks beginning September 14, the three-hour Monday evening class will explore the lives and legacies – through lectures, videos, guest speakers and more – of the 21 men and one woman, beginning with Sir John A. Macdonald, who have served in Canada’s top political office since Confederation. It is one of the only full courses on Canadian Prime Ministers offered at the college level in Ontario.

"Since Kingston is known as the home of Sir John A., it is fitting that this course be offered here," said Lori Crossley, coordinator, Continuing Education for St. Lawrence College. "Arthur’s experience working Mr. Mulroney’s memoirs, his extensive studies of Canada’s Prime Ministers, and his long service as the Political History columnist for the Hill Timeson Parliament Hill, will help make The Prime Ministers of Canada one of our most popular courses this fall."

Space is limited so anyone interested in taking the course should go to www.stlawrencecollege.ca in mid-August to register.

Lisa H. Russell’s winning submission is below.

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About St. Lawrence College
St. Lawrence College has approximately 6,000 full-time students from Canada and around the world, 20,000 part-time registrants, and 3,000 Job Connect Clients in over 80 academic programs and employs over 1,000 full-time and part-time staff at our three campuses in Brockville, Cornwall, and Kingston. In addition to new residences with more than 700 beds, the College has recently invested in new programs including degree Nursing, Bachelor of Business Administration, Energy Systems Engineering Technology, and the Culinary Co-op Apprenticeship Diploma Program, among others.

 

The First Page of Sir John A. Macdonald’s "Memoirs"

 

By Lisa H. Russell
Ruddy Hell!

I suppose one day the poor, stupid sods will read this and expect me to say something brilliant and illuminating about politics. I suppose as well I should be considering the public when I write this.

I should be careful, schematic and so on. Well, sod it all, I say! This won’t be found until after I’m dead after all. Stupid sods, the lot of them. Enough with politics. I am tired. No one will ever find this private epistle for I will make sure it is so.

How will I be remembered? Confederation? The CPR? What of it all at this point? Why now when I am so ill and tired and yet still filled with enough restlessness to blow it all to smithereens! How truly peculiar public life is. They all think they know me and yet not one of them has any idea who I really am. It is a good thing I am writing this alone, in near darkness here at Earnscliffe. It will all be buried with me in the end.

Buried because this goddamned country and . . . ruddy hell, that’s enough!