Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A Macdonald has a controversial legacy. In this module we have put together five resources to help you understand his legacy both during his prime ministership and today in contemporary Canada. In the historical documents, we drawn together three political cartoons published in the Liberal newspaper Grip in the 1880s. Founded by J.W. Bengough, Grip had a long history of critiquing the longstanding prime minister. Much like the media today, Grip was not alone in its critiques. Similar cartoons were also published in Toronto’s Arrow and Montreal’s Le Canard. Not all papers were critical, however, The Canadian Illustrated News, for example, ran political cartoons that put Macdonald in a more positive light.

Much like in the 1880s, Macdonald’s legacy remains contested today. In the historical interpretations, we’ve provided you with six different perspectives on Macdonald’s enduring legacy. In interpretation one, University of Ottawa historian Timothy Stanley reflects on the racist assumptions that underpinned Macdonald’s outlook on Canadian society. The second interpretation, a round-table discussion from TV Ontario’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin marking the bicentennial of Macdonald’s birth, takes a more celebratory tone but also draws out a broader range of subjects upon which to evaluate his legacy.

In this module you will find:

Historical Documents

  1. A Riel Ugly Solution (1885)
  2. A Phrenological Chart of the Head of the Country (1887)
  3. Christian Statesmanship (1888)


  1. Timothy Stanley
  2. TVO’s The Agenda


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DRAFT: Open History Seminar Copyright © by S. Kheraj & T. Peace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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