As some readers will doubtless know, preparations are being made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the most famous Father of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He was born on Jan. 11, 1815, in Glasgow; emigrated to Kingston in Upper Canada with his family five years later; became a lawyer in that city; and went on to great political success and a permanent place in history by being one of driving forces behind the creation of our country in 1867 and prime minister for a total of 19 years.
I was reminded of the upcoming anniversary and attendant celebrations (see this link to some special events in Kingston and elsewhere) thanks to an excellent article by my friend Roseann Trudeau in this week’s issue of the Tweed News. Roseann’s article also reminded me that I should write here at Meanwhile, at the Manse about Sir John A.’s Queensborough connection. Yes, you heard (or at least read) that right: the Queensborough connection to Canada’s first prime minister. You see, Sir John A. was once a property-owner in Queensborough! So there.
I first learned of the Sir John A. connection from Times to Remember in Elzevir Township, the invaluable history of our area written back in 1984 by the late Jean Holmes, the longtime clerk of Elzevir and a woman I remember fondly from my childhood days here. Here’s what Jean’s book says:
“Sir John A. Macdonald owned eleven lots in Queensborough between 1868 and 1870, and some again in 1886. It is reasonable to assume that he would have known the Hon. Billa Flint very well, even though Flint was a Liberal and Macdonald a Conservative. [Note from Katherine: Billa Flint (for whom the village of Flinton is named) was a prominent and wealthy Elzevir Township entrepreneur and politician; he was the local member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation, and a senator after Confederation. The suggestion that Times to Remember seems to be making is that since Flint moved in those Ottawa circles, he might well have suggested to Sir John A. that he make an investment in property his neck of the woods, i.e. Queensborough. Flint was also, by the way, a vehement temperance man, which means that he and Sir John, the latter well-known for enjoying his drink, might have had some interesting conversations. Anyway, back to Times to Remember:] For some unknown reason, Macdonald purchased lots in Queensborough. Later he sold (or lost) all of them to the Merchants’ Bank for the large sum of $6,600.”
Isn’t that just a most intriguing tidbit? Though I will confess I wasn’t sure whether to actually believe it, and indeed I infused some doubt about the veracity of this tale when I made mention of it in the text of the booklet about Queensborough’s history that I helped put together for the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. (The booklet is a fundraiser for the committee’s work, and if you’d like a copy, it can be yours for a mere $3 [plus postage]. Just let me know.)
However, prior to our committee’s wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day last September (which you can read about here; that was a wonderful day!), I saw the proof of the matter. It came in the form of a copy of a legal document that seems to be the turning over of the property to the Merchants’ Bank by Sir John A. and his wife, Agnes, who apparently was co-owner. It is dated Feb. 1, 1870, and all the details are there, including mention of “Lots Numbered Eighteen and Nineteen in the First Range and Forty and Forty One in the Second Range of the Village Plot of Queensboro“:
And it is signed by both Sir John (who is listed at the start as “The Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, of the City of Kingston, in the County of Frontenac and Province of Ontario, Knight Commander of the Bath“) and Agnes (“Dame Susan Agnes Macdonald, his wife”):
Now, legal documents tend to give me hives because, as a journalist and editor, my life’s mission is to see that information is conveyed in language that anyone can understand, whereas legal documents tend to be written in language that no one can understand. So I wasn’t really sure exactly what this document between the Macdonalds and the Merchants’ Bank is, but since it cites the same amount that Jean Holmes mentions, $6,600, it seems like it is the turnover of the property for default of payment that she refers to. That is confirmed in a note I have from the person who is owed enormous thanks for finding (back in the 1970s) and making a photocopy of this precious document, local lawyer and Queensborough property-owner André Philpot. As André explained in sharing the document with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee: “The copies aren’t perfect but they do show that for whatever reason Sir John bought land in (Queensborough), mortgaged it to ‘The Merchants’ Bank’ and seems to have signed it off to them – presumably because he couldn’t keep up the payments … Sir John was a better nation builder than investor and it looks like this may just have been a speculation that didn’t work out.”
Anyway, since we’ll all be hearing a fair bit about Sir John in the next while because of the bicentennial of his birth, I thought it timely and important to share his Queensborough connection. Really, doesn’t our little hamlet and its history just never cease to amaze you?