Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the dominant creative mind which produced the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated politics for a half century and set policy goals for future generations of political leaders.
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, CC, QC, OOnt, lawyer, parliamentarian, public servant, lieutenant-governor of Ontario (born 21 January 1922 in Toronto, ON; died 19 October 2012 in Hamilton, ON). Alexander was the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament, cabinet minister and lieutenant-governor (Ontario).
The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow, Anishnaabe (Ojibwa) chief, Aboriginal rights advocate, war hero (born on 9 March 1889 on the Parry Island reserve, ON; died 5 August 1952 at Parry Island, ON). One of the most highly decorated Indigenous people in Canada during the First World War, Pegahmagabow became a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights and self-determination.2
Duncan Campbell Scott, poet, writer, civil servant (born 2 August 1862 in Ottawa, ON; died 19 December 1947 in Ottawa, ON). Scott’s complicated legacy encompasses both his work as an acclaimed poet and his role as a controversial public servant. Considered one of the “poets of the Confederation” — a group of English-language poets whose work laid the foundations for a tradition of Canadian poetry — his intense works made use of precise imagery and transitioned smoothly between traditional and modern styles. However, his literary work has arguably been overshadowed by his role as the deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs. He enforced and expanded residential schools, failed to respond to a tuberculosis epidemic and oversaw a treaty process that many claim robbed Indigenous peoples of land and rights. His oft-quoted goal to “get rid of the Indian problem” became, for many, characteristic of the federal government’s treatment of Indigenous peoples.1
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51).
Charles Vincent Massey, PC, CC, governor general 1952-59, historian, business executive, politician, diplomat, royal commissioner, patron of the arts (born 20 February 1887 in Toronto; died 30 December 1967 in London, England). Massey was the country’s first Canadian-born governor general. He helped create the Order of Canada in 1967, and as a champion of the arts in Canada laid the groundwork for the Canada Council, the National Library of Canada and the National Arts Centre.
Brad Wall, businessman, politician, 14th premier of Saskatchewan 2007–18 (born 24 November 1965 in Swift Current, SK). Wall led the new Saskatchewan Party to power, presided over a time of stunning economic prosperity for his province, and became one of Canada's leading conservative voices in the early 21st Century.
David Barrett, OC, OBC, 26th premier of British Columbia 1972–75, member of parliament 1988–93, MLA 1960–83, social worker (born 2 October 1930 in Vancouver, BC; died 2 February 2018 in Victoria, BC). Barrett led the first New Democratic Party government in British Columbia, a short-lived but prolific administration that passed more than 400 bills in three years. The Barrett government created the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, the Agricultural Land Reserve and the province’s PharmaCare program. He was the first premier of Jewish heritage in Canada.
Ramon (Ray) John Hnatyshyn, PC, CC, governor general of Canada 1990-1995, lawyer, lecturer, politician, (born 16 March 1934 in Saskatoon, SK; died 18 December 2002 in Ottawa). Described as a “man of the people,” the affable Ray Hnatyshyn opened the grounds of Rideau Hall to Canadians and made the office of governor general more genial and approachable than it had been under his predecessor. He called his appointment the greatest honour possible for an “average Canadian.”
John Frederick Hamm, premier of Nova Scotia 1999-2006, physician, politician, (born 8 April 1938 in New Glasgow, NS). After a career as a family physician, Hamm moved into provincial politics in 1993 and became premier in 1999 — the first premier in 40 years to balance the province’s budget.
Jeanne-Mathilde Sauvé, PC, CC, governor general of Canada 1984-1990, journalist, politician, speaker of the House of Commons (born 26 April 1922 in Prud'homme, Saskatchewan; died 26 January 1993 in Montreal). Sauvé was Canada's first woman to be Speaker of the House of Commons and first woman to serve as governor general.
John MacLennan Buchanan, premier of Nova Scotia 1978–90, senator 1990–2006, lawyer (born 22 April 1931 in Sydney, NS). A master political campaigner, Buchanan was the longest-serving Conservative premier in Nova Scotian history, and was among the leaders who negotiated the accord to repatriate Canada’s Constitution in 1982.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Quebec). Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario from 2003 to 2016, she was Minister of Culture, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Attorney General of Ontario, and Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs. On 9 June 2016, after 25 years in politics, Meilleur announced that she was resigning as MPP, Attorney General and minister.
Jules Léger, PC, CC, governor general of Canada 1974-1979, journalist, diplomat, (born 4 April 1913 in Saint-Anicet, QC; died 22 November 1980 in Ottawa). As Canadian ambassador to France, Léger won admiration for his deft handling of French president Charles de Gaulle’s controversial “Vive le Québec libre” speech in 1967. Despite suffering a stroke soon after becoming governor general, he encouraged national unity during his term while the country was divided by disputes over Quebec separatism.
Daniel Roland Michener, PC, CC, OOnt, governor general of Canada 1967-1974, lawyer, politician, diplomat (born 19 April 1900 in Lacombe, AB; died 6 August 1991 in Toronto). Michener was the first former MP to become governor general and served during Canada’s centennial year of 1967. He inaugurated the Order of Canada and was a champion of sport and fitness.
Thomas Joseph “Tom” Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) 2012–17, Leader of the Opposition 2012-15, provincial Cabinet minister, lawyer, university professor (born 24 October 1954 in Ottawa, ON). Appointed to the Privy Council of Canada in 2012. Mulcair played a key role in building support for the NDP in Québec during the 2011 federal election, after which the party, under leader Jack Layton, became the official opposition. Four years later, Mulcair led the party to a disappointing third-place finish.
Georges-Philéas Vanier, PC, governor general of Canada 1959-1967, soldier, diplomat, (born 23 April 1888 in Montreal; died 5 March 1967 in Ottawa). Vanier was the first French Canadian to serve as governor general. As a diplomat, he and his wife helped many Europeans displaced by the Second World War. A devout Christian, he urged love and unity amid the emergence of Quebec separatism in the 1960s. In 1988 he was named the most important Canadian in history by Maclean’s magazine.