timeline

Sir John A. Macdonald

First prime minister of Canada (1867–73, 1878–91), lawyer, businessman and politician.

Sir John A. Macdonald, 1883.

January 11, 1815

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Birth of John A. Macdonald

John A. Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His exact birth date remains a mystery. While his father's journal records it as 11 January 1815 and his family celebrated his birthday on 11 January, a certified extract from the registration of his birth cites 10 January.

January 01, 1820

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Macdonald Immigrates to Canada

John A. Macdonald immigrated with his family to Kingston, Upper Canada, at age five. John A. grew up in Kingston, and in the nearby Lennox, Addington, and Prince Edward counties. The family lived in near poverty as his father, Hugh Macdonald’s, attempts to run a mill and several stores all failed.

April 01, 1830

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Apprenticeship

By the age of 15, John A. Macdonald was apprenticed to become a lawyer with George Mackenzie in Kingston, Upper Canada.

February 06, 1836

Sir John A. Macdonald 

John A. Macdonald Called to the Bar

After studying law for several years and articling, John A. MacDonald was licensed to be a lawyer.

December 07, 1837

Sir John A. Macdonald 

John A. Macdonald and the Rebellion of 1837

John A. Macdonald's early professional career coincided with the rebellion in Upper Canada and subsequent border raids from the US. He was in Toronto in December 1837 where, as a militia private, he took part in the attack on the rebels at Montgomery's Tavern. In 1838, he attracted public notice by defending accused rebels, including Nils von Schoultz, leader of an attack on Prescott.

February 10, 1841

Act of Union

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Act of Union in Effect

The Act of Union came into effect, uniting Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada, a legislative union with 84 members divided equally between Canada East and Canada West.

September 07, 1843

John A. MacDonald,  ca. 1845-1850

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Marriage of John A. Macdonald

John A. Macdonald married his first wife, Isabella Clark (181156) in Kingston, Canada West. He had met Isabella and courted her the year before on the Isle of Man during a trip to the United Kingdom.

October 15, 1844

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Legislative Assembly

John A. Macdonald was elected as Kingston representative at the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.

March 13, 1850

Macdonald, Sir Hugh John

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Birth of Hugh Macdonald

Hugh Macdonald, lawyer and premier of Manitoba, the only surviving son of Sir John A. Macdonald, was born in Kingston, Canada West.

September 01, 1854

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Attorney General

John A. Macdonald became attorney general in the coalition government of Sir Allan Napier MacNab and Augustin-Norbert Morin.

January 27, 1855

Taché, Sir Étienne-Paschal

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Liberal-Conservative Ministry

Sir Étienne-Paschal Taché formed a ministry with A.N. MacNab. After MacNab resigned in May 1856, Taché joined John A. Macdonald in a ministry that sealed the alliance of Upper Canadian Conservatives and Canadien Liberals in a unified party.

May 24, 1856

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Co-premier of the Province of Canada

John A. Macdonald seceded Sir Allan MacNab as joint-premier of the Province of Canada, along with Étienne-Paschal Tache.

December 28, 1857

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Death of Isabella Macdonald (née Clark)

John A. Macdonald’s wife, Isabella, died after a lifetime of chronic illness. Isabella and John A. had two sons together: John, who died in infancy, and Hugh, who became a lawyer, businessman, MP, and premier of Manitoba.

August 06, 1858

Sir John A. Macdonald 

The Double Shuffle

The notorious "double shuffle" — in which each minister took a new portfolio on August 6 and resumed his former office on August 7 allowed the John A. Macdonald–George-Étienne Cartier ministry to retain power without facing by-elections.

June 22, 1864

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Great Coalition Formed

The Great Coalition was formed. Reform leader George Brown joined a coalition with John A. Macdonald's Conservatives and George-Étienne Cartier's Bleus, starting the process of Confederation in the Province of Canada. The ministers of the Great Coalition were sworn in on June 30.

September 01, 1864

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Charlottetown Conference

John A. Macdonald attended the Charlottetown Conference to persuade the Maritime provinces to join Canadian Confederation.

October 10, 1864

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Québec Conference

Confederation was debated at the Québec Conference, where the Québec Resolutions were agreed upon, paving the way for Confederation. John A. Macdonald is said to have written 50 of the 72 resolutions.

December 04, 1866

Sir John A. Macdonald 

London Conference

Sixteen delegates from the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick met with the British government in London, England. During the three month conference, delegates reviewed the Québec Resolutions — creating a document that would form the basis of the British North America Act — chose "Canada" as the name of the new country and designated it a Dominion.

February 16, 1867

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Second Marriage

John A. Macdonld married Susan Agnes Bernard (18361920), in London, England.

July 01, 1867

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's First Prime Minister

Sir John A. Macdonald 

John A. Macdonald Becomes First PM

John A. Macdonald became the first prime minister of Canada.

July 01, 1867

Western Settlement

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Canada Comes Into Existence

The Dominion of Canada came into existence, consisting of Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

July 01, 1867

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Sir John A. Macdonald Knighted

Sir John A. Macdonald received his knighthood from Queen Victoria in thanks for his work toward Confederation. He also received an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from Oxford University.

August 07, 1867

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Conservatives Win First Majority

In the first general election after Confederation, the Conservatives won a majority with 101 seats to the Liberals' 80; Sir John A. Macdonald, who had been chosen prime minister by the Governor General when Canada was created, remained prime minister.

February 08, 1869

Mary Macdonald, daughter of Sir John A. Macdonald, 1893.

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Birth of Mary Macdonald

Sir John A. Macdonald and his wife Susan Agnes welcomed the birth of a daughter. Mary Macdonald was born with serious physical disabilities and remained wheelchair bound her entire life. Macdonald was a devoted father. Mary could never write, as she couldn’t hold a pen, but using three fingers she could tap out her own letters on the typewriter her father bought her. Their story has been retold in the beautiful children’s book Baboo.

November 02, 1869

Louis Riel and the Provisional Government

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Red River Resistance

With 120 men,Louis Riel occupied Upper Fort Garry in the Red River Colony to block the transfer of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to Canada. Known as the Red River Resistance, the Métis — led by Riel — and First Nations allies defended the Red River Colony from White settlers and government encroachment on their lands. Louis Riel was hanged for treason, and Cree chiefs Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker) were imprisoned. Promises to protect the Métis were still unfulfilled more than a decade later, sparking the Northwest Resistance in 1885. In 2019, Poundmaker was exonerated by the federal government.

July 15, 1870

Manitoba Coat of Arms

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Manitoba Joins Confederation

The Manitoba Act went into effect, making Manitoba Canada's fifth province.

July 15, 1870

Prince Rupert

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Transfer of Rupert's Land

The British Crown officially transferred Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. These lands comprise present-day Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, and northern parts of Ontario and Québec.

July 20, 1871

British Columbia Coat of Arms

Sir John A. Macdonald 

British Columbia Joins Confederation

British Columbia entered Confederation as the sixth province. The legislature met for the first time after Confederation on 15 February 1872.

January 01, 1872

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Nine-Hour Movement

A wave of labour unrest known as the Nine-Hour Movement swept the country. Grievances included for the institution of a nine hour work day and the right to associate in trade unions.

July 20, 1872

Sir John A. Macdonald

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Conservatives Win Second Majority

In the federal election, the Conservatives won a majority with 103 seats to the Liberals' 97; Sir John A. Macdonald remained prime minister.

October 15, 1872

Sir Hugh Allan

Sir John A. Macdonald 

CPR Formed

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company was formed. The company was given a charter on 5 February 1873. Methods used by Sir Hugh Allan to secure the charter led to the defeat of Sir John A. Macdonald's government.

April 02, 1873

Pacific Scandal Political Cartoon

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Pacific Scandal Revealed

The Liberals broke news of the Pacific Scandal in Parliament. A spate of damaging letters and telegrams appeared in Liberal newspapers in July.

May 23, 1873

North-West Mounted Police

Sir John A. Macdonald 

North-West Mounted Police

An Act of Parliament authorized the creation of the North-West Mounted Police; the prefix Royal was added 1904.

July 01, 1873

Prince Edward Island Coat of Arms

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Prince Edward Island Joins Confederation

Prince Edward Island entered Confederation as Canada's seventh province.

November 05, 1873

Pacific Scandal Political Cartoon

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Pacific Scandal Forces Resignations

In the Pacific Scandal, the Macdonald government resigned over the evidence that members of the government had accepted campaign funds from Sir Hugh Allan in return for the Canadian Pacific Railway contract.

January 22, 1874

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Election Loss

Sir John A. Macdonald loses his only election as prime minister and becomes Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for the next four years. The Liberals formed their first majority, winning 133 seats. Alexander Mackenzie became the first Liberal prime minister.

May 26, 1874

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Secret Ballot Introduced

An Act was passed introducing vote by secret ballot, simultaneous elections and the abolition of property qualifications for Members of Parliament.

September 22, 1877

Red Crow

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Treaty No. 7

Treaty No. 7 was signed at Blackfoot Crossing in southern Alberta by the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Sarsi and Stoney. Canadian officials understood that by the treaty First Nations surrendered some 35,000 sq miles of land to the Crown in return for reserves, payments and annuities.

September 17, 1878

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Return to Power

Sir John A. Macdonald was defeated in his riding in Kingston but elected in Marquette, Manitoba, and then in Victoria, BC. (Elections were at that time held at different times across the country, and politicians could run multiple times.) He was re-elected as prime minister with a majority of the seats in the House of Commons on the strength of his National Policy platform, calling for high tariffs, the completion of the CPR and settlement of the West.

March 14, 1879

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's First Prime Minister

Sir John A. Macdonald 

National Policy Takes Effect

Sir John A. Macdonald's National Policy of protective tariffs came into effect with Tilley's Tariff, averaging 25 per cent on US goods.

September 01, 1880

Claiming the Archipelago, 1909

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Arctic Sovereignty

British sovereignty over the Arctic Islands passed to Canada.

May 08, 1882

Old Map of Western Canada.

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Western Provisional Districts

Land acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870 was divided into four administrative districts by the federal government: Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca and Saskatchewan. The districts, designed "for the convenience of settlers and for postal purposes," were roughly equal in size and natural resource distribution.

June 20, 1882

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's First Prime Minister

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Conservatives Retain Power 1882

In the federal election, the Conservatives retained power, winning 139 seats to the Liberals' 71. Macdonald remained prime minister.

January 01, 1885

Constructing the CPR

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Chinese Labourers and the CPR

Some 15,000 Chinese labourers completed the British Columbia section of the CPR, with more than 600 of them perishing under adverse working conditions during this essential construction. Largely because of the trans-Canada railway, Chinese communities developed across the nation.

January 01, 1885

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Chinese Head Tax

Chinese migrants were obligated to pay a $50 "entry" or "head" tax before being admitted into Canada. The Chinese were the only ethnic group required to pay a tax to enter Canada. By 1903, the head tax was increased to $500; the number of Chinese who paid the fee in the first fiscal year dropped from 4719 to 8.

March 26, 1885

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Battle of Duck Lake

Leif Crozier, with a force of 98 North-West Mounted Police, was routed by Métis under Gabriel Dumont at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, marking the outbreak of the North-West Resistance.

May 09, 1885

Battle of Batoche

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Battle of Batoche

At Batoche, Métis effectively resisted General Middleton's forces for three days until drawn out of their rifle pits by a concerted attack.

June 03, 1885

Sir Samuel Benfield Steele

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Last Battle in Canada

The last military engagement in Canada took place when a North-West Mounted Police force commanded by Samuel Benfield Steele met Cree led by Big Bear at Steele Narrows, North-West Territories.

July 02, 1885

Big Bear

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Big Bear Surrenders

Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa) surrendered at Fort Carlton. Though always counselling peace, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

November 16, 1885

Louis Riel Trial

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Louis Riel Hanged

Louis Riel was hanged for treason at the Regina jail. He had been convicted after a trial held in Regina from 28 July to 1 August. Macdonald's refusal to grant leniency made Riel a symbol of English-Canadian oppression.

November 25, 1885

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Canada's First Park Reserve

The federal government set aside 26 sq km around the Banff hot springs as Canada's first National Park.

February 22, 1887

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's First Prime Minister

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Conservatives Retain Power 1887

In the federal election, the Conservatives retained power with a reduced majority, winning 123 seats to the Liberals' 92. Sir John A. Macdonald remained prime minister.

March 05, 1891

Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's First Prime Minister

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Conservatives Retain Power 1891

In the federal election, the results were identical to those of 1887, with 123 Conservative seats and 92 Liberal. Sir John A. Macdonald won his last election and remained prime minister.

June 06, 1891

Funeral of Sir John A. Macdonald at Cataraqui Cemetery.

Sir John A. Macdonald 

Death of Sir John A. Macdonald

Sir John A. Macdonald died in Ottawa at the age of 76. Thousands of grieving Canadians viewed his casket on display in the Senate.