Sunday marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister. Sir John A. Macdonald was born Jan. 11, 1815, and became prime minister in 1867.
He was “kind of a big deal,” at least if one considers uniting a nation or forming a country in the realm of big deal things.
And yet here we are two centuries later. Less than a century and a half after Confederation, and we find one in four Canadians have no idea who Sir John A. Macdonald is. At least according to a Historica Canada poll published over the weekend in The National Post. The results go on to indicate 28 per cent cannot place the date of Confederation, and 44 per cent are unaware Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday in 2017.
It’s not like Macdonald was a dull historical figure. One cannot help but wonder what a modern media would do with Macdonald’s thoughts on women or those who did not share his skin shade. One could fill entire television newscasts with accounts of his penchant for the bottle. Our first prime minister was a colourful carouser, and yet a quarter of the country, he helped build, could not identify him in a police lineup.
But if there is any solace in the Historica Canada poll, we appear to have gotten sharper over the past six years. A 2008 survey revealed 42 per cent of Canadians could not identify our first PM. Maybe his birthday sharpened us up.