Jan. 12 will mark a birthday celebration in Wellesley 197 years in the making. Grade 8 students of Wellesley Public School will throw a party for the 197th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald as part of a Canada-wide celebration organized by the Historica Dominion Institute, a non-profit group aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding of Canadian history.
“I love Sir John A. I just think he was so important to the history of our country,” said Grade 8 history teacher Joanne Aitken, who entered the school’s two Grade 8 classes in the competition back in October.
Macdonald’s birthday is actually Jan. 11, but Aitken said in order to time it correctly with all the students and teachers involved, they had to wait until the next day.
That shouldn’t take away from the real purpose of the day, though, which is to encourage students to learn more about Canada’s first prime minister.
“With Grade 8 history, the first unit is all about Confederation, and that’s all Sir John A. with him being the first prime minister and everything else he did.”
John Alexander Macdonald was born in Scotland on Jan. 11, 1815 and immigrated with his family to Kingston at the age of five. He mastered Latin and French by the age of 12 and by 1836 he was a licensed lawyer. During the 1840s he also became politically active and was elected as Kingston’s representative on the colonial legislature in 1844.
In 1856 Macdonald was elected Premier of Canada West. In 1864 he laid the groundwork for Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference and Quebec Conference, and on July 1, 1867 the British North America Act came into effect, giving birth to the country of Canada.
That same day he was knighted by Queen Victoria in recognition of his efforts and on Aug. 7 became the nation’s first prime minister.
Macdonald has been acknowledged as one of Canada’s most important politicians, and served as prime minister for 19 years, yet he has gained a reputation of being a drunkard and has no major monuments or cities named in his honour – unlike George Washington.
Back in 2001 the federal government sought to reverse that trend by declaring Jan. 11 as Sir John A. Macdonald Day in an effort to help restore his image to Canadians.
Throughout the month of December the class prepared for the celebration by learning more about who Macdonald was, and what he did for the country. On the 12th the 53 Grade 8 students will don traditional gowns and suits worn during the mid-19th century, transform the classroom into a ballroom, and students will play live music for the last two periods of the day. There will also be food and sparkling cider to mark the occasion.
They will even have an actor come in during the final period to portray Macdonald to the students.
“The point is that we’ve had a lot of fun, we’ve learned a lot, and we’re having a fun afternoon.”
More than 200 schools across the country will be participating, and the entire party will be videotaped and photographed by Aitken and her son. They will then send the video and photos into the Historica Dominion Institute, which will judge who threw the best party.
The winners will receive a prize pack that includes an iPad 2 and other tech gadgets.
For more information on the Historica Dominion Institute or the day itself, visit www.sirjohnaday.ca or www.historica-dominion.ca.