In the beginning
Without Macdonald there is no Canada.” Richard Gwyn is emphatic in his declaration of Sir John A. Macdonald’s pivotal role in forming this nation. That we are not Americans today is a debt we owe to Sir John A. Macdonald, according to Gwyn.
Gwyn joined a gathering at the Regent Theatre in Picton on Sunday afternoon to observe the unveiling of a new bust of Macdonald created by Ruth Abernethy—an early glimpse of what will become a full-size sculpture of Canada’s founder.
“Canada made no sense prior to Confederation,” said the journalist, columnist and author of the two volume work, Sir John A. Macdonald: the Man Who Made Us. “Prior to Confederation nearly all our goods, services and people moved north and south—whether you lived in the Maritimes, Upper Canada or British Columbia.
“Macdonald was bound and determined the country he imagined was not going to be swallowed up by the United States.”
The bronze work depicts a 19-year-old Macdonald at the beginning of a remarkable career. When it is completed, the work will feature a life-size figure of Macdonald addressing the court aside an empty jury dock.
“Holding Court” crystallizes a moment in time as Macdonald awaits the court’s verdict.
In the early 1830s Macdonald had come to Hallowell (later to become Picton) to help out in his cousin’s law practice. It was here that Macdonald got into a scuffle on Main Street and was hauled before the brand new courthouse (still in use today on Union Street). He chose to defend himself and successfully convinced the court of his innocence. He was not yet a lawyer—but the skills of this great statesman had already begun to emerge.
There are nine other statues of Macdonald across the country, but none present the young man at the outset of his brilliant career.
Ruth Abernethy is best known for her stunning sculpture of Glenn Gould—casually reposed on a bench, seemingly in mid-conversation with an absent bench mate—situated on the sidewalk in front of the CBC building in Toronto.
On tackling the Macdonald commission, Abernethy said she was striving to create a work that would give viewers a momentary encounter with the man.
“I want people to come across the sculpture and ask themselves, ‘Who is this?’ and ‘Why is he here?’” said Abernethy.
Gwyn offered high praise for Abernethy’s work, describing it as “exquisitely brilliant.” He noted too the curious fact that Macdonald was clean shaven at a time when most men of the day sported whiskers—either full beards or bushy sideburns and mustaches that threatened to consume their faces.
David Warrick heads the Macdonald Project in Prince Edward. He reports that the bronze bust will be on rotating display around Picton over the next several months. He says the effort is about a third of the way to its fundraising goal of about $200,000. This amount includes landscaping the front yard of the Armoury in Picton to welcome and feature the full Macdonald sculpture when it is completed.
On Sunday the project received a cheque from the Prince Edward County Green Trust to offset the cost of the landscaping portion of the project.
For more information or to contribute to this campaign, go to macdonaldproject.com or telephone 613.471.1238.