Thursday, December 16, 2010

John A. Macdonald and the Dancing Bear

Most Canadians when asked to describe something about their first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald will report that he was a drunk.  It must be admitted that the man had a particular affinity for the bottle, and legendarily was caught clutching his desk for stability during the crisis of the Fenian raids.  It is reported that when delivering a particularly tricky oration in the parliament of the Province of the Canadas, that a number of his supporters, not knowing of each other's efforts, delivered a glass of gin to the speaker, cleverly disguised as a glass of water.  John A. Macdonald (not yet knighted for his service to Britain as architect of confederation) was inspired by the juniper juice and treated his listeners to a rousing speech.  For all these myths of debauchery, however, it seems slightly sad that a man whose later life was so dedicated to the national dream should be primarily remembered for falling off the waggon.

This being said, a recent read of the first volume of Donald Creighton's classic 1956 biography of the PM, The Young Politician provoked a contribution to the legend of JAM's party life.  Apparently Macdonald befriended a young Scotsman by the name of John Rose, living in Montreal in the early 1840s or late 1850s.  The following is Creighton's amazing description of a badly behaving man in his thirties:

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"They were lighthearted and still fairly irresponsible young men who enjoyed life to the full without taking it very seriously; and once, when Macdonald at least was old enough to know better, they went off on an absurd adventure in the United States, and wandered around as travelling showmen, with Rose capering around as a dancing bear, and Macdonald playing some 'rude instrument' in accompaniment."  (Creighton, 243).

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