Photo from the album of J. J.
Anecdotal Life of Sir John Macdonald”
E. B. Biggar
About 1825, Hugh Macdonald gave up his
business in Kingston and moved up the Bay of Quinte, to a point about 15 or
20 miles west of Kingston. The scenery
of the Bay of Quinte is charming to the eye of a stranger. The long stretch of water which cuts off
Prince Edward county from the mainland, and makes it almost an island, is
free from the wild storms which beat upon the outer shores of the county; and
the stranger sailing up these pleasant waters sees peace and loveliness on
every hand. An ever varying panorama
is presented to the eye: here a quiet
bay, there a rocky bluff, again a reedy biyou,
beyond a shelving shore, and anon an opening where a reach of water, long and
winding, finds its way for miles and miles, making peninsula after peninsula
of always varying size and aspect. At
the present day these sylvan scenes are dotted with farm houses; and in
summer the yellow grain fields, richly laden apple orchards, fields of clover
or of buckwheat, whose creamy bloom exhales an odor more delightful than “all
the perfumes of Arabia,” checker the landscape over, but at that time the
shores, the distant hills, the rolling uplands and breezy heights were alike
clad with dense groves of maple, oak, hickory, ash and other kinds of
Canadian forest trees.
At the root, as it were, of one of these
many tongues of land formed by the arms of the Bay of Quinte, was one of the
settlements of United Empire Loyalists – those people who, in the American
Revolution, “sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor”
to maintain as a united empire Great Britain and her colonies. These settlers had been attracted by the beauty
of the scenery and the rich soil, and, at the time we speak of, had in this
particular neighborhood two small settlements, one around the village of
Adolphustown, and the other along Hay Bay on the other side of this tongue of
land. It was at Hay Bay that the
Macdonald family fixed their abode. It
stood by the side of the high road, about eighty feet from the water. The shore curved in gracefully from a far
point of land down towards the house, and the clear waters, whether ruffled
by the transient breeze, or in the calm of evening reflecting the distant
hills across the bay, must have been a delight and an inspiration to the lad
whose fortunes we are following.
The writer visited the spot in the summer
of 1890. The waters of the bay,
whether from the sinking of the ground or the rising of the water level, had
encroached to within forty feet of the old homestead, while down on the
farther side of this little bay, two dwellings that formed part of the
homestead of Judge Fisher, their nearest neighbor, were now entirely
submerged. A pleasant breeze was
sending up to the shore little wavelets that chuckled gleefully under the
logs and limbs of fallen trees that lay along the water’s edge. From one of
these logs a solitary mud-turtle dropped off at our approach, and
pushed his way through the reeds. Lady
Macdonald, looking on the same scene a few years before, and noticing the
same turtle, or its companion, sitting on the same log, made this quaint
There is the very old turtle my husband used to shy stones at when he
was a boy.”
But where is the homestead? It is gone.
dwellings down, its tenants passed away.
A crop of peas was ripening in the field
which had enclosed the house. No trace
of it was to be seen, till, going to an uneven spot of ground, the
remains of the old foundation were to be made out, quite overgrown with
pea-vines, weeds and grass. Here were
the remains of the old cellar kitchen, that opened out towards the bay, and
which was still but partially filled up with deposits of leaves and the
washing so years of rains. A red
willow had grown up in the middle of the cellar.
It was a clapboarded wooden house, painted
red, with a wooden shingled roof, the west half of the place being used as a
store and the east as a dwelling. The
dimensions of the whole were 30 x 36 ft.
Though the house was long since burned to the ground, a very accurate
re-construction of it in print, reproduced here, was made by Mr. Canniff
Haight for his book, “Country Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago.” Mr. Haight having often seen it before it
had fallen. It was not built for the Macdonalds, but had been occupied by a man named Dettler.
A bumble-bee droned over the catnip that
grew along the tumbled stones of the foundation, and its dreamy noise, and
the clucking of the waters lulled the mind into a reflective mood, and set
one to dreaming over the wonderful career and the complex changes that were
wrought out in the life of the boy who played about this ruined wall and
paddled in this limpid water hard by.
These reflections were disturbed by a “caw caw” from one of the poplar
trees that still skirted the shore, and looking up we beheld a crow gazing
down in serious reflection on the scene.
Ah! Grip! You here now, and were you here then? You, whose life must have spanned over the
century, did you croak or prophesy at the home-coming of the school-boy who
was to sway the destinies of Canada?
And is this shattered tenement a type of the end of all human
glory? This much, old Grip, is
certain: Within a year the genius that
took thy name was never more to excite the mirth of thousands with new
variations of those playful sketches of the living face that looked up into
his mother’s, sitting before this kitchen door!
AT SCHOOL AT ADOLPHUSTOWN
The years at Adolphustown were chiefly
spent at school, Johnny for a portion of the time being sent back to
Kingston. The wiry lad, with his
sisters, Margaret and Louise, walked night and morning from Hay Bay to the
school at Adolphustown, a distance of three miles. The school house was a little wooden
structure, built by the original settlers, the U. E. Loyalists. Though the only one in the township, it was
but sixteen feet long or thereabouts, with two windows on each side, filled
with seven by eight inch window panes.
The old school is now used as a granary, and near to it there still
stands the oak tree- now grown to a patriarchal size – upon whose limb the
boy used to swing with his sisters and their companions.
There was but one board desk in the school
house, and that ran round three sides of the room. The teacher’s desk was at the vacant end,
and a pail of water in the corner was about the only other piece of furniture
in this temple of learning, which was presided over by a crabbed old
Scotchman known as Old Hughes. Hughes
had an adroit method of taking a boy by the collar and giving him a lift off
his feet and a whack at the same time.
The skill and celerity with which he did this was very interesting to
all the boys, except the subject of the operation, and Johnny must often have
enjoyed the exhibition, though he had no love for the chief performer, upon
whom he played more than one sly trick.
His school mates of this early day describe Johnny Macdonald as thin
and spindly and pale, and his long and lumpy nose gave him such a peculiar
appearance, that some of the girls called him “ugly John Macdonald.” One of them says he did not show any marked
cleverness till later on, when he had got into the study of mathematics. He was not fond of athletics, or of
hunting, or sport, although he was very nimble and was a fleet runner. He delighted, like most boys in the country, to run barefoot in summer, and
often referred in after years, in his speeches, to this boyish pleasure. He was a good dancer, however, and was
rather fond of the diversion. He also
learned to skate in these days, and a school-mate, Mr. John J. Watson (of
whom Sir John never in after years spoke without giving him the school boy
title of “John Joe” , relates that one day, while a group of the boys were
skating, he tripped up Johnny, who was a poor skater.
“What did you do that for?” demanded
Johnny, as he scramble to his feet.
“Because I couldn’t help it, when I saw
such drumsticks as yours on ice.”
Johnny made a dash after John Joe, but
John Joe was a fleet skater, and sailed easily to a safe distance.
“I’ll visit you for this,” exclaimed
Johnny, pointing the finger of vengeance at John Joe, and it was expected
that John Joe would suffer for it afterwards.
He did not, though for a time afterwards Johnny seemed to lose respect
As a boy, John Macdonald was considered by
many to be of a vindictive disposition and possessed of a violent
temper. He certainly was a passionate boy, but if he
ever possessed any vindictiveness, he must early have seen its danger, and
learned to control both it a and his temper.
His after career shows that in his dealings with his fellows his
self-control increased with his years.
Things that were put down by companions to vindictiveness might have
had no worse a motive than the boy’s inherent love of fun and mischief.
On one occasion, when they lived at Hay
Bay, his sister Louise, and her companion, “Getty” Allen, got into the boat,
but forgot their oars, when Johnny, seeing the situation, shoved them out
into the bay. The two girls screamed
and scolded by turns, while Johnny laughed.
His mother came down, and with half-concealed enjoyment of the scene
“You wicked boy, what did you do that
for? Suppose they upset?”
“Then I would go and pull them in,” and he
waited for time and the evening breeze to waft them back to shore.
The family were apparently in good
circumstances at this time, and were considered rather superior to their
neighbors around. They were usually
friendly and hospitable, but did not associate intimately with their
neighbors, except in the case of Judge Fisher’s family. Margaret and Louise were both fond of
music, and they had the only piano in this settlement. It had a small key-board, and legs almost
as thin as the legs of a table, like the instruments of that time, and had a
thin tone as well as thin legs.
However, the music had sufficient charm to draw young visitors from
many parts of the settlement to hear it.
The sisters, besides being able to play, sang very well together, in
part songs, the one taking soprano and the other alto.
Before the family returned to reside in
Kingston, they lived for a year or two at a place then known as the Stone
Mills – now called Glenora – just below one of the natural curiosities of the
place, the “Lake on the Mountain.”
Here Mr. Macdonald leased a grist and carding mill, the running of
which was only an indifferent success. The old stone mill still exists, and
its situation on the side of the steep bluff is still as charming and almost
as wild as then. Game must have been
plentiful at that time, but our hero delighted in neither hunting nor
fishing, and the only hunting story handed down in this connection is one to
the effect that the Van Black boys, returning from a hunt, saw John coming up
the road. They had shot a crow, and in
order to have some fun, they braced this crow up on a stump in the adjoining
field, and lingered around till their young friend came up. One of them casually called attention to
the crow, when Johnny begged the gun “to have a whack at it.” He fired, but the crow never as much as
turned his head, and it was only the laughter that followed the second shot
that led the young marksman to suspect a joke had been played on him.
William Canniff, of Toronto, gives a
reminiscence [Kingston Whig] of their life at the Stone Mills. Young Macdonald was always full of fun, and
delighted to play tricks upon his playmates.
On one occasion he aroused the displeasure of one of his
companions. The aggrieved boy, who was
larger than he caught Johnny in the flour mill, and having laid him
prostrate, proceeded to rub flour into the jet locks of his hair until it was
quite white. When released the victim went scampering down the hill,
laughing, and apparently appreciated the joke as much as the
At the election of 1882, Sir John ran for
Lennox, and during the campaign came to hold a meeting in Adolphustown, the
home of his boyhood. The ladies of the
village and neighborhood turned out and formed an equestrian procession to
escort him from the wharf to the house of Mr. J. J. Watson, one of his
schoolmates. The sight of these ladies
on horseback, and the crowds of people of all shades of political opinion who
had come to welcome this man, was unique in the social or political history
of the settlement.
Sir John made himself at home in the house
of his early friend, with whom after many years of separation he sat down,
and, throwing aside all thought of politics or ambition, became a boy again,
and calling his friend, “John Joe”, and addressing Mrs. Watson as “Getty”,
talked with schoolboy animation of those bygone days, when they played tricks
with each other on the ice.
the autograph album of Mrs. J. J. Watson
John A. Macdonald and Agnes Macdonald
visit Adolphustown June 17,
Sir John A Macdonald’s Early Home
From “Country Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago”
By Canniff Haight Published 1885
of Sir John A. Macdonald
South Shore Hay Bay, Adolphustown
SIR JOHN ALEXANDER
Scotland, the young Macdonald returned frequently during
formative years to his parents’ home here on the Bay of
Quinte. His superb skills kept him at the centre of
years. The political genius of
Confederation, he became
first prime minister in 1869, held that office for
years (1867-73 and 1878-91), and presided over the
of Canada to its present boundaries excluding
Newfoundland. His National Policy and the building of the
equally indicative of his determination to resist the
pull of geography and to create and preserve a
country politically free and commercially autonomous.
Sites and Monuments board of Canada.
View of Hay Bay Church on the Bay Shore Road
Taken from the site of the Macdonald Monument 2006