It’s great to rediscover an old love. When I was a teenager I was fascinated with Canadian history and Canadian Prime Minister, and at one point had sort of a posthumous crush on Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister. I haven’t done much with Canadian history since I stopped teaching the subject (though pulling out a $10 bill still gives me kind of a warm glow) but I was grateful for the chance to revisit that era, and its most fascinating character, Sir John A., through Richard Gwyn’s weighty and well-researched two-volume biography.
Gwyn’s claim for John A. is simple and sweeping: he claims that Canada as we know it today would not exist without John A. Macdonald. It was not so much a fierce loyalty to the idea of Canada as a fierce determination not to become Americans that motivated Macdonald and the early confederates, but that was enough to form the basis of what would eventually become a nation. These two books are a thorough, readable and engaging journey into the early years of this country, and have whetted my appetite for more Canadian history.