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Celebrating Sir John in Orillia

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Canadian historian Ted Barris shakes hands with a likeness of Sir John A Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, before speaking at the 19th annual Sir John A Macdonald Celebration, Saturday night in Orillia.

Canadian historian Ted Barris shakes hands with a likeness of Sir John A Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, before speaking at the 19th annual Sir John A Macdonald Celebration, Saturday night in Orillia.

The Hermitage Ballroom at the Best Western Mariposa Inn was the room with the Sir John A view Saturday night.

The 19th annual Sir John A Macdonald Celebration was once again sold out, with approximately 200 people on hand to show their support for the Orillia Museum of Art and History while feting one of the Fathers of Confederation.

The celebration took on an added significance this year, as 2017 not only marks the 150th anniversaries of both Confederation and the incorporation of Orillia, but also the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, pointed to as pivotal moment in making Canada the nation it is today.

That made Ted Barris a fitting speaker for the evening. He has written extensively on the country around the time of Confederation, as well as specifically on Vimy, in 2007's Victory at Vimy.

But Barris realized, Macdonald's life story has been told just about every way it can be. Still, he and other historians find plenty of information about Canada's first prime minister to mine.

“Because of the 150th, I wanted to look at maybe an odd story,” Barris said.

He looked to what he called an “interesting phenomenon,” that helped with the creation of Canada, prior to the transcontinental rail road.

“At at time when the first four colonies became a nation in 1867, the look was inward, mostly just the localized problems,” he explained. “The notion of Canada, from sea-to-sea-to-sea, wasn't even on their minds, because they were dealing with the French issue, the language issue, religion. Suddenly, in 1870, when the first rebellion in the west occurred, at Fort Garry, the four provinces are looking westward to Rupert's Land. And how do they get there? How is transportation happening there, but through steamboats.”

Barris first wrote about steamboats on the praries in 1977's Fire Canoe, a book he has recently revised and re-published. Steamboats play a significant role in the pre-railroad history of transportation in the west and Barris was able to share a Macdonald story in this context at the dinner Saturday.

But that was just his starting point. The rest of his talk was to look at the kind of Canada Macdonald had predicted and how that prediction came to fruition.

“The one element in its maturation is being acknowledged this year in the 100th anniversary at Vimy,” Barris said. He highlighted some stories from Canadians who were at Vimy Ridge to show how Macdonald's hope for Canada was lived up to at Vimy and beyond.

Barris is no stranger to Orillia, having spoke at multiple functions over the years, including the Take a Veteran to Dinner evening and a recent Ruck 2 Remember event, which honoured veterans of the Korean War.

Having notable an interesting speakers present at each of the 18 previous dinners is what has kept the event been a January highlight for nearly two decades, said event chair Don Macdonald – no relation.

Since its inception, the event has constantly sold out, from its days at the Sundial Inn to its current home at the Mariposa.

A deep respect and interest for the first prime minister doesn't hurt either.

“Sir John A is very important to our country,” Don Macdonald said. “Sir John is the one that saw the opportunity (of Canada). The great thing about it is, (the Fathers of Confederation) rose to the challenge. It was a huge challenge. And look how we've come to benefit from that.”

pbales@postmedia.com

@patrickbales



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