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Alexander Mackenzie's grave finally recognized

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By 1999, Alexander Mackenzie's gravestone was in poor shape. The writing on his stone was illegible, and most people had no idea that Canada's second prime minister was buried in the Sarnia, Ont., cemetery. An ironic outcome considering "this was a person of great historic significance," says Sarnia-Lambton MP Roger Gallaway in this TV clip. But thanks to Gallaway's efforts, Mackenzie's grave was refurbished, and was dedicated as a national historic site on Aug. 2, 1999.

A year earlier, the sad state of Mackenzie's gravestone had inspired Gallaway to table a motion in the House of Commons to designate all Canadian prime ministers' graves as historic sites. The motion was successful. So now, each of the 14 deceased prime ministers is going to have a fully preserved and well-maintained gravestone. A Canadian flag will fly next to each grave, while an accompanying plaque will pay tribute to the prime minister's life and accomplishments.
• Alexander Mackenzie was born in Scotland on Jan. 28, 1822.
• He immigrated to Canada in 1842, eventually settling in Sarnia, Ont.
• He was a working-class stonemason who lacked a formal education. But he worked hard to educate himself in subjects like literature, history, science and politics.
• In 1852, Mackenzie became editor of a Reform party newspaper, the Lambton Shield. The Reform party was a forerunner to the Liberal party.

• In 1873, Mackenzie became leader of the Liberal party.
• That same year, the "Pacific Scandal" occurred. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald's Conservative government was accused of taking bribes in exchange for a lucrative railway contract, and resigned from power as a result. Mackenzie's Liberals then took over as ruling party of Canada.
• As Canada's first Liberal prime minister, Mackenzie governed from 1873 to 1878.

• Mackenzie's achievements while in power included:
-Reforming the electoral system and introducing the secret ballot to Canadian elections.
-Establishing the Supreme Court of Canada.
-Establishing the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

• During the construction of a new tower in the West Block of the Parliament buildings, Mackenzie had a secret circular staircase built. It led from his office to the outside of the building. This was purportedly so he could sneak out to avoid patronage-seekers who were waiting for him. According to Gordon Donaldson's 1969 book Fifteen Men, John A. Macdonald later used the same staircase to dodge creditors, and in 1968 Pierre Trudeau "slipped out that way to avoid the press while he went to call an election."

• Mackenzie refused to be knighted by the British Crown on three separate occasions. The Library and Archives Canada website says this was "in keeping with his democratic ideals...His pride in his working-class origins never left him."

• Canada went through an economic recession in the mid-1870s, and Mackenzie's Liberal government was blamed. He lost the 1878 election, and John A. Macdonald's Conservatives were voted back in.
• Though no longer leader of the country, Mackenzie remained in Parliament until he died at the age of 70, in 1892. According to Donaldson's book Fifteen Men, his last words were, "Oh, take me home."

• MP Roger Gallaway proposed the gravesite program (which came to be known as the National Program for the Grave Sites of Prime Ministers) in August 1998. It instantly gained support. "Word of what Mr. Gallaway was contemplating quickly spread on Parliament Hill and he soon had the full support of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Parks Minister Andy Mitchell," explained the Globe and Mail on Aug. 3, 1999, the day after the Mackenzie grave dedication ceremony.

• Since this clip aired in 1999, one other prime minister has died - Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in 2000 - bringing the number of deceased Canadian prime ministers to 15.
• All but one of Canada's deceased prime ministers are buried in Canada. R.B. Bennett, prime minister from 1930 to 1935, is buried in Surrey, Eng. As part of Canada's national gravesites program, his grave is given the same treatment as all the prime ministers' graves located in Canada.

Also on August 2:
1610: Aboard the Discovery, Henry Hudson and his crew, enters what would later be named Hudson Bay. He thought it was the Pacific Ocean.
1892: Movie mogul Jack L. Warner is born in London, Ont. He and his three brothers form Warner Bros. Studios in 1917, which produces the first movie with sound, called The Jazz Singer.
1992: Canadian rower Silken Laumann wins the women's single sculls bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics, less than three months after her right leg was seriously damaged in an accident during a competition in Germany.
Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Sept. 9, 1999
Guest(s): Roger Gallaway
Host: Brent Bambury
Duration: 5:52

Last updated: March 10, 2014

Page consulted on September 17, 2014

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