Nation Maker

Richard Gwyn's biography of John A. Macdonald was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

Richard Gwyn

John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, is the man who made Confederation happen and who shaped what it is today. From Confederation Day in 1867, where this volume picks up, Macdonald finessed a reluctant union of four provinces into a strong nation, despite indifference from Britain and annexationist sentiment in the United States.

But it wasn't easy. The wily Macdonald faced constant crises throughout these years, from Louis Riel's two rebellions to the Pacific Scandal that almost undid his government. Gwyn paints a superb portrait of Canada and its leaders through these formative years and also delves deep to show us Macdonald the man, as he marries for the second time, deals with the birth of a disabled child and the assassination of his close friend Darcy McGee, and wrestles with whether Riel should hang.

Indelibly, Gwyn shows us Macdonald's love of this country and his ability to joust with forces who would have been just as happy to see the end of Canada before it had really begun. (From Vintage Canada)

Nation Maker was shortlisted for the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

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From the book

John A. Macdonald was the man behind this extravagant commitment. Cartier, his Quebec ally, had originally opposed it, concerned that it would add too many anglophones to the new nation; George Brown, his long-time opponent but an irreplaceable partner in the Confederation project, preferred a mini-federation that excluded even the Maritimes. Macdonald himself had been skeptical at first, fearing that the West would attract immigrants away from the still under-populated Ontario. But then he had changed his mind: "The Americans must not get behind us," he wrote to a friend. With the purchase of Alaska from Russia early in 1867, the United States had already turned its gaze northwards; other attempts to expand beyond the forty-ninth parallel were certain to follow. The first came in December of that same year, when Minnesota senator Alexander Ramsey placed a resolution before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations proposing that Canada, in return for a favourable trade pact, "cede to the United States the districts of North America west of longitude 90 degrees." The resolution failed, but the larger contest between Canada and the United States over dividing North America had begun. One country had to lose.

From Nation Maker by Richard Gwyn ©2011. Published by Random House Canada.

Author interviews

Richard Gwyn

12 years ago
Duration 22:20
Featured VideoHistorian and writer Richard Gwyn reveals things you never knew about Sir John A. Macdonald.
Featured VideoMichael's two interviews with historian Richard Gwyn about his two volume biography of Sir John A. Macdonald.