John A. MacDonald 101

Todd MacLean
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Canadian theatrical presentation runs like enjoyable history class

A new national theatre initiative was presented in Charlottetown last weekend: one that explores the life and work of Canada’s first prime minister.

Developed with a partnership by the Confederation Centre and the Department of Canadian Heritage, in celebration and commemoration of the 200 years since John A. Macdonald’s birth in 1815, The Sir John A. Tour kicked off last week in Halifax on March 24, and is now touring across the country.

And in two separate showings last Friday - a matinée performance at 2 p.m. and an evening performance at 7:30 - The Mack theatre was packed with audience members who seemed to jump at the opportunity for a free show featuring high calibre talent, and a chance to brush up on their Canadian history at the same time.

Indeed, the theatrical presentation called “The Founding Father: His Story. Our Canada,” ran like the kind of educational class that any history student would dream of having: engaging, entertaining, lively, funny in parts, with even a little banjo plucking along the way to fuel the story along.

Now if school history class were like that, I think I probably would’ve done a little better on my tests.

Within a running time of exactly one hour, four actors (each of them playing different roles in presenting the story, aside from the actor who played John A.) energetically illustrated the events that shaped the life of our first prime minister.

With the aid of a video screen at the back of the stage, which provided appropriate accompanying backdrops, descriptive images (courtesy of Jamie Nesbitt) and pertinent info along the way, actors Matthew James Donovan (who played an amusing and compelling Sir John A. Macdonald), Josée Boudreau (as Isabella Macdonald, Agnes Macdonald, and others), Réjean Cournoyer (primarily as George-Étienne Cartier) and Cameron MacDuffee (primarily as George Brown) wove the fabric of Sir John A.’s life before our eyes.

Treading the path of his years from childhood through to his death, the bilingual presentation brought us through some well-known points of John A. Macdonald’s years - such as his primary role in shaping Confederation, his successful quest of overseeing the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s transcontinental line, his creation of the North-West Mounted Police, his Pacific Scandal, his successful ties with George-Étienne Cartier and constant battles with George Brown - yet also revealed some details that are not widely known in history.

And of course, there were some zinging John A. quotes featured throughout - such as, “I seldom meet a bar I don’t excel in,” and that famous comeback line to a heckler, “Yes, but the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.”

Complete with several musical numbers as well (one featuring MacDuffee on that aforementioned banjo), the show made enough of an impact on its audience to receive a standing ovation at its end.

‘The Sir John A. Tour’ is now visiting legislatures, schools, performing arts centres, and other venues in a dozen cities across the country, and is concluding on April 29 at the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Directed by Confederation Centre’s artistic director, Adam Brazier and written with prominent Macdonald biographer and historian Richard Gwyn, the presentation is truly an enjoyable and informative exploration of the life of Sir John A. - and for more info on the tour, the show, learning materials and more, visit

Next week: The Confederation Singers present Choral Music on a Holy Day at Trinity United Church tomorrow night. Happy Easter to all.

At a glance

Todd’s Long Weekend Picks:

1. The Confederation Singers present Choral Music on a Holy Day - Trinity United Church, Charlottetown, tomorrow at 7 p.m.

2. Slowcoaster - Hunter’s

Ale House, tomorrow at 10 p.m.

3. Bach for Breakfast - Rodd Charlottetown Hotel, Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Music provided by the Senior Singing Strings.

4. Al Tuck and No Action - Haviland Club, matinée performance Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m.

5. Maple Sugar Shack Social - Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pancakes, maple taffy on the snow, live music and games for the whole family to enjoy.

Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.

Organizations: Confederation Centre, Department of Canadian Heritage, The Mack theatre Canadian Pacific Railway North-West Mounted Police House of Commons Trinity United Church Ale House Haviland Club

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Canada, Halifax Ottawa.Directed

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