Kingston Historical Society
P.O. Box 54
Kingston, Ontario


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Kingston Historical Society
Kingston Historical Society, est. 1893


Sir John A. Macdonald

Honouring the Memory of Sir John A. Macdonald: a Brief History of the Commemorative Services on June 6th

One year following his death on 6 June 1891, a memorial service for Sir John A. Macdonald was organized by the Macdonald Club of Kingston. That was the beginning of what became an annual tradition of commemorating the life and accomplishments of Canada’s first Prime Minister on the anniversary of his death. For a number of years, the Macdonald Club continued as sponsor. Eventually the Conservative Party of Canada assumed the responsibility, and then, in 1970, the Kingston Historical Society began its sponsorship, which has continued to the present day.

The memorial service now takes place at the Macdonald family plot in Kingston’s historical Cataraqui Cemetery, where Macdonald and other members of his family are buried. The focus of the ceremony is a formal address on some aspect of Macdonald’s personal or public life and the laying of wreaths by representatives of government and local institutions and organizations. Colour and pageantry are added to the scene by members of the Fort Henry guard in their scarlet uniforms and by staff from Bellevue House National Historic Site dressed in period costume. In this way, the Historical Society pays tribute to the memory of a great Canadian and also seeks to increase Canadians’ awareness of his contribution to our country.

Over the years, the Historical Society has invited politicians, academics, diplomats, civil servants, educators, and others to be key-note speakers at this event. While their subject is always Macdonald, they have each found a distinctive aspect of his long life as their focus. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, in 1991, focussed on the issue of constitutional reform and Macdonald’s struggle for national unity. Macdonald’s contribution to Queen’s University was recognised in a speech in 1994 by the university’s chancellor, Agnes Benedickson. Mayor Isabel Turner, in 1997, chose a subject close to her own heart when she spoke of Macdonald’s Scottish heritage. Sir Andrew Burns, British High Commissioner to Canada, brought a diplomat’s perspectives to Macdonald’s political accomplishments during his address in 2001.

The Kingston Historical Society ensures the survival of the memorial service addresses by printing them in its annual publication, Historic Kingston. In 1991, the centennial year of Macdonald’s death, the Society chose to commemorate the anniversary by the publication of Sir John A. Macdonald, 1815 - 1891, a collection of the addresses given at the service between 1970 and 1991, complied by Margaret Cohoe (who authored a relevant article, “Sir John A. Macdonald Memorializations and the Red Rose League” in Historic Kingston, XXVI, 1978, pp. 58 – 68)