Hugh's Personal Life 

 

 Early Years

Hugh John as a baby, yes before cameras there were painted portraits. / DMVC Archives

Hugh John as a baby, yes before cameras there were painted portraits. / DMVC Archives

Sir Hugh John Macdonald inherited his father’s physical characteristics. He had a small build, reddish-brown hair, clear blue eyes, and the infamous prominent Macdonald nose. He also grew up to have his father’s charm and easy-attitude.

Macdonald's name was supposed to be that of his older brother—John Alexander Macdonald Jr.—who passed away two years before his birth. Isabella, Hugh John’s mother, begged for the name but lost the argument with Sir John A. Macdonald’s family and settled with Hugh John Macdonald.

He grew up in Kingston and Toronto. His father—the first Prime Minister—became the Attorney General of Ontario and was often absent during Macdonald’s childhood. Macdonald played at his neighbour’s most days as his mother was bedridden due to her deteriorating health.

When his father was home, the two cherished their time together, often playing cards in the evenings.

“He knows the value of cards as well and Hugh looks after his own interests sharply,” wrote Sir John A. Macdonald in a letter.

At seven-years-old, Hugh John's mother passed away, so Macdonald was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, James Williamson and Margaret Williamson—who he viewed as his parents. As he grew older, Macdonald became interested in military service and served on several occasions. But, because of his father his military life was short lived. In 1872, Macdonald was called to the bar and after that, he begrudgingly practiced law with his father.

His first marriage

Macdonald married Jean King, a lady his father deemed unsuitable. Jean was not only Roman Catholic, widowed, and older than her husband-to-be but Sir John assumed she’d interfere with his son’s career. Without the Macdonald family’s blessing, the two were married and Macdonald opened his first law office in Kingston.

Sir John eventually warmed up to the new couple and, when he discovered that Jean was pregnant, he was delighted to welcome a new generation of Macdonalds. But in April 1881, the slowly constructed family bond broke when Jean died. Shocked and devastated, Hugh John sent their young daughter Daisy to live with her grandfather so Hugh John could rebuild his life.

By 1883, Macdonald, 33, settled in Winnipeg, but travelled to Toronto to marry his second wife Agnes Vankoughnet (later referred to as Lady Agnes Macdonald). The couple welcomed a son named Jack a year later in Winnipeg. Macdonald started a law practice with James Stewart Tupper and William Johnston (Willis) Tupper—sons of Prime Minister Charles Tupper. Throughout the years of his law practice, the partners changed several times.

An introvert in the public eye

Macdonald was not a public man; he preferred to stay in his study, smoke his pipe, and read. But as much as he avoided the public eye, he was a member for several organizations.

In February 1896, the Armature Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) hosted the Stanley Cup championship in Winnipeg. Winnipeg’s team beat Montreal 2-0, according to The Winnipeg Tribune. Macdonald—the president of the Manitoba Club at the time—and his wife watched the game from the balcony of the club.

After the game and first ever Stanley Cup parade, both teams, the Macdonalds, and about 40 others celebrated at the Manitoba Hotel. Macdonald later presented the Stanley Cup to the AHAC team.

Meeting his grandsons

While Hugh John was campaigning for an election in rural Manitoba, he received news of his son passing away. But, even though Jack died in 1905, Hugh John later met and loved his grandsons. 

"We'd visit him at his office in the Boyd Building occasionally," said son of Daisy, Hugh Gainsford. "He'd always make sure when my mom wasn't looking, he'd shake our hand super hard and leave money in it. But we had to make sure my mom didn't see." 

Dealing with Erysipelas

At 77 years-old Hugh was struck with another blow and was diagnosed with erysipelas—a bacterial skin infection—in one leg in 1927. Failing to recover from the infection, his leg was amputated. Hugh John had to learn to walk with an artificial leg.

The family tombstone. /DMVC Archives

The family tombstone. /DMVC Archives

About two years later his other leg became infected. He protested against another operation and on his last day as a magistrate, he called his doctor, went home, fell into a coma, and after several days passed away in his sleep, according to The Winnipeg Tribune archives.

Macdonald died on March 29, 1929. His funeral was at All Saint’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg. Thousands of people lined the streets for his funeral procession to St. John’s Cemetery.

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Sir John A. Macdonald forced his son into politics and law, but was proud of his accomplishments in the end. The former primer minister swore his son  in when Hugh won the election./DMVC Archives

Sir John A. Macdonald forced his son into politics and law, but was proud of his accomplishments in the end. The former primer minister swore his son  in when Hugh won the election./DMVC Archives

HUGH JOHN mACDONALD: 

Career overview

Hugh didn't want to be a lawyer or politician, but followed his fathers foot steps out of respect for him after family tensions subsided./DMVC Archives  

Hugh didn't want to be a lawyer or politician, but followed his fathers foot steps out of respect for him after family tensions subsided./DMVC Archives

 

1884 Became disturbed by the agitation of the Farmer’s Union. The farmers' unrest was due to ‘provincialism’

1885 Served as a lieutenant in the 90th Battalion of Rifles (Winnipeg) and saw action in Fish Creek and Batoche

1890 Appointed a Queen’s Counsel in Winnipeg

1891 Campaigned as a Conservative in the federal riding of Winnipeg.

  • Won his first election
  • Sworn in by his father

1891 Attempted to retire as a MP but his party refused his resignation 

1893 Resigned his seat in Ottawa and returned to Winnipeg

1894 Declined an invitation to lead Manitoba’s Conservative Party

1896 Ran for another federal election and became the Minister of the Interior in April

Prime Minister Charles Tupper invited Hugh to join his cabinet after Hugh started his law firm in Winnipeg with Tupper's sons. / DMVC Archives

Prime Minister Charles Tupper invited Hugh to join his cabinet after Hugh started his law firm in Winnipeg with Tupper's sons. / DMVC Archives

1897 Suspected to have played a part in election corruption. Investigated by liberal party agents who file a list of 106 specific charges against people involved in the election.

1897 Macdonald’s lawyer admitted an agent had hired teams to convey voters to polls, in contravention of the Election Act.  Therefore, the election was invalid.

1899 Accused Thomas Greenway of mismanaging Manitoba’s money and campaigns for the provincial constituency. In November, Hugh John won his constituency by a small majority.

1900 Became the Premier of Manitoba for about eight months and attempted to implement his election promises. Introduced prohibition via The Macdonald Act (Liquor Act). Later that year, he returned to his law practice

1904 Was elected the president of the Manitoba Conservative Association

1911 Appointed as a magistrate in Winnipeg

1912 Became Knight Bachelor of the Bath and was given the right to be called Sir Hugh John Macdonald

1917 Challenged the board of police commissioners and refused to allow the police union to be allied with the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council

1918 Voted to instruct the chief constable to interrogate all members of the police force

1919 Was at the front line against the Winnipeg General Strike. He viewed the strike as a revolutionary movement.

1925 Turned 75 and celebrated his birthday with special meetings put on by the police commissioners

1927 Made his last appearance on behalf of the conservative party and was carried to a platform to address the national Liberal-Conservative leadership convention

1928 Resumed duties in the courtroom after recovering from his first leg infection

1929 Retired as magistrate on March 2, 1929