Hugh's Personal Life 

 

 Early Years

Hugh John as a baby, yes before cameras there were painted portraits. /dalnavert archives

Hugh John as a baby, yes before cameras there were painted portraits. /dalnavert archives

Originally, Hugh John was supposed to be named by his older brother —John Alexander Macdonald Jr.—who passed away two years before. Isabella, Hugh’s mother, begged for the name but lost the argument with the Macdonalds and settled with Hugh John.

He grew up in Kingston and Toronto. His father— former Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald—had became the attorney general of Ontario and was often absent during Hugh’s childhood. Hugh played at his neighbour’s during most days while his mother was bedridden due to rampant deteriorating health.

When his dad 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,” said Hugh’s father in a letter.

At seven, Hugh’s mother passed away and was sent to live with his uncle James Williamson and Margaret Williamson—who he viewed as his parents. As he got older, Hugh became interested in the militia and served on three occasions, but because of his father, his military life was short lived. In 1872, Macdonald was called to the bar and after he practiced—begrudgingly—with his father.

His first marriage

Hugh married Jean King, a lady whom his father deemed totally unsuitable. Jean was not only Roman Catholic, widowed, and older than Hugh—John A. assumed she’d interfere with his son’s career. Without the Macdonald’s blessing, the two got married and Hugh opened his first law office in Kingston.

John A. eventually warmed up to Jean and the new couple. When John A. got wind of Jean becoming pregnant, he was ecstatic to soon meet his granddaughter Daisy. But in April 1881, the slowly constructed family bond broke when Jean died. Shocked, Hugh sent Daisy to live with her grandfather so he could rebuild his life.

By 1883, Hugh dashed to Toronto to marry Agnes Macdonald at 33. The couple had Jack a year later in Winnipeg. Hugh started another law practice with James Stewart Tupper and William Johnston (Willis) Tupper—sons of Prime Minister Charles Tupper. Throughout the years of his law practise, the partners continuously changed.

An introvert in the public eye

Hugh John preferred to stay in his study, smoke his pipe, and read. But as much as he shuttered from 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 (Winnipeg Victorias) team beat Montreal (Montreal Victorias) 2-0.

Hugh—the president of the Manitoba Club at the time—and his wife watched the game on 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. Hugh later presented the Stanley Cup to the AHAC team.

Meeting his grandsons

Even though he lost his only son in 1905, he loved his grandsons just as much. 

"We'd visit him at his office in the Boyd Building occasionally," said Hugh Gainsford. "He'd always make sure when my mom [Daisy] 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

In his later years, Hugh was struck with another blow. He was diagnosed with erysipelas—a bacterial skin infection—in one leg in 1927. Failing to recover from the infection, his leg was amputated and at 77 he learned to walk with an artificial leg.

The family tombstone. /Dalnavert Archives 

The family tombstone. /Dalnavert Archives 

About two years later his other leg became infected. He protested against another operation and on his last day as magistrate, he called his doctor, went home, fell into a coma, was malnourished (had nothing to eat or drink for a day), and after several days passed away in his sleep.

Macdonald died on March 29, 1929. His funeral was at All Saint’s Anglican Church. Thousands of people lined the streets of Winnipeg for his funeral and 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./Dalnavert 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./Dalnavert Archives

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./Dalnavert 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./Dalnavert Archives

 

1884 Became disturbed by the agitation of the Farmer’s Union. The farmer’s 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 refused to do so by his party

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 becomes 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. / Dalnavert Archives

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

1897 Suspected to have a part in the corruption for Winnipeg’s election. Investigated by liberal party agents who file a list of 106 specific charges for 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 by Macdonald’s party.  Therefore, the election was invalid.

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

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

1904 Was elected the president of the Manitoba Conservative Association

1911 Appointed Winnipeg’s magistrate

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

1917 Challenged the board of police commissioners and refused to allow the 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 in the front line of the Winnipeg General Strike and viewed the strike as a revolutionary movement on replacing the municipal government with one built on soviet lines

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

1927 Made 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