who’s your daddy?

Troll through the History section of an American bookstore like Borders and you’ll be struck by the interest — nay, obsession — Americans have with their founding fathers. Each year brings a new crate of bios of Jefferson and Washington and Adams and Madison and all the other guys. It’s like their own secular pantheon.

Up here, we’ve got Macdonald, Cartier, and, er… those other guys. Every fifty years or so, someone decides to write a bio of Macdonald and wins a big prize for it, but the rest of them we pretty much ignore.

Me, I’ve always had a thing for Thomas D’Arcy McGee, the closest thing we got to a poet of Confederation, a man whose death was, I think, a genuine blow to the development of Canada as a self-conscious nation. There’s a new bio of him out, volume one, by David A. Wilson from McG-Q press. It’s getting good reviews here, not that I expect it will have any effect on his popularity.

But today’s WSJ of all places runs a big long review of the book on its editorial pages. It’s a very positive review, if you can set aside the fact that McGee’s status as a father of confederation is downplayed to the point of insult. The fact that he spent any time at all in Canada is not even mentioned until the second last paragraph of the review:

By the mid-1850s – roughly where Mr. Wilson’s “Thomas D’Arcy McGee: Passion, Reason, and Politics” leaves off – he was urging Irish-American immigrants, spat upon by nativists and subjected to the squalor of big cities, to move to more tolerant and devout Canada, a territory that was part of the hated British Empire. It was a journey that McGee himself would make. Indeed, he would enter electoral politics and become one of the founding fathers of modern, dominion-status Canada, honored (sic) with a statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.