Canada Election 2011: Finding a true patriot in Kingston

Canadian-Pacific engine in Kingston, Ontario.

That's no ordinary train. It's Canadian history on view in Kingston. (Thanks to Julia Pelish Photography)

[This article about the Sir John A. Macdonald Walking Tour in Kingston was published in the April 23, 2011 edition of the Toronto Star. ]

KINGSTON, ONT. — Arthur Milnes’ hero is a long-dead tavern owner with a drinking problem, penchant for business dealings that end in scandal and a wicked wit. He’s also the father of our nation.

For Milnes, that’s a fact not celebrated nearly enough, especially in Sir John A. Macdonald’s hometown, this tony old city on Lake Ontario that was the country’s first capital. Since 2009, Milnes, a researcher on Brian Mulroney’s memoirs, has offered walking tours in Kingston of sites relevant to Macdonald. He carries a doll of Sir John A., which is a conversation starter for sure, and a passion for Canadian political history that anyone would find difficult to match. His dog, Mr. Pearson, is named after another beloved prime minister and his garden features trees planted by Paul Martin and John Turner.

Along with sharing his deep knowledge of political history, the Queen’s University fellow who specializes in researching prime ministers and U.S. presidents mixes in scintillating stories about our first leader and other politicians, both past and current.

With the nation subjected to yet another dismal election and with voter apathy at an all-time high, the tour proves refreshingly patriotic and reminds us we have a rich political history to cherish. Sitting in the Royal Tavern, which once belonged to Macdonald, Milnes says, “If we were in Virginia, in George Washington’s hometown, and we were in a bar that he owned, there would be tour buses lined up outside of this place.”

Instead, he and I are among only a handful of patrons in a tavern that could easily hold 200. The Royal is an old-time Canadian bar with round wooden tables, chairs seemingly made to encourage slouching and wall paneling that will remind you of some stationwagons from the ’70s. You can hear Robert Johnson on the jukebox, but other than that there’s not a whole lot of charm. It’s our history, though, and that’s something to drink to. There are some photos of Macdonald and the deed to the tavern showing his signature. No clear signs on Princess St. indicate the locale was once his possession. In fact, up until two years ago, there were no signs on the 401 demarking Kingston as the prime minister’s hometown.

sir-john-a-macdonald-monument

Sir John A. Macdonald stands tall in his hometown, Canada's first capital. (Julia took this one too)

Milnes lobbied for action on that front and two striking, blue-hued billboards — one in English, one in French — now appear as you near the city. A journalist and Scarborough native, Milnes also continues to push for more national recognition for Macdonald, including a bicentennial celebration of his birth.

“I want the entire nation to recognize 2015. I want poems submitted, plays written. I want the Tragically Hip and Dan Aykroyd to write a song about our first prime minister,” Milnes said, mentioning some of Kingston’s other notable celebrities.

[Read the rest of the article in the Toronto Star.]

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