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Manitoba History: Macdonald Papers at the Archives of Manitoba

by Barry Hyman
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Number 54, February 2007

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Sir John A. Macdonald and his son Sir Hugh John Macdonald need no introduction to members of the Manitoba Historical Society. The father’s memory is perpetuated by the Sir John A. Macdonald Fundraising Dinner held each January. Sir Hugh John’s name is synonymous with Dalnavert, his residence at 61 Carlton Street, Winnipeg, now operated as a museum and visitor centre by the Society.

Sir John A. Macdonald’s personal and political papers were sold to the then Public Archives of Canada in 1914 for $5,000. [1] His papers have been consulted extensively by historians and archivists and there is no lack of published material on his career. Sir Hugh John Macdonald’s career, however, has been relatively unexamined by historians. An obvious explanation is the father’s celebrity status, leaving his son in the shadows. The father served as first Prime Minister of Canada for about nineteen years, while the son shunned the lime light, serving reluctantly in the federal cabinet under Sir J. J. C. Abbott and Sir Charles Tupper, and as premier of Manitoba for less than a year. Another explanation is that, up to now, there has not been a significant quantity of original documentation on his career. Most of what has existed has survived in the papers of other individuals in repositories across Canada. This situation changed last year when the Archives of Manitoba acquired a small but vital cache of personal, legal, business, and political records of both men.

Macdonald Papers

Archival file boxes containing some Macdonald family papers from the Hughes Fonds at the Archives of Manitoba.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

The records relating to Sir John A. Macdonald include material from his legal practice in Kingston and his personal affairs. The legal documents deal primarily with real estate, including indentures, certificates of title, correspondence regarding land for sale, notices of mortgage interest, rent and taxes due, and promissory notes. Most relate to the estate of Archibald John Macdonell, Sir John’s law office partner in Kingston from 1854 until his death in 1864. Macdonald did not spend a great deal of time in the early 1860s attending to his practice and his partner was often too ill to do so. The practice was in financial trouble, impacted by the failure of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District, to which the firm owed considerable money. [2] In 1863 Macdonald hired James Shannon, referred to in various sources as his chief clerk, attorney, and office manager. [3] Shannon was his factotum, responsible for running his law office and, as the records suggest, also attending to many personal matters. Shannon attempted to bring a semblance of order to Macdonell’s office records, as is evident from their organization and numbering. Shannon stayed with Macdonald until at least 1878. More research may determine how these records came to be in the possession of Hugh John Macdonald. One explanation is that the records were given to Hugh John to organize when Shannon left. Hugh John probably took the records from the law office in Kingston to his office in Toronto, and subsequently brought them to Winnipeg when he relocated in 1882.

The second series consists of personal receipts and correspondence. Receipts, generally speaking, are not retained by archives, but one makes exceptions when they detail goods and services for the first prime minister of the country. Included are receipts for home and life assurance premiums, for memberships in organizations, mortgage payments, goods purchased for the home and office, and property repairs. Also included is John A. Macdonald’s account book at the Commercial Bank, 1855 to 1859, and a series of cheque stubs for the years 1863 to 1878 belonging to both Macdonald and Shannon. [4]

Macdonald Papers

An Old Timer. Certificate inducting Hugh John Macdonald into The Old Timers’ Association of Manitoba, signed by President Hugh John Macdonald, 1904.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, J. Barry Hughes Fonds, Certificates 2006-23, #18.

The records relating to and created by Sir Hugh John Macdonald were arranged in three series – subject files on personal matters, miscellaneous office files relating to clients, and records of a number of companies which Macdonald and his legal partners were investors or directors of the company. The subject files are of considerable interest because they contain, among other things, tax notices and receipts from the City of Winnipeg for Macdonald’s home at 61 Carlton Street, legally described as DGS Parish of St. John, Roll Number 410, Ward 2, Subdivision 132, Lot 3, Plan 129. For 1905 the home was assessed at $11,400 and the tax bill, less discount, amounted to $221.25. For 1921, the last tax receipt in the file, his home was assessed at $15,888 and the tax bill had increased to $547.87. [5]

The Archives also retained receipts for the years 1927 to 1928. These give insight into Sir Hugh John and Lady Macdonald’s personal interests and needs. For example, Hugh John purchased books from booksellers in London, England; Lady Macdonald purchased shoes and hats at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s new retail store, and roses and lilies from Broadway Florists; they filled prescriptions at W. F. C. Brathwaite, Limited, as well as purchasing every day needs such as Colgate shaving cream and Pepsodent tooth paste. Home repairs included the replacement of a lock and other locksmith repairs performed by J. A. Lozo; bedroom carpeting was purchased from Leslie’s Furniture, and repairs to chairs, fixing clothes closet doors, and fixing new hinges were performed by Mellor Routh, Carpenter and Contractor. [6]

The subject files provide much insight into Hugh John’s interests and investments. His interests included the Boy Scouts Association, for which he served as Provincial Commissioner, 1914 to 1915 (all dates given are for inclusive dates of surviving records); the Canadian Red Cross Society and the Army and Navy Veterans Association. His investments included mining claims on Croesus Island in the Lake of the Woods, 1897 to 1903, and in the Lake St. Martin claim near the Dauphin River, 1903. [7] He was a shareholder of The Henderson Roller Bearing Manufacturing Company Limited, which supplied parts to the Winnipeg Street Railway. The company met “ … numerous disappointments …” and was taken over by Standard Bearing Limited, which was in turn taken over by the American Roller Bearing Limited. For his $4,000 investment he was offered $500 stock in the Canadian Center Plate Company which converted iron into steel, 1904 to 1910. [8] He held preferred stock in International Assets Limited, 1911; bonds in the Manitoba Water Power Electric Company, 1905 to 1906; vacation property at Midland Beach, Minnesota, 1911 to 1926. He was at one time the president and solicitor for the Van Bergh Electrical & Manufacturing Company, which attempted to secure patents for inventions of Carlos Van Bergh of Winnipeg, including a sewing machine, power generation and transmission, and wireless telephone and telegraph instruments. [9]

There are a few files on the administration of family estates, including that of his father and his stepmother, Susan Agnes Macdonald. There is a small amount of correspondence with Joseph Pope relating to his father’s estate and the sale of his father’s papers to the Public Archives, and with the Royal Trust Company on the administration of the Sir John A. Macdonald Testimonial Fund Capital Account. Much of this material on the testimonial fund is in the Macdonald Papers in Ottawa. The Pope Papers at the Library and Archives Canada also contain extensive correspondence with Hugh John Macdonald on the need to sell his father’s papers and provide extra income for his stepmother so that “… her last years should not be embittered by any lack of what after all is her own money.” [10]

Macdonald Papers

Pickups and deliveries. The Macdonald papers include such mundane details of daily life as Hugh John’s taxicab bill for delivering him to engagements around Winnipeg.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, J. Barry Hughes Fonds, H. J. Macdonald – Receipts, Statements and Bills, July-December 1927, 1928.

Hugh John Macdonald also invested in real estate, in Winnipeg as well as St. James, East Kildonan, and Transcona. The firm of Macdonald, Craig, Tarr, Armstrong were active in many real estate ventures. Macdonald and his partner Edgar Jordan Tarr were shareholders and directors in the companies whose incomplete records were part of the papers the Archives acquired – including the Anglo-American Investors Ltd; Assiniboine Valley Land Company; Central Valley Land Company, Confederation Real Estate Company, Maritime Investors Ltd and the Security Mortgage Company. The incomplete records of these companies, for the years 1907 to 1917, include acts of incorporation, by-laws, minutes of board and annual meetings, proxies, lists of shareholders, share certificates, records of distributions, land agreements, financial statements and the odd banking record.

Also included with the office client-solicitor files are documents for George Albert Glines, a prominent figure in real estate in Winnipeg and Morris, Manitoba. George Bryce in his A History of Manitoba said Glines was “… prominently identified with all movements … to the development of the material resources of the commonwealth.” [11] He is identified with the founding and development of Morris and surrounding areas. He was elected the first mayor of Morris in 1883. A full 12-cm manuscript box contains records of Glines’s investments and interests. [12]

My comments are not meant to be a complete inventory of the material. Hopefully these highlights will stimulate interest to conduct research to learn more about the Macdonalds. The collection consists of 1.9 meters of textual records. Of this, 52 centimeters relate to John A. Macdonald, the balance to Hugh John and his legal practice. The records were gifted to the Archives by the Hughes family of Winnipeg. Harley Moody Hughes (1892-1954) joined the firm of Macdonald Craig Tarr Armstrong in 1924 when it was located at 612 Toronto General Trust Building, 282 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg. The firm was in the same office when his son, Joseph Barry Hughes (1928-2000) joined the practice in 1951. In 1960 the firm relocated to new offices at 219 Kennedy Street, the current home of the Law Society of Manitoba. Because there was no space for inactive files the then-partners agreed that J. B. Hughes should take the records to his home. When J. B. Hughes died the records were turned over to his son Kelly Hughes to dispose of as he wished. Kelly Hughes recognized their historical value and offered them to the Archives of Manitoba. The donor requested that, as his father had saved the records from destruction, the papers be known as the Joseph Barry Hughes, Q.C. Collection. [13] For this reason all reference tools are described under the name: Joseph Barry Hughes.

Macdonald Papers

Enigmatic letter to Hugh John from future Manitoba premier R. P. Roblin, declining an unspecified offer, possibly an appointment in Macdonald’s short-lived provincial government?
Source: Archives of Manitoba, J. Barry Hughes Fonds, H. J. Macdonald Corresp., 1900-1910. P2819/4.


1. Archives of Manitoba (hereafter, AM), J. Barry Hughes Fonds letter from Joseph Pope to Hugh John Macdonald, 3 February 1914. P2840, file 4.

2. Creighton, D. G., John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain. 1955, pp. 8, 34.

3. AM, P2816, file 4. Heather Home, Queen’s University Archives, provided the following information on Shannon: “… he was the Chief Clerk to Sir John A., then proprietor of the Kingston Daily News, then Postmaster of Kingston … he is buried in the Cataraqui cemetery.”

4. AM, P2815, files 8 and 9.

5. AM, P2820, file 9.

6. AM, P2820, files 14 and 15.

7. AM, P2817, file 2; P2818, file 2.

8. AM, P2817, files 5 and 6.

9. AM, P2819, files 1 and 2.

10. AM, P2820, file 4. Joseph Pope to Hugh John Macdonald, 2 October 1913; and Library and Archives Canada, Joseph Pope Fonds, MG30 E86 Volume 111.

11. George Bryce, A History of Manitoba. Toronto: The Canada History Company, 1906, p. 442.

12. AM, P2821.

13. AM, Hughes Acquisition file, Kelly Hughes to Barry Hyman, 6 May 2006.

Page revised: 2 August 2022

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