Memorable Manitobans: The Macdonald family
After his marriage to Agnes Gertrude Vankoughnet in April of 1883, Hugh John Macdonald moved his family to Winnipeg from Ontario. They moved into a house at 83 Kennedy, where they lived until 1887. That year, the Macdonalds moved again to a residence at 363 Broadway, on the corner of Broadway and Carlton. In September, the Macdonalds started to pack their belongings and by October of 1890, they were living at 281 Donald in a house between Graham and Portage. Hugh described this new house as being unattractive from the outside and in a worse part of town than his old house. It was not until 1895 that the Macdonalds moved to their final home. In a letter to James Williamson written in May 1895, Hugh told his uncle that he had started to build a new home. By November 16, 1895 the family was settled in their new home at Dalnavert.
Jack was born in 1885. He was named after his grandfather, John Alexander Macdonald. Although Jack was young when his grandfather died, they did have a close relationship. When John A. was dying, Jack asked to speak to him and was granted that opportunity.
Jack was sick from a young age and by the time he was six, the family was forced to take a vacation to Banff to aid him in his recovery. In 1898, Gertie and Jack took a trip out East to Toronto and in 1902, when Jack was eighteen, Hugh and Gertie took him to England to see if the boat trip and the medical community could help him get better.
Although he was sick for much of his life, Jack still participated in many of the same activities as other children his age. He participated in the Winnipeg Rowing Club, competing in the Junior Four’s races held in 1901. In total he competed in three races that summer and in one race he won a pewter mug.
Not much is known about Jack’s education other than in 1899, when he was fourteen, Jack was placed into Upper Canada College in Toronto. He only spent one term at the school, where he lived as a boarder. Later, he studied to become a lawyer at the University of Manitoba.
On April 25, 1905, Jack died while Hugh was away at the time campaigning in a riding in Mountain. The funeral was held on April 28 at all Saints Church. Jack’s friends served as pallbearers. Jack was buried in St John’s Cathedral Cemetery.
Daisy was born in Ontario in 1877 to Hugh and Jean Macdonald. Her mother died when Daisy was about four and she was sent to live with her grandparents until her father put his affairs back into order. By 1883, Hugh had married again and Daisy moved to Winnipeg.
When Daisy was ten, she was sent to Miss Harmon’s Boarding school in Ottawa. On weekends, she would go to visit her Macdonald grandparents at their home at Earnscliffe. By 1890, Daisy was attending Sault-au-Recollet Convent in Montreal. She would spend the summer with her grandparents or her parents and then travel back to school in the care of her parents or her father’s partner Willis Tupper. Daisy’s grandmother, Agnes Macdonald, convinced Hugh and Gertie to send Daisy to England to study at a school in Brighton. Daisy was close to both her grandmother and her grandfather. She once said that she would rather be in hell with John A. Macdonald than in heaven without him.
For recreation, Daisy did fencing and pistol shooting. Not only was Daisy athletic, she was also musical and theatrical. She played the harp and the piano and in 1900, she was involved in a show put on by the Soldiers Wives’ league at the Winnipeg Theatre. Daisy acted in a tableau called Home Sweet Home. She portrayed the role of a lady reading a letter written by someone dear to her, who was away at the front.
Daisy was involved in Winnipeg’s social scene and attended many teas, luncheons and balls. She was especially present at events held by Mrs. Howell, a neighbour to the Macdonalds. At Mrs. Howells’ tennis parties, guests would play tennis until it became dark and then they would go back into the drawing room to dance.
On February 10th, 1915 Daisy married George Gainsford at St. Mary’s Presbytery church in a ceremony performed by Rev. Father O’Donnell. Daisy, who was given away by her father, wore a “a tailored costume of midnight blue serge” and had a bouquet of bridal roses.
Daisy died in 1959 and was buried in the family plot at St. Johns Cathedral Cemetery.
Agnes Gertrude Vankoughnet married Hugh John Macdonald on April 26 1883 at St. Stephen’s church in Toronto. Gertie, who was ten years younger than Hugh, wore white satin and was given away by her father, S. J Vankoughnet. After the reception, Hugh and Gertie left in the train for Niagara and then onto New York.
Lady Macdonald was involved in upper Winnipeg Society until her death in 1940. Two of the major Winnipeg social events that she was a part of include: a luncheon given by the Lieutenant Governor in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 1901, and in 1939 being invited to a luncheon given at the Government House in honour of King George and Queen Elizabeth.
Lady Macdonald’s days were filled with social events held all over the city. She was a guest at many teas, luncheons, balls, “at homes,” weddings and receptions. Hugh’s involvement in numerous clubs such as the Cricket Club, the Rowing Club and the Canoe Club meant that Lady Macdonald was always present at the balls held by these organizations.
Not only did Gertie attend many functions hosted by others; she hosted her own teas, luncheons, and dances. She would have elaborate arrangements of flowers for her gatherings, which would take place in the dinning room or the parlour. At one of Lady Macdonald’s teas, an Ottawa Impressionist painter displayed his work, while at another, a miniature painter’s work was featured at the gathering.
In July of 1940, Lady Macdonald passed away after a long illness. She was over eighty years old at the time of her death. She was buried in St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery next to her son, step-daughter and her husband.
Hugh was born on March 13, 1850 to Isabella and John Alexander Macdonald. The birth of Hugh filled a void left by the death of his brother John Alexander Macdonald Jr. two years before Hugh’s birth. Isabella’s health, which had been steadily declining for many years, only got worse after the birth of Hugh. During this time Hugh was sent to play at neighbours’ houses during the day to enable his mother to rest. Isabella died by the time Hugh was seven. After his mother’s death, he was sent to live with his Uncle James Williamson, and his two aunts, Margaret Williamson and Louisa Macdonald.
After re-marrying in 1882, Hugh lifestyle contrasted markedly from that of his wife. Although Lady Macdonald thrived having a busy social life, Hugh did not enjoy it. He preferred to be with his books and his pipe in his study then to go to dances, which he found boring. Hugh attended many gatherings due to his wife’s insistence and his duty to the organizations that were holding these functions. Hugh was involved in the Cricket Club, the Rowing Club, and the Canoe Club.
In 1897, the Winnipeg Victorias hockey team were challenged in a re-match by the Montreal Victorias. The game was held in Winnipeg and Hugh and Gertie Macdonald watched the game from the clubroom’s balcony, where they were served tea. Following supper, Hugh presented the Stanley Cup to the Captains of the Montreal team, Mike Grant.
In 1899, Hugh John lead the party to victory over Thomas Greenway’s Liberal government, making him the new Premier of Manitoba. As Premier, Macdonald attempted to implement his election promises. One of these was the introduction of prohibition called “The Macdonald Act” which he succeeded in passing. However, this particular piece of legislation was very unpopular among the brewers, tavern keepers and their clientele, and they put a great deal of pressure on Conservative leaders and began court action. At the suggestion of local friends and another call from the federal party, Hugh John resigned the premiership to contest the 1900 federal election in the constituency of Brandon against Clifford Sifton. It was a battle royal between Sifton (the Minister of the Interior and a powerful political force in the Liberal party) and Macdonald (son of the former prime minister, the former Minister of the Interior, and the freshly elected premier of Manitoba), but in the end one man had to lose. It was Macdonald and this resulted in his retirement as an elected politician. He returned to his law practice.
In 1911, Hugh John was appointed Police Magistrate for Winnipeg. And in 1913 he was included in the King’s Birthday Honours List, at which time Hugh John was made a Knight Bachelor of the Bath. He was given the right to be called Sir Hugh John Macdonald and his wife became Lady Agnes Gertrude Macdonald.
He was temporarily obliged to retire from the bench in 1927 because of illness, the result of which was the amputation of his right leg. This same year, he was honoured at the national Conservative Convention held in Winnipeg. He returned to the bench as Police Magistrate in 1928.
On March 29, 1929 just a few days after his seventy-ninth birthday, Hugh John Macdonald died at Dalnavert, following complications of same the illness which cost him his right leg. His body lay in state at the Legislative Buildings prior to the public funeral that was conducted at All Saints Church at the corner of Broadway and Osborne. Following the ceremony his body was laid to rest beside that of his son Jack, in St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery.
Page revised: 8 May 2011
Back to top of page