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Canada's prime ministers: A day of honor

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  Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

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SIR JOHN IS DEAD.

The Globe
June 8, 1891
By Our Own Reporters






Sir John A. Macdonald

Ottawa, June 7 - "Gentlemen, Sir John Macdonald is dead." The speaker was Mr. Joseph Pope, the Premier's private secretary. The place was the gate of Earnscliffe. The time, 10.25, and the parties addressed a group of correspondents. He added still in a husky voice, "He died at 10.15 without pain and peace."

The representatives of the press turned to the adjacent tent to which the telegraph instruments were already clicking off the fatal news by private messages, brought out by Mr. Pope, and they flashed the news by land and sea to newspapers in all parts of the English-speaking world.

• See an image of the paper that day

The brief announcement, "Sir John Macdonald is dead," meant so much that the words kept ringing in the ears of those who heard it and the mind seemed hardly capable of realizing that the most prominent figure in the public life of Canada for 40 years had disappeared for ever.

But a few days ago he was sitting in the councils of the nations, the directing spirit, but a few days ago he was planning a political programme for the future months. The tolling of the bell in the city tower rang out on the still night air telling Ottawa that her foremost citizen, the head of the Government, the great leader of a historic party was no more. The people needed not to inquire the meaning of the tolling bell. They knew when they head it that the master of Earnescliffe was dead.

The Approach of Death

Saturday was a perfect June day. Still as the air of the tropics and bright with sunshine. The grounds of Earnscliffe were deserted. The members of the household were inside waiting for the summones to come to one who, having live a long and active life, was now dying in the peaceful calm of a summer's day. Occaisionally visitors approached the gates, read the last bulletin, made whispered inquiries and went away, wondering at the marvellouse resistance of a very old man.

Conscious that his race was run

It appears that from the day three weeks ago when the Premier was struck speechless while in the presence of the Governor-General he was conscious that his end was near, although he fought against in and insisted that there was no danger and that he must work, evidently trying to convince himself that his fears were unfounded. At length the worst was realized, and what was known to himself, his Cabinet and his home circle was revealed to everybody by the sudden and fearful stroke which descended while he was quietly and hopefully conversing with his physician. What followed since that memorable night every reader in Canada knows.

And now death, like a skilful armorer, was slowing encasing the wasted form which the soul was soon to quit. The feet and limbs had grown old, and life was steadily leaving the body. Outside not a sound disturbed the still evening, not a leaf stirred in the motionless air. No one came to the house. The time for human help had gone. No one could now stay the silent reaper. The bright young spirit who had arduously and valiantly won a wide fame and remained in later years in the front of battle, had at length reached the brink of eternity. Rev. Mr. Pollard of the English church came down and was admitted to sick chamber. From that time till 9 o'clock was one long period of suspense. The Premier was unconscious, as indeed he had been during the past 24 hours, and in a comatose state.

The Summons Comes

At 9 o'clock the physician noticed a change and notified the family, who gathered round the bedside, conscious that the end was now at hand. His irregular and labored breathing, which had been for hours a series of gasps and had now reached the rate of 56 a minute, ceased, and in its place there came a deep, regular and ordinary respiration. For another hour the terrible waiting and suspense continued. At last without a struggle his heart stopped beating, the breath of life left the body, and Azrael departed with the soul of Sir John Macdonald. Like death, as little Elsie described it to the Prince he simply ceased to breathe.

"It's easy to die when life's work is done, To pass from the earth like a harvest day's sun." - D'Arcy McGee.

Sir John was aged 76 years and five months.

The Death Bulletin

At half past ten, fifteen minutes after death, the following bulletin, the last of all was posted on the gate:

Earnscliffe, 10.30 p.m.
Sir John Macdonald died at 10.15 p.m.
(signed) R. W. Powell, M.D.

This bulletin had not been up an hour before some ghoulish-minded intruder stole it.

Word to His Excellency

A special messager almost immediately left Earnescliffe for Rideau Hall to convey the news to his Excellency who sent his secretary, Captain Colville, over with his expression of his own and Lady Stanley's deep sympathy for Lady Macdonald and the family. His Excellency on receiving the intelligence of death cabled the news to the Queen, Lord Salisbury and Lord Knutsford. The death of the Prime Minister having dissolved the Ministry, a Governor-General is for the first time in the history of the Dominion left without an adviser. How long her will so remain depends altogether on himself. It is thought that he will send for some one of the Privy Council to-morrow.

Informing the Cabinet

Shortly after the announcement of death Hon. Mr. Dewdney drove off to inform his colleagues that his and their chief was dead. A special message was sent to Sir Hector Langevia. Major Sherwood, commissioner of Dominion police, came down to the Earnscliffe to stay on duty for the night and relieve those whom long vigils had fagged out, and who gave wat now that the necessity of watching was over. Mr. Dewdney returned again to Earnscliffe and Mr. Carling shortly afterwards came down. Sir John Thompson and Messrs. Chapleau and Hagart were in Montreal and didn not get back to the capital until four o'clock in the afternoon. When Dr. Powell summoned the family to the bedside. Around the bed gathered Lady Macdonald, Mr. Hugh John Macdonald, the Premier's son and Mrs. Macdonald, her sister, Mrs. Fitzgibbons, Miss Marjorie Stewart, Hon. Edgar Dewdney and Mrs. Dewdney, Mr. Jon Pope, the Prime Minister's secretary, Mr. Fred White, Mr. Geo. Sparkes, a relative of Sir John's; Dr. Powell, the physician and Ben Chilton, the Premier's trusted messenger for many years.

 
 


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