Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the dominant creative mind which produced the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated politics for a half century and set policy goals for future generations of political leaders.
Julia Verlyn (Judy) LaMarsh, OC, lawyer, politician, broadcaster, author (born 20 December 1924 in Chatham, ON; died 27 October 1980 in Toronto). Judy LaMarsh was a force in politics at a time when Canadian women were fighting for equal treatment in the country’s political system. She became the second female federal Cabinet minister in Canadian history when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson named her Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1963. She was instrumental in the development of several groundbreaking federal programs, including Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. As Canada’s Secretary of State (1965–68), she pushed for the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada and coordinated Canada’s Centennial year festivities. Fiercely outspoken, LaMarsh remained active in public life after her retirement from politics, as an author, a broadcaster and a lawyer.
John Neilson, newspaperman, publisher, editor, politician (born 17 July 1776 in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland; died 1 February 1848 in Québec City, Canada East). A staunch moderate, John Neilson supported a greater balance of power in the colony. Sympathetic to French-Canadians, he was a deputy with the Parti canadien in the Legislative Assembly – which later became the Parti patriote – and broke away when the party radicalized in the 1830s. Though he opposed the party’s republican and nationalist policies, Neilson continued to fight for French-Canadians, heavily condemning the Union of the Canadas in 1841.
William Andrew Cecil Bennett, PC, OC, premier of British Columbia 1952-72, merchant, politician, (born 6 September 1900 in Hastings, NB; died 23 February 1979 in Kelowna, BC). Bennett led his province during a period of unparalleled economic expansion and is the longest serving premier in BC history.
Valérie Plante, mayor of Montréal 2017–present, community organizer, city councillor (born 14 June 1974 in Rouyn-Noranda, QC). After running for mayor with an irreverent campaign that advertised her as “the right man for the job,” Plante won Montréal’s municipal election on 5 November 2017, becoming the first woman to be elected mayor in the city’s 375-year history.
Wabanakwut Kinew, hip hop artist, broadcaster, university administrator, author, politician (born 31 December 1981 in Kenora, ON). An Ojibwa activist and public intellectual, Wab Kinew began his career as a musician and rapper with the hip hop group Dead Indians. He gained national attention through his radio and television journalism for the CBC, including 8th Fire, a television series on Indigenous issues. Kinew’s 2015 memoir, The Reason You Walk, was a national bestseller and finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize. Kinew was elected to the Manitoba legislature in 2016, despite controversial tweets and rap lyrics that dogged his campaign. Similarly, revelations of stayed domestic assault charges from 2003 threatened to derail his bid to become leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party, though he was named leader in September 2017.
David Lloyd Johnston, professor, university administrator, governor general (born 28 June 1941 in Copper Cliff, ON). After establishing himself as a respected professor and well-published scholar, Johnson became president of two major Canadian universities. Beginning in the 1980s, he served as an advisor to the federal and Ontario governments, both Liberal and Conservative, on a number of sensitive issues, including what would become the Oliphant Commission. Appointed governor general in 2010, Johnston encouraged education, innovation, philanthropy and volunteerism and devoted much of his time to the plight of Indigenous peoples. After Johnston served five years in office, the government asked him to stay in office for an additional two years, making him the longest-serving Canadian governor general in half a century.2
John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, Earl of Aberdeen from 1870 to 1916, governor general of Canada from 1893 to 1898 (born 3 August 1847 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom; died 7 March 1934 in Tarland, United Kingdom). As governor general, the Earl of Aberdeen and his wife, Lady Aberdeen, focused on social welfare and engaging with Canadians of various backgrounds and cultures, setting precedents for the philanthropic initiatives of future governors general. Aberdeen also owned an estate in the Okanagan Valley and pioneered commercial fruit growing in the region.
Sir Alexander Augustus Frederick William Alfred George Cambridge, Major General The Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada from 1940 to 1946 (born 14 April 1874 in London, United Kingdom; died 16 January 1957 in London, United Kingdom). Athlone served as Governor General during the Second World War and hosted the Québec Conferences at La Citadelle in 1943 and 1944, where Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt met to decide Allied strategy for victory over Germany and Japan. A maternal uncle of King George VI, Athlone was the last close relative of the monarch to serve as Governor General of Canada.
Stephen Kakfwi, Dene leader, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 2000–2003 (born 1950 near Fort Good Hope, NT). Kakfwi attended residential schools in Inuvik, Yellowknife and Fort Smith. He achieved national prominence because of his forceful appearance before the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. In the mid-1970s he argued passionately that the proposed construction of a pipeline across the traditional homeland of the Dene people before the settlement of their land claims would destroy their way of life as well as damage the natural environment of the region.
Jim Watson, broadcaster, politician, mayor of Ottawa 1997–2000 and 2010–present (born 30 July 1961 in Montréal, QC). Watson has been in and out of politics since first being elected as an Ottawa city councillor in 1991. He has also served as a member of the Ontario provincial parliament (MPP) and a minister in the Liberal provincial Cabinet. He is currently serving his third term as mayor of Ottawa.