Manitoba Historical Society
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Sir Hugh John Macdonald *

by George P. Macleod, Q.C.

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 14, 1957-58 season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.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 Hugh John Macdonald was born in Kingston, Ontario, March 13, 1850, the son of John Alexander Macdonald and Isabella Clark, daughter of Captain Clark of Inverness, Scotland. She was his cousin whom he met on a visit to Scotland in 1842. They had a son, John Alexander Macdonald, who died in his second year and Hugh John Macdonald was born after the death of his brother and was the last member of the family of Sir John A. Macdonald. They wanted to call him John Alexander also but were persuaded that it was bad luck to do so. His mother died when Hugh John was eight years old. His father and mother appear to have kept a joint diary, for the following are some of the items appearing therein and are the first historical records of Hugh John Macdonald.

Wednesday, March 13, 1850 - My darling Isa had a fine boy.

Saturday, June 1, 1850 - Darling Baby Christened by Dr. Machar "Hugh John Macdonald"

Thursday, June 13, 1850 - Baby 3 months old began to play with sponge in his bath.

Monday, June 24, 1850 - Baby vaccinated by Dr. Muir at 5 o'clock.

Sunday, July 14, 1850 - Baby in second length clothes.

Wednesday, September 18, 1850 - Dear Baby got a tooth.

Friday, October 18, 1850 - Baby had 4 teeth this morning.

Tuesday, Dec. 17, 1850 - Baby's gums lanced second time - 8 teeth coming at once.

Now that we have got Hugh John Macdonald properly introduced and started on the normal procedures of life I will shortly sketch for you outstanding events until his passing on, March 29, 1929 in Winnipeg.

As a young boy he attended Queen's College Preparatory School and later graduated from Queen's College with honours and entered the University of Toronto.

In 1866, as a sixteen-year-old boy, he enlisted in the 14th, Prince of Wales Own Rifles of Kingston as a private and was on duty at Cornwall during the Fenian Raids.

In 1869, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. degree. He then entered the law office of him who later became Chief Justice Harrison of Toronto and later the law office of Lewis and Penny in Ottawa, but his law studies were interrupted, for in 1870, he enlisted as an ensign with the 16th Company of the First Ontario Rifles and came to Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, with Lord Wolseley. On the morning of August 24, 1870 he marched with his Company through ankle deep mud under a torrential rain along the River Road which is now Main Street, Winnipeg, to Fort Garry, the gate of which is still standing at the rear of the Fort Garry Hotel. Louis Riel had left prior to their arrival and they took Fort Garry without firing a shot and he returned with the majority of the expedition a few days later to Toronto where he resumed his law studies.

In 1872, he was called to the Ontario Bar and became a partner with his father in the law firm of Macdonald, Paton and Macdonald.

In 1876, he married Jean King but she died in 1881. He later married Agnes Gertrude Van Koughnot. He had a son who died in his twenty-first year and a daughter Daisy, Mrs. George Gainsford, who is still a resident of Winnipeg.

From 1872 to 1882, he practised law in Toronto but, remembering the West as he saw it in 1870, he decided to return to the West and to make his permanent home here.

In 1882, he settled in Winnipeg and was later called to the Manitoba Bar. He formed the legal partnership known as Macdonald, Tupper, MacArthur and Dexter and subsequently was the senior partner in the following firms up to the time of his passing on: Macdonald, Tupper, Phippen & Tupper; Macdonald, Haggart & Whitla; Macdonald, Haggart, Sullivan & Tarr; Macdonald, Craig, Tarr & Ross; Macdonald, Craig, Tarr & Armstrong; Macdonald, Craig, Tarr, Armstrong & Hughes.

In 1885, the second Riel Rebellion took place and he enlisted as Captain in the 90th Batallion Winnipeg Rifles and went to Saskatchewan where he took part in the battles of Fish Creek and Batoche.

The following are copies of letters, etc., sent by Captain Hugh John Macdonald to his wife in Winnipeg when he was on active service in the 1885 Louis Riel Rebellion. They, perhaps, are the only eyewitness accounts on record. They also show his role as an affectionate husband and a loving father, anxious for the wellbeing of his wife and family during his absence; his sense of duty and his sense of humour. Mrs. Gainsford advised me that most of her father's papers were lost in the Winnipeg flood of 1950 and she thinks that the originals of these letters would be among the lost papers.

Qu'Appelle, Mar. 29th

Arrived here yesterday morning. Quarters very comfortable. Leave for North next week if reinforcements arrive. Queens Own coming up. Everything going well.


Address: Mrs. Macdonald,
83 Kennedy Street,

Qu'Appelle, Mar. 30/85.

My darling Gertie,

I have been so busy since I saw you that I have only had time to send you a Postal Card, but when I tell you what I have been doing I am sure you will pardon me for not writing more frequently. We had a very jolly trip up here though we had no Pullman, the only car of that kind being reserved for General Middleton and his staff. We were cheered all along the line and at Brandon we were met at the station by a torch light procession and a Brass Band. Answering the Address which they presented kept us up till about 3 o'clock and at 7 we arrived here, so you see we had not much sleep and what we had was taken in a sitting position and consequently was not very refreshing. From the morning of our arrival till Saturday night was taken up in getting the men comfortably settled and trying to knock them into shape but at 10 o'clock on Sunday night I turned in feeling that I was going to have a good sleep till 7 next morning, but "Hope told a flattering tale" for before I had fallen asleep I was called up and told that orders had just been issued that the Left Wing of the Regiment was to proceed early next day to Fort Qu'Appelle, 15 miles from here, and that as the two Officers on duty at the Barracks belonged to that Wing they were to be immediately relieved by Sewell and myself. We both jumped up, got on our swords and revolvers (of course we sleep in our clothes) and ran from our quarters to the Barracks, a distance of about half a mile, and assumed our respective commands. We were in no very amiable state of mind, you may be sure, as an attack was expected and our duty prevented us from closing our eyes until we were relieved at 9 o'clock next morning, but still there was no hope for us. About 2 o'clock this morning as we were talking to keep ourselves awake it was announced to me that a sentry had just reported that there were a number of men in some brush about 100 yards away. We did not put any confidence in the report but of course went to see for ourselves, and when we reached the sentry's post we saw distinctly a good many men with rifles dodging about amongst the brushwood. I at once ordered Sewell to call out the Guard and went to report the matter to Major MacKeard, who is in command. He at once ordered the bugler to sound the "Assemble" and in a remarkably short time the whole regiment was under arms and ready for action. The old General appearing on the scene in a much shorter time than I expected considering he is a stout old party. He had hardly arrived when we discovered that the supposed enemy, who had caused all the trouble, was no enemy at all but only one of our own pickets looking out for suspicious characters. Rather a sell, was it not. I was relieved at 9 this morning and have been hard at work at skirmishing drill all day in mud and slush up to my knees and as soon as I finish this letter (it is now 10 P.M.) I have to go on guard as a sentinel outside our house as it is far from the men's quarters and could easily be captured while we were asleep by a few determined men if no watch was kept. My guard, however expires at 1 tomorrow morning and then I hope to sleep the sleep of the just, as from 7 on Sunday morning till 1 on Tuesday is rather a long time to pass without a wink. The worst of it is that we have too few men here and consequently I have to go on duty as Officer of the day tomorrow at 8 A.M., which means 24 hours more without sleep. However, I am very well, never better in my life, and when the troops from the East arrive my work will be much easier.

I hope you are taking great care of yourself, little fellow, and that the kids, Daisy and Beatie are well, and with no end of love, I remain,

Yours devotedly,

Camp on Round Plain,
April 8th, 1885.

My darling Gertie,

I was delighted to get your last letter, though I was sorry to learn from it that you had been alarmed by a report of an engagement between us and the rebels. No such action took place and in my opinion none will for I expect when we reach the Half breed settlement near Duck Lake we shall find Riel gone and his followers busy plowing. Of course I may be mistaken but I shall be very much astonished if a single shot is fired as the Indians are keeping quiet and the Half breeds are not strong enough to make a stand without their assistance. In any event you will be advised by telegraph as I will wire you at once anything occurs, and as we are marching parallel with the telegraph lines and have our own telegraph corps you will know what has happened as soon as anyone. Pay no attention to cable reports, which are started by a lot of idiots who ought to be well thrashed.

We have done with wagons now except for our baggage and from Fort Qu'Appelle to Prince Albert, 270 miles, we shall have to tramp, a good long walk is it not, particularly over bad roads and across two rivers. We left Qu'Appelle (the Fort I mean) at 5 o'clock on Monday morning and marched 11 miles when we halted in the most infernal camping place I ever saw. There was no shelter of any kind and a bitter wind was blowing from the North. By jove it was cold at night. The Mercury fell to 100 below zero, and the beastly thin tents were hardly any protection against the wind, which whistled through it at a great rate. Nevertheless we managed to sleep until 5 o'clock yesterday morning when we resumed our march and came on to our present camp, 20 miles distant from the starting point. It was a hard march as the trail was very bad, and as I was fool enough to start in moccasins I suffered pretty severely and when we reached here I could hardly put my foot to the ground, it was so blistered and bruised on the sole by the hard roads. Fortunately we are to remain here in camp all day so I shall have a chance to get all right again before we start and you can bet your life it will be a long time before I march in anything but boots again. "A" Battery has just joined us and I am glad to find that most of the officers are old friends of mine. Your friend Drury is one of them and looks uncommonly well.

Mickey Healy is getting on first rate though I am sure he does not like the trip a bit. He is the life of our tent and keeps us laughing most of the time. He was on duty the other day for the first time and managed to get on fairly well, though he knows hardly any drill. Henry Arnold is doing very well and will in time make a good officer as he attends to his duty carefully and is not afraid of work or roughing it.

I am awfully sorry your mother's affairs are in such a state and hope your Uncle will soon return to Port Hope. When is he expected in Winnipeg? I am also sorry that my ring has not turned up and still more sorry to tell you that I have lost the signet ring you gave me. I must have pulled it off with my glove. It is most annoying for I would not have parted with it on any account. The "Home Guard" must be most amusing. I should like to see Joe Mulholland and Howard Wright at drill, though the latter used to be considered a good officer.

Please address your letters to Qu'Appelle Station, Troy P.O. and they will be forwarded. Write often and send me a Mail now and then.

With love to Beatie and the chicks and oceans to yourself I remain, Darling,

Yours fondly,

P.S. Be sure to take care of yourself and to take your Porter and Claret regularly. There is a case of claret in the cupboard in my smoking room.

Humboldt, Apl. l4th/85

My darling Gertie,

You see we have got as far as Humboldt but I could not advise you by telegraph of my arrival at Touchwood Hills or here as I promised to do as we marched through Touchwood without stopping and on arriving here yesterday evening found that the telegraph office had been removed. Your letter of the 7th inst. has just reached me and has been most eagerly perused. I am awfully glad that your mother thinks I did right in coming out with the 90th and that you have at last come to the same conclusion yourself. For my own part I think there is no doubt on the subject though I came most unwillingly and long daily to get home again, as I hope to do safe and sound before long. Many thanks for the socks, handkerchiefs, etc. which arrived all safe. Don't send me any more things at present as we are only allowed a certain amount of baggage and I have already all I am entitled to and a little more. The ammunition that Dr. Koor is sending me has not yet arrived and I am afraid it has fallen into the hands of the Mounted Police. However, I live in hopes of seeing it some day or other as at present there is no liquor in camp except what the Doctors have for medicinal purposes and after a long march a horn will do a fellow good. I don't think it likely I shall be away as long as they think but if I am you must make arrangements to go down to Toronto in June and spend the hot weather on the Island with your mother who will look after you and see that you take care of yourself. I am sorry that I was away from home on Dei's birthday. Give her my love and tell her I hope she will be a good girl till I get back. She is eight years old now and I think it would be well to get one of the Nuns to teach her for a couple of hours each day. She is by no means a stupid child and will pick up learning very quickly if she is made to attend to it.

The day after I last wrote to you we left the place where we were then encamped and marched past Touchwood a distance of 28 miles. My feet were by no means all right when we started but I put on a strong pair of long boots and got on very well during the early part of the day. In the afternoon, however, my feet began to get painful and I limped along with difficulty. Both Capt. Forrest and the men urged me to fall out and get on one of the wagons but I thought it would be a bad example to the men and toughed it out till we reached camp. When I took off my socks my feet, one in particular, were beauties to look at and Capt. Forrest urged me very strongly to drive on the following day. I declined to agree to this as I hated the thought of falling out and on parade next morning fell in with my Company and was just leading them off when I received a peremptory order from Major MacKeard to report myself at once at the ambulance and to drive in it till further orders. I remonstrated with him on the subject but without avail as he told me that Dr. Orton said if I marched the joint of one of my toes would become inflamed and I would be laid up for two or three weeks, and that he could not afford to lose the services of such a good officer when we were getting into the enemy's country. Of course I had to obey and for two days I drove quietly along in the ambulance with the Doctors. Since then I have marched every day though when I reach camp in the evening I am generally pretty nearly played out as our marches have been long and trying, our average distance being 28 miles a day, the same as Gen. Roberts in his celebrated march to Candabar, and the greater part of the time we are marching through water up to our knees. The other day the General informed me that our march was the best on record in modern times so we have not had all our fatigue for nothing. Write often, little fellow, as your letters are sure to reach me some time or other and I am anxious to know how you and the kids are getting on. By the way, how is the boy getting on with his tutor-all right I hope.

I must say good-bye now as I was in command of the outlying picket last night and am dead fagged in consequence, as on picket no sleep is allowed. We got into the enemy's country yesterday and sent out a picket of 2 companies about a mile from camp. A Captain of course ought to have gone in command but MacKeard preferred to place me in charge of the safety of the Camp. A decided and marked compliment, was it not?

With love to Beatie and the chicks and no end for your darling little self, I remain,

Yours ever,

Clark's Crossing, Apl. 19th/85

My darling Gertie,

Here we are at the South Branch of the Saskatchewan at last. Riel and his men are at Batochis (sic) Crossing, about 35 miles away, so we shall probably come in collision in the course of a couple of days if he intends to fight at all, for we march tomorrow to beat up his quarters. They, that is people living in this neighborhood, say that he has 750 men and four guns with him and that he has entrenched his position but I do not believe he has any guns and think we ought to be able to drive him out without much difficulty, as Simon Boulton's Horse and the 10th Royals arrived we are 900 strong, as follows:

"A" Battery

115 men and 2 guns,

Winnipeg Battery

85 men and 2 guns,


30 men,

Boulton's Horse

60 men,

"C" Company Infantry

40 men,

10th Royals

270 men,

90th Battalion

310 men.

We marched from Humboldt here in two days and a half and have been obliged to camp here to wait for supplies for both men and horses. The weather has been beastly and the marching was very hard work. When we arrived here I was pretty nearly done up and doubt if I could have gone 5 miles further but a few hours rest put me all right and I am now as well as possible and have a devil of an appetite. I forgot to tell you that the first night at Humboldt, that is to say, the first night in the enemy's country, we sent out a picket composed of two companies. This of course ought to have been commanded by a Major or Captain, but MacKeard placed it under my charge, stating in explanation that with the exception of Capt. Forrest, who was laid up with his feet, I was the only officer who knew how to handle an out-lying picket on active service, so you see I am not considered altogether useless. I had a very intelligent lot of men under me and they took on their duties at once I explained them and performed them so well that they took Gen. Middleton and his staff prisoners. I was just returning from patrolling with 4 of my men whom I had taken with me to examine the country about a mile in front of the picket when I heard one of the sentries challenge someone and call out the picket. I doubled my men in as fast as I could considering that the night was dark as pitch, and found that the General had been a little slow in giving the pass word and had been promptly captured. He laughed at the whole affair, complimented the sentry, and went back to camp. Yesterday Boulton's horse captured 3 of Riel's Sioux Scouts and brought them into camp, so you see the outlying parties of the adverse forces are pretty near each other. I don't believe we shall have any fighting, but if we do you need not be at all afraid of my doing anything rash, though as a matter of course I shall do my duty. With heaps of love, darling, I am as ever,

Yours fondly,

P.S. Percy Eliot arrived yesterday with the 10th. I spent the evening with him and he seems in first rate health and spirits.

Clark's Crossing,
April 22nd/85.

Here we are still in camp doing nothing but drilling, waiting for supplies for men and horses. These are expected this evening and tomorrow morning at 5 A.M. we march to drive Riel and his friends from their cover if they have not already cleared out. The 10th and Winnipeg Battery march down the North side of the River while we and the rest go down the South side with the General.

All well.


Yours etc.,

Address: Mrs. Macdonald,
83 Kennedy Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba


24 Apl, 1885.
Clark's Crossing.

To Mrs. Macdonald,
83 Kennedy St.,

Had hot skirmish with half breeds today. Bedson, MacDowall and I all right tell their wives.

Hugh J. Macdonald


Camp at Fish Creek
April 30th, 1885.

My darling Gertie,

We are still here in this same Camp as when I last wrote to you but preparations are completed to send our wounded back to Saskatoon tomorrow morning, so I suppose we shall advance before long though I cannot speak with any certainty as Gen. Middleton keeps his own council very well. Since I last wrote to you three of the wounded have died but the rest are getting on splendidly and several, whose wounds were at first considered mortal, are now on the mend. Poor Charlie Swinford, who was shot through the head just above the temple, died about half an hour ago, and his I hope will end the deaths. Everything has been very quiet here since I last wrote to you and I have consequently nothing to tell you except that I am flourishing. You must not think from this, little fellow, that I have been idle, for I have had no end of picquet work, so much indeed that notwithstanding the compliment conveyed in selecting me I have become thoroughly sick of it and have informed my superior officers of the fact, so I hope that after this I shall take my time with the rest. You see it becomes rather tiresome going out on picquet at 7 P.M. and staying out till 7 A.M., particularly when as in my case you never sleep and seldom sit down while on duty. On Monday night when I was last out I timed myself and found that during the 12 hours on duty I had been on my feet the whole time with the exception of 35 minutes, when I sat down under a wagon and smoked a pipe. Percy Elliott has been laid up with inflammatory rheumatism in his foot, but is now nearly well again and sends no end of love to you.

Neither the hamper which you sent to me, nor the box forwarded by Dr. Kerr has reached me and I have given up all hope respecting them as I suppose they have been stopped by the Mounted Police on account of the Medicine contained in them. The reports about our ammunition are wholly untrue. Not a cartridge failed to explode on Friday and at least 4,000 must have been fired, so you need not bother yourself on that head, darling. We cannot yet tell what the loss of the enemy was but it must have been heavy for we saw about 30 fall and that does not include those killed in the cover or by shells. The General, I believe, has made up his mind that when we march we are to take the trail through the open country so I do not think we shall have any more fighting particularly as the Half Breeds are so disheartened by the result of the last fight that they have fled from this part of the country, leaving their horses and cattle, which we have captured.

My hands are too cold to write more, darling, so good-bye.

My love to Beatie and the kids and also to the Canon, and no end for my beloved little wife.

Yours fondly,

Camp at Fish Creek,
May 4th, 1885.

My darling Gertie,

Though only a day or two have elapsed since I penned my last letter to you I write again to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 23rd ult. and to tell you how sorry I am to hear of the accident to Beatie and of your danger while trying to rescue her. What a miracle it was that you both escaped death, you by water and she by fire. What a terrible shock you must have received when you saw her bursting into flames. I hope, darling, you are feeling quite yourself again and that all ill effects of the accident have by this time disappeared. I can't tell you how thankful I am that you got off so safely for I cannot afford to lose my little wife yet even if we have been married two years.

I cannot say certainly when I shall get back to Winnipeg but I expect to return before you leave for Toronto. You must make up your mind to start for the Island about the middle of June as the change will do both you and the youngsters good and there is no earthly use in your remaining at home during the summer, particularly if I am up in this part of the World, for even if I were wounded I would not be able to go home, nor would you be allowed to come near me. If you start, before I return you had better get Hattie or some other reliable servant to take charge of the house and look after me when I get back for I want some place to go to on my arrival in Winnipeg.

By the way, have you heard anything from Caldwell about the house? Please get a cheque in his favour for $120.00 from McArthur and hand it to him, of course taking his receipt for the same, and at the same time get a cheque for $100.00 in favour of the Hudson's Bay Co. marked "on a/c" and send it to them.

Capt. Whitten has got leave of absence and starts for home tomorrow or next day. He will probably call to see you and if so you need not pay any attention to his account of our late engagement as he was in command of the baggage guard and was not under fire at all. We expect to leave here tomorrow as the Steamer with the Midland Battalion and the Gatling Gun will probably arrive this afternoon and we shall push on as soon as possible after their arrival. All well here.

With love to all and a great deal to yourself darling, I remain,

Yours fondly,

On board Str. "Northcote",
May 11th, 1885

My darling Gertie,

Many thanks for your letter of the 2nd which reached me two days ago and which I read greedily an hour or so afterwards during a lull in a sharp fight we were having with the rebels near Batochis Crossing. I must tell you that a few days ago I found the right side of my face getting very sore and next morning it was swollen so much that my right eye was not only closed but quite invisible. The Doctors at once declared it to be a severe attack of erysipelas and as we were to advance towards Batochis on the following morning they ordered me on board the Steamer "Northcote" which with "C" Company of regulars on board was to accompany the column. I kicked like a steer as I wanted to be with my Company in case of a fight but Dr. Orton put an end to the argument by saying that if I did not go on board he would send me back to Saskatoon as an invalid, so on board I came feeling about as ill as a man could feel. For two days I was pretty sick but on the third the swelling began to go down and I felt ever so much better. It was well I did for I found out that the orders were that the column consisting of the 12th, 2 companies of the Midland Battalion under your Uncle Arthur, the 90th "A" and Winnipeg Batteries were going to advance against Batochis at 4 A.M. while we were to proceed down the River to the same point and press on further down. Fortunately for me, Orton was not on board, and Dr. Moore, who was in charge, is only a young chap, so when he wanted me to remain with the invalids I told him to go to the devil and got up, borrowed a Winchester from Sam Beelson and fell in with "C" Company. We steamed down the River slowly and about 2 miles about Batochis fell in with the rebels on both banks, who at once opened fire on us and kept it up until we had run about 5 miles below the Crossing. We of course returned it with interest and I think did fairly good execution as we were well covered and fired cooly. We know we killed 9 of them, one of whom I got, and I am happy to say we have as yet had none killed and only three wounded. As soon as their fire slackened we cast anchor and remained there until 5 P.M. yesterday, when as our wood was nearly exhausted we got up steam and are now on our way down to the Hudson's Bay Ferry to look for more. As soon as we get wood we shall return to Batochis and rejoin the Column. The scout who carries the mail is just off, so good-bye darling, with no end of love to you, Beatie and the kids from,

Your ever loving husband,

P.S. I am quite well again and have not a scratch.

Prince Albert, May 20th,/85

My darling Gertie,

We arrived here yesterday morning, having marched 18 miles before 11 A.M. Not bad was it, particularly as not one man of the 90th fell out or got on a wagon though we made more than 3½ miles an hour and came straight through without a halt. Some 30 or 40 of the Midland Battalion dropped out and the 10th were completely used up, fully half of them being obliged to drive. Nothing exciting has occurred since I last wrote to you except the capture of Riel and the surrender of about 200 Half Breeds. Riel unfortunately was taken by three Half breed scouts from Prince Albert. Had our fellows taken him he would have been brought in a coffin and all trouble about his trial would have been avoided. At first our men, the 90th I mean, were very considerate and would not even fire on a bluff when they saw any of the rebel wounded, but as soon as they found that the rebels used to shoot our wounded whenever they got the chance they changed their mode of proceeding and after the charge at Batochis they returned to camp with no prisoners, though the number of dead they left in their trail showed that neither their rifles nor bayonets had been idle.

We have captured all the official papers of the rebels and now know the exact number of rebels we engaged and also their loss as far as the Half breeds are concerned, for they appear to have kept no record of the number of Indians killed and wounded. At Fish Creek they had 215 Half Breeds and 167 Indians and lost of Half breeds 13 killed and 18 wounded. At Batochis there were 360 Half breeds and about 400 Indians and the Half breeds loss was 68 killed and 173 wounded, so they have been pretty well punished and far as they are concerned the fighting is over. Our future movements are uncertain but we shall probably go to Battleford and pay Poundmaker a visit, after which the General has promised to send us home. I expect to reach Winnipeg about the 15th or 20th of June but may not get there before the 1st of July. However, you must not put off your trip Eastwards on my account, little fellow, for it is important for both you and the kids to get a change of air when the warm weather begins. The General has learnt from lodin, one of our prisoners who commanded the rebels on the North bank of the River during the fight with the Steamer, that we killed 5 and wounded a lot more of them. He further says that the 5 killed were all hit with Winchester bullets, and as I was the only man on board who used a Winchester, all the others having ______ , it looks as if I had done good service. I am awfully glad to hear that the youngsters are so well and that the boy has at last got a tooth. Have any more made their appearance?

Be sure and let me know how you are yourself and how everything is going on at home, as I am naturally anxious to know how you are. With heaps of love, darling, I remain,

Yours ever fondly,


Battleford, May 28, 1885.

We have at last arrived here and joined Otter's Brigadiers and I am happy to be able to say that we are all in good health and spirits. We came up from Prince Albert on the "Baroness" and thoroughly enjoyed the 3 days occupied by the trip. On our arrival we found that Poundmaker had just come in and surrendered, leaving Big Bear the only Chief holding out. We expect to be ordered home very soon. Love to all,

Yours &c,


On Board Str. "Alberta"
June 1st, 1885

My darling Gertie,

I sent you a Post Card from Battleford announcing our safe arrival at that point and when I wrote it I was under the impression that the 90th would be ordered home by this time, but on returning to Camp on Saturday night about 9 o'clock from a visit to the Queen's Own I heard that two couriers had just arrived with a dispatch from your friend Gen. Strange, stating that he had an engagement with Big Bear 16 miles East of Fort Pitt and asking for reinforcements. A little after 10 o'clock orders were issued that the whole of our Brigade with the exception of the big guns were to embark at 4 o'clock on the following morning and proceed to Pitt, Gen. Middleton himself going in command. In accordance with this order we were up bright and early yesterday morning and got off in good time, the Midlands on the "North West" in company with 2 Gatlings and 50 Gunners, the 10th and 90th with the exception of our Company on the "Marquis" and our Company on the "Albertan," the Mounted Police and our mounted men going by land. We had a charming run up to this point, about 40 or 50 miles from Pitt, but here we stuck on a sand bar and here we may remain for an hour or two as it is no easy work to get one of these clumsy steamers off a bar. I don't expect we shall remain long at Pitt as Big Bear will either retreat to the North before we reach him, in which case it will be useless to follow him, or shew fight in or near the position he occupied when Strange attacked him, and if he does one day ought to settle the dispute between us. As soon as he is disposed of we shall return to Battleford and then await the opening of Lake Winnipeg, for it has been decided, I believe, that we are to go home by water. I hope and expect, darling, to see you about the 20th of this month and you must not neglect to have your arrangements for the summer made at once. I have written to Drink water to send you passes. All of Col. Otter's Brigade, the Queen's Own, in particular, are awfully disgusted at being left behind and I thoroughly sympathise with them though I am glad we were selected to go. I wish we had the Queen's Own with us instead of the 10th Grenadiers as the former are a fine regiment and a good lot of fellows, whereas the latter are a rough crowd with a poor set of officers, but this of course rested with the General and he saw fit to take his old column intact.

What is the matter with you, little fellow? I have not heard from you for 4 weeks. You are not ill I hope. I don't want you to bother yourself writing long letters when you have nothing particular to say but I do want to hear how Daisy, the Kid and especially you yourself are getting on.

With love to the kids and Beatie and the Canon, and no end for yourself, I remain as ever, Your loving husband,


Head-Quarters, 90th Battalion,
Fort Pitt, June 7th, 1885

My darling Gertie,

Your letter of the 22nd ult. reached me the day before yesterday and was particularly welcome as from your long silence I was afraid that you were ill or else that something that you did not want me to know had happened. I was delighted to hear you are all well, though sorry that you are having so much trouble with servants. What happened to Margaret? I thought she would have remained with you until you went to Toronto.

We arrived here early last week and here I expect we shall remain until something definite is done with Big Bear. The General is after him with 300 Mounted Police and Scouts, while the rest of the forces with the exception of the 10th and 90th are scattered about the country North of the Saskatchewan, trying to cut off his retreat. Mrs. Delaney, Mrs. Gowanlock and Rev. Mr. Quinney and wife have escaped from him and are now in camp. The stories told of the women being outraged by the Indians are absolutely untrue as although detained as prisoners they were not insulted or badly used. The McLeans, I am sorry to say, are still in Big Bear's power but we hope soon to hear that they have escaped or been surrendered. As to going home, I can assure you, little fellow, I am as anxious to get away as a man can be, but I should not like to leave the Battalion and even if I applied for leave I know it would not be granted as both Forrest and Sewell have applied and been refused. However as soon as the General returns I expect the 90th will be ordered home and I am certain the order will be obeyed with alacrity as both officers and men are tired of this inaction and desirous to get home. It is awfully tiresome knocking about here with nothing to do and now that the Midland Battalion has left us it will be still more lonesome than it has been in the past. Your Uncle Arthur is looking awfully well and appears to be enjoying himself. I gave him your congratulations and he asked me to thank you for him and give you his love. I shall convey your message to Percy as soon as I see him but he has just returned from an expedition towards Onion Lake and I have not had an opportunity to see him alone.

I am awfully sorry your Mother is bothering herself about me. Pray assure her that all danger is past and that there is now not the slightest cause for uneasiness. I hope her own affairs are being arranged to her satisfaction and that a division of the Seymour Estate has been made.

The account you give of Daisy and Babe is most satisfactory. I am awfully pleased they are both doing so well.

With love to Beatie, the kids and the Canon, and no end to your precious self, I remain, my darling,

Your loving husband,


Fort Pitt, June 14th, 1885

My darling Gertie,

Here we are still at Pitt doing nothing and here we are likely to remain for a week or so yet, all owing to the obstinacy of that stupid old fool, Gen. Middleton, who ought to have caught Big Bear last Thursday but turned back when within one day's march of his camp. He, (the General not the Indians) then returned to our Camp about 100 miles from the turning point and stayed here one day and then started off in another direction to try to head Big Bear off, but I fear with very little chance of doing so. Meanwhile we have to remain here and await his return, though we are not of the slightest use to anyone. As it is uncertain when I shall get home you must make up your mind to start for Toronto with the chicks as soon as the weather gets too warm in Winnipeg, leaving some one in the house to look after it during my absence and to cook for me after my return. You need change of air yourself, darling, and the boy will suffer terribly from the heat if kept in Winnipeg, so as I cannot afford to lose either of you, you must make up your mind to go quite irrespective of my return, though I hope to get back before you start. There is no news here of any kind or description and I only write to let you know that I am flourishing and have not forgotten my sweet little wife.

Our grub is getting pretty tough but it is wholesome and that I suppose is all we have a right to expect.

Please give my love to the kids, Beatie and the Canon, and accept a great deal for yourself, from

Your devoted husband,


Fort Pitt, June 21st, 1885.

My darling Gertie,

Your telegram stating that Beatie was going home reached me yesterday and I answered it at once saying that I expected we should get away from here this week but was not certain about it. The McLeans and other white prisoners that Big Bear held have been released and are expected in camp today and there is now no earthly excuse for our remaining here, but it is impossible to say what an obstinate old fool like General Middleton will do and it is possible, though I think hardly probable, that he may keep us here for a week or two longer. If we get away when I expect we ought to reach Winnipeg on or about Dominion Day, but if I do not turn up by that time you and the kids and nurse ought to start for Toronto as the heat of Winnipeg will do you all harm and there will be no use in waiting for my return. On Wednesday afternoon a lot of whiskey, sent to us by Dr. Kerr, Sidney Blanchard, Charlie Hoarn and others, arrived and we had a grand glorification. I happened to be on duty and consequently had to be very abstemious but the other fellows enjoyed themselves thoroughly and the health of the donors was drunk with heartfelt thanks. If you see any of those I mentioned please tell them how acceptable their gift was.

The 10th Grenadiers have received no end of things from Toronto and yesterday their officers invited ours to dine with them. The dinner was first rate and went off very well. I sat next to Percy Eliot who asked me to give you his love and tell you he hoped to see you in Toronto.

And now, little fellow, I have no more to tell you so I will bring this to an end. With love to the bairns and yourself, I remain, darling,

Yours ever fondly,


June 26th, 1885.

My darling Gertie,

The mail is just going out so I send you a few lines in answer to your letter received yesterday. You do not say anything in it about making preparations for your trip to Toronto, which you ought to be attending to now both on your own account and for the sake of the youngsters who will benefit by the change. We have received no orders to start as yet and it is impossible to say when the old fool in command will let us go, so you must make your arrangements, darling, totally without reference to the time of my return. Have you as yet received the passes from Drinkwater? If not you had better get Mr. McArthur to speak to Egan about them for you, and if he will not give them pay your own way in the usual manner.

I am sorry to say there is not the slightest chance of my being able to get away to see Aunt Louisa this summer for as soon as I get back to Winnipeg and the 90th is disbanded I shall have to go back to the office and work like a nigger for the rest of the year, for my work must be awfully behind and it is necessary to keep the pot boiling.

I am awfully glad to know that the boy is getting on so well and hope you will be able to continue equally favourable accounts of him.

With no end of love, dearest, I remain,

Your loving husband,

The Rebellion being over Hugh John returned to Winnipeg and his law practice.

In 1890, he became a Queen's Counsel and in 1891, was elected to the Dominion House of Commons as Conservative member for Winnipeg (his Liberal opponent was his good friend Isaac Campbell). He and his father stood together when being sworn in.

In 1896, he became Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Sir Charles Tupper and ran against Joseph Martin in Winnipeg and although he was elected, the Conservative Party was beaten in the Dominion and he resigned from the Cabinet. Some of his supporters expended money on cabs to take voters to the Polls and the Courts voided his election and at the new election he was beaten.

He became leader of the Manitoba Provincial Conservatives and on December 7, 1899 led the Conservative Party to victory in Manitoba over the Liberal Party headed by Thomas Greenway. On January 8, 1900 he took office as Premier of Manitoba, President of the Legislative Council, Attorney-General, Municipal Commissioner and Commissioner of Railways. It was conceded that the win for the Conservative Party was due to the personal popularity of Hugh John Macdonald. Once in a position of authority his followers, to use the popular expression, "sold him down the river." Hugh John Macdonald was determined to carry out his election promises and in the first Session took up such contentious subjects as "The Factories Act," "The Franchise Act" and "The Liquor Act." Many of his followers believed that to the victor belong the spoils and Hugh John Macdonald did not see eye to eye with them. When he took office, he made an attempt to redeem the pledges his Party had given to the electors and this did not meet with the unqualified support of many of his followers and he was soon involved in a struggle for his own political existence. He had promised to inaugurate legislation restricting the use of alcohol to the full extent that the Province had power and he took this promise very seriously and said: "The moment that plank went into the platform and we as a party went before the country asking for support on that plank, my course was clear to carry out honestly the pledge made to the people. Nothing can more lower a public man and party than to have it supposed by the people that specific definite pledges are like pie crust, made to be broken." Hugh John Macdonald with the assistance of Sir James Aikins prepared his famous Prohibition Bill, usually known as "The Macdonald Act." The Act went on the Statute Books of Manitoba, but it was attacked through the Courts and the Manitoba Court of Appeal held it ultra vires but Premier Macdonald took it to the Privy Council who reversed that decision and declared it good law. His Party then tried to get rid of him and after eight months and three weeks as Premier persuaded him to contest Brandon for a Dominion seat against Clifford Sifton which his Party knew he could not win. He was defeated and retired from politics.

Sir Hugh John Macdonald then returned to the practice of law and on December 18, 1911 was made the Police Magistrate for the City of Winnipeg. His father, Sir John A. Macdonald was once asked how he selected his appointments for judicial office. He replied that he looked around for a gentleman and if he found one who knew a little law, so much the better. He would have found his own son an entirely satisfactory candidate for judicial honors. Sir Hugh John was a gentleman by nature and not by the book, and while he had little training in actual practice of law, he was well endowed with good common sense, and good common sense as lawyers say, makes good common law.

In 1913, he was created a Knight Bachelor.

As magistrate, each case was tried as if it was the only case of the day. He never hurried others nor permitted himself to be hurried. The accused was given every opportunity to tell his story and Counsel allowed full time for presentation of the case. No one ever outdid Sir Hugh John in courtesy. From the Bench he was the soul of courtesy, especially to those who needed it most-young Counsel and nervous witnesses. He liked to encourage young Counsel and if he thought he had made a good showing he would write him a letter telling him so. It has been said that Sir Hugh John could pass sentence on a prisoner so graciously that the prisoner felt like thanking him for being sent to jail. He was no "yes" man, He had the courage of his convictions and if he thought some age-old precedent did not meet the changed conditions of the modern day he made a new precedent. Sir Hugh John always kept a tolerant ear to the defence of mistake or accident. He used to tell a story of how he once took the wrong hat from his club, and "By Jove if they had caught me with that hat I would have been charged with theft," he would say. He could realize that law and justice were far from being the same thing. Sometimes they were at variance and Sir Hugh John would lean on the side of justice. He was endowed with many great gifts, among them a memory for faces and names. He judged each man on the basis of his merits as a man. His kindness was unfailing. He had a great sense of humour and he appreciated generously the work of others. In his youth he was a cricketer, an oarsman, a boxer, a football player, an excellent rifle shot, a stamp collector and an artist, ever a keen sportsman even in party politics. He had a great capacity for friendship and was faithful to his duty as he saw it.

In 1925, upon his seventy-fifth birthday, under the leadership of the Canadian Club, a great assemblage of leading citizens gave a special dinner in his honour. He said he was fortunate to be entering his seventy-sixth year in good health without the lessening of his keenness of interest in events. Owing to his constant association with younger men, he felt that he could almost say that he had forgotten to grow old.

On April 11, 1927, illness kept him from the Bench and on June 1 of that year he had his leg amputated. He had been a familiar figure on the streets till then, walking everywhere. Later that year a great National Liberal-Conservative Convention was held in Winnipeg and on October 10, he was carried on to the platform at that Convention and received a standing ovation that lasted many minutes. On May 1, 1928, he resumed his duties on the Bench, being carried to his seat on the Bench by stalwart friendly policemen. That day flowers decorated his desk and greetings and welcomes were expressed to him by representatives of the Police and the Bar which touched him deeply so that for several minutes he could not express his appreciation. On March 3, 1929 he was again taken ill and on Good Friday, March 29, of that year he passed on. His body lay in state before the throne in the Legislative Chambers. A family service was held at his home on Easter Sunday night at which I was present and he was buried from All Saints Church at St. John's Cemetery on Easter Monday, while a whole City, yea a whole Dominion, mourned.

One reporter from Toronto wrote: "For the first time in any courtroom I actually felt that the prisoner was considered innocent until proved guilty and that on the Bench was a mind that could never be tainted with any touch of meanness. His sentences seemed pronouncements untinged with human meanness and holding much of human grandeur. To the lawyer the cases might have been of tremendous legal moment. To the Magistrate they were apparently of tremendous human moment, especially when they concerned a first offence."

From his early youth to his old age, Sir Hugh John Macdonald had an individuality in appearance as in mind and character which made it true of him as it was true of his father, that no one who ever knew him, however slightly, can fail to recall him vividly. Even of the immense number of his fellow Canadians whose only memory of him is that they saw him but never spoke with him, there can be but few who do not retain a lasting impression of his appearance, his manners, his features and the distinction of his personality. Annually thousands saw him as he marched in the Dominion Day Parade.

To those of you who remember Sir Hugh, listen to this description of him. An obstinate Peter Pan with long brown locks, that flow down and curl over one ear resolutely refusing to turn grey, slight of figure and shuffling gait, bright eyes with the sparkle of mischievous youth, face rugged in profile as though chipped from granite seemingly still holding the leather tan of his pioneer days in the West, ready in an instant to melt into a thousand mirthful wrinkles and creases, but justly stern when occasion demands. It has been said of him that he was Manitoba's all time kindliest gentleman and that he was the most loved man in Winnipeg.

I might add a few personal experiences showing in a practical way some of the outstanding qualities of Sir Hugh John.

Nobody could outdo him in courtesy. He had many callers at his office and his instructions to the reception clerk were that if he was not busy to send any caller right in without even being announced. His callers were many and varied, including many who came to plead with him for some one who was up for trial before him. I remember one day a poor negress called on him, I suppose to plead for her husband or son. He received her in his office and closed the door. After about fifteen minutes his door opened and he bowed her out, he stepped ahead of her to the gate separating the general office from the waiting area and opened the gate for her and bowed her out, he again preceded her to the door of the general office out to the corridor, held the door open for her to pass and again bowed her out. He couldn't have been more courteous to the Queen of England.

His sense of humour was one of the pleasant features of Sir Hugh John. You will recall that lawyers used to carry their papers and books in a bag like a pillow case with a cord as a draw string to close it and slung over the shoulder. One day, Sir Hugh came into the office and laughingly said to me that as he was walking down with his bag over his shoulder a man stepped up to him and said: "You don't remember me Sir Hugh but some years ago I was up before you and before sentencing me you gave me some good advice which I didn't forget. Since serving my sentence, I've remembered your words and have gone straight and have now a good position. Will you allow me to carry your laundry for you?"

Another time, a Chinaman came into the office with a present for Sir Hugh. He occasionally brought some little thing like a silk handkerchief for Sir Hugh to take home to Lady Macdonald. This particular day, he brought Sir Hugh a Boston Cream Pie. After office hours, Sir Hugh called me and said: "George, we'll have a sample of it," so the two of us had a helping of the Boston Cream Pie. He then packed the rest up and wanted me to take it home, but I tried to persuade him to take it home. He said, chuckling, "George, I daren't do that for, by Jove, I'd get the devil for I'm not supposed to eat Boston Cream Pie." So I got the pie.

Sir Hugh kept his youth to the end. While he was convalescing, he asked me to go down to his home every other afternoon at four o'clock, just to chat, not to do business. One afternoon, I was sitting with him when three prominent Winnipeg citizens about Sir Hugh's age were shown in. I excused myself and left. Next morning, his nurse phoned me and asked if I could come down that afternoon at four, which I did. Then did Sir Hugh let me have it! He wanted to know why I left him at the mercy of those three doddering old men. They wanted to spend the time talking about dying, whereas he wanted to talk about living and the future, and in case anybody asked me, he wanted me to know that the only visitors he wanted were the young men, full of life and future.

The men who came to Winnipeg in the days of small things and became in their age landmarks in the community have all been men with personality and individuality which the conditions of today do not seem to develop. They had on them the mark of the vanished frontier. This was true of Sir Hugh John Macdonald as of the other old-timers whose loss we have deplored. We shall not look upon his like again. In truth we shall not.


Sir Hugh is gone: his valiant battle done
and sheathed his knightly sword, what guerdon won
as judging not but judged, alone he stands
God's final summons in his fragile hands.
Oh! what a kingly presence is removed
Who shall not mourn him, so sincerely loved
Or who not treasure deep his gracious smile
A benediction in a world of guile.
How frail the body was; how over spent
How brave the spirit; what serene content
Shone in the gentle face; what iron will!
Master, despite the feeble body still.
The Magistrate has launched his last Appeal
He prays for judgement now, or woe or weal
Ah! never doubt the just award of Heaven
Who oft forgave, to him be all forgiven.
Our Knight is gone. He quits the battle field
His sword untarnished, spotless all his shield
But, where the Captain waits with His "Well Done"
A mighty sire salutes a worthy son.

* Author's note: In preparation of this paper I wish to acknowledge use of the files of The Winnipeg Free Press, The Winnipeg Tribune, The Provincial Library, Lawyers and Laymen of Western Canada by Roy St. G. Stubbs and The Passing of Sir Hugh John by Edgar J. Thomas, Q.C.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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