Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times; Volume Two 1867-1891
by Richard Gwyn (Random House Canada, 2011)
Distribute to students “Excerpts from Nation Maker,” and encourage them to add notes in the wide margins of their worksheets during their study and discussions in this lesson. Read through the first section (first four paragraphs) with students and ask them to consider the following questions.
• Why might Richard Gwyn have chosen to open his first chapter with July 1, 1867 (e.g., a date that would be familiar to his twenty-first-century readers as Canada Day and a date that has great significance in Canadian history)?
• What details about the national and international forces and conflicts of the 1860s does Gwyn use to set the stage for his story (e.g., the reactions to Confederation in different parts of Canada, plans for the future in Canada, and threats of a takeover from the United States)?
• How do the details that the biographer opens with set the stage for the introduction of John A. Macdonald into the story (e.g., they place him in the context of his time and imply his historic significance in our time)?
After students have explored this first section, ask them why they think Gwyn called this book Nation Maker and why he used the words “his life, our times” in the subtitle of the biography.
See the teaching resource for more lesson ideas.
Cross-curricular Suggestions: Canadian History and Social Studies
A study of Nation Maker could help students understand and appreciate the connections between significant historical events and some of the social, political, and cultural issues that continue to engage Canadians today. Gwyn portrays Macdonald as the driving force behind the formation of Canada as a nation. In addition, the rich primary source evidence from Macdonald’s time that Gwyn has interwoven into his narrative will help students gain a historical perspective on the man and on the changes that came about because of Confederation.