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Biography of the Day


d. 28 Nov. 1867 at Fredericton


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Administrative Reforms

Apart from two brief pauses, John A. MACDONALD served as attorney general for Canada West (Upper Canada; present-day Ontario) from September 1854, when he was appointed by Sir Allan Napier MacNAB and Augustin-Norbert MORIN, through to confederation in 1867. As attorney general and co-premier with George-Étienne CARTIER in the late 1850s, Macdonald oversaw a number of reforms, including the opening of new lunatic asylums (as they were known), juvenile reformatories, an institution for those considered criminally insane, and boards to direct these institutions [see Cartier and the Union: The Strengths and Limitations of a Regime (1848–67)]. The conservative impulse at the heart of these reforms is described in the biography of asylum administrator Joseph WORKMAN:

“[In 1857] the penitentiary and asylum boards were amalgamated. The new Board of Inspectors of Prisons, Asylums, and Public Charities, which first met in 1859, was the first such board of public welfare in North America. The government’s intent was not unclear: to impose sound economy, efficiency, and uniformity on what had hitherto been a rather chaotic and increasingly expensive system of public institutions.”

For more information on Macdonald’s early administrative reforms, please consult the following biographies.

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