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Sculpture captures symbolic moment when Sir John came of age

Ruth Abernethy's photograph depicts a wax maquette of the young John Macdonald.  The final work will be much more detailed and will include a replica of the prisoner’s dock and chair from the Picton courthouse.

Ruth Abernethy’s photograph depicts a wax maquette of the young John Macdonald. The final work will be much more detailed and will include a replica of the prisoner’s dock and chair from the Picton courthouse.

Canada’s 10th bronze portrait of  John A. Macdonald  is nearing completion and is expected to be unveiled in Picton in time to mark the bicentennial of his birth in 2015.

“This is more than a Bay of Quinte project; it’s now gone national,” said David Warrick, chair of the steering committee of the Macdonald Project of Prince Edward County. “Soon more Canadians will learn of John A. Macdonald’s close connection with Prince Edward County and the  Quinte region.”

Macdonald, said Warrick, is not only Canada’s first, but is its “greatest prime minister and it was here that he grew up with immediate family, and his three first cousins, the Macphersons of Napanee, Hillier and Picton.”

The work, entitled ‘Holding Court’ may prove to be Ruth Abernethy’s finest sculpture.  Warrick said he’s seen the finished bronze sculpture calls it outstanding in every way.  “It rivals Abernethy’s Glenn Gould.”

The finished sculpture is Canada’s 10th public sculpture of Macdonald and the first one to depict him as a young lawyer.

The head study in bust form has already been displayed downtown Picton, Osgoode Hall, University of Toronto, Queen’s University, Albany Club and Cobourg’s Columbus Hall. It is now in the foyer of the Ontario Legislature where up to over 150,000 school children and visitors every year will learn more about him.

Ruth Abernethy, Warrick said, has captured the symbolic moment when Macdonald came of age.

He reports the committee has raised $120,000 of the $180,000 needed to deliver the bronze sculpture to downtown Picton.  Donations are welcome and eligible for a tax receipt. Visit for details.

The story behind Holding Court
by David Warrick
This is a national story about the early life of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. Our sculpture captures a moment when Macdonald appeared in court for the first time before a judge and jury in Picton, Upper Canada in 1834.  He won the trial and four months later became an attorney while still living in Picton.

He was already displaying leadership qualities and civic mindedness even in his teenage years.  Consider that he
• volunteered as secretary of the first public school board
• organized a young men’s debating society
• volunteered as a polling clerk for the election of the 12th legislature of Upper Canada in the Picton Courthouse in 1834
• signed a petition to rename Hallowell.

He was 19 at the time he presented his first court case in 1834 and quite mischievous as many local residents still recall.  But he was also a pro tem lawyer filling in for his ailing cousin in Picton. Beside reading law and running a practice, he was already volunteering to help the community of Hallowell/Picton.

This was the period three years before the Rebellion of 1837 and 19 years after the end of the War of 1812.

One day during the summer of 1834, John heard of the tragic death of his former employer, George Mackenzie, during a cholera epidemic. John realized that greater opportunities lay ahead in Kingston.  The young John A. Macdonald was only 20 when he received a letter from the Law Society of Upper Canada that would allow him to practice as an attorney and so, in spite of the fact that the leading citizens of Picton offered him 100 pounds to stay, John moved to Kingston in the summer of 1835 to open his own law practice.

There he practised law for several months before he was admitted to the bar.  At 21 he was participating even more fully in civic life.  He joined many organizations there and made a reputation as a dedicated young lawyer and community leader.

The sculpture entitled Holding Court marks the beginning of Macdonald’s career and his early commitment to public service.  He not only began his career there, but he demonstrated his leadership skills from the moment he arrived.

This story is important to all Canadians as the story of Macdonald “coming of age.”

He called the Quinte region his home for 11 years.  He lived in Hay Bay, Napanee, Glenora and Picton before moving finally to Kingston in 1835.

John A.’s family and cousins lived in the region. He travelled constantly but his family home was a small clapboard house on Hay Bay near Adolphustown followed some years later in the Miller’s House at the Stone Mills of Glenora, where his father was a miller and magistrate.  He probably stayed with his cousins, the Macphersons, in Picton during the two years he lived here. But he spent a great deal of time with his family Hugh, Helen, Margaret and Margaret and Louisa at Glenora, below Lake on the Mountain. He said later that these were the happiest days of his life.

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  1. Jim McMillan says:

    Be great to see John A beside the library.
    How many young people will he inspire.over the coming years.
    Thanks to everyone helping to accomplish this project.

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