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Sir John A. Macdonald stories

Sir John A. Macdonald stories
County Tales Exploring our Deep Roots

Fact or fiction ?? you decide …

Vanalstine Mills

Vanalstine Mills at Glenora, where John A lived for three year.  It’s now the base for Glenora Fisheries

John A. Macdonald, first prime minister of Canada, lived for three years at Glenora, where his father operated a grist mill. Later the family moved to Kingston, but in 1833, Macdonald returned to the Picton area to take over a law practice for his ailing cousin, winning his first case at Picton Court House.

During this case, tempers flared and to the scandal of the judge, the argument escalated until Macdonald and the opposing counsel went at each other with their fists. The court crier was called to break up the fight. He circled around the combatants calling loudly “Order in the Court, Order in the Court”, but being a staunch friend of Macdonald’s leaned over to him and whispered loudly “Hit him again, John, hit him again!”

John A MacdonaldMacdonald once found himself in Picton Court in the role of defendant, after being charged with having put a dead horse in the pulpit at the Methodist Church. The horse was seated in the chair with its front hooves resting on the reading desk. The elderly sexton, returning from a meeting, was lighting candles in the church when he discovered the grisly apparition. He ran from the church screaming “The Devil is here, the Devil is here.” When the case came to trial, another young man of the area, who had nothing to do with the prank, was convicted of the offense. This so impressed MacDonald that he vowed that he would never allow a man to be hanged on purely circumstantial evidence!

At the beginning of his political career Macdonald was scheduled to speak in Kingston on a Saturday night. Several of his Picton cronies hitched up their rigs and went with them. At that time there were no fewer than seventeen pubs and taverns between Picton and Kingston and MacDonald insisted on stopping at them all. When they reached Kingston, he was somewhat the worse for wear, and the audience was treated to the sight of his friends hoisting him up to the speaking platform, where his opponents were already in full swing. The hot and stuffy air in the hall soon did its damage; he sat for as long as he could, but eventually had to rush off the platform and out the back door. Everyone in the hall knew precisely what was going on. MacDonald made it back to the platform just as the Liberal candidate was finishing and it was his turn to be introduced, whereupon he remarked, “Ladies and Gentlemen, every time I hear that man speak, it makes me sick!” He won the election.

Later, during a political meeting at Adolphustown Town Hall, an old neighbour reminded the audience of a time when he had been fishing, reeling in bass and throwing them up on the bank for safety. At one point he had looked up to realize that Sir John A., then a young lad, was legging it for home with one of his choicest black bass. In front of the whole meeting, the neighbour charged Macdonald with theft and said that, unless John A. asked for pardon immediately, he would use his influence against him in the election. The audience was aghast, but Sir John A. rose and replied: “Mr. Chairman, and yeomen of Adolphustown : What my old neighbour has told you about my theft of this beautiful fish is absolutely true; and I can recall as though it were but yesterday how frightened I was at that unearthly yell of our good friend, which almost caused me to drop the fish so as to make better speed; but I managed to hold on to it when I saw he was not chasing me. I was clean out of breath as I told my father where I had found it, and that there were lots more where this came from. I humbly beg your pardon, and my only regret is that I can’t steal another one like it here tonight, and have it for breakfast in the morning. Mother said it was the best black bass she ever cooked.” Sir John carried that meeting, and in the end won the election.

Macdonald was so well liked in the area, that when he announced that he was opening a law practice in Kingston, the citizens of Picton offered him £100 if he would stay.

Story reprinted with permission of Author Janet Kellough from her book “The Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County”.


This is not a “history” of Prince Edward County in the usual sense. Although many of the stories in this book are true, many others have obviously been embellished in the re-telling. They are, however, “real” stories – they have all been told, at one time or another, by people in the County. Stories have survived here where they have disappeared in other localities. Because of the County’s geographic isolation and because so many of the “old families” still live here, tales have often been passed from generation to generation.

Although I have not fabricated any details, I often found different versions of the same events. Every attempt was made to verify historical detail, but in cases where I found varying accounts, I simply chose to use the interpretation I liked best.

Thank you to all the people who told me stories …

Copyright ©1994 Janet Kellough, All rights reserved
Published by Kellough Productions, Picton, Ontario 1994

About Janet Kellough

The tragic tales, outrageous gossip and fascinating history of Ontario’s Prince Edward County are all grist for the mill for writer and storyteller Janet Kellough. From shipwrecks to lost love to the romantic legacy of the dance hall era, Kellough’s writing captures the essence of a unique people and a very special place. Visit Janet at janetkellough.com
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