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First Home
63 Daly Avenue


Macdonald the Man

Here, at 63 Daly Avenue, we explore the site of Macdonald’s first residence in Sandy Hill through the lens of his personal life. Explore the personality of the first prime minister and meet his supportive and politically-involved second wife, Lady Agnes Macdonald. The Daly Ave. residence has since been demolished but from 1865-1870, Canada’s first prime minister called this address home. Although no known photograph remains of Macdonald’s first house in Sandy Hill, an anecdote concerning drains, stench, and flies, suggest it was far from idyllic. It was while living here that Macdonald, along with many of his colleagues and neighbours, helped lay the foundations of a new federal democracy. The word ‘dwelling’ can refer to a place to live or the act of lingering. The house is no longer standing, but does the lingering presence of Macdonald still dwell here? Does this site continue to hold historical value?

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Canadian Museum of History, D-5648 

Personal Artifacts

Shaving Brush

Canadian Museum of History, D-2629

Personal Artifacts

Personal Papers - Personal Finances - Liquor Bill

Library and Archives Canada

Sir John A. Macdonald fonds



Flask (1872-1875)

Canadian Museum of History, D-2610

Personal Artifacts


Canadian Museum of History, D-2610

Personal Artifacts

Ottawa Tennis Club 1883

Library and Archives Canada

Topley Studio fonds


“[The] fixed idea of a united empire was his guiding star and inspiration. I, who can speak with something like authority on this point, declare that I do not think any man’s mind  could be more fully possessed of an overwhelmingly strong principle than was this man’s mind of this principle.”


- Lady Macdonald on her husband's commitment to Confederation*

Liquor and Loss

In his early career, Macdonald drank heavily, as evidenced in letters, literature, and period cartoons such as this 1885 Is This Spree Going to Last? cartoon. How then, might we interpret his liquor bill for £67 worth of alcohol, the equivalent of around $12,200 CAD today? It would seem to suggest prodigious personal consumption.  Yet, a man of his times, Macdonald was by no means alone in his habits. Excessive drinking was well-documented and came to be regarded as a social ill, giving rise to temperance movements in the early 20th century. Known as what we today would call a binge-drinker, the rigours and stresses of his political life, together with personal tragedy, may have intensified his bouts of drunkenness. In 1848, Macdonald lost his first born son, John Alexander Macdonald Jr.; he was just 13 months old. Nine years later, in 1857, he lost his first wife, Isabella Clark, who succumbed to a chronic illness. The only child of Macdonald and his second wife was born in 1869 with hydrocephalus, fluid on the brain. Mary, affectionately nicknamed “Baboo” by her father, was confined to a chair for her entire life.

Sir John A. Macdonald's second wife, Lady Agnes Macdonald, was keenly involved in the social and political climate of Sandy Hill. Although she could neither vote nor hold office, she contributed to her husband’s goals with determination: hosting Macdonald's constituents at dinner parties, anonymously writing political commentary of her own, and establishing herself in the community through social events and charity work. This photograph shows Lady Macdonald in her element: on her right is the Governor General John Campell, The Marquis of Lorne, on her left is the Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria.

Second Wife,
First Lady

Artifact: Personal Papers-Personal Finances - Liquor Bill

Always well-dressed, Macdonald maintained an appearance of cleanliness and an air of refinement – potentially as a means of drawing attention away from his unimposing speaking voice. He kept himself clean-shaven, even while most of his colleagues sported full beards, showing off his collar and tie to full advantage. A frequent subject of political cartoons, Macdonald’s appearance was famous – especially his rather large nose. Of the barber attending to Macdonald in a barber shop, one member of Parliament recalled saying “I suppose, Sir John, that he is the only man in Canada who can take you by the nose with such impunity?” Whereupon Macdonald replied, with a wide grin, “Yes, and he has his hands full.”

Artifact: Sir John A. Macdonald's Collar
Artifact: Sir John A. Macdonald's Shaving Brush

Dressed to Impress

Political Cartoon of Sir John A. Macdonald holding liquor bottle, caption reads: How Long is this Spree going to last?
Artifact: Flask

Whither Are We Drifting?

© McCord Museum


Artifact: Photo of Lady Macdonald at Ottawa Tennis Club

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