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About / History

February 5, 2021

Who was Hugh John Macdonald?

Hugh John Macdonald was the eldest surviving son of the first Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald. Sir John's first acquaintance with the West was when he first arrived during the time of Red River Uprising. He subsequently returned to Winnipeg in 1882 and entered into a partnership with J.S. Tupper as a lawyer. In 1891 Macdonald was created a Queen's Counsel and in the following spring he accepted the Conservative nomination in the Federal Election of 1891. In 1911, he was appointed police magistrate for Winnipeg. In 1913, his name appeared in the King's list of birthday honors as Sir Hugh John Macdonald. He was taken ill and died on March 29th, 1929. Today, his Winnipeg home, Dalnavert at 61 Carlton Street remains a legacy of his work for the citizens of Winnipeg.

Sir Hugh John Macdonald

Hugh John Macdonald was a lad of seventeen when his distinguished father, Sir John A. Macdonald, led the first parliament of Canada after Confederation. Quite independently of his father he proceeded to make his name and fame, and for a period of thirty-eight years held many positions of trust in the service of his country. As a young man, he chose to make his home in Winnipeg, and so it was here that his many friends were wont to describe him as the “finest gentleman in the West.”

Hugh John was born in Kingston, Ontario on March 13, 1850. He was the second and only surviving son of Sir John A. Macdonald. When he was eight years old, his mother died, leaving him in the care of his aunt, Margaret Williamson, wife of a professor of Queen’s University. Macdonald graduated from Queen’s College Preparatory School with honours and in 1869 received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto. He then studied law in Toronto and Ottawa and was called to the bar in 1872. He became a partner in his father’s law firm in Toronto.

It could be said that the young Macdonald’s first career was that of a soldier. At the age of sixteen, he enlisted as a private in the 14th Prince of Wales Own Rifles of Kingston to fight in the Fenian Raids. In 1870 he joined the 1st Ontario Rifles as an ensign and at the time of the Riel Rebellion was sent to the Red River Valley under Colonel Wolseley. This was his first sight of the West and so deeply was he impressed by the country that, in 1882, he came to live in Winnipeg. He became a member of the law firm of J.S. Tupper, Q.C. Macdonald was a captain in the 90th Regiment which helped to put down the Riel Rebellion of 1885. Although at this time he resigned from the army, he kept in touch with his former comrades and for many years was a familiar figure as he marched with the “Veterans of 85” in the annual Decoration Day Parade.

The son of the famous Conservative leader showed reluctance when urged to enter the field of politics. Perhaps this was due to his knowledge of the hardships and battles of public life, gained from observation of his father’s experiences. The prestige of the “Macdonald” name was an asset to the Conservative Party, and a sense of loyalty drew Macdonald into accepting the nomination as federal candidate in the election of 1891. He won against his life-long friend Isaac Campbell. That he was like his distinguished father, not only in appearance but also in political ability, was evident during his three sessions in Ottawa, and during his term as a member of Sir Charles Tupper’s cabinet.

Following the death of his father and the decline of the Conservative Party, Hugh John returned to his law practice in Winnipeg. He entered provincial politics in 1899 and when the Conservatives won the election of that year, he became Premier of Manitoba. However, his party called upon him once again to be their candidate for the Brandon constituency in the Federal election of 1900. He was defeated by Clifford Sifton and this marked the end of his political career. He remained always a loyal and esteemed member of the Conservative Party. His personal magnetism, his quickness at repartee, and his ability to use the anecdote infused into many a dull party rally. It was now that Hugh John Macdonald entered into his third career, as an administrator of the law. He became Magistrate for the City of Winnipeg in 1911 and remained in office until his death. He had a wide knowledge of law, sound judgement, and quick insight. He believed in justice tempered with mercy. In carrying out the duties of his office he won respect and affection. “In his court there was a feeling of serenity and peace with no cynicism, expediency or callousness. The prisoner was considered innocent until proven guilty”, describes one observer. As the magistrate studied the young offenders brought before him, he became convinced that poor environment was a chief cause of delinquency. At a much later date when a home for delinquent boys was established on Mayfair Avenue, it was named the “Hugh John Macdonald Hostel” in his honour.

In 1876, while still a young lawyer in Toronto, Macdonald married Jean King Murray. She died five years later. Their only child, Daisy, was the late Mrs. George Gainsford of Winnipeg. Asecond marriage was contracted in 1883 when he married Agnes Gertrude, daughter of S.J. Van Koughnet, Q.C. of Toronto. They had one son, Jack, whose death at the age of twentyone was a sad blow to the family. Macdonald became Winnipeg’s best-known and best-loved citizen. No public gathering of an official nature was complete without his presence. In 1913, the King’s birthday honours made him Knight Bachelor. On his seventy-fifth birthday the citizens of Winnipeg paid their respects to him at a dinner at the Canadian Club.

In 1927, Macdonald, who suffered from phlebitis, underwent a very serious operation in which his right leg was amputated. In the fall of that year at the Conservative Convention, he received one of the greatest demonstrations of affection that had ever been awarded a public man in Canada. He was carried in the arms of his friends to the seat of honour on the platform. A year after his operation, Macdonald returned to work but was in poor health. Again taken ill, he died on Good Friday, March 29, 1929 at the age of seventynine. He was buried with all the honours of a state funeral. A tribute published in a local newspaper at the time of his death was as follows: “His death was mourned throughout the length and breadth of Canada, but nowhere as deeply as in the city to which he came in early life and where he lived for many years, honoured, respected, and admired to a degree that comes to but few men. Personally beloved and known by thousands in all walks of life he occupied no ordinary place in the life of the community.”

The History of HJM

1892 Winnipeg's first high school, "Central Collegiate", was opened on Kate St. and William Avenue with great pomp and ceremony. For twenty years Central Collegiate was the only High School and many of our best known citizens attended it. In 1917 the Central Collegiate was moved temporarily to the second floor of Isaac Brock School and the old building on Kate Street became the Maple Leaf Elementary School. Four years later the building saw another change. The school became a junior high school called Maple Leaf Junior High. Nine years later the old building now 38 years old was torn down with the completion of the Hugh John Macdonald School. A new modern school was built in 1929 on Kate Street and Bannatyne Avenue at a cost of a quarter million dollars. This present building was named after Sir Hugh John Macdonald, the eldest surviving son of the Rt. Hon. Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada. When the building opened in 1930, 26 classes were registered. The school body included thirteen Grade 7 classes, seven Grade 8 classes and six Grade 9 classes. To provide for the expanding needs of the student population and the school programs, the school building was expanded in 1956 and 1963. The new facilities provided a large gym with a stage, showers and change rooms, additional classrooms and a new school office. On the second floor a large open area classroom for Social Sciences was opened with a theatre capable of comfortably accommodating 110 students.

The year 1979 stands out as another landmark in the life Hugh John Macdonald School. In that year the Library moved into the open area previously occupied by the Social Science Department and the Music Department moved into the old Library.  

The history of Hugh John Macdonald is intertwined with two now non-existent schools, the Winnipeg Collegiate and Maple Leaf Elementary. In September, 1882, eight students, one of them female, assembled in the upper room of the Louise Street school under Principal J.B. Fawcett. Winnipeg had its first collegiate department. But that winter they nearly froze and they were moved to a room in Central School, which remained the collegiate department for nine years. Then the Board built Winnipeg’s first high school at William and Kate, where the Hugh John Macdonald now stands, and in 1892 the long-hoped-for Winnipeg Collegiate Institute, the ancestor of the Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute began its history. Only 12 years later, the population of the collegiate was up to 382 students from eight in 1882. In 1917 the Collegiate left its Kate Street home (it became, after repairs, the Maple Leaf elementary school) and found temporary quarters on the second floor of Isaac Brock. The Maple Leaf Elementary was demolished to make way for the Hugh John Macdonald School in 1928. The school officially opened in 1929 and was named after Sir Hugh John Macdonald who was the eldest son of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. Hugh John was a respected police magistrate in Winnipeg. When the building opened 26 classes were registered. The school body included 13 grade 7 classes, seven grade 8 classes and six grade 9 classes. 

To provide for the expanding needs of the student population and programs the school building was expanded in 1956 and 1963. The new facilities provided a large gym with a stage, showers and change rooms, additional classrooms and a new school office.  On the second floor, a large open area classroom for social sciences was opened with a theatre capable of accommodating 110 students. In 1976, the library was moved into the open area and the music department moved into the old library. Over the years programming changes have also impacted on the physical use of the building. Currently the school has a dance studio, video production lab, computer lab and cafeteria. As well the school operates two off campus programs: Eagle Circle and EAL. Hugh John Macdonald School has been the educational home and melting pot of Winnipeg’s diverse and growing immigrant population. To date, Hugh John has no less than 20 ethnic groups represented in its 600 students. The programs at the school reflect the cultural mosaic of the school and neighbourhood. Hugh John Macdonald celebrated its 75th anniversary from May 12-14, 2005.


Hugh John Macdonald School, previously knows as the Winnipeg or Central Collegiate, which was closed and became Maple Leaf Elementary School, was torn down in the late 1920s.

  • Built: 1929
  • Opened: 1929
  • Contractor: Claydon Co.
  • Actual Cost: $214,731
  • No. of rooms: 24 (three levels) including science lab, resource room, guidance space and administrative area. Addition: September 1956
  • Contractor: Fraser Construction Co.
  • Contract: $119,376 (actual cost $123,918)
  • No. of rooms: 6 plus 2 staff rooms plus counsellor’s room, janitor office and storage room
  • Addition: 1963
  • Contractor: Kraft Construction Ltd.
  • Actual Cost: $229,632
  • No. of rooms: 3 classrooms (basement of old building converted), auditorium-gym, washroom facilities, library, lecture theatre. Alteration: 1 enclosed roof activity area
  • Cost: $49,831
  • Public address system installed in 1959​

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