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870K kickoff to Sir John A

The Canadian government is kickstarting celebrations of the upcoming 200th anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald's birth in 2015, marking his 198th birthday on Friday by announcing funds for a bicentennial commission based in Kingston, Ont. Macdonald's home and political base for most of his long life and a new set of Heritage Minute television spots paying tribute to the country's founding prime minister and his French Canadian lieutenant, George tienne Cartier.

Postmedia News has learned that Heritage Minister James Moore will detail plans to earmark $360,000 for the new public service messages on Macdonald and Cartier neither of whom have ever been profiled in the popular Heritage Minute history series as well as $511,000 for the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission to help lead the 200th birthday celebrations ahead of Jan. 11, 2015.

Macdonald was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on Jan. 10 or Jan. 11, 1815 the precise date has remained a source of uncertainty among scholars and immigrated to Canada with his family in 1820.

He built a successful legal career before emerging as an important player in colonial politics in the mid 1800s, eventually becoming the leading figure in the drive to Confederation in the 1860s and Canada's first prime minister on July 1, 1867.

He was still at the helm of the country's government when he died in June 1891.

While Macdonald's legacy is widely seen as tarnished somewhat by his clumsy handling of two Mtis uprisings, the 1885 hanging of Louis Riel and his involvement in a corruption scandal that cost him a four year hiatus from power in the 1870s, his key role in achieving Confederation, building a transcontinental railway and laying the foundations of a sprawling, independent and prosperous nation is beyond dispute.

The federal push to pay homage to Macdonald is happening at a time when a host of major national anniversaries are framing much of the planning and activity of the Department Canadian Heritage, including the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the 200th anniversary of Cartier's birth in September 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War in 1914 and the sesquicentennial of Confederation itself in 2017.

"Basically our mission is that by the time Jan. 11, 2015 arrives particularly if you're a Canadian student it will be impossible for you to have not at least had to consider Macdonald and the founding of Canada," said Milnes. "That's the dream. And as I keep saying, you don't have to worship the man. But the perfect thing would be on Jan. 11, 2015, there's a poll released that says 96 per cent of Canadian students know who John A. Macdonald is."

Previous polling has made it clear that not all Canadians are aware of Macdonald's preeminent place in the story of Canada. A 2008 survey commissioned by the Historica Dominion Institute showed that more than 40 per cent of respondents couldn't name "the Scottish immigrant, skilled lawyer and Father of Confederation who became Canada's first prime minister."

Historica Dominion Institute president Anthony Wilson Smith said the planned Heritage Minutes produced through the Toronto based organization should help remind Canadians about how Macdonald and Cartier forged the Confederation deal nearly 150 years ago.

"We should know more about our past because it links very directly to our present, and it's also a question of pride in our country," said Wilson Smith, noting that for the first time, the institute plans to encourage young videographers and other filmmakers across the country to pitch ideas for the two minute long TV spots.

"We all do know that Macdonald was flawed, and to some degree I think it's very healthy to talk about those deficiencies because we should never set ourselves up to be perfect as a country," noted Wilson Smith. "That means there's no room for improvement. I don't think we should idealize the past. tribute to one intriguing moment from Macdonald's life is already in the works in Picton, Ont., east of Toronto, where he worked as a young lawyer in the 1830s. That's where the future Father of Confederation argued his first court case successfully defending himself against an assault charge following an altercation with a local doctor.

A sculpture depicting the young lawyer is to be unveiled in 2015 by the Picton based Macdonald Project, which has commissioned the noted artist Ruth Abernethy whose statue of the legendary pianist Oscar Peterson can be seen outside the National Arts Centre in Ottawa to produce the work.

Macdonald's achievements are many, notes project leader David Warrick, his greatest gift to us is Canada itself. .

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