CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 1 . . . . September 3, 1999
Sir John, Eh? A Musical in Two Acts.
Jim Garrard and Grant Heckman.
Kingston, ON: Quarry Press (Distributed by General Distribution Services), 1998.
88 pp., pbk., $14.95.
Macdonald, John A. (John Alexander), Sir, 1815-1891-Drama.
Grades 9 - 12 / Ages 14 - 17.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
*** / 4
John A.: I never took bribes for my own use. I may have spent a few tax dollars at Mrs.
Grimason's tavern. On my constituents. It was the custom of the day.
Canadians don't know enought about their history. The reason is that it's not taught often enough
during the time a student spends in school for the information to become engrained. As a result,
important historical periods and important historical characters are only slightly known. Teachers
are usually unable to enlarge on any one period because the courses that are offered are survey
courses, and they have to whizz through the curriculum. Consequently, any effort that is made to
popularize Canadian events and personalities can only contribute to our identity and our culture.
If a teacher or a community group has the chance to popularize and liven up history through a
play or musical, more power to them.
Courtney: But you did takes bribes.
John A.: To pass along to others. Of course. Wheels don't turn if they don't have grease. Buy a
man a drink, you've got his vote. Unless he's a Methodist. Make him a senator, he's yours for
life. Bribery is an essential tool of government. Let me give you an example. (Sets the scene)
I was fresh from winning the election in '87, giving my usual "Canadians have spoken their
minds" speech - "Not for sacks of Yankee gold," sort of thing ...
Sir John, Eh? is an irreverant look at the life of Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of the Dominion of Canada. The action begins when a
very '90's kind of girl, Courtney, carries out her dead grandfather's wishes by pouring whiskey on
the grave of Canada's first prime minister, who is also our best known alcoholic. That action
conjures Sir John's ghost, as well as those of his family. Sir John wants to keep up on current
Canadian events and chastises Courtney for not being knowledgeable about them or bringing the
latest newspapers. Courtney is repulsed by Sir John's attitudes and his actions as a man and as a
politician, but his family defends him as a man of the times. The major events in which Sir John
was a player are enacted, with the characters breaking into song to provide colour and wit to the
plot. Finally, Courtney is won over to Sir John, and she agrees to bring whiskey and newspapers
again next year.
Sir John, Eh? is a fast-paced musical that trips through Macdonald's early life and events
during the period of Canadian Confederation and after. The hanging of Riel and the building of
the national railroad are two of the important events that created controversy and division over
which Macdonald had the final say. The different sides of the issues, the different people
involved and their aims and objectives are outlined so that the audience gets a larger picture of
this historical period. The play, which does not present a deep analysis of the time, is rather a
survey of events, but it is still a vehicle to enliven history and make the historical figures and
events more relevant to the identity of modern-day Canadians.
Presenting Sir John, Eh? would be a useful project for high school students to pursue as part of
Canadian studies or a theatre course. The greatest difficulty presented by the play is that
Macdonald's family members assume the roles of the different historical characters. That's a
daunting task for seasoned actors and a lot to ask of younger actors. The roles demand Scottish
accents as well as period acting. But the inclusion of a modern-day, streetwise kid who is cynical
and doubting, interacting with historical figures, makes the subject interesting. Put together with
research and good teaching, Sir John, Eh? would be a rewarding undertaking (no pun
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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