Sir Allan MacNab (Prime Minister ?) and Dundurn

The historic plaque erected on the property of Dundurn Castle reads as follows:

Dundurn Castle

This mansion was built 1832-35 by Allan Napier MacNab (1798-1862) and named after the family ancestral seat in Scotland. Enlisting at fifteen, MacNab distinguished himself by his bravery in the War of 1812. He subsequently entered politics and was noted for his support of the Family Compact. During the Rebellion of 1837 he was one of the government's most active military supporters and was knighted for his services. Leader of the Troy-Conservatives, MacNab was speaker of the Legislative Assembly on several occasions and Prime Minister of Canada 1854-56.

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board

As might be expected the reference to Sir Allan MacNab as "Prime Minister of Canada" with reference to a time period that is before Confederation definitely seems confusing. That matter was addressed in an article by Paul Kidd that appeared in the Hamlton Spectator on July 21, 1961.

"Who was Nation's First PM ? Better Take Three Guesses" (By Paul Kidd)

The blue-and-gold historic sign in front of Hamilton's Dundurn Castle designates Sir Allan MacNab as having been Prime Minister of Canada from 1854 to 1856. But the first Prime Minister of the nation-as every Canadian learns at school-was Sir John A Macdonald, who took office with the birth of the Confederation in 1867. Thus, the plaque raises the question: Is the reference to Sir Allan a misnomer?

TECHNICALLY, it is accurate. But, historians concede, the designation could be misinterpreted. According to Professor J.M. F. Careless, head of the department of history at the University of Toronto, if Sir Allan had been described as "premier of the United Province of Canada," the title would have been equally accurate. With the Act of Union in 1840, the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada-later Ontario and Quebec-were united. And it was as head of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada that Sir Allan was designated Prime Minister.

OFFICIALLY, however, there was no such office as Prime Minister of the province. The person occupying the position always had another title, such as inspector-general, "with the constitutional understanding that he was Prime Minister." At the time the plaque was erected about three years ago, such historic inscriptions were limited to a maximum 100 words. The text on the Dundurn Castle sign totals 92 words. Sir Allan could have been described as ""Premier of the United Province of Canada" - without exceeding the text limit laid down by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board.

BOTH Professor Careless, a board member, and Donald McQust, director of the historical branch of the Ontario Department of Travel and Publicity, admit that such a description might have been "a little clearer". But although it may have eliminated any confusion that Sir Allan was Prime Minister of the nation from coast to coast, both historians feel the title may have required some elaboration. And there just weren’t enough words available.

Anoher photo of historic interest relating to Sir Allan MacNab depicts the unveiling of Sir Allan MacNab's gravestone. In 1967, the Canadian Club, with the help of a Scottish descendant, erected a gravestone to mark Sir Allan MacNab's final resting place. Until that time, his grave had gone unmarked.

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