Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sir John A.

The character pictured here was Canada's founding prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. I came upon him in a book about the history of several cocktails. 'Sir John A.,' as he seems to be affectionately called by Canadians, was a heavy drinker.

There's a wonderful story recalled by Will Ferguson in Maclean's Magazine on the great man's birthday in January 2002. Apparently, sometime in the 1860s, the good Sir John A. came to a debate drunk. Drunk enough to actually throw up during the debate.
"An awkward pause followed, but John, smiling, said, 'I'm sorry. I don't know what it is about my opponent, but every time I hear him speak, it turns my stomach.' The crowd roared."
Brilliant. The man he was debating, George Brown, was the brunt of more of Sir John's jokes, too.
"Rather than grapple for the high ground, Macdonald acknowledged the obvious, turning his weaknesses into a point of pride. 'The people would rather have John A. drunk than Brown sober,' he proclaimed. He was right."
No Right Honourable John George Diefenbaker, Sir John A. was even known to take swings at his political opposition. After some bribes/donations for a rail project, he became "the first -- and only -- PM in Canadian history forced out of office on charges of unethical behaviour." However, Will Ferguson tells us, "Undaunted, John was swept back to power five years later, and ended his days in triumph."

The other gentleman pictured is of course John Diefenbaker, the Progressive Conservative (huh?) Canadian prime minister from 1957 to 1963.

By the way, the cocktail book I was reading was Christine Sismondo's Mondo Cocktail. It's excellent. A "literary" history of twelve well-known drinks, including the Sazerac. It was from the Sazerac chapter that I learned about Sir John A.'s antics (and Will Ferguson's article). There's a good review of Sismondo's book by Dr. Cocktail here. More about the book later.


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