Angus L. Macdonald: A Provincial Liberal.


300 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9459-9
DDC 971.6'03092




Reviewed by Richard Wilbur

Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.


Most provincial premiers have earned detailed biographies and this one on Nova Scotia’s most successful 20th-century political leader ranks with the best of them. It is scholarly in every sense and highly readable. Historian Henderson has made excellent use of a mountain of studies, articles, and contemporary biographies plus a lengthy personal diary. The result is what will be the definitive Macdonald biography.


Despite a bookish personality, Angus was an astute and successful politician and premier who played key roles in some of the 20th century’s major events. They include the final years of the First World War where he was seriously wounded; serving his first term as premier during the Great Depression and leading the Maritime region’s fight for a better deal from Ottawa; joining the federal cabinet during the Second World War; and finally returning again as premier in the rapidly changing postwar years. Macdonald’s firm grasp of the law, especially of constitutional matters, served him well throughout his political career. While a lifelong Liberal, he seems at times to have been a small “c” conservative, perhaps reflecting his own Nova Scotia society. Henderson recognizes his stubbornness, adding in his concluding assessment that Angus’s “occasional public outbursts about the blind tyranny of Liberal Ottawa led some to conclude that he was really a Tory at heart.”


Regardless, he was a shrewd politician, smart enough to match wits and work with a couple of cabinet colleagues to force Mackenzie King to finally get a form of conscription in 1944, while at the same time keeping the federals in power in the final days after this crisis was resolved. Henderson concludes that “the province became relevant to Nova Scotians under Angus L. Macdonald” through new roads, bridges, schools, small loans to fishermen and businesses, and tourism programs. His development of the tartan was more than a tourist promotion scheme. “It proved an enduring myth in the province’s culture.” In summary, a solid work of scholarship of a complicated yet admirable subject.


Henderson, T. Stephen., “Angus L. Macdonald: A Provincial Liberal.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,