If you’ve studied, read, or even talked about Canadian politics while living n Atlantic Canada, the name Flora MacDonald will inevitably come up. If you’re a woman, and you’re talking about politics in Atlantic Canada, someone will make a Flora reference to you or about you, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. And so, if you want to brush up on your Flora knowledge before this happens, may I suggest Flora! A Woman in a Man’s World by Flora MacDonald and Geoffrey Stevens? MacDonald died in 2015, as Stevens explains in the introduction, at which point this memoir that they had been working on together, written in MacDonald’s words, was about two-thirds complete. The project was revived by the encouragement of her niece, Linda Grearson, and Stevens did extensive research and numerous interviews to complete the story of Flora MacDonald in her words. The result is a fascinating, seamless, and complete memoir of Flora MacDonald, a truly exceptional woman.
This memoir is truly comprehensive, starting with MacDonald’s ancestors who immigrated to Canada from Scotland, ultimately settling in Cape Breton. Born in North Sydney, Flora MacDonald was one of eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Theirs was not a well-off home, and though she was bright, she always knew she was never going to go to university. Instead, she went to secretarial college in Sydney, and to work at the Bank of Nova Scotia. She was twenty-six years old in 1952, had gotten several transfers in the bank and made her way to Toronto, when she quit and went to Europe to explore. This is the first part of the memoir which really set the tone for me: Flora MacDonald, above all, enjoyed a good adventure. She was game for absolutely anything, and it was that spirit of “well, why not?” which guided her career with the federal Progressive Conservative party. A true Red Tory, Flora MacDonald had a long career with the PCs, working for the party, and eventually running to be the Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands. She sat as their MP from 1972 to 1988, during that time serving as a member of the Opposition, the Secretary of State for External Affairs (now the Minister of Foreign Affairs), Minister of Communications, and Minister of Employment and Immigration. In 1976, she ran for the leadership of the federal PCs, though lost badly.
Flora MacDonald was a trailblazer, and her memoir captures that perfectly yet humbly, written as if Flora was sitting across from you at the table, maybe over tea, telling you about her adventures around the world, her humanitarian work in Afghanistan and India, the time she attempted to climb Mount Everest, the trials and tribulations of the Progressive Conservative party – including her more strained relationships, such as being fired by John G. Diefenbaker from the party office – and above all, her pride and occasional incredulity that a girl who had no real formal education, who climbed her way to the upper echelons of the Canadian government, who travelled to more than 100 countries, and who lived a fascinating life beyond what she could have imagined. I was delighted with this memoir. Learning more about Flora MacDonald through her own eyes was a great adventure in itself, and I highly recommend this political memoir.
- Publisher : McGill-Queen’s University Press (Oct. 15 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 328 pages
- ISBN-10 : 022800862X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0228008620
Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.