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Macphail Makes Headlines

For the week of Monday November 19, 2007

On November 24, 1864, Andrew Macphail was born in Orwell, Prince Edward Island. Although he would spend most of his life in urban Montréal, he would always remain tied to his birthplace in rural P.E.I.

Sir Andrew Macphail
© Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation
Macphail initially worked as a schoolteacher in P.E.I. After teaching for several years, he moved to Montréal to attend McGill University. However, Macphail had underestimated the cost of living in Montréal and was forced to work as a journalist. Throughout his undergraduate and medical degrees, he wrote for and held positions at several newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette and Montreal Star. After graduating from McGill’s medical school in 1891, Macphail embarked on a world tour, writing travel articles for various Canadian and American newspapers. In Canada, Macphail shifted his focus back to medicine and eventually became the first professor of medical history at McGill; however, he continued to pursue his passion for journalism.

Macphail’s most notable literary achievement was founding and editing The University Magazine. Macphail created the quarterly to address Canadian issues and to provide the country with intellectual leadership. He contributed 43 articles to the magazine himself, but also paid other contributors, an unusual practice that ensured excellent quality and allowed Macphail to mould the magazine according to his own opinions. Although The University Magazine set the writing standard in English-speaking Canada, its content was often controversial. Macphail once listed his critics as Liberals, Conservatives, assorted professors, and the daily press.

Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead in Orwell, P.E.I.
© Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation
This acceptance of controversy exemplifies Macphail’s vivid personality. According to Stephen Leacock, Andrew Macphail “made an instant impression. Those who had to entertain, in public or in private, a visiting celebrity at once sent for Andrew: just as one sends for the doctor; and no celebrity could ‘celebrity’ him. He treated them as a man used to horses treats a new one.”

Macphail discontinued The University Magazine shortly after returning from serving with the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War. He continued to write mostly social criticism, which rejected industrialization and the other changes rapidly taking place in Macphail’s society. The Master’s Wife, a semi-autobiographical reminiscence of rural P.E.I., was Macphail’s most personal composition. It reflects his love of the quiet, country life that he experienced during his childhood.

With the exception of the war years, Macphail spent every summer from 1905 until his death in 1938 at his family home in Orwell. Sir Andrew Macphail became a National Historic Person in 1945.

For more information on Stephen Leacock, please visit the This Week in History story "'Sunshine Sketches' of Stephen Leacock".

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