The Honourable Daniel J. MacDonald
July 23, 1918 - September 30, 1980
Daniel Joseph MacDonald was born on his family's mixed farm in the small community of Bothwell, Prince Edward Island. His early years were typical of any Island farm boy of the time. He grew up with five brothers and one sister, helped work the farm and attended the one-room school, which he affectionately called "Bothwell University".
He learned responsibility and self-sufficiency early, losing his mother at the age of 15. When he bought his own farm above Bothwell Beach in 1938, he continued to help his father on the home property. In August, 1940 "Danny" enlisted in the Prince Edward Island Highlanders. In June, 1943 he transferred to the well-known Cape Breton Highlanders and by October of that year, he was a sergeant of the front line of the Allied campaign in Italy.
First wounded in action during an assault on the Gothic Line, he received treatment and returned to his unit after only a few weeks. On December 21, 1944, during the Battle of Senio River, a shell exploded 20 feet in front of him, wounding him seriously. Sergeant MacDonald was transported to England for medical treatment. The injury resulted in the amputation of his left arm and leg. Hospital policy required veterans to be discharged in a wheelchair if they were unable to walk. He was so determined to leave the hospital under his own power that he got a British cobbler to make him a protector for his arm that enabled him to walk on crutches.
When he returned to Prince Edward Island to work the farm he had bought before the war, he was greeted as a hero. A homecoming celebration, organized by community members, featured a girl from a neighbouring community who loved to act and sing. She was Pauline Peters of St. Charles. He met "Polly" that evening and married her in 1946. Showing characteristic determination, he carried on as many Canadians who were returning to post-war life, apparently not slowed by what many would consider a serious handicap. He cleared the land and together with Pauline built a house, raised seven children and managed a prosperous farm.
Daniel MacDonald's political achievements are no less impressive. He spent a total of ten years as the member for 1st King's in the Prince Edward Island legislature. First elected in 1962, he was returned to office in 1966 and again in 1970.
He held the important post of Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in the government led by Premier Alex B. Campbell, from 1966 to 1972. In the summer of '72 he resigned his portfolio to run as the federal Member of Parliament for the riding of Cardigan.
He won the right to represent the citizens of Cardigan that October, was returned in July of 1974, and again in February, 1980. Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau appointed him as Minister of Veterans Affairs first in November, 1972 and again in March, 1980. As Minister responsible for Veterans Affairs, his portfolio included the Canadian Pension Commission, the Pension Review Board, the War Veterans Allowance Board, and the Bureau of Pension Advocates. He also served as the Canadian Agent for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It was during this time that the decision was made to relocate head office operations to Charlottetown.
Minister MacDonald accomplished much in the aid and support of veterans and their families. He amended pensions and allowance regulations to make their benefits commensurate with public service pay rates and expanded eligibility to include veterans' widows and children. He brought about changes in legislation to increase disability pensions, compensation for prisoners of war, and allowances for civilians. Programs were initiated which supported Canadian veterans emotionally, physically and financially.
Mr. MacDonald died on September 30, 1980. His state funeral, at St. Dunstan's Basilica in Charlottetown, was attended by many national figures, including Prime Minister Trudeau, who had become close to the PEI MP. Many Canadians were touched by the simple eloquence of the Island's most famous soldier/farmer/politician.
Mr. MacDonald's commitment to veterans was recognized after his death with the dedication of the national headquarters of the Portfolio of Veterans Affairs, located on Grafton Street in Charlottetown. The cornerstone was laid by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on June 15, 1983.
Dan MacDonald told each of us a great deal about making the most of our talents when he said "It isn't what you've lost, but what you have left."
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