The Inside Agenda Blog

Revisiting a Famous Father's Gravesite

by Steve Paikin Thursday August 19, 2010

Two years ago, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, I drove two hours west of Toronto to St. George, Ontario to visit one of the great names in Ontario political history: Robert F. Nixon.


The Nixon Family's involvement in politics is legendary. Harry Nixon was the last Liberal premier of Ontario in 1943 before the Tories took over for the next 42 years. Harry was, and still is, the longest serving MPP in Ontario history. 


His son, Robert, took over his father's seat in Brant County, was Ontario liberal leader as well, then served as treasurer during the David Peterson years (1985-90).


And his daughter, Jane Stewart, represented the same Brant County seat federally and was a minister in Jean Chretien's cabinet.


One of the things that bugged me about that visit two years ago was going to Harry Nixon's gravesite with Bob. There was nothing at the gravesite to indicate that a former Ontario premier was buried there.


I had the same feelings of irritation several years earlier, while working on a biography of Ontario's 17th premier, John Robarts.  For 45 minutes, I searched in vain looking for the final resting place of one of Ontario's most important premiers.


I asked Bob Nixon, two years ago, whether it bugged him that there was nothing "official" marking his dad's gravesite. There was a long pause. 




"I don't believe you," I said back.


"Well, let me put it this way," he continued. "I've made my peace with it."


Well, a number of us wouldn't let it go. MPP Jim Brownell wrote a private members' bill asking that the gravesites of all former premiers be recognized with a flag and a plaque.  MPP Dave Levac went to bat as well. And the Ontario Heritage Trust came up with just such a program.


Back in March 2009, there was a ceremony in St. George at which Bob Nixon spoke glowingly of his dad. And when the plaque was unveiled, I can't remember seeing the former treasurer so happy.


plaque ceremony (20)


plaque ceremony (9)



So when Bob Nixon and I visited his father's gravesite earlier this week, we were both pleased to see a flag and a plaque gracing the cemetery.


nixon (7)


Over the next several years, the Ontario Heritage Trust will mount more flags and plaques at the other gravesites of Ontario's deceased premiers. It's one of the few programs about which there may actually be unanimity in the Ontario legislature.

nixon (6)