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Among the Temple’s repeat visitors in 2010 was John Ralston Saul, this time accompanied by a film crew to record part of a documentary on Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, the subjects of his latest book and part of his “Extraordinary Canadians” series. These two men laid the foundation for Canadian democracy: “Opposites in temperament and driven by intense experiences of love and tragedy, together they developed principles and programs that would help unite the country.”

John Ralston Saul is Canada’s leading public intellectual, a winner of the Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction,  and the president of PEN International. His last book, A fair Country, is a call to rethink Canada’s future. He founded the annual LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture series in 2000; these lectures have been collected in the edited volume Dialogue on Democracy.

In the book, Saul refers to the Temple as “perhaps the most spiritual building in Canada” and recalls his previous visit when he “once spoke at the modest podium and was overwhelmed with the palpable living sense that Mackenzie, Lafontaine and both Baldwins [William Warren Baldwin and his son, Robert Baldwin] had changed our idea of the public good from that spot.” In fact, these four almost certainly spoke in the Meeting House, not the Temple, but all were strong admirers of the Temple and the egalitarian values it represented.

We can only imagine the scene when Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine attended an Illumination in company with William Warren Baldwin. Saul writes, “They arrived in darkness to find the Sharon Temple illuminated with hundreds of candles for an annual gathering. The effect was otherworldly.” The Francophone politician would go on to win election in this decidedly Anglophone riding, represented in the past by both William Lyon Mackenzie and Robert Baldwin, in a remarkable showing of unity between French- and English-speaking reformers. The support of David Willson and the Children of Peace helped make this possible.

For the readers on your Christmas list, John Ralston Saul’s Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine & Robert Baldwin (Toronto: Penguin, 2010) is a must.

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