Alexander Mackenzie lived from 28 January 1822 to 17 April 1892. He became the second Prime minister of Canada, serving from November 1873 to October 1878. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alexander Mackenzie was born at Logierait, 20 miles north of Perth, the third of ten children of Alexander Mackenzie and Mary Stewart Fleming. He had to leave school after his father's death when he was 13, and from the age of 16 was an apprentice to a stonemason. On completion of his apprenticeship in 1822, Mackenzie emigrated to Canada with his fiancée, Helen Neil. The two married in 1826 and had three children, only one of whom survived infancy. Helen died in 1852 and in 1853 he married Jane Sym, another emigrant from Perthshire.
In Canada, Mackenzie resumed his career as a mason and converted from Presbyterianism to the Baptist Church, becoming a strong supporter of the temperance movement. He also became involved in Canadian politics. He helped newspaper proprietor George Brown gain a seat in the Legislative Assembly in the 1851 election. He was himself elected to the Legislative Assembly as a supporter of George Brown in 1861. By 1873 Mackenzie has risen to be leader of the Liberal Party.
When the Conservative government of John A. Macdonald collapsed amid allegations of bribery in 1873, the Governor General, Lord Dufferin, called upon Mackenzie to become Prime Minister. Dufferin apparently had mixed feelings, but little option, writing at the time: "However narrow and inexperienced Mackenzie may be, I imagine he is a thoroughly upright, well-principled, and well-meaning man." Mackenzie formed a government, then won a general election he called in January 1874.
As Prime Minister, Alexander Mackenzie did much to reform and simplify the machinery of the Canadian government. He also established the Supreme Court of Canada, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Royal Military College of Canada. In the 1878 General Election, John A. Macdonald's Conservatives returned to power. Alexander Mackenzie remained Leader of the Opposition until 1880, and thereafter he continued to serve as a Member of Parliament until his death in 1892 after a stroke. He died in Toronto. It says much for Alexander Mackenzie's principles that he turned down a knighthood on three occasions. He is widely remembered in Canada, and the Mackenzie building at the Royal Military College of Canada was named in his memory.