John Matheson

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John Ross Matheson
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Leeds
In office
May 29, 1961 – June 24, 1968
Preceded byHayden Stanton
Succeeded byDesmond Code
Personal details
Born(1917-11-14)November 14, 1917
Arundel, Quebec, Canada
DiedDecember 27, 2013(2013-12-27) (aged 96)
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeTBA
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Edith Bickley
RelationsPeter Milliken (Cousin)
Children6 Children
AwardsOC , CD , QC , LL.M. , LL.D.
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1st Canadian Infantry Division, Royal Canadian Artillery

John Ross Matheson, OC CD QC FRHSC (November 14, 1917 – December 27, 2013) was a Canadian politician, lawyer, and judge who helped develop both the national flag of Canada and the Order of Canada.

Early life[edit]

John Matheson was born in Arundel, Quebec, the son of the Reverend Dr. A. Dawson Matheson and his wife Gertrude Matheson (née McCuaig). Matheson underwent training at the Royal Military College of Canada in 1936.[1] He graduated from Queen's University in 1940, winning the prestigious Tricolour Award in that year for distinguished achievement.[2]

Military career[edit]

Matheson served as an officer with the 1st Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1st Canadian Infantry Division in Italy during World War II. He was the only officer in this regiment to survive the war.[3]

Matheson participated in the Battle of Ortona, where an air bursting German shell sent shrapnel into his head and caused damage similar to a stroke. He was left paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak. He recovered after returning to Canada, but never regained the use of his right leg. His injuries caused him lifelong pain, and afterwards, he usually walked with the assistance of a cane.[4]

Matheson held honorary militia appointments with the 30th Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery from 1972 to 1982. Afterwards, he retired with the rank of Colonel.

Family and legal career[edit]

After the war, Matheson met Edith Bickley, a radiologist's assistant, in St. Anne de Bellevue Hospital in Montreal, Quebec. He said they would never have met if she hadn’t been such a curious nurse. The couple married and eventually had six children. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master of Arts degree from Mount Allison University, and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Western Ontario. He was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1948 and was created a Queen's Counsel in 1967. He practiced law with the firm of Matheson, Henderson & Hart in Brockville, Ontario. A member of the United Church of Canada, Matheson resided in Kingston, Ontario until his death in December 2013.

Political career[edit]

John Matheson was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the Ontario riding of Leeds in a 1961 by-election. He was re-elected in 1962, 1963, and 1965.

Matheson lost his seat in Parliament when he was defeated by 4 votes (a margin of 0.0137%) in the 1968 Federal Election. This was the first election after the riding of Leeds absorbed the traditionally conservative-voting townships of North Burgess, North Elmsley and Montague. He was the only incumbent Liberal not to be re-elected in the 1968 "Trudeaumania" election.

Matheson was a leading member of the multi-party parliamentary committee whose mandate was to select a new flag design for Canada. He and Dr. George Stanley (then Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College) collaborated on the design which was ultimately approved by Parliament and by Royal Proclamation adopted as the National Flag of Canada as of the 15th of February 1965.[5] Matheson wrote a book, Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country, about the creation of the new flag.[6]

Matheson later played an important role in the creation of the Order of Canada, as one of its founders. He also influenced the design of the order's insignia, created by Bruce W. Beatty.[7]

Matheson was portrayed by Peter MacNeill in a Heritage Minute television commercial about his involvement in the Flag committee.[8]

Judicial appointment[edit]

In 1968, Matheson was appointed a judge of the Judicial District of Ottawa-Carleton. In 1984, he was appointed a judge of the County Court of Lanark. In 1985, he was appointed a judge of the District Court of Ontario. From 1990 to 1992, he was a justice of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division).

One of Matheson's most notable decisions was in Clark v. Clark, a case that heavily influenced the law regarding the capacity of differently-abled persons.[9] Matheson ruled that 20-year-old Justin Clark, who suffered from cerebral palsy, was mentally competent to make his own decisions and should not be forced into the guardianship of his parents. The case has been described as "a pivotal moment in the Canadian disability rights movement" and lead to a widespread re-examination of provincial guardianship laws. Matheson later described giving this decision as his proudest moment.[10]



The John Matheson Sword is awarded annually to the Preparatory Year cadet at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean who achieved the highest results in all four components of the College’s program, namely Academics, Leadership, Athletics and Bilingualism.


  1. ^ Great Gunners Royal Canadian Artillery Museum "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 December 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ John Ross Matheson - Serving His Country at Home and Abroad
  3. ^ Hickman, Angela. "Serving his country at home & abroad". Queen's Journal. Queen's University. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  4. ^ Gray, Jeff (13 January 2013). "Maple Leaf mastermind John Ross Matheson served as MP, judge". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  5. ^ "Canadian Heritage Flags". Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  6. ^ Matheson, J.R. Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country, Mika Publishing Company, Belleville, Ontario, Canada, 1986
  7. ^ Spears, Tom (30 December 2013). "Obituary/John Matheson: Today's Canadian flag waves because of a fateful decision in '43". The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 December 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Clark v Clark, [1982] OJ No 3612".
  10. ^ "How Justin Clark's fight for independence transformed disability rights in Canada". CBC. The Sunday Edition. 25 November 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  11. ^ Distinguished Service Award Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine, Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. Retrieved 2011-01-19.

External links[edit]