Seat of power: Did Sarnia’s dour prime minister carve up this church pew?

This church pew arm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sarnia was allegedly carved by Alexander Mackenzie, before he became prime minister of Canada. George Mathewson

George Mathewson

The name Alexander Mackenzie invokes many things in Sarnia: stonemason, prime minister, dour Scot.

But hidden in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is a little-known piece of graffiti that suggests another side of Sarnia’s most famous son.

Carved into the arm of one oak pew is the Mackenzie name, apparently cut with a penknife.

“He would have been sitting right here,” said custodian David Cross, recreating the minor act of vandalism. “And he got caught carving the pew, or so the story goes.”

Purchasing a pew at church was a common practice among prominent families in the 19th century, and it was no different for the Mackenzie clan.

Young Alexander was already a journeyman stonemason at the age of 20 when he immigrated to Canada in 1842 and began building many structures that still stand today.

Indeed, he cut the cornerstone and other decorative features of St. Andrew’s.

There is no proof it was the future prime minister who left his mark on the pew, but the story was certainly accepted by church leaders. And Mackenzie’s descendent, the late Dr. Jim Mackenzie, would sometimes point out the carved name and tell visitors how it happened, Cross said.

Alexander Mackenzie is remembered as a hardworking man of exceptional integrity who created the Supreme Court and Auditor General’s office after becoming Canada’s second prime minister in 1873.

He remained proud of his working-class roots and three times refused the offer of knighthood.

Mackenzie is buried in Sarnia’s Lakeview Cemetery.

Alexander Mackenzie