John Edward MacDonell

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It is with deep sorrow that the family of John MacDonell announces his death in Gatineau QC; on February 17, 2023, at the age of 56. John was kind, competent, of brilliant intellect and wit; the keeper of confidences and quiet change-maker; a proud Nova Scotian and Canadian who worked to uphold democracy, security, and peace at home and abroad. John was loved and cherished by family, friends, and colleagues. He never sought the limelight. Instead, he inspired those close to him by his leadership and fierce loyalty. We come together now in grief and gratitude.

John is survived by his son, John Edgar (Jack); Jack’s mother, Jennifer Gearey; his mother, Antonia M. (Mazerolle) MacDonell; siblings Rémi MacDonell (Tina), Betty MacDonald, Mary Lou MacDougall (Donald), Peggy MacKinnon (Bruce), and Denise MacDonell (Michael Flynn). He will be forever missed by his nieces and nephews; Michael, Peter, Betsy, Ellie, Margaret, Donald, Laura, Kevin, Robyn, Jamieson, Flynn, and Rory; grand nieces and nephews Ivory, Alison, Leah, Quinn, Seamus, and Ben; his many cousins; his dear and loyal friends. He was predeceased in 2005 by his father, Dr. John E. MacDonell.

John grew up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and was the youngest in a family of six children. He was an avid skier, competitive debater, and model parliamentarian. He enjoyed idyllic summers at the family cottage at Jimtown, and winter weekends on the slopes of the Keppoch. After high school he headed to the University of King’s College where he earned a BA, followed by his LLB from Dalhousie University. He practiced law in Halifax and was a part-time faculty member at Dalhousie.

John left private practice to become Chief of Staff to the Honourable Peter MacKay, where he served for over seven years in the portfolios of Foreign Affairs, National Defence, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. He later became Chief of Staff to the Honourable Erin O’Toole, then Minister of Veterans’ Affairs. He was passionate about his work in support of Canada’s military and veterans. In January 2016 John joined Spiteri & Ursulak LLP as a partner in the firm’s Ottawa office, and periodically lectured at the University of Ottawa.

John was past President of the PC Party of NS and a founder of the Conservative Party of Canada. He was a member of the Board of Phoenix Youth Programs and a trustee of the Phoenix Youth Programs Charitable Foundation. He was commended by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal for providing legal services on a pro bono basis. He was past Chair of the St. John Ambulance Federal District Council. John was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. George, a Commander of the Order of St. John, and was a recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. 

John’s education and professional career provided him with deep satisfaction, but paled in comparison to the joy he experienced when he became a father. He loved Jack with all his heart, and every aspect of his life revolved around him. They enjoyed go-karting, playing video games, and spending many hours hiking and cycling in and around Gatineau. John was so happy to be with Jack as he received his First Holy Communion last year. He was proud of Jack and wanted Jack to be proud of him too.

John’s Catholic faith was central to who he was, and his family takes comfort in the belief that his suffering is now over, and he has been welcomed into God’s kingdom. What a reunion he and Dad must have had. He was a truly kind and gentle soul, who will be forever loved and missed.

Visitation will be held Thursday, April 13, 2023 from 2-4 and 6-8pm in MacIsaac Funeral Home, 61 Pleasant St., Antigonish. Funeral Mass 10am (ADT) Friday, April 14 in St. Ninian Cathedral, Antigonish. The funeral mass will be live-streamed. A link will be available on this page closer to the event date. Memorial donations may be made to the St. John Ambulance Mental Health First Aid Program. (Donate to St. John Ambulance Locally or Nationally (