John, the only son of George and Minnie (MacGregor) Stewart, was born in Charlottetown, PEI, and raised in Southport until the age of 5 years when they moved to Bayfield Antigonish County. As John grew older and took a keen interest in history, he was especially delighted that the home his parents chose was built by Elisha Randall, the first settler in Bayfield. After finishing his schooling in Antigonish, he went to Acadia University (1941-1945) where he earned BA and MA degrees in history.
After graduation from Acadia, John was accepted at Columbia University in NYC in the field of political law and government. With his PhD completed, concentrating on constitutional law, John was appointed an Assistant Professor at Barnard College, the women’s undergraduate school at Columbia. For several years Dr. Stewart worked part time as a consultant on legal and political philosophy at the Rockefeller Foundation until he received a call in 1959 from Dr. Somers, the president of StFX, who made a proposal that brought John back to the Antigonish university and his beloved Bayfield.
Because of John’s passion for history and politics it seemed a natural course of events that he enter an election as the Liberal candidate for Antigonish- Guysborough and was elected in 1962, 1963 and 1965. During his time in office as MP he served as Parliamentary Secretary to The Secretary of State for External Affairs (63-64) and Parliamentary Secretary to The Secretary of State of Canada (64-65) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works (66-68). John’s many portfolios took him worldwide from NATO, to the United Nations, and he represented Canada at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral service in Washington. John always felt humbled by the support he was given by his constituents and was proud of the opportunity to serve them. He was thankful for the many things he was able to accomplish for his riding. Looking back over his life, he probably considered this work his greatest achievement.
After his riding disappeared through redistribution in 1968, John was asked to stay in Ottawa by then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau where he worked on House of Commons reform, later authoring a book The Canadian House of Commons: Procedure and Reform (1977). John was also a student of and expert on philosopher David Hume and published two books on the subject. After his time in politics as an MP, Dr. Stewart returned to teaching political science at StFX University in 1969. As a teacher, he continued to have a deep impact on his students and had a legendary reputation for producing Rhodes Scholars in his classes.
In 1984, John was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Trudeau and served until his retirement in 1999. While a Senator, he chaired The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and was a member of a number of other committees including Energy and Natural Resources; Fisheries; Banking, Trade and Commerce; and Legal and Constitutional Affairs. It was with a profound sense of service that led him to put incredible amounts of energy into these committees and that has been the hallmark of Dr. Stewart’s legacy: a scholar who found his way into politics and left an indelible mark.