THERE have been many excellent exports from Scotland over the centuries, but the true measure of our contribution to the world is found in the diaspora, the Scottish people who left their native land to prosper abroad.

The bicentenary of the birth of one of the greatest of all Scottish emigrés, Alexander Mackenzie, second prime minister of Canada, takes place this week. It seems a shame to me that more is not being made of the 200th anniversary of the birth of a truly great Sco. For any man who rises from being a humble stonemason to leading and developing a country surely deserves much more than just a passing moment of attention.

For sake of clarity, I am referring to the man who lived from 1822 to 1892. There has been confusion in the past between Alexander Mackenzie, politician, and another Scot who had a profound effect on Canada, also Alexander Mackenzie. The latter was the great explorer who completed the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico in 1793. He has many geographical features in Canada, including he eponymous river, and was knighted for his feats, but his prime ministerial namesake three times turned down the offer of a knighthood.

READ MORE: Visiting Gran Canaria: The island alive with unlikely Scottish connections

The National Records of Scotland have his birth and baptism registered. Alexander McKenzie was born on January 28, 1822, the son of Alexander Mckenzie, wright (a joiner), and Mary Fleming. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Logierait in the county of Perthshire gives the date of baptism as February 8.

Though a joiner, Mackenzie’s father was a Gaelic speaker and well-read, while his mother was a schoolmaster’s daughter who ensured that her sons – there were 10 of them, seven of whom survived – had a basic education.

He seems to have been a lively child. In the 1892 life by his private secretary William Buckingham and George Ross, Ontario’s minister of education, the story is told of how, “in his tour of Scotland in 1883, Mackenzie pointed out the old cherry tree at Logierait, from which when a boy he had fallen when striving to get its fruit, and for which he narrowly escaped a thrashing, not for the injury done to himself, but to his jacket.”

When he was just 13, Mackenzie suffered the loss of his father and had to leave school to help support his family. He moved to Irvine to live with the Neil family – he would later marry their daughter Helen – and was apprenticed to a stonemason. Raised a Presbyterian, Mackenzie converted to being a Baptist under the Neils’ influence, and he remained a devout Christian all his life.

It was that stonemason’s trade which he practised when he and the Neils emigrated to Canada in 1842. Despite the serious setback of an injury in which his leg was crushed, Mackenzie prospered in the building trade and became a foreman and contractor on major projects, so much so that he was able to marry Helen in 1845. They would have three children but only their daughter Mary survived to adulthood. The following year his brother Hope Fleming suggested the entire family re-locate to Sarnia, then known as Port Sarnia, on Lake Huron in Lambton county and they brought over their mother and the rest of the Mackenzie family. Helen died in 1852 and in 1853 he married Jane Sym, another immigrant from Scotland.

​READ MORE: 'We're closer than you can imagine': Hidden links between Cuba and Scotland unearthed

In his 20s Mackenzie had become involved in local politics and he also ran a newspaper which espoused his liberal beliefs. When Canada became a self-governing Dominion in 1867, Mackenzie won election to the country’s Commons, and while there was no formal Liberal Party he was soon recognised as Leader of the Opposition to his fellow Scot John Alexander Macdonald, a Tory who was Canada’s first prime minister.

In 1873, Macdonald’s government collapsed, and the Governor General, the Earl of Dufferin, asked Mackenzie to form a government and become prime minister.

Governor General Dufferin and Mackenzie often did not see eye to eye, and at one stage Dufferin even contemplated punching the prime minister, but he eventually wrote of Mackenzie: “The better I have become acquainted with you, the more I have learned to respect and honour the straightforward integrity of your character, and the unmistakable, desire to do your duty faithfully by the Queen, the Empire and the Dominion … In my opinion, neither in England nor in Canada has any public servant of the Crown administered the affairs of the nation with a purer patriotism, with a more indefatigable industry, or nobler aspirations than yourself.”

Mackenzie set about nation-building and under his premiership the Canadian Supreme Court was created and railways expanded, while in parliament he became renowned for his oratory delivered with a distinct Scottish tone and no little humour.

​READ MORE: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders: The regiment that made headlines across the world

He expressed his political philosophy in a few short words: “I have always held those political opinions which point to the universal brotherhood of man, no matter in what rank of life he may have taken his origin.”

Mackenzie never hid his humble roots, saying in 1875: “I never allude to the fact that I have been a working man as a reason why I should be rejected or why I should be accepted. I base my entire claim for public confidence upon the expressions of opinion which I believe command that confidence, and upon the strength of those principles of which I have been a humble advocate for many years.”

John A Macdonald defeated him in the 1878 general election, and though he carried on as an MP, Mackenzie suffered ill health in his final years before dying in 1892 at the age of 70.