Canadian contribution started on P.E.I.

Louise Campbell
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Despite his earlier anti-Confederation stance, Andrew Archibald Macdonald died proud of his role as a founder of modern Canada. Succeeding generations have also contributed to the country, the province and their communities.

Let’s start with A.A., as he was sometimes called. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Andrew Archibald Macdonald is best seen as part of a family dynasty that dominated the political and economic life of central Kings County for more than a century.

Born in 1829 at Brudenell Point, P.E.I., Macdonald had a privileged childhood — fancy house, servants, a private tutor. That all ended, though, when he was 15 and the family ran into financial difficulty. At that point, his formal education ended and he began working in his cousin’s store in Georgetown. Some seven years later, on his cousin’s death, A.A. took over the business and soon went into partnership with his two brothers, naming the enterprise A.A. Macdonald and Brothers.

The firm expanded greatly in the succeeding years, including 20 vessels used for export and trade. In addition to a successful run in the mackerel trade, the company shipped grain, lumber and potatoes to New England, Newfoundland and Great Britain. At the same time, A.A. Macdonald and Brothers imported manufactured goods for sale in its stores.

Macdonald’s political career, which started in 1854, spanned nearly 20 years, the last half of which was dominated by four key issues: land, confederation, railways and education.

The youngest Father of Confederation at age 35, he flatly opposed Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. His opposition strengthened after the Quebec Conference. In his view, even if a united country provided the Island with money to buy out the remaining leasehold estates, the province would have little real power and few resources. Like most Islanders, he remained opposed to Confederation until 1873 when railroad debt threatened the Island with bankruptcy. At that point, again like most Islanders, he changed his tune and supported the union.

While not a direct descendant, author and former poet laureate Hugh MacDonald of Montague is related to Andrew Archibald and is the great-great-grandson of A.A.’s brother, Archibald John. According to MacDonald, Island historian Father Francis Bolger credits Andrew Archibald Macdonald with the province having four members in the House of Commons and four in the Senate.

Interestingly, Hugh MacDonald is thought to be “the spitting image” of his famous ancestor. Some folks even think that an image of A.A. Macdonald at historic Brudenell Point is actually of Hugh in period dress.

In addition to being the youngest Father of Confederation, Macdonald was the only Island Father not from Charlottetown and the only Roman Catholic in the Maritime delegation.

Macdonald was named lieutenant-governor of P.E.I. in 1884 and some seven years later was appointed to the Canadian Senate, an institution for which he always had a great fondness. He died in Ottawa in 1912. At that time, an article in The Charlottetown Guardian described him quite favourably. “He was one of the better class of public men who in nearly three score years of public life pursued a faithful public course and was held in high regard and respect by all.”

Andrew Archibald Macdonald and his wife, Elizabeth (nee Owen) had four sons: Aeneas, Percy, Reginald and Douglas.

Aeneas, the eldest son, was a lawyer, and served the public in a variety of roles. He was the Conservative representative for 2nd Kings County, private secretary to Lt.-Gov. Austin MacDonald, his uncle, and Judge Probate.

Aeneas was chairman of the Relief Committee of the Canadian Patriotic Society, established after the First World War to collect money for soldiers’ families, set up small stores to supply cheap food and fuel and establish hospitals for soldiers.

Like his father, he was highly thought of by many. His obituary read: A gentleman in every sense of the word, true to the best traditions of the honoured family of which he was a worthy member.

Aeneas and his wife, Margaret Jane MacDonald, had four children: Reginald; Margaret; Anna and Allan. Margaret senior was one of the Glenalladale MacDonalds, the first MacDonald clan to arrive on P.E.I.

Daughter Margaret married Stanley George Evans in Montreal in 1939. Toronto native Robert (Rob) Paul Schywalsky is the only child of their daughter, Carol, and their oldest grandchild. An information technology professional, he is currently on leave from his position with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Schywalsky proudly explains his mother’s nickname, Norton. It appears that Carol, who would be A.A.’s great-granddaughter, was the only girl and the only one of her siblings not to own a motorcycle as a youngster. Not to be outdone, she became a regular fixture on her father’s Norton motorcycle, riding on the gas tank.

When asked about Andrew Archibald Macdonald, Schywalsky jokes that he has inherited his baldness gene from his great-great-grandfather. He also shared that A.A. had invested heavily in gold mining stocks.

“As it ends up, he wasn’t a very successful investor,” said Schywalsky. “Only one stock had any value, and that wasn’t much. They made great wallpaper, though.”

Herbert Schywalsky, Rob’s father, has the Macdonald family Bible, but most of the family artifacts ended up in Island museums.

Rob, who has a keen interest in his family’s history, is the proud owner of a set of cufflinks that were worn by Andrew Archibald Macdonald. Those cufflinks will pass in turn to Robert junior, only child of Rob and his wife Jennifer. Robert is the youngest descendant of Macdonald and is currently the only person in his generation.

At 10 years of age, Robert is already following in his father’s footsteps, trying his hand at computer programming. He is also involved in baseball, taekwondo and Cubs.

Robert’s claim to fame is his appearance in a commercial for the Emerald City Comicon — a gathering of comic fanatics held in Seattle, Wash. The highlight of the commercial shoot was getting Superman’s autograph.

Besides Aeneas, the only one of Andrew Archibald Macdonald’s sons to have children was Andrew.

His sons, Reginald and Colin, ran a movie theatre in Mount Stewart in the mid-20th century, first operating out of the Legion Hall before opening the new MacDonald Bros. Theatre in 1947. Movie viewing took a big step forward with the launch of the new theatre, as it boasted two projectors that eliminated the intermissions previously required at 20-minute intervals so the machine could be reloaded. The theatre was sold to St. Andrew’s Parish in 1952.

The challenge of finding or reaching descendants of A.A. Macdonald did not surprise Schywalsky. “From the research I’ve done, it seems like a lot of my ancestors were loners or hermits.”

Fortunately A.A. Macdonald was neither, as he certainly did not shy away from people or issues and eventually became one of the founding fathers of this great nation.

Confederation Connections: Finding the Fathers’ Families will be presented in The Guardian every month with the last one running in August. It is based on genealogies of the families of the Island Fathers of Confederation, as prepared by members of the P.E.I. Genealogical Society, and sheds light on the descendants. Liz Glen CG(C) was the lead genealogical researcher for this month’s article on Andrew Archibald Macdonald and his descendants. The series is written by Louise Campbell of Louise Campbell Writing Services and is her first foray into genealogy and family history. To give feedback on this series, which is presented in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference, contact the author at louise.campbell@tacsltd.com. For more information on the P.E.I. Genealogical Society project, visit its website at http://peigs2014.ca.

AT A GLANCE

Andrew Archibald Macdonald 1829-1912

Macdonald, a merchant and ship owner, was the youngest Father of Confederation. He entered politics at 25 years of age as a member of the Island Assembly. Subsequently, in 1863, he joined the newly created Legislative Assembly, where he remained until the Island joined Confederation in 1873. Following his political career, Macdonald became Postmaster General, Lieutenant Governor and, finally, Canadian Senator. Macdonald was married to Elizabeth Owen, daughter of one of the Island’s prominent families, and they had four sons.

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