Going the distance on P.E.I.

Louise Campbell
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This necklace, believed to have belonged to the wife of Edward Palmer, is now in the possession of great-great-grandson Jim Prentice Andrew of Sussex, N.B.

The Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, could have been written with Edward Palmer’s family in mind. Literally and figuratively, his succeeding generations have certainly gone places.

Charlottetown-born Palmer came from humble beginnings, the third of 12 children born to an Irish father and an English mother. Like two of his brothers, Palmer became a lawyer. Early in his political career, it was obvious that Palmer was on the side of absentee landlords, rather than the tenant farmers, and he opposed both responsible government and free education. He was identified as a strong spokesman for the specific interests and viewpoints of Charlottetown.  

Long seen as a defender of the status quo, Palmer’s prevention of his government taking action on Confederation in the mid-1860s is seen as one of the most striking achievements of his political career. No wonder fellow Father of Confederation Edward Whelan described him as having “keen perception – no small share of cunning – inexhaustible force of character.”

Palmer certainly was not alone among the Island Fathers in opposing Confederation. Of the seven, only Pope, Gray and Whelan were truly committed to the union. But that did not deter the rest from accepting the recognition that came by virtue of their attending at least one of the Charlottetown, Quebec or London conferences on Confederation of the British North American Colonies. Attendance definitely trumped opinion as far as the designation turned out. Did opinion expressed, whether“pro”or “con,”strengthen the conferences or the new nation? Perhaps.

According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, personalities were an important ingredient of Island politics back in the day – and, although agreed on their stand against Confederation, Palmer and George Coles were bitterly opposed on a number of other fronts. Including, apparently, on whether or not Palmer was a gentleman.

As the story goes, Coles cast doubt on Palmer’s character by accusing him of not being a gentleman. It appears Palmer agreed with the words of Samuel Johnson: “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.”

Accordingly, Palmer challenged Coles to a duel to be held in Victoria Park. That duel ended up being very short-lived.

“Palmer fired first and missed,” said Island historian Ed MacDonald. “Being a gentleman, Coles shot his bullet into the air. And that ended the duel.”

At the time of her passing in 1924, Palmer’s wife, Phoebe, was described as “a very estimable lady of an exceedingly cheerful disposition.” This description is in stark contrast to her husband who was often described as humourless and not given to mirth. In fact, though transcribed notes from the legislature generally use (laughter) to indicate such, the description following a particular comment from Palmer was simply (a laugh).

Geographically, Palmer descendants have been scattered far and wide. The genealogy of his family references locales such as Toronto, Quebec, Montreal, Los Angeles, Massachusetts, London, Athens and India.

Palmer’s descendants have also gone far in the figurative sense. Son Herbert James Palmer, for example, became the 11th premier of the Island in 1911. He first won a seat in 1900 and served as attorney-general at various times except between 1904 and 1908, when he was out of office. Just 13 years old at the time of the Charlottetown Conference, Herbert was in his father’s office when William Henry Pope (who became a Father of Confederation) and his brother, James Colledge Pope, came calling to enlist the senior Palmer’s support for the Confederation movement.

Herbert James, referred to as H. James, was educated at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown and then at King’s College in Windsor, N.S. He was called to the bar in 1876 and became Queen’s Counsel in 1878, likely in recognition of his reputation as one of the finest barristers on the Island. He won his first election and, with the exception of the years 1904-08, he remained sitting until 1911.

At the time of his death in 1939, he had been a member of the bar for 63 years. He is buried in the Sherwood Cemetery.

Jim Prentice Andrew, Herbert’s great-grandson, born and raised in Charlottetown, now hails from Sussex, N.B.  

He recalls that when he was growing up, having a Father of Confederation in his ancestry was considered a big thing in the family and often a topic of conversation.  

“My parents used to take us to Province House where they would point out Edward Palmer’s chair,” said Jim.  “They were both interested in family history, and history in general, and passed that onto us.”

Thinking back to Canadian history classes and learning about Confederation, Jim says: “Let’s just say it made a guy who wasn’t very interested in school a bit more keen to learn.”

Jim Andrew and his wife, Christine, have three daughters and nine grandchildren. They have owned two Tim Horton’s franchises in Sussex for the past 24 years.

Jim relays a story about his grandfather, who was a grandson of Edward Palmer.

“I remember well my grandfather, Philip Palmer, who owned Palmer Electric in Charlottetown. He was a well-respected businessman but he was especially known for his kindness. When it was time for him to retire from the business, he was able to make a deal through which his five long-time employees could afford to buy him out. You don’t often hear of that happening.”

Jim is proud to own a number of artifacts from Edward Palmer, including silverware with the initials E.P., a beautiful brooch worn by Palmer’s wife, Phoebe, and a fabulous pearl necklace (albeit in sad disrepair) nestled in a heart-shaped box which he also believes belonged to his great-great-grandmother.

Jim’s brother, Philip Andrew, who lives in Charlottetown, possesses Edward Palmer’s desk.

In the summer of 2013, the last of Edward Palmer’s descendants to carry the family name died in Calgary. Great-grandson James Simpson Palmer is remembered as a leader in business and international law as well as being involved in politics, education and the arts.  

Jim, as he was known, was taught early in life not to take anything for granted and he realized that the advantages he enjoyed came with an obligation to better the world around him.

That unbridled service to others did not go unrecognized. Jim was a Member of the Order of Canada and the Alberta Order of Excellence as well as an inductee into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame and recipient of numerous other awards and recognition.

Career-wise, he got his big break when he fell in with a man by the name of Angus MacKenzie who was selling a product that indicated if there was oil under the ground. A new lawyer at Burnet Duckworth (later to become Burnet Duckworth & Palmer), Jim began providing legal services to MacKenzie as he travelled the world getting oil concessions.

Jim and his wife, Barbara Ann Quigley (they have four daughters), also established a Chair in Law and Public Policy at the University of Calgary.

“The law and public service are noble callings, worthy of our brightest scholars and most accomplished leaders,” Jim is quoted as saying.  “We need them to step forward, and we need to support them.”

When asked by a reporter from The Globe and Mail about his “distinguished family in the East,” he replied:  “My great-grandfather, Edward Palmer, was a Father of Confederation in P.E.I. He voted against it but accepted all the accolades!”

Jim and Barbara’s daughters — Valerie, Noelle, Fraley Jane and Sarah — value their strong connection to Father of Confederation Edward Palmer and to the Island. In turn, they are passing that connection onto their children.

When they were growing up, the girls spent part of each summer on P.E.I. visiting their grandparents. As part of the package, their father insisted they know the history of the Confederation of Canada and their connection to it. He also exposed them to other aspects of the island such as Anne of Green Gables and other stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery as well as the fishing holes that he visited as a kid. He also took them deep sea fishing.

Jim’s daughters now take their children to the Island each summer, with the entire family gathering under one roof. As he did with his own children, Jim introduced his grandchildren to the history and the beauty of the island and, understandably, they all love their visit here. The connection the grandkids feel to Confederation is obvious through actions like writing a school report on Edward Palmer or visiting Province House on vacation.  

This family’s cherished connection to Confederation may be part of the reason they are interested and involved in politics and it may have contributed to Jim’s view that one’s involvement can have an impact.

According to his obituary, Jim Palmer’s No. a rule for a bright future was to embrace life:  “Every morning the phone rings and anything can happen.”  He was also a fan of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go. In many ways, Edward Palmer and his descendants have gone great distances.



Edward Palmer was a lawyer, landed proprietor, politician and judge. The son of an attorney, he was called to the bar in 1830. His political career spanned 38 years, largely uninterrupted.

After 10 years as leader of the Tory party, he became premier in 1859 and resigned four years later due to conflicts within the party. Palmer was viewed as a champion of the status quo and therefore opposed to Confederation.   

Subsequent to his political career, he became judge of the Queens County Court and then Provincial Chief Justice.  Palmer sold his landholdings due to a longstanding conflict with his tenant farmers. He married Isabella Tremain in 1846.

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.

Organizations: Prince of Wales College, College in Windsor, British North American Colonies Province House Palmer Electric P.E.I. Genealogical Society Alberta Order Calgary Business Hall University of Calgary Globe and Mail Queens County Court Louise Campbell Writing Services

Geographic location: Charlottetown, P.E.I., Iceland Quebec London Victoria Park Sussex Toronto Montreal Los Angeles Massachusetts Athens King Canada Calgary Green Gables

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