Descendants of Father of Confederation William Henry Pope follow his ambitious example

Louise Campbell
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Island Father of Confederation William Henry Pope is described in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography as a “truly remarkable Islander.”

And it appears that several of his descendants were also quite remarkable in their own right, particularly in terms of military service.

Pope was a lawyer, land agent, journalist, politician and judge. Island historian Ed MacDonald describes him as the most intelligent and connected of the Island Fathers and the most adamant and eloquent supporter of Confederation.

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Pope fell out of favour among many Islanders over what was called The Worrell Job. In short, the government was trying to get the absent-landlord Worrell brothers to sell it their 80,000-acre estate. By some sleight of hand, Pope convinced the Worrells to sell the land to him for £14,000 and he, in turn, sold it to the government for £24,000. Not a bad deal, for Pope and his backers that is. As the story goes, he threatened the government that he would take his tenants to court for back rent if they did not pay the price he was asking, an action that would have caused widespread riots.

Not many years later, he was embroiled in another controversy, this time a religious one, despite the fact that he was an atheist. When the Bishop of the day, Peter MacIntyre, was denied government support for the Roman Catholic St. Dunstan’s College, he made known his plan to mobilize the Island Roman Catholics to defeat the all-Protestant government in the next election.

Miffed at this plan, Pope published a series of Letters to the Protestants of Prince Edward Island, which maligned Catholic beliefs. This series, which launched a lengthy religious dispute in the Island media, was dubbed Pope’s Epistles against the Romans by opposing politician Edward Whelan. The end result was the ruling government’s retention of Island Protestant confidence.

Pope attended both the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences and was honorary secretary of the latter. He was a prime advocate for the Island railway, which indirectly led to Prince Edward Island joining Confederation.

Interestingly, though it was William Henry Pope’s brother, James Colledge Pope, who was the premier at the time of Confederation, he is not considered a Father of Confederation as he attended neither conference.

During the Charlottetown Conference, Pope and his wife Helen (nee Desbrisay) hosted a luncheon at their home at Ardgowan. As a result, delegate George Brown provided an interesting description of the Pope household, excerpted as follows:

“Mrs. Pope is a very plain person with a large family of strong, vigorous, intelligent and good looking children — eight of them all steps and stairs, kicking up a precious row occasionally . . . . She was born on the Island and was never out of it all of her life! Many people are in the same position and are, notwithstanding, amazingly civilized.”

Civilized indeed. In fact, obituaries for daughters Helen, Margaret and Georgina used descriptive terms such as cultured, gracious, refined, distinguished and gifted.

Georgina, a nursing sister in both the Boer War and the First World War, was known as the Florence Nightingale of Prince Edward Island. She trained in Bellevue, N.Y., which was considered to be the “mother of nursing schools,” and eventually started her own training school for nurses.

As her obituary says, when war broke out in South Africa, she “answered the call of the Motherland” and joined the Canadian troops bound for that war-torn land. She won high recognition for her services in that conflict.

Upon returning to Canada, she served as a Reservist and then joined the regular military, again answering the call of The Great War. She served in France as matron at La Touquet Hospital.

The next Pope generation spawned another military notable: Maurice Arthur Pope, son of Sir Joseph Pope, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s principal secretary.

Maurice Pope was a Canadian civil engineer, army officer and diplomat. He served in both World Wars, earning Order of the Bath (a British order of chivalry) and a Military Cross and eventually attaining rank of Lieutenant-General.

In his diplomatic role, he was Canadian Ambassador to Belgium and then Spain.

Another grandson, Hugh Ronald Stewart, son of Dorothy Pope and her husband, David Buchan Stewart, also served in the military. However, he is best known for his intense interest in General James Wolfe, commander of the British expedition that took 

Quebec in 1759. This childhood interest ultimately resulted in a collection of what was called "Wolfiana" of more than 500 items and 200 books, before a good portion of it was transferred to the University of New Brunswick in 1967.

Granddaughter Iris Violet Stanley Pope, daughter of William Henry's youngest son, Thomas "Albert" Pope, was a woman ahead of her time. She and her husband, Stanley Wainwright, a cattle broker fresh from England, ended up jointly managing the Alcazar Hotel, somewhat of a landmark in early 1900s Vancouver.

"She was self-sufficient when most women of her generation were not," said Wendy Murdoch, Iris' granddaughter. "She was strong and worked hard for what she wanted. In fact, after my grandfather's death, Iris and her two sons bought the hotel. Just days before she died, when I was about seven, she was finally able to burn the mortgage."

There was a lot of family history in that establishment. Wendy's father, Roderick, and her uncle, Bill, grew up in the Alcazar Hotel and she remembers living there for a number of months with her parents as their new house was being built.

Iris' favourite place to get away from the pressures of running the hotel was the family beach cottage at Point Roberts, Washington. Wendy recalls many happy summer days at their seaside retreat, she and her friends vacationing with their mothers while their fathers stayed back in the city and worked.

"We were often given 25 cents to purchase a cold treat at one of the two local stores, teens went to weekly dances and the music was Elvis Presley and later the Beach Boys," recalls Wendy. "Oh and there was no such thing as sunscreen but Sea and Ski suntan lotion for a deep dark tan. How things have changed."

Wendy's mother often told her that she had a famous ancestor, a Father of Confederation from Prince Edward Island. In the fall of 2012, Wendy and her husband, Bruce, travelled from the west coast to the east to find her roots. She was not disappointed.

"We loved it. Everyone was so friendly and the province is so beautiful," recalls Wendy. "It was really neat on our first evening in Charlottetown. We were walking along the street when a horse and carriage came by. We heard the tour guide pointing out 'the building where William Henry Pope had his newspaper office.'"

In addition to visiting Pope's Ardgowan home and Province House, the couple had a personal tour of Fanningbank with Dorothy Lewis, wife of the P.E.I. Lt.-Gov. Frank Lewis.

Wendy's grandchildren, Maxwell and Ava Murdoch, are quite likely the youngest descendants of William Henry Pope. As they grow up, their grandmother is sure to pass along lore on the achievements of William Henry Pope as well as other members of this remarkable family.

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Dunstan Quebec Bellevue South Africa Canada France Belgium London

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Recent comments

  • Edward Thornton
    October 28, 2014 - 13:49

    My mother Nora Joan Thornton (nee Pope) was a great great grand daughter of WH Pope. Her grandfather was Sir Joseph Pope. I would like to get in touch with the Wendy Murdoch in this story to let her know that Mum has just passed away on Oct 24,2014. Mum often talked about a relative who owned the Alcazar hotel.

    • PEI Genealogical Society
      October 28, 2014 - 21:27

      Hello Edward, Please contact me at the E-Mail address for the Society listing above. Richard Correspondence for PEIGS

    • PEI Genealogical Society
      October 28, 2014 - 21:28

      Hello Edward, Please contact me at the E-Mail address for the Society listing above. Richard Correspondence for PEIGS

  • Katrina Veysey
    August 10, 2014 - 22:56

    Daphne Pope (the 6th month old baby) is my great-grandmother. I have never seen a picture of her this made me so happy. Thank you so much for the picture and the great article.