As he entered the Provincial Archives early last year, Fred Horne, president of the Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society, was entering familiar turf.
Like many Island historians and genealogists, he has spent countless hours among the books, newspapers, microfilm and artifacts housed within. In fact, over the years, Horne has helped Islanders and others trace their family histories and find long-lost relatives.
This time, however, Horne had an extra spring in his step, thanks to an exciting and unique project designed to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference.
While the tasks Horne and his P.E.I. Genealogical Society colleagues are undertaking are similar to many other historical projects, the families under scrutiny are select — those most closely connected to the Charlottetown Conference and Canadian Confederation.
“Much has been written about the Fathers of Confederation who represented our Island, but what about their direct descendants?” said Horne. “Who are they? And where do they live today? To what extent has their ancestors’ role in Canadian Confederation been translated through the generations? Is that role celebrated in their family culture?”
The society’s ambitious project aims to answer these questions, and more, by researching and documenting the descendants of the Island Fathers.
“The idea of searching the family lines of the Fathers seemed quite an obvious choice upon which to develop a 2014 project with long-term meaning and a sense of legacy,” said Horne. “As genealogists, family historians and other interested society members, researching family history is what we do.”
In almost 40 years, the PEIGS has published more than 250 graveyard publications, some twice, 17 more substantial publications, such as accounts of British, Scottish and Irish immigrants to P.E.I. and numerous census transcripts from 1881, 1891 and 1901.
“Our executive committee saw this project as a great opportunity to showcase the talents of our qualified researchers as well as the ongoing work of the society,” said Horne.
With funding from the P.E.I. 2014 Fund secured, Horne worked with Richard Savidant, a past president of the society, to bring together a select team of PEIGS members and the research began.
In addition to Horne and Savidant, the team is made up of
project manager Bob Pierce, genealogists Liz Glen, Linda Harding, Linda Jean Nicholson and Lou Daley and writer Louise Campbell.
A genealogist has been assigned to each Island Father of Confederation. Then through meticulous research and careful documentation, their work is unveiling details of succeeding generations and their whereabouts.
“If the varied personalities, approaches and impacts of the Fathers are any indication, this study of the descendants is sure to be entertaining and enlightening,” said Glen, who was assigned with researching the descendants of three of the Fathers. “It’s really neat when the pieces start to fit together, and the whole picture becomes clearer.”
The Fathers were involved in law, business, newspapers, the military and, of course, politics. So far, the researchers have found descendants who were also from these walks of life, along with scientists, an author, entertainment moguls and philanthropists. Fortunately, unlike some of their ancestors, none of the descendants located to date are prone to dueling to settle disputes.
Over the years, the Coles family descendants, including those directly related to George Coles, have done a stellar job in researching their genealogy. They have set a standard which the P.E.I. Genealogical Society is striving to match.
Now, with the research complete and working in collaboration with the society, The Guardian is launching a monthly series to introduce its readers to some of these descendants and demonstrate how they continue the family trait of contributing to society.
Through this series, entitled Confederation Connections: Finding the Fathers’ Families, readers will get a better sense of the Fathers themselves as well as the challenges and successes experienced by succeeding generations.
“This title says it all,” said Bob Pierce, project manager.
“We are connecting the dots in the families of the Island Fathers of Confederation and we are planning to connect descendants to one another.”
The project will culminate in September, 150 years after the Charlottetown Conference, with a gathering of these descendants. Some of the participants live here on the Island, while others are scattered across the country and around the globe.
They are linked, though, through their Island roots and their illustrious forefathers.
“I was speaking with a great-great-granddaughter of William Henry Pope who visited the Island for the first time in 2012,” said Harding.
“She can hardly wait until September to come back for this gathering of the descendants.”
Overall, this project will help ensure the legacy of the Island Fathers of Confederation will live on in the memories of their family members and Islanders.
“Down the road, when the 200th or 250th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference rolls around, we want celebrants to look back in appreciation for an accurate, professionally-researched family tree of the descendants of each of the seven P.E.I. Fathers as they were in 2014,” said Pierce.
“While genealogy is not everyone’s bailiwick, family knowledge certainly is. The results of this project — genealogy plus human interest stories — will enhance knowledge and understanding of those men who first conceived the family that is Canada,” added Horne.
Thorough as they are, it is unlikely the researchers will be able to track down all the descendants, especially the ones who do not carry the family name. The P.E.I. Genealogical Society invites direct descendants or would-be sleuths to contact project administrators at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the project website at peigs2014.ca.
AT A GLANCE
The Island Fathers
The son of a farmer, George Coles (1810-1875) became a merchant, brewer and politician. Politically active for 27 years, Coles was the first and, to many historians, the best premier of Prince Edward Island, initially assuming that role in 1851. He was a major proponent of responsible government but not in favour of Confederation. Coles was known to duel to resolve disagreements, was convicted of assault and spent a month in custody of the sergeant-at-arms because he would not retract a statement he made in the assembly. After years of hard work toward prosperity, Coles’ properties were destroyed in a fire, and his ongoing fear that his business would be targeted by arsonists eventually drove him insane. His wife, Mercy Haines, was British-born.
John Hamilton Gray (1811-1887) was famous in the British Army as well as in Island politics. A soldier with service in India and South Africa, he returned to the Island after a 21-year military career and was soon asked to enter political life. Strongly in favour of Confederation, Gray was premier of P.E.I. from 1863 to 1865 and hosted the Charlottetown Conference. When Islanders rejected Confederation after the Quebec Conference, Gray left political life and went back to his first love, the military, this time on the Island and within the Dominion. Gray's estate, Inkerman House, was named after the Battle of Inkerman, in which his father-in-law Sir John Pennefather had fought. Gray was married three times, with five daughters from his second marriage and one son from his third marriage.
A lawyer by profession, Thomas Heath Haviland (1822-1895) was called to the bar in 1846. He was also a colonel in the local militia. In his 30-year political career (1846-1876), Haviland served on executive council and as speaker for the legislative assembly. Subsequently, Haviland was lieutenant-governor of P.E.I. and mayor of Charlottetown. He was married to Anne Elizabeth Grubbe.
Andrew Archibald Macdonald (1829-1912), 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, a Canadian senator. Macdonald was married to Elizabeth Owen, daughter of one of the Island’s prominent families, and they had four sons.
Edward Palmer (1809-1889) was a lawyer, landed proprietor, politician and then a judge. The son of an attorney, Palmer was called to the bar in 1830. His political career spanned 38 years. 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. He eventually became judge of the Queens County Court and then provincial chief justice. He married Isabella Tremain in 1846.
William Henry Pope (1825-1879) studied law in London, was called to the Island bar in 1847 and then served as a land agent for absentee landlords. He became known for a real estate deal in which he and three others profited big-time at the expense of his employer. In his 30s to early 40s, Pope edited the leading Tory newspaper, the Islander. Entering politics in 1863, Pope was a proponent of Confederation, eventually accomplished under the leadership of his younger brother, James Colledge Pope. One of the social highlights of the Charlottetown Conference was a luncheon at Pope’s home, Ardgowan House. Following Confederation, he was appointed Prince County Court judge by Sir John A. Macdonald. Pope married Helen Desbrisay in 1851 and fathered eight children.
Sometimes known as the angriest Father of Confederation, Edward Whelan (1824-1867) came to P.E.I. via Halifax, to which he had emigrated from Ireland with his mother in 1831. After gaining newspaper experience in Halifax at the hand of Joseph Howe, Whelan moved to the Island at age 19 and started his own newspaper, The Palladium. Whelan’s political life spanned 21 years, ending shortly before his death in 1867, following an electoral defeat blamed largely on his pro-Confederation stance. He was a leading player in the George Coles government. Whelan was married twice and had four children, only one of whom survived him.