Harry Holman is retiring from government after years of preserving the past

Jim Day
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Harry Holman, who at 65 is set to retire April 8, grew up in Charlottetown with a tremendous interest in history.

Size, substance and surliness allow Harry Holman to easily stand out in a crowd.

The tall, intelligent Charlottetown resident’s bow ties simply serve as punctuation to his standoffish public persona.

Holman concedes his trademark attention-garnering ties are purely an affectation — just another way to separate him from the masses.

“I’ve always liked the look of bow ties because they make me look different,’’ he said.

Well-known heritage activist Catherine Hennessey seems to relish sizing up a man she considers marvelous for his many achievements and maddening for his consistently off putting manner.

“Just the walk of him, you can tell that there’s an arrogance there that you have to deal with,’’ said Hennessey.

“And I sometimes bring him bread to buy his affection. You have to buy his affection.’’

Still, Hennessey is clearly in awe of Holman’s talents as a writer (she thinks he is a great one) and as a speaker (very impressive on this front as well, she notes).

Then, of course, there is Holman’s impressive run with the province, first as provincial archivist and director of libraries and then for the past 13 years as director of culture, heritage and libraries.


He was responsible for arts and heritage policy and programs of the government of Prince Edward Island. He oversaw the Heritage Places Initiative Program for P.E.I., which now leads the country in the number of places listed on the Canadian Register of Heritage Places per capita.

He drafted provincial Heritage Places Protection Act, Archives Act, and Archaeology Act.

For years, he managed a full range of archives and library services through a network of community-based information centres and online applications.

He boasts of culling together an array of valuable information that had been haphazardly scattered in different locations into a centralized “one-stop shopping’’ for everything from land records to legal records, and from government documents to genealogical documents.

Holman, who at 65 is set to retire April 8, grew up in Charlottetown with a tremendous interest in history. His maternal grandmother, he recalls fondly, would talk to him “about what used to be here.’’

Holman says he was honoured to be able to soak up the personal history of people across P.E.I. as he listened in on conversation after conversation around kitchen tables. In his adult years, he would continue his “eavesdropping on our past,’’ then share his observations through writings and presentations and provide advice and recommendations to ministers. deputy ministers, Executive Council office and the Treasury Board.

“I think there is an innate interest in our past,’’ he said.

“We have,’’ he added, “a healthy cutlural environment in P.E.I.’’

During his days of being a not terribly athletic youth who liked to read and hike, Holman was often left to his own creative devices.

He was one of six boys in a family that grew by another five children after his father remarried a couple years following the death of Holman’s mother when Harry was only 12.

His late father was prominent businessman Alan H. Holman, who was the last to work in the family business R.T. Holman Ltd. department store. Harry says his father dissuaded all of his sons to try to carry on in a family business in which the future did not appear bright. None would go on to pursue a career in retail.

Harry says he and his brothers were far from coddled, noting that his father was not at all involved in his life or that of his brothers.

“I think it made me somewhat independent,’’ he said.

“Like my dad,’’ he added, “I think I don’t suffer fools gladly.’’

It took some time for Harry to put his finger on what he would do with his life. He went to five different universities before finally getting a degree.

“I waffled around for a long time,’’ he said.

Theatre grabbed his attention early on with his most memorable role being Tom Wingfield in a production of The Glass Menagerie at the Prince of Wales College.

He would later go to school at Ottawa Carleton where he performed on stage with Canadian actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd. While Aykroyd went on to enjoy great success on television and the big screen, Holman turned to the past to make his mark.

After earning a law degree, the closest he came to legal work was working with the federal government where he administered departmental responsibilities under federal access and privacy legislation.

He convinced his wife, Brenda Brady, to leave her job as chief librarian at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa to return to their native P.E.I. so he could take on the role as provincial archivist and director of libraries with the Government of P.E.I., a job he held from 1989 to 1999 before moving up to the position as director of culture, heritage and libraries for the next 13 years.

“The whole heritage business is a complication,’’ noted Hennessey.

“It’s built so much on emotion and love and everybody thinks that everything they have is very precious. Harry has to come down with the hard hand some time and say ‘yes, it’s good, but it’s not that precious. There’s 2,500 spinning wheels out there.’’’

Retirement next month certainly will not see Holman sitting idle. He plans to continue doing a considerable amount of writing, including commissioned work and maintaining web sites on sailing.

Boats will gleefully consume a good deal of Holman’s time as well. He has a great passion for sailing his 20-foot boat. He also builds small boats having already constructed seven dinghies and dory boats to date.

Holman likes to dive into murder mysteries and books about “every day things,’’ like a book he read a while back called “The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance.’’

He acknowledged that the book is not run-of-the-mill. Then again, neither is Holman.

Organizations: Prince of Wales College.He, Canadian Register of Heritage Places, Executive Council Treasury Board R.T. Holman Ltd. department U.S. Embassy McGill University The Island Magazine National Advisory Board of the Osgood Society Confederation Centre Heritage Canada Foundation Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • laurel
    March 04, 2013 - 01:02

    hey ... Harry, it was great working with you at the national level. you represented PEI very well. i'll miss you and your rants, and your sense of humour. too bad the story didn't include the bit about your athletic prowess in representing PEI at the first Canada Winter Games!

  • Piet Hein
    March 03, 2013 - 18:31

    INSIDER, if you read Bill Kays garbage (and it certainly is garbage) enough you will understand he is a person that is so full of hate, anger and envy that it just comes out of ever pore of his body. Notice he also runs his photo with the posts so everyone knows what an idiot looks like.

  • d
    March 03, 2013 - 17:02

    certainly at times a protagonist or maybe an antagonist but always an enigma and an anomaly

  • Doug MacArthur
    March 03, 2013 - 08:39

    Wonderful,on the mark article about Harry. I had the opportunity to work with Harry on a number of projects and always regarded him very highly,whether we agreed or not on an issue. He is an example of the best in public service-intelligent,hardworking,straight forward,and using taxpayer's money sparingly and strategically. He has had a career he can be very proud of,and I expect Harry will continue to do a lot of good in his retirement.

  • brian duffy
    March 02, 2013 - 16:48

    Does Bill Kays ever say 1 good thing about anyone....just wondering

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      March 03, 2013 - 11:41

      Yes Brian, I say good things about good people. Unfortunately most of the stories in the Guardian are a reflection of our society and the sad state of affairs today. I believe in speaking the truth, not assumptions, half truths, lies, sound bites, and political spin. I believe in peeling back the layers of the peelings so that I might see the actual fruit, because the Holy Bible says "YOU WILL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS". So I ask you Brian, what do we see when we peel back your layers? Is there any truth there? Please people, stop listening to CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, etc., etc., etc.. Not only because the CBC wants you to, but all of those tv stations as well as most newspapers and radio stations today are offering you up a pack of lies.It's all FEEL GOOD MEDIA. If you really want to know what is going on in the world you would have to turn to media outside of North America as most of our MEDIA have been compromised. No longer is there professional standards in journalism. Since the reporters do not want to do their jobs,we all must step up and be our own group social conscience and tell it like it really is. They call that the truth. Reality is not something you find on tv.

  • unbelievable
    March 02, 2013 - 15:50

    I will give most people the benefit of the doubt. Bur now i must conclude, Bill Kays, you are out of your mind.

  • Jayne Ings
    March 02, 2013 - 15:18

    Harry left his mark on the Ings family. We think of him every Christmas when we pass around the "green slime". Congrats and best wishes on your retirement Harry!

  • Old Aquaitance
    March 02, 2013 - 15:04

    Harry, Harry, Harry ... I spent a fair amount of time in your beautiful home on North River Road, oh so many years ago ... and I'm very sad to read your comment about your dad. I agree, he most certainly didn't coddle any of you, but he loved - and supported - each of you. Yes, he was arrogant (you got that honestly) but he was a very good man ... Over the years, I actually saw the kind and warm side of A.H. quite a few times. I always thought your dad was a strong supporter of his children (and, I believe, subsidized much of that education mentioned in the article) but perhaps I didnt know him as well as I thought I did. I can't help but wonder how your brothers/step siblings will feel about this ... In any case ... enjoy your retirement.

    • insider
      March 03, 2013 - 18:06

      In regards to comments made by Harry in regards to A.H.H., He was stating facts, he didn't say he was not a loving father and by the way, there was no freebees when it came to higher education. Also who the heck is this Bill Kays? I have never seen so much dribble come out of one person's mouth as this dude! No matter what the subject is, sounds like a little baby crying for attention, who never grew up.

  • Darin JM
    March 02, 2013 - 14:57

    Best wishes in your retirement, Harry. You were a good "boss" when I worked for the PEI heritage department. I always appreciated the fact that you did not "suffer fools gladly." Although such honesty could alarm people - it was better than talking behind their backs!

  • Alan Buchanan
    March 02, 2013 - 12:57

    All the best in retirement Harry. Your imperious presence, great knowledge, and willingness to stand strong for what you believe in.....all of these things will be missed in government. You have been an exemplary public servant and I know you will continue to make a valuable contribution to the arts, culture, and the preservation and interpretation of history in this province.

  • Bill Kays
    March 02, 2013 - 11:14

    Mr. Holman does not impress me by accomplishing his dance as a puppet. He is just another good old boy, a fed at heart. He's part of the elite in the province. He admits he is "separated from the masses" and not just by his bow ties. He led a life of entitlement so I do not get this statement "Harry says he and his brothers were far from coddled, noting that his father was not at all involved in his life or that of his brothers", awe, poor Harry. I know lots of people who would have traded places with him when he was growing up. Key words describing this elitist in the story are arrogant, politician, lawyer, embassy, Ottawa, archivist (keeper of the secrets) and Catherine Hennessey thinks he is just marvelous. So, he boasts of culling together an array of valuable information that had been haphazardly scattered in different locations into a centralized “one-stop shopping’’ for everything from land records to legal records, and from government documents to genealogical documents. But who funded it and what was the motive for doing it? Centralization is a tool of the collectivist to exert power or control over others. Putting all your eggs into one basket is never a good idea, as we were all taught for ever. Now, they will sell it to us as saving money, or saving us from ourselves, or a multitude of other lies or half truths. Half truths are the work of the devil.

    • ILS
      March 02, 2013 - 15:30

      Hey Bill, glad to see you chiming in with another one of your ridiculous, over-the-top, uber-paranoid rants. It's reassuring to know that we can always count on you to fight the devil and his half-truths, although I do think that you need to get out more...a lot more.

    • Maclund
      March 02, 2013 - 17:55

      I'm guessing you didn't wear anything pink last week? Your choice of time & place to comment is a nice example of how passive aggressive adults act out-hoping others will see it a type of leadership or victory. There are programs you can access that will help you to find some constructive communication techniques to express your views most constructively ...I suggest UPEI conflict resolution as a possible option.

    March 02, 2013 - 10:29

    Good to read all these good, great and wonderful things about Mr. Harry Holman. I've learned to forgive him for some of his 'bullishness', he's mellowing but there's still room for improvement. There's much more we can learn about gentleness and humble respect, reverence for God and for all our brothers and sisters.

    • dufferdon
      March 02, 2013 - 12:03

      This Gentleman, although I've never met him, in my humble opinion would be a good choice to represent PEI as a Senator.

    • Maclund
      March 02, 2013 - 17:40

      WOW! I didn't know that God read The Guardian...impressive. :D

  • F. MacDonald
    March 02, 2013 - 10:04

    I remember also, Harry worked at Marine Atlantic (CN) at Borden and after that had "Boomer's" job at CBC.

  • Gerry Birt
    March 02, 2013 - 09:49

    I would like to add one accomplishment to Harry's bio not mentioned here: Harry was, in the 70's, the esteemed weatherman on CBC TV Charlottetown. His somewhat dramatic approach to the forecast , in dress and demeanor, served to add sparkle and fun that made the dreary days much lighter and brighter. He was always fun to work with. Have a happy, healthy and productive retirement, Harry !