Last I wrote (three months ago now), I regaled (annoyed?) you with tales of my first contract as a freelance historian. After it wrapped up at the end of May 2014, I hit a bit of a dry spell over the summer months. At first I didn’t mind – if you’re going to have time on your hands, it may as well be during the Island’s best season. But then October rolled around and with nothing popping up on my radar, I began to wonder if I’d reached the end of the line.
And then I got lucky. Again.
There are two things that dyed-in-the-wool Islanders love to discuss above all else: the weather, and politics. Potatoes are a close third.
I suppose I’m being unfairly stereotypical on two of those points; however, when it comes to the Island’s love affair with politics – not so much. Since the establishment of the first British colonial government here in way back when in the 18th century, politics has been engrained in the Island psyche – so much so that it has become a way of life. You could remove a lot of things from Canada’s smallest province, and it would still keep humming along. But if you take away politics? Well, that would be drastic. Cataclysmic, even.
We’d be here until very near the end of days if I dared to scratch the surface of the Island’s twisty-turny, topsy-turvy political history. Well, maybe not that long. But a lot has happened in a relatively short period of time. There really is no shortage of material out there and I encourage you to seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.
So where was I going with this? Oh, right. Back to last October. To rescue me from my state of somewhat self-imposed unemployment comes Dr. Ed MacDonald. He’d been approached by a couple of political science professors from the University of Calgary responsible for compiling mass amounts of historic election data from provinces across the country for the Canadian Elections Database (click the blue words to be magically transported). What they needed was someone on the Island within easy reach of key resources and who had the skill set necessary to go through said resources and furnish them with the information they desired. That’s where I came in.
My task was to collect information pertaining to elections (general and by-elections) held on the Island from 1873 (the year the Island joined Confederation) to 1900: names of candidates, their political affiliations, ridings, how many votes they polled and so on and so forth. My best bet to accomplish this proved to be historical newspapers, which meant that I had to systemically scroll through 27 years worth of them on microfilm.
It appeared daunting at first, but as I quickly discovered, it became quite easy to zero in on relevant data. Things actually went so smoothly that by the end it all seemed rather mundane and rote; in fact, the hardest part was convincing my body to sit for hours on end, getting my eyes to agree to operate for extended periods in low-light conditions, and forcing my brain to ignore the thousands of fascinating, unrelated tidbits of information that clawed relentlessly at my attention span. That last one was no mean feat, especially when you happen upon an article about how your three times great-grandfather might have committed manslaughter in the 1870s.
No, really. I’m not kidding.
I put in some long, but ultimately rewarding days from November to the latter part of December. Robertson Library (Special Collections) at the University of Prince Edward Island became my home away from home, and the in-house coffeeshop my saving grace. No complaints, though. I learned a vast amount, and had the satisfaction of contributing to a national database. I spent a small fortune on coffee and sushi, yes, and may have burned out my corneas somewhat, but it was totally worth it.
My bank account and optometrist both felt otherwise.
During the course of this research, many fascinating political stories too numerous to mention presented themselves. Of them all, my personal favourite concerns Meddie Gallant and the district of 1st Prince. You can read all about it courtesy of this great article by Peter Rukavina (April 2015).
PEI History Guy
P.S. – I owe an enormous debt to the publication Minding the House: A Biographical Guide to Prince Edward Island MLAs, 1873-1993 (ed. Blair Weeks). It contains an absolute wealth of information on Island politicians who served in the provincial legislature spanning a period of 120 years. If you’re a PEI political junkie, you’d do well to get your hands on a copy.
P.P.S. – Here’s hoping I’ll start updating this site much more frequently than once every few months. I feel like I say that a lot.
P.P.P.S. – Yes, I could have included all of this in the main body of the post, instead of tacking it on as an afterthought. I chose not to.