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Mothers of Confederation

“My Diaries as Miss Bernard did not need such precautions [a lock] but then I was an insignificant young Spinster & what I might write did not matter. Now I am a Great Premier’s wife & Lady Macdonald & ‘Cabinet secrets and mysteries’ might drop or slip off unwittingly from the nib of my pen.”
Lady Agnes Macdonald, 5 July 1867.

Written just days after Confederation, Lady Agnes’ first entry in her new, locked, diary is a gaze forward in history. Canada's first spouse of the Prime Minister later expresses, on 17 November 1867, that she writes with the expectation that someone will someday pick up on her words. Given her insight to the political goings-on of her day, she says, “that is rather an important consideration.”

It’s been nearly 150 years since Macdonald wrote; and still, her work remains on the outskirts of history. Volumes have been dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation, but what about their wives and daughters, valuable record-keepers and political players in their own right?

Official records of the 1864 Charlottetown and Québec Conferences, which paved the road to Confederation, are sparse. But historians have been able to flesh out the social and political dynamics at play in these conferences by consulting the letters and journals of the Mothers of Confederation. They not only provide a view into the experiences of privileged women of the era, but draw attention to the contributions those women made to the historic record and political landscape.

Below are six of these women.


Arthur Peters

Arthur Peters, lawyer, premier of PEI (b at Charlottetown 29 Aug 1854; d there 29 Jan 1908), brother of Frederick Peters. Called to the Prince Edward Island Bar in 1878, Peters was first elected to the Assembly in 1890 as a Liberal.



In June 1919, Plunkett returned to Canada, borrowed $18 000, and created a civilian version of the Dumbells which included Merton Plunkett (the impresario), Jack Ayre (musical director) and Allan Murray from the 3rd Division, and others from the London tour and the H.M.S.


Donald Farquharson

Donald Farquharson, politician, premier of PEI (b at Mermaid, PEI 27 July 1834; d at Charlottetown 26 June 1903). A teacher by training, Farquharson subsequently entered the wholesale and shipping business and in 1876 won election to the PEI Assembly as a Liberal.


White Paper on Foreign Policy

A 6-volume review of foreign policy conducted 1968-70 by the Department of External Affairs (now FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE) with the involvement of many other departments and agencies, invited academics, business people and others.


Aubin-Edmond Arsenault

Aubin-Edmond Arsenault, lawyer, politician, premier of PEI (b at Egmont Bay, PEI 28 July 1870; d at Charlottetown 29 Apr 1968). In 1917 Arsenault became premier of the Island, the first Acadian premier of any Canadian province.


Frederick Peters

Frederick Peters, lawyer, premier of PEI (b at Charlottetown 8 Apr 1852; d at Prince Rupert, BC 29 July 1919). A brother of Arthur PETERS, Frederick was elected to the assembly in 1890 as a Liberal and became premier 22 April 1891, serving until resigning on 27 October 1897.


John Mackieson

John Mackieson, physician, officeholder (b at Campsie, Scot 16 Oct 1795; d at Charlottetown 27 Aug 1885). A pioneer of the PEI medical profession, Mackieson was most distinguished by his work with the insane.



Haywire. Hard rock band, formed in Charlottetown in 1982 by singer Paul MacAusland, guitarist Marvin Birt, keyboard player David Rashad, and bassist Ron Switzer. Sean Kilbride was the last in a succession of drummers.


Walter Russell Shaw

Walter Russell Shaw, farmer, politician, premier of PEI (b at West River, PEI 20 Dec 1887; d at Charlottetown 29 May 1981). Elected leader in 1957, Shaw led the Conservatives to victory in 1959.


James Bagnall

James Bagnall, printer, publisher, politician, officeholder (b at Shelburne, NS 1783; d at Bedeque, PEI 20 June 1855). The son of New York LOYALISTS, he moved with his parents to Charlottetown as an infant.


Walter Maxfield Lea

Walter Maxfield Lea, politician, premier of PEI 1930-31 and 1935-36 (b at Tryon, PEI 10 Feb 1874; d at Charlottetown 10 Jan 1936). A successful farmer and livestock breeder, Lea was the first agriculturalist to lead PEI.


Murray Hyman Kirsh (Primary Source)

Murray Hyman Kirsh served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. After his grandparents were killed by Nazis in Europe, Kirsh felt it was his duty to enlist to serve in the war. From 1942 to 1944, Kirsh served on the home front as a military officer guarding Allied prisoners of war. Listen to his story of German POWs trying to escape during his watch.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.


John Whitney Pickersgill

John Whitney Pickersgill, public servant, politician, historian (b at Wyecombe, Ont 23 June 1905; d at Ottawa 14 Nov 1997). "Clear it with Jack" was the Ottawa watchword through the KING and ST. LAURENT eras, a testimony to Pickersgill's extraordinary influence.


St Peters Bay

St Peters Bay, PEI, incorporated as a village in 1953 and as a community in 1983, population 253 (2011c), 248 (2006c). The Community of St Peters Bay, 53 km northeast of Charlottetown, is located at the head of a bay of the same