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A Liberal Story

I have a friend who, working for the Public Archives of Canada, is cataloguing the MacKenzie King papers. That is a nice project because in addition to all the material his position would have produced he was a diary keeper. I love diary keepers. At Christmas I mentioned to her that I was sure she would be discovering shortly that King had run in Prince County, PEI for his first seat in Parliament and that she just might find something about my grandfather in his papers. Now my grandfather, Benjamin Gallant, was an MLA for years in the first district of Prince so he was in a good position to be around and he certainly was a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal. I was right. Recently Grace sent a package of correspondence between MacKenzie King and my grandfather. What a surprise, and an insight into my grandfather's time.

The first letter was from King to my grandfather. It was a gracious thank you to my grandfather "for speaking in support of my nomination at the convention of the Liberals of Prince held in Summerside on the 4th of this month". That was September 1919. He went on to write "Your willingness to relinquish in my favor a claim which you were generally recognized to have . . . is something I shall always remember with feelings of both gratitude and pride." Then there was a letter back from my grandfather thanking him and then a copy of a telegram congratulating King on his election in October 1919 and then a reply of thanks. Now who else might have been in a position to run in Prince County I'm not sure, but likely Maclean, Albert Saunders and Creelman McArthur, at least. There was no guarantee that my grandfather would have received the nomination altho' he had recently been re-elected as a MLA.

The next letter was from my grandfather again. It was handwritten and dated September 9, 1921. It was apparent that King was giving some consideration of again running in the Prince County seat and a group had met in Summerside to discuss that issue. The letter reported that the men at the meeting "all expressed themselves of being willing to give way for you if you should want it.' - and here is where it becomes poignant - '. . . but I regret I could not express myself in that way. I have been in local politics 22 years and always very successful, at times it was pretty hard, of course. So I have made up my mind this time to take the opportunity of my good chances of getting the convention and being elected. Therefore you can understand that if I gave way for anyone else at this particular time I would be making a tremendous sacrifice as my friends will be loosing all faith in me". He goes to apologize and hints at "circumstances " that he would not state in the letter. MacKenzie wrote back his understanding and his hesitatance to run again in Prince County if any of his friends should be opposed.

The next page Grace sent presents diary entries and they are dated a mere month later and MacKenzie King was in Summerside. He was staying at the Clifton House having lobster, getting caught up on his correspondence and hobnobbing with friends. In the October 10th entry he notes " After lunch I called on Ben Gallant, who is a dying man, I fear. Bright's disease, they say. He wrote me only a month ago that he would not care to stand aside for me in the riding, having been long in active politics. Now he is aside forever. How little we know, how little we should boast or plan beyond the immediate present. Poor fellow, all his friends speak kindly of him . I feel deeply for him and his wife and little one"

Yes, he was right, Benjamin Gallant died on October 27th. 1921. The editorial in the Guardian - that Conservative paper - called him a "...a man of most pleasing personality, a man who was the soul of honour" etc etc. They also noted that he would no doubt have been selected as the federal candidate in the forthcoming election. So " What ever will be, will be..... "

Written Wednesday, February 06, 2002 at 11:47 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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