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People

Edward Whelan

Photograph: Plaque at Charlottetown, to Hon. Edward Whelan

Source

Plaque at Charlottetown, to Hon. Edward Whelan.

(1824 - December 10, 1867)

Edward Whelan was a journalist, politician, and noted orator. He was one of Prince Edward Island's delegates to the Québec Conference, and was the only prominent Liberal supporter of Confederation from the Island.

Edward Whelan was born in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland. The exact date of his birth is not known, and much of his early life remains a mystery. He was the son of a British infantryman. After receiving a very basic education at Ballina and in Scotland, he and his mother emigrated to Halifax -- possibly due to the death of his father. It is believed they arrived in the city in 1831. In Halifax, he enrolled in St. Mary's school, and apprenticed in the printing office of Joseph Howe, who became a major influence. At the age of 18, he left Howe's shop to become editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper, the Register. He also made a name for himself as a talented orator. In 1843, Whelan moved to Charlottetown, where he founded his own paper, the Palladium, and developed a reputation as an outspoken, reform-minded journalist. He married twice, first to Mary Weymouth in 1845 (d. 1845) and then to Mary Major Hughes in 1850.

Whelan's political career began in 1846 when he was elected to the Island assembly as a member for St. Peters. Both in the assembly and in his newspaper, the Examiner (established in 1847), Whelan agitated for reform, first of the absentee landlord system, then of the political system in general. By the time responsible government was achieved in 1851, Whelan was second only to George Coles amongst the Liberals. At age 27, he was made a member of the Executive Council. He became the Queen's printer (a position he held until 1859), and temporarily suspended the Examiner to begin production of the Royal Gazette. For much of the next decade he was an impassioned defender of Liberal policies on issues such as land reform and education, until the party was finally defeated in 1859.

When discussion of British North American union began in the 1860s, the Liberal party generally was opposed to the idea, as was most of Prince Edward Island. A notable exception was Whelan. In 1864, during the Charlottetown Conference, Whelan declared his support of union as a way to free the Island from the control of the Colonial Office, and as a means of solving the absentee landlord question. He was made a delegate to the Québec Conference. Afterwards, he promoted union in the pages of the Examiner. His support of the idea found little backing in the assembly. At the same time, his criticism of the Tenant League cost him the support of many Irish Catholic voters.

When the Liberals regained power in 1867, Whelan was once again named the Queen's printer, a position that required him to resign his seat and run again. He did so, but suffered his first electoral defeat. He blamed it in part on the local clergy. His health quickly deteriorated after the loss, and he died before the year was out.

Sources

Robertson, Ian Ross. -- "Whelan, Edward". -- Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh. -- 3rd print ed. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. -- P. 2502.

Robertson, Ian Ross. -- "Whelan, Edward". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography. -- Ed. Francess G. Halpenny. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1976. -- Vol. 9, p. 828-835.

"Whelan, Edward". -- Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. -- Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. -- 4th ed. -- Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. -- P. 881-882.