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A recent donation to the Trail Museum and Archives is not only special, but especially fitting given 2017 is Canada’s sesquicentennial year.
The Trail Times made a visit to the archives in city hall a few weeks ago, curious to have a look at treasures given to the Trail Historical Society following the group’s final push for memorabilia. The society had been combing through its collective for months, gathering artifacts to ship off to Calgary as part of Riverfront Centre exhibits. After the Trail Times story,”Where are Trail’s hidden treasures?” ran, the group did receive some very thoughtful contributions.
Director Sarah Benson, whose knowledge of Trail history is astounding, took time out of her busy schedule and had much to share that day. But it was a very large elaborately framed portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald that caught the Trail Times eye. How did such a magnificent historical portrait of Canada’s first Prime Minister wind up in the city archives of all places?
Turns out, that original photograph hung in the front hallway of a Tadanac home for decades – the portrait was a gift from Sir John A. McDonald to his close friend Edgar Dewdney.
(Edgar Dewdney is etched in Canadian history as a surveyor, road builder, and policitian)
After being passed down in the family for over a century, the pristine portrait was donated to the city archives by Richard and Louise Dewdney of Trail. Richard, a well known high school teacher now retired, is one of many Edgar Dewdney descendents who still call the West Kootenay, home.
“My great-grand uncle Edgar Dewdney was a minister and appointed official under John A. for many years,” local historian and author, Sam McBride, explained to the Trail Times. “He and his wife Jane were friends of John A. and his wife Agnes.”
The Prime Minister’s regard for Edgar was evident when John A. chose him to be executor of his will, said McBride.
“When John A. died in 1891, Edgar was among the close friends and Macdonald family members at his death bed.”
So the story begins with Edgar and his wife being gifted the portrait some time before 1891.
Notably, after building the Dewdney Trail in the 1860s (approximately 80 per cent of what is now Highway 3 started life as the Dewdney Trail) Edgar became active in politics. The couple moved to the coast, and in years leading up to Sir John. A Macdonald’s death, Edgar was elected to Parliament and served as the member for Assiniboia East (now southeastern Saskatchewan) and as Minister of the Interior and Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
The connection to Trail picks up again in 1892.
Ted Dewdney, Edgar’s 11-year old nephew, was orphaned that year. The Dewdneys, who were childless, adopted Ted and raised the boy as their own.
Ted eventually made his way from the coast to Rossland to work as an accountant for the Bank of Montreal. Following Edgar’s death (in Victoria) in 1916, most of the estate when to his second wife Blanche, but some historical material – including the Sir John A. portrait – went to Ted.
“He (Ted) was the closest person to a son for Edgar,” said McBride. “He shared Edgar’s interest in literature and history. And because he was so keen on history, Edgar left him a lot of stuff with historical importance.”
While much of the collection, mostly historical letters between the Prime Minister and Edgar, were donated to the Glenbow archives in Calgary, Ted did hold on to some items that have since become family heirlooms – including that John A. Macdonald portrait. Ted eventually passed the piece down to his son Peter Dewdney.
He and wife Maxine bought the family’s Ritchie Avenue home in 1946 after Peter began work as a lawyer for Cominco.
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