Edward Whelan

Orator / Editor / Politician

Edward Whelan
Prince Edward Island
City Hall Charlotteetown.
St. Mary's, Halifax, Nova Scotia
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This is the life story of an Irish emigrant who was honoured by the peoples of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island for his work on their behalf.

Edward Whelan was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo during 1824, his father was an infantry man based at the military barracks in the town. [i]


It is recorded in Canada by two conflicting reports that state that (A) he emigrated with his parents to Halifax Nova Scotia in 1888 (by Peter Mc Court.) (B) W. L. Cotton, Managing Director of Whelan’s Newspaper (founded in 1847 at Charlottetown) claimed that he arrived with his mother and younger sibling during 1831. Whelan wrote in 1855 that “enjoying in his mother’s rights the fruits of no small amount of property he was never placed in (an) abject condition.”  On the recommendation of Joseph Howe Whelan sailed to Prince Edward Island.  [ii]


He received his education at St. Mary’s School in Halifax, Nova Scotia followed by his attendance at St. Mary’s Seminary (under principle Fr. Richard Baptist O’Brian) while studying he worked at Howe’s office prior to his move to train in printing at age eighteen.  [iii]


He was married twice. To Mary Weymouth (daughter of George A. Hughes of the Halifax Dockyard) in 1845 they had two children who died at a young age.  Following the death of his wife he re–married Mary Major Hughes, (The Ceremony was performed by a Church of Ireland Clergyman), they had three children, two died young while the third died age nineteen years while sailing in Charlottetown Harbour on July 1st 1875.  [iv]

Journalism Career

Whelan trained at Howe’s and Thompson’s printing office in printing, publishing also editing the “Nova Scotia.”  He worked on a catholic newspaper “The Register” with Rev. R. O’Brian, the editor, eventually succeeding to the editorship himself.  He published his “The Palladium” in 1843, the Motto was “The Liberator of the press is the Palladium of the Civil, Political and Religious Right of a Briton.”  Edward Whelan became editor of the previously Tory Morning News in May 1864 (Tory was later dropped.)  He produced “The Union of the British Provinces” during 1865, that same year Whelan became Queen’s Printer and Editor of the “Royal Gazette.”  [v]


Edward Whelan was a talented orator; he had obtained his speaking skills as a member of a society founded by Fr. O’Brien of the Young Men’s Catholic Institute plus the Mechanics Institute.  He became identified with those agitating for reform of the political system controlled by the family compacts in the maritime colonies. He was an accomplished speaker and leading member of various local communities i.e. Mechanics Institute, the Charlottetown Repeal Association, Benevolent Irish Society also the Catholic Young Men’s Institute.  [vi]

Political Career

Edward Whelan’s rise to fame was meteoric.  During 1864 he was chosen aged 21 as a candidate to represent the second district of King’s County in the House of Assembly.  He became an outstanding member of the Liberal Reforming Party that won responsible government for Prince Edward Island in 1851. He acted as a staunch exponent of free education; he opened the first Training College for Teachers on this smallest and poorest island in the area on October 1st 1856. Whelan advocated by explaining and defending the major liberal acts of the 1950’s; the Free Education Act, Extension of the Franchise plus the Land Purchase Act he worked tirelessly toward that end. During 1864 Whelan was conferred as a father of the confederation.   He was the speaker for responsible government in 1880. Edward Whelan was bitterly disappointed when he lost his seat in the April 1867 By–Election of 1867 as the result of “The Land” and ‘The Union” questions. He was made a delegate to the Quebec conference where he continued to promote the union in “The Examiner.”  [vii]

Unfortunately Edward Whelan’s health disoriented, he died age 42 on 10th December 1867.  He is interred in a Catholic Graveyard on St. Peter’s Road in Charlottetown. [viii]  A Plaque has been erected to his memory in Charlottetown. [ix]


He is mentioned in the following publications; by Robertson, Ian Ross, A – “Whelan, Edward” – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Ed. Francess G. Halpenny, 1976, University of Torento Press, Vol9, pgs, 828 – 835, B – “Whelan, Edward”, (2000, 3rd. print, Ed. James H. Marsh) McClelland &Stewart, 1999 ,pg 2502.  Also he is mentioned in the Macmillan dictionary of Canadian Biography, 1978, 4th ed, Ed. E. Stewart Wallace, Macmillan of Toronto, Canada pgs 881 – 882.  [x]

His house on the corner of Sidney and Hillsbourgh Street in Charlottetown was destroyed by fire in 1876 with the loss of his personal Papers, his Library and Manuscripts. However his newspapers and records of proceedings of Prince Edward Island Assembly provide a comprehensive plus detailed picture of his views. The following Charlottetown newspapers may be of interest; Colonial Herald, The Morning News, Commercial Advertiser, Constitutionalist, The Express,  P. E I. Vindicato, Royal Gazette, Protestant & Evangelical Witness plus The Palladium, The Register of  Halifax, also The Summerside Journal and P.E.I. Summerside Progress. Whelan has been the subject of two short studies; Harvey, “The Centenary of Edward Whelan,” plus E. J. Mullally, “The Hon. Edward Whelan, a father of confederate”- one of Ireland’s gift to Canada, C C H a report 1938-39, pages 67 – 84.   [xi]

A tribute in verse appeared in ‘The Examiner” with the signature of the “Mourner.”  The first and last lines appear as;

They lowered him gently down

To rest with the silent dead

And on his grave the falling snow

Like a wintery sheet was spread. 

Let a grateful Country hasten to show

The sense of his trustful zeal

And thus to lessen the bitter woe

The bereaved ones surly feel. [xii]

James Hayden Fletcher stated that Whelan was “a popular orator, we doubt if the island has ever witnessed his equal” he also recalled during 1900 that he had read every number printed of the “Examiner.”  He came to believe that it’s Editor “Edward Whelan was the greatest man that lived on the Island and I am still of the same opinion.”   [xiii]


[i] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[ii] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[iii] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[iv] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[v] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[vi] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing. Ballina.

[vii] www.canadahistory.com

[viii] Reilly Terry, (2012)    Amazing Mayo Stories Vol 1. Yew Plain Publishing.

[ix] www.peigs.ca

[x] www.collectionscanada.gc.ca

[xi] www.biographia.ca

[xii] www.biographi.ca

[xiii] www.umanitoba.ca

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