by Sam McBride
Very pleased to hear that a bronze sculpture of Capt. Frederic Thornton Peters` grandfather Col. John Hamilton Gray will be erected on Great George Street in downtown Charlottetown as part of the celebrations in Prince Edward Island of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which set the stage for the birth of Canada three years later.
The contract for the sculpture has been awarded to Vancouver Island artist Nathan Scott, who did two Terry Fox sculptures in B.C., among other projects.
The sculpture will depict interaction between two Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray at the time of the Charlottetown Conference in September 1864. By great coincidence, there were two non-related men of the same name. – one in New Brunswick and my ancestor in Prince Edward Island. By further coincidence, both men were known as “Colonel Gray“ — the P.E.I. Gray because he was a retired British Army officer, and the N.B. Gray because he held the rank of Lt. Colonel with the New Brunswick militia. The two men were also direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists – the P.E.I. Gray from Virginia and the N.B. Gray from Massachusetts.
The P.E.I. Gray was host and chairman of the historic conference, while the other Gray was one of the delegates from the neighboring colony New Brunswick. Both Grays were strong supporters of Confederation at a time when most of the politicians in their colony were against it. The N.B. Father of Confederation J.H. Gray later went to parliament as an MP, but the P.E.I. Father of Confederation J.H. Gray resigned as leader of the government when his colleagues changed their minds and opposed Confederation. P.E.I. later joined Canada in 1873 to overcome a financial crisis associated with railway debt, but the former Premier Gray`s attempts to re-enter provincial politics were unsuccessful.
The lifespans of the two Grays were quite similar. The N.B. Gray was born in 1814 and died in 1889, while the P.E.I. Gray was born in 1811 and died in 1887, a couple of weeks before his granddaughter Helen Peters Dewdney was born, and two years before the birth of grandson Frederic Thornton “Fritz“ Peters, who would become one of Canada`s greatest war heroes, and the subject of my book “The Bravest Canadian — Fritz Peters VC: The Making of a Hero of Two World Wars“. Though Fritz never knew his famous grandfather, the stories he heard of him from his mother and aunts were strong factors in Fritz choosing a military career and considering going into politics.
The P.E.I. Gray never ventured West, but the N.B. Gray moved to Victoria, B.C. in 1872 to serve as a judge on the B.C. Supreme Court. He is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, not far from the gravesite of the P.E.I. Gray`s son-in-law Frederick Peters and granddaughter Violet Peters. Established in 1873, the Victorian-style Ross Bay Cemetery has the graves of numerous frontier B.C. politicians and celebrities. The P.E.I. Gray rests in Sherwood Cemetery, which today is very close to Charlottetown Airport, about three miles north of the city.
The new sculpture is in keeping with P.E.I.`s program to develop its history-oriented tourism industry. Tourism in P.E.I. has increased substantially in recent years, largely due to the island province becoming a popular stop for cruise ships.
For further details of the statue project, view the links below.