Archivist's lifetime work honors the Outaouais

By Bob Phillips

This article first appeared in the column The Outaouais.

When someone presents a book to the archives of Hull, that doesn't sound much like news. This time it is.

Hull is not apt to see its like again, nor will most communities. Consider first the form of the gift.

It's not just a book. It's a stack of cards, each filled with invaluable new and original reseach about the early families of the region. It is hand-recorded in exquisite calligraphy, and the stack of irreplaceable cards is 69 centimetres high.

On those 40,000 cards is recorded the genealogy of all the earliest families that built permanent settlements in the Outaouais, from 1800 when Hull began until about mid-century.

For that so-called book, a nominal value of $25,000 has been suggested. That is ridiculous. It is the lifetime work of Patrick Evans of Lanimac, a historian, genealogist and the unquestioned authority on the roots of the Outaouais.

Pat Evans's precise spokern English identifies his own roots in Altrincham. He came to Canada from England in 1929 and spent most of his professional career working for the Boy Scouts of Canada. A lifelong bachelor with a keen interest in sailing, he spent most of his leisure hours in the relentless pursuit of the hidden corners where families grew- and spread - and moved to found colonies in America, and eventually in the Qutaouais.

He is the author of the 1987 local history called A Tale of Two Chelseas, but his major book is the voluminous record of the Wright family, created between 1969 and 1992 with the support of the National Capital Commission. In it he traced the founders of Hull through four centuries from their Yorkshire beginnings to their life in Massachussetts, to their great adventure in 1800, when they pushed the Canadian frontier to the confluence of the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers.

He gave the local descendants of the Wrights a long and honorable background. Among the many who have had cause to express appreciation is Jean Pigott, late of the NCC.

Pat Evans is the honorary archivist of the Historical Societies of both Ottawa and the Gatineau. He established the archives of the latter, and to both he has given more thousands of hours than even he could count. Not content with painstaking research through records, he is a frequent visitor to the ancestral homes of Outaouais settlers. He has a passion for graveyards where he stands by the hour, writing and sketching the history incised on tombstones.

Pat Evans is not a revisionist historian. He is that classical kind who digs with infinite patience for the facts, recording them without regard for current fashions of political correctness. But in any history, there can lurk the infection of politics.

Pat Evans's work may not please those who downplay the contribution of the English to today's Quebec. In most of the first half-century of Outaouais settlements, the New Englanders, Irish, Scots and English were numerically, politically and socially predominant. They were the builders who, like the Fathers of Confederation, "builded better than they knew." The rest of us profited from their character, detennination and imagination in making the communities of today.

Most people in the Outaouais know this. They are reminded of their history in West Quebec place names such as Hull, Aylmer, Buckingham, Chelsea, Cantley, Wakefield, which few want to change.

Pat Evans has given a wealth of facts and academic respectability to the proposition that the Outaouais is a joint creation. Long may that truth survive political correctness and the sniping of racists.

Bob Phillips is a Cantley writer who is copublisher of the Aylmer Bulletin and the West-Quebec Post.