J. B. Harkin is a key figure in Acts of Occupation, yet one about whom there is little biographical information. We were able to put together a picture of his career from government files, but since he left no personal papers, his private, emotional life remained somewhat of a mystery. (Harkin’s biographer E. J. Hart also had little to say about the private side in his recent book, J. B. Harkin: Father of Canada’s National Parks). There seemed to us to be hints of some private frustration that made Harkin especially determined, even unrelenting, in pursuit of his career goals, but we had only guesses in place of conclusive facts.
We knew that Harkin had not married until December 1924, the month before his forty-ninth birthday. We knew, too, that the marriage ceremony was carried out at home, by a Presbyterian minister, even though Harkin himself was Roman Catholic. The bride, Jean McCuaig, had worked in the same government department as Harkin for many years. The likelihood was that they had known each other a long time. Harkin’s mother, Eliza, to whom he was devoted, had died of influenza a few years before. Was the difference in religion, which might have upset a devout mother, the reason for his long bachelorhood?
This is the kind of question that often teases historians but seldom gets a clear-cut answer. We were therefore delighted to hear from a reader who was also a relative of the Harkins. She told us that her mother had often recounted the story of how “Uncle Bun” (Harkin’s nickname was Bunny) and Jean McCuaig had been in love for years, but waited until after his mother’s death to marry. “This tale of sorrow and romance was piquant enough to be passed on to me after three generations,” she comments. She also provided this beautiful photo of Jean (far right) with her two sisters, Jessie and Anna Isobel. The second photo, taken by Jeff, shows the Harkins’ grave in Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa.
Our thanks to Margot McPherson!