Up the Gatineau! Online Articles
The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 26.
Remembering the Life of Patrick M.O. Evans
by Bob Phillips
The many friends of Patrick Evans, whose funeral was held last December in Wakefield, are now feeling the full dimensions of their loss. In years to come, children of today who never met him will sense their gratitude for his life.
I knew Pat for only his last quarter century, when sharing a love of local history meant sitting at the feet of a master - and learning. Those were the years of his advancing physical infirmities, when his days as an executive member of the Gatineau River Yacht Club, as a leader of the Boy Scout movement in Canada, were far behind him, as was the heady journey as a very English lad of 15 emigrating to Canada and Quebec. Incidents of those times would surface occasionally as we interrupted tales of local history to get another cup of tea or to fill pipes; in a crisp English accent, which never diminished with time, he would dip but briefly into his own history. It was a story of public and community service that should not have been lightly passed over.
If his later years were physically hard for Pat, they were a bonanza for local history. His scarcely diminished energies, as he lived alone near the Gatineau River, now had one focus. They unveiled our past and enriched the archival legacy of future generations. The sight of Pat, becoming more dependent on his cane to maneuvers slowly, may have deceived acquaintances that his true retirement was finally at hand, but it never happened. That marvelously carved and truly unique cane became a precious companion to Pat. It was one of the worst days of his life when some unspeakable vandal stole it from him.
Alone, he worked tirelessly on whatever was his current project. One of these was genealogy. In pursuit of the intrepid Wright family that started the first continuing settlement in the National Capital Region, he found gold largely untouched by earlier historians. He mined it until the last, flake was revealed and permanently recorded. On 500 pages in his own handwriting, his study told more than most people cared to know about Philemon Wright and his progeny, but it was refined treasure for present and future researchers.
Pat didn't write only for academics. He was one of the most frequent contributors to Up the Gatineau!, the engaging annual journal of the Historical Society of The Gatineau. His popular columns in a local newspaper were rarely set in type or by computer, but reproduced in the elegant calligraphy that was his trademark, whether he was writing history or an agenda note for the Historical Society. They were snatches of gossip about local places and people that, as Pat knew, is what popular history is all about. Pat was selling history well, but his unrelenting perfectionism never let him sell it out.
Pat preferred his writing desk to the limelight, but as an organizer he created the healthy archives now enjoyed by the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society and by the Historical Society of The Gatineau. He always refused the pressures to accept the presidency of the latter, but worked indefatigably for or it. When the familiar figure with the cane sidled painfully into an inconspicuous chair, members at the monthly lecture meetings knew the audience was complete and ready to start. Behind the scenes he worked hard for every public heritage project - the Moorside tearoom, the Wakefield Museum, historic cemeteries. Their achievement, like the archives, was his monument.
Less tangible and less acknowledged was the inspiration, or the jump start, that he gave to would-be historians who came to know the satisfaction and the value of setting down on paper the commonplace gossip of the past that would become the pearls of history. While the flowering of local history in our region has benefited from the newfound Canadian self-consciousness, it takes a local person with vision, determination, imagination and a single-minded love of our heritage to be the mentor to us all.
Pat Evans was such a man. He will live with us even as personal memory fades and as long as the printed word illuminates our future.