Powerful or 'patsy'? PhD student researching P.E.I. chief justice ancestor

A PhD student at York University has won $8,000 in funding to study her great-great-grandfather who was chief justice of P.E.I. in the 19th century.

Anna Jarvis’s great-great-grandfather, Edward Jarvis, was chief justice in the 1800s

Anna Jarvis is a York University PhD student studying her great-great-grandfather's legal history (Submitted/Anna Jarvis)

A PhD student at York University has won $8,000 in funding to study her great-great-grandfather, who was chief justice of P.E.I. in the 19th century.

Anna Jarvis won the R. Roy McMurtry Fellowship, an annual award for PhD students and recent doctorate grads researching Canadian legal history.

Her ancestor Edward Jarvis held his position from 1828 to 1852, during the time of the land question on P.E.I.

"I'm absolutely thrilled and very excited to have won it," Anna says. "It means everything because as a student I try to make ends meet. Especially when you're travelling as a student and doing research."

Edward Jarvis was a key figure during a time when absentee landlords controlled the province, and tenants living on the Island were often squatting on properties and not paying quit rents.

A Robert Harris portrait of Edward Jarvis hangs in the P.E.I. Supreme Court. (Laura Chapin/CBC)

However, he wasn't an "activist judge," Anna said. "He would never have agreed to protesters being given … the land."

He was also involved in a trial that saw a Mi'kmaw man commuted for the death of another member of the Mi'kmaw community.

The goal of Anna's research, as she pores over Supreme Court rulings, newspaper clippings and letters is to figure out exactly what kind of role the chief justice played on P.E.I. — or, as she puts it "To what degree was he simply a patsy of the government?"

'I love my time out east'

After schooling in London, England, Edward Jarvis held a position in Malta before taking the job in Prince Edward Island.

And Anna considers herself just as lucky to be doing her research on the Island.

"I love my time out east," said Anna. "I enjoy being there."

Anna is planning on returning to P.E.I. this summer to do research in the province's archives.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Laura Chapin


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?