Skip to main content

Robert Tuck at the historic St. Mary’s Church, in Indian River, PEI, which was built in 1902 by his great-uncle, architect William Critchlow Harris.

Courtesy of the Tuck family

Art, architecture and religion flowed through Rev. Robert Tuck's bloodline.

The Anglican priest was a historian who wrote several books, and a preservationist who worked tirelessly to conserve Prince Edward Island's churches and other buildings.

The province is awash in the heritage of two of Canon Tuck's great-uncles: architect William Critchlow Harris and his brother, artist Robert Harris, famous for his 1884 painting of the Fathers of Confederation. Canon Tuck was insistent that both men should occupy their rightful places in Canadian history and exhibited a dogged determination to make this happen.

Story continues below advertisement

When he wasn't working on sermons, he drew political cartoons for two PEI newspapers, as well as for the Canadian Churchman, precursor to the Anglican Journal, the national newspaper of the Anglican Church. A compilation of his cartoons was published in two volumes.

Canon Tuck died of dementia in Charlottetown on Nov. 16 at the age of 88, his family said.

It was a Canada Council grant that gave him the financial freedom to write his first book, a biography of William Critchlow Harris titled Gothic Dreams, published in 1978. He went on to write The Island Family Harris, Churches of Nova Scotia and Letters from Mahone Bay, and co-authored Heritage Houses of PEI.

Only Mahone Bay turned a modest profit, but making money was never Canon Tuck's primary goal. He battled to preserve the past, occasionally irked by the success of Anne of Green Gables, the 1908 novel that has become an emblem of PEI around the world.

"There's room on this island for another redhead, particularly one who's real," Canon Tuck wrote to Terry Graff, then-director of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. Canon Tuck felt that his (similarly red-headed) great-uncles deserved as much attention as a fictional character, if not more.

In the 1990s, working with Mr. Graff, Canon Tuck put painstaking effort into researching and curating exhibits of his great-uncles' portraits, landscapes and architectural drawings and dividing them into themes. "They give real insight into the time period of Confederation and island life in the 19th century," Mr. Graff said.

During Mr. Graff's tenure, the Confederation Centre held a Harris exhibit at least once every year for five years. One show featured the Harris family tree in portraits. Another included Robert Harris's painting of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. On behalf of the centre, Mr. Graff successfully bid a mere $30,000 for the painting at a Toronto auction and had it restored. Canon Tuck was delighted.

Story continues below advertisement

By the end of the 1990s, discussion was under way for collaboration on a major Harris exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, but politics intervened and Mr. Graff's contract was not renewed. Canon Tuck led a group of artists in protest and removed his family's paintings from the walls of the Confederation Centre, an act that grabbed the attention of the national media.

Talk of a touring National Gallery exhibit became a whisper, then died, much to Canon Tuck's disappointment. He eventually returned some of his family's paintings to the Harris collection at the centre, where they remain, along with that of Sir John A.

"Bob was a fighter in a lot of ways. Very spirited, full of integrity and quite funny," Mr. Graff said. "We showed some of his cartoons as well. He had a great sense of humour."

After the 1887 King's Playhouse in Georgetown, PEI, burned down in 1983, Canon Tuck oversaw construction of the exterior to ensure that it remained true to William Critchlow Harris's architectural vision. In 1987, he also led a campaign to save and restore historic St. Mary's Church, another of his ancestor's designs. The church is home to the Indian River Festival, and the site of world-class concerts (the church's website says it is considered to be one of the 10 best acoustic venues in the world).

Despite being tall and slim, Canon Tuck was affectionately known to many of his parishioners as Friar Tuck.

Robert Critchlow Tuck was born in Bridgewater, N.S., on July 4, 1927, the eldest of four children. His mother, Ruth (née Harris), was the daughter of an Anglican minister, and niece of the famous ginger-haired Harris brothers, who came from Wales. His father, Layton Tuck, was an Anglican minister from England who had been traumatized by his experiences as a gunner during the First World War; he was frequently hospitalized and absent from home, so Bob assumed many family responsibilities.

Story continues below advertisement

As a boy, he was gifted at sketching and caricatures, and regularly drew cartoons of his younger sisters and brother. At 8, he was sent to boarding school, where it became apparent he was something of a prodigy. He graduated from high school at the age of 14, and learned to drive. The love of driving stayed with him , along with a patriarchal, almost Victorian approach to life and a considerable stubbornness.

He was 16, on a scholarship, when he entered King's College, Halifax, along with many veterans returning from the Second World War. He earned a degree in history while spending a lot of time at the Dalhousie Gazette drawing cartoons and editing the sports page. (He remained a staunch supporter of the Toronto Maple Leafs and fan of broadcaster Foster Hewitt.) On the strength of his Gazette experience, he was hired by the Halifax Chronicle but, four months later, found himself out of a job when the paper merged with another.

After a brief period as a teacher, which he didn't enjoy, he landed on his sister Mary's sofa in the Notting Hill district of London, England, where she was studying art. A cousin, who was an Anglican monk, decided that 1950s London was too dissolute an environment for a young man and persuaded Bob to attend theological school in Llandaff, Wales. He called those days the happiest of his life, and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1954.

Homesick, he returned to Nova Scotia. The bishop assigned him to administer to the spiritual needs of Canso, a thriving fishing centre. There he met a free-spirited young woman from Vancouver, Catherine Greene, who was volunteering at an Anglican children's camp. Unable to bear the idea of her returning to the West Coast, he followed her through the woods as she, pretending to be a hare, laid a paper trail for the children to follow in a game called hounds and hares. He was determined to beat the children to the hare so he could propose to her. They married in 1959 and had two children, Beth and Alan, and also raised two foster children, Rick and Helen Rayner.

For two years, he served as curate of All Saints Cathedral in Halifax before moving to PEI. In 1964, he became the rector of three churches in Summerside, where he hosted a Sunday school of the airwaves and helped to establish the PEI brass-rubbing centre, a tourist attraction at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown.

He leaves his wife, Catherine; daughter, Beth Eayrs, and son, Alan Tuck; foster children Rick and Helen Rayner; sisters Barbara MacAndrew and Mary Corelli; and four grandchildren.

Story continues below advertisement

Canon Tuck, who was given that title in the mid-1970s, received awards from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and the Canadian Historical Association, as well as an honorary doctorate from King's College University in Halifax.

Despite memory problems, he continued to help with services at St. Peter's Cathedral in Charlottetown and in the parish of Kings County to the end of 2013, always with an eye to his family heritage.

"Bob was committed to preserving the Harris story and legacy," Mr. Graff said. "By doing so, he made a real contribution to Canadian culture."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies