TORONTO – Twice-married former Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker — always believed to have been childless — may have fathered not one but two sons, leaving progeny scattered across the country, The Canadian Press has learned.
It’s a labyrinthine tale of adoptions, broken and reconstituted families whose quest to uncover their roots turned up “Dief” as a common thread, with a gold locket and DNA tests lending credence to their stories.
About 10 years ago, in Western Canada, the three Goertzen siblings began searching for their biological father, Ed Thorne, who had split from their mom four decades earlier.
Stan Goertzen, 52, a retired 32-year member of the Saskatoon police service, found Thorne in Kamloops, B.C. He made a startling discovery.
“He says, ‘Oh, and my biological family has found me, too’,” Goertzen said of Thorne, who died soon after.
“That’s the first time I found out he was adopted.”
Separately and coincidentally, Ruthann Malmgren, now of Rockyford, Alta., had also been looking for Thorne on behalf of her mother, Mary Rosa LaMarche, who years earlier had given him up for adoption.
LaMarche had been Diefenbaker’s housekeeper in Prince Albert, Sask., in the late 1930s, Malmgren said.
At the time, Diefenbaker was having marital difficulties, according to Simma Holt’s biography of his first wife, Edna Diefenbaker. His eye apparently rested on his housekeeper, whom Malmgren described as “free and easy.”
In 1938, LaMarche fell pregnant and was promptly sent to Bethany Home in Saskatoon. Little John was born in February 1939. His birth certificate did not list a father.
Malmgren, 70, remembers her parents were forever fighting. Her dad would say the baby was Diefenbaker’s. He would be angry his wife wore a locket with photos of herself and the infant — a locket Stan Goertzen now has.
“I overheard my father, George Malmgren, when he and my mom were arguing, saying that John Diefenbaker was my mother’s employer, and I guess they had an affair,” Malmgren said.
The baby, John Eric LaMarche, was adopted and renamed Edward Thorne.
Mary Rosa LaMarche, who died about 18 years ago, never did find her son again. Malmgren did.
She tracked Thorne down to Kamloops and, through him, connected with Stan Goertzen around 2003. She told him his biological father, Ed Thorne, was Diefenbaker’s son.
“I laughed my tail off,” Goertzen said. “I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’.”
Content with having found their dad, the Goertzens, who were raised largely on welfare in Prince Albert, didn’t give the apparent connection to Canada’s 13th prime minister much further thought.
One question, however, nagged at the youngest Goertzen brother, Lawrence, who long had doubts about whether Thorne really was his biological father.
Enter George Dryden, 45, who grew up in a Toronto family of privilege only to discover a few years ago that the man who raised him — prominent federal Liberal Gordon Dryden — was not his father.
That revelation prompted Dryden to go on a well publicized quest to confirm long-time family whispers: that he was the product of an affair between his mother, Mary Lou Dryden, and Diefenbaker, a known confidante.
Dryden, who bears a strong resemblance to the former Conservative prime minister, believes previous genetic matching with a known Diefenbaker relative proved the family connection to his satisfaction.
Back in Ostler, Sask., Lawrence Goertzen saw a chance both to confirm whether Thorne was really his dad and to check on the link to Diefenbaker, who led the country from 1957 to 1963 and who died in 1979.
“I got hold of George Dryden and said, ‘Can we kill two birds with one stone?’” said Lawrence Goertzen, 48, who does aircraft repairs at Saskatoon’s John G. Diefenbaker airport.
Stan and Lawrence Goertzen sent body samples to a DNA lab. So did Dryden.
“I was really expecting the test to be negative,” Dryden said, “And that would be the end of it.”
The result this month stunned them all.
“We’re talking about 99.99 per cent probability that they are related,” said Kyle Tsui at Toronto-based Accu-Metrics, which did the tests.
“This is the expected result for an uncle-nephew relationship.”
For Lawrence Goertzen, the DNA test confirmed that Stan and third sibling Darrell are his full brothers and ended doubts that Ed Thorne was his father.
Discovering the connection to Dryden halfway across the country — with Diefenbaker apparently the key link — was almost unbelievable.
“What are the chances?” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Dryden called the test a “very nice surprise, an early Christmas present.”
“I got a feeling there might be Diefenbabies running around all over the place,” Dryden said.
Stan Goertzen considers his search now over.
“It’s like any other Canadian family that might be looking for this type of closure or your roots: I can go back and tell my kids that yeah, grandpa was adopted but we know where he came from,” he said.
“The only thing that makes this unusual or unique is the fact that Diefenbaker’s name has come into the whole picture.”