Maclean’s has been following George Dryden’s search for a familial connection to John Diefenbaker for over a year. For more on how Dryden obtained DNA that links him to the late prime minister’s extended family, his mother’s relationship with Diefenbaker, and the political intrigue behind the saga, read the current issue of Maclean’s magazine, on newsstands tomorrow.
A Toronto man who believes he is the son of John Diefenbaker now has a persuasive piece of evidence to back his claim, Macleans.ca has learned: DNA analysis indicating that he is related to the late prime minister’s family.
Last Tuesday, George Dryden received results from a DNA lab that compared his genetic profile to that of an unidentified male member of Diefenbaker’s extended family who lives in southern Ontario. The relative’s sample came from a discarded Q-tip, which was obtained without consent by a private investigator experienced in paternity cases. It was then sent to directly to a Toronto firm where DNA analysts identified “genetic overlap” pointing to common ancestry.
“There is a familial linkage,” Harvey Tenenbaum, president of Accu-Metrics, told Maclean’s for a story appearing in this week’s issue of the magazine. “I can’t say what it is, but it’s more than just strangers passing in the street.”
Tenenbaum cautioned that the results don’t definitively prove that 43-year-old Dryden was fathered by Diefenbaker, who was married twice and had no children by either of his wives. Dryden “could be fifth cousins” with the man from whom the sample was obtained, Tenenbaum said, adding: “You’d really need a sample from John Diefenbaker, or a member of his immediate family, to do an accurate comparison.”
Still, the finding marks a huge stride forward for Dryden, who has tried in vain to obtain a definitive test against DNA that belonged to Canada’s 13th prime minister, who died in 1979. Previous tests of cells gathered from personal articles that once belonged to the former PM, now stored at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre in Saskatoon, Sask., came back inconclusive.
Dryden did test negative last winter against a sample of male DNA gleaned from the handle of a clothes brush that belonged to Diefenbaker. But the handle appeared to have been used by more than one person, so no one could be sure whether the DNA analyzed was, in fact, the late PM’s.
Dryden refused to give up. Last spring, with the help of a professional geneaologist, he tracked down more than a dozen members of an eastern branch of the Diefenbaker’s family residing mostly in the Kitchener-Waterloo area (they spell the name “Diefenbacher”). The other branch of the family which arrived in Canada from Baden, Germany in the early 1800s, died out with the Tory icon.
When none of those contacted were willing to provide DNA samples, Dryden enlisted Al Duncan, a retired detective who served with the Toronto police internal affairs unit, and who now runs a private investigation firm.
Duncan wouldn’t say which member of the Diefenbackers used the Q-tip, or how his investigators obtained it. But he did tell Maclean’s that his firm, Toronto P.I. is well-practised in identifying and gathering court-worthy evidence. “We bag it, we initial it, we photograph it, we seal it up with tamper-proof tape,” he said. “We maintain control of it at all times, and we take it directly to the lab ourselves.”
The team will take samples from garbage bins, Duncan acknowledged, but only if they believe they can link the items with reasonable probability to a specific individual. He would not say whether the swab came from a trash container.
Whatever the source, Dryden was elated by the results. “As far as I’m concerned, this proves it,” he said in an interview. “I’m John Diefenbaker’s son. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot more that I can do.”
Dryden acknowledged the remote chance that the genetic co-mingling revealed by the test had nothing to do with Diefenbaker. His family and that of the unwitting donor have lived in the same region of the country, after all, for more than a century. But Dryden believes the more likely explanation arises from his mother Mary Lou’s well-known friendship with the Saskatchewan politician, dating back to her time as a Progressive Conservative youth leader in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
The two were seen together at public events and Dryden believes their relationship continued even after Mary Lou married Gordon Dryden, a senior figure in the federal Liberal Party, in 1967. Dryden was conceived three and a-half months after their wedding, but a DNA test performed last year proved that Gordon Dryden is not George’s biological father. Mary Lou told friends she named her boy John George after the former PM. “The chances of the two families intermingling in any other way is very remote,” Dryden said.
The findings are certainly the closest he’s come to proving his theory, which has suffered from a lack of useable evidence. Last week, the Diefenbaker Centre announced that staff had discovered cuttings from thought to have been clipped from the former prime minister when he was a child. But the hairs, Dryden has been told, do not have the root cells necessary for analysts need to obtain a DNA sample.