DNA leaves Diefenbaker Jr. riddle unsolved

Test results a disappointment for Toronto man

A Toronto man’s quest to determine whether he is the son of John Diefenbaker has hit a roadblock, as DNA tests failed to prove he is the offspring of Canada’s 13th prime minister.

The findings are a setback for George Dryden, who has been led to believe by family members that Diefenbaker is his biological father. But he said he’s not giving up.

“It’s more a frustration than anything,” Dryden said in an interview. “This DNA company we used is famous for getting DNA from dinosaur fossils and from lost tribes. But we’re going to take steps to follow other leads.”

Dryden, 43, had pinned his hopes to tests on samples from the Diefenbaker Canada Centre, a museum and educational centre in Saskatoon, Sask. which has a number of the late PM’s personal articles.

Testers from Warnex PRO-DNA took 10 samples from a variety of items at the centre, including hatbands, a wristwatch band and the stem of a pipe. In the end, though, only the handle of a clothes brush yielded high enough quality DNA for analysis.

Dryden tested negative against a sample of male DNA found there. But then things got complicated. The handle showed DNA from more than one person, so lab staff cannot be sure the sample in question came from Diefenbaker. In other words, they can’t say Dryden is not the former PM’s son.

All of which leaves George Dryden in limbo.

He had established in August through DNA testing that he is not the child of Gordon Dryden, the man George grew up believing was his father, who also happened to be the long-time treasurer of the Liberal Party of Canada.

And Diefenbaker was his only solid lead. Before marrying Gordon, Dryden’s mother Mary Lou was active in the Progressive Conservative Party and was seen at public functions at Diefenbaker’s side. Members of her family told George last year they’ve long suspected Diefenbaker is his father.

George Dryden's mother, Mary Lou, with John Diefenbaker. (National Film Board, CBC)

The result could also affect a civil suit George has launched against members of his own family, alleging that Gordon mistreated him and connived to keep family wealth out of his hands because he knew George was not his son.

In late November, a Superior Court of Ontario judge ruled the case cannot go ahead, but George has appealed.

Dryden says he will pursue other means of determining his parentage in the meantime, including gaining access to his mother so he can ask her once and for all who his father is.

Mary Lou is frail, and has been living at a long-term care facility in Toronto. But Gordon Dryden has power of attorney over her care, and has ordered staff to keep George away from her.

Dryden also hopes to persuade living relatives of the late PM to consent to tests. He has even heard there are other people who suspect Diefenbaker may have fathered them, and will try to make contact with them, too.

As it stands, Diefenbaker has no confirmed offspring. He had no children by either of his two wives, and died in 1979.

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