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Mitt Romney Family History in Canada
Hannah Romney
Great Grandmother to Mitt Romney, was
born on the outskirts of Toronto
Mitt Romney
Hannah Romney
with her first 5 children. The child in her
arms is George Romney, Mitt's grandfather

WASHINGTON—If you peel Mitt Romney, layer by elusive layer, the family lore leads to places you might least expect.

All the way to 19th-century Upper Canada, where Romney’s great-grandmother Hannah Hood Hill was born in July 1842.

From the outskirts of Toronto — home was little-known Tosorontio, north of the Caledon Hills, a bit northwest of present-day Tottenham — Hannah went on to be the Romney family matriarch.

A woman of rare beauty, steely determination and great endurance, it was said. Among her epic journeys, Hannah famously guided her children by covered wagon from Utah to exile in Mexico — an Ontario-born mother alone with the kids, pushing through blizzards, hub-deep mud and an Apache gauntlet laid down by Geronimo himself.

You can’t help but think Romney, the candidate, might be sparing a thought for his great-grandparents — Hannah and her husband, Miles Romney — with his own journey to the presidency hanging in the balance this week in Florida.

For all his establishment backing, campaign infrastructure and super-PAC riches, the former Massachusetts governor just doesn’t seem to know which Mitt Romney he needs to be to become the Republican nominee.

But as he pushes back against the audacious insurgency of Newt Gingrich ahead of next Tuesday’s Florida primary, he could do worse than look back on the saga of Hannah and Miles.

Plenty is known about the couple and their towering roles in the annals of Romney. But more is emerging each day, in books such as The Real Romney (Harper) by Boston Globe investigative reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman.

Billed as the “definitive, unflinching biography,” the book describes Hannah as a calm, grounding foil to a high-strung husband who sounds almost Gingrich-ly unpredictable.

Miles, who bore the Romney family trademark of “a long face and high forehead,” was “blustery and imposing.”

“One family member described him as ‘emotionally high strung’ and prone to issuing ‘scathing denunciations’ against those who disagreed with him,” Kranish and Helman write.

“In contrast to Miles’s fiery temperament, Hannah was hard to ruffle, a calm yet firm influence.”

How Hannah and Miles got together is a saga in itself. The Ontario of Hannah’s birth was in foment, still riven by the jealousies and anti-Tory sentiments of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.

In the midst of this Hannah’s parents, Archibald and Isabella, Scottish immigrants to Upper Canada, fell under the sway of a Mormon church then in its infancy. They joined — and with Hannah still in diapers, pulled up stakes and made their way to Nauvoo, Ill., the ill-fated colony founded by the faith’s messianic founder, Joseph Smith.

Smith was murdered in Nauvoo. But the Romney and Hill families followed his successor, “Mormon Moses” Brigham Young, in the great migration to Utah.

It was there that Young asked to meet young Miles Romney, then 18, and instructed him to “marry as soon as possible.”

Miles, it turns out, was already in love with 19-year-old Hannah. They wed in May 1862 at Salt Lake City’s Endowment House, where Mormon rituals were conducted.

Hannah bore Miles 10 children, including candidate Romney’s grandfather Gaskell. And in her own autobiographical account, she “walked the floor and shed tears of sorrow” when Miles embarked on plural marriage, taking four additional wives.

Hannah’s sense of religious duty outweighed her anguish over sharing her husband. In 1886, with U.S. antipolygamy laws bearing down, she followed Miles into exile in Mexico. She recalled the warnings of a close friend, Brother Pace, as follows:

“‘Sister Romney, aren’t you crazy starting out on this journey with your small children? Did you know that Geronimo, the renegade Apache chief, is on the warpath?’

“I told him I guessed I wasn’t afraid of crazy people so I would have to start on this journey and trust in our Heavenly Father to see us to the end.”

Fast-forward 126 years from that journey and one wonders what nature, nurture and DNA leave for Mitt Romney. Has he been channelling his inner Hannah all this time — calm, unexcitable (even when things go pear-shaped), yet built for the long haul?

Or is there a little of the blustery Miles in him after all, an as-yet-untapped well of emotion that’s ready to fight Gingrich’s fire with fire of his own?

Toronto Star article:

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