So, as you read yesterday (or not) you know that these posts are by my mum. She left us behind and went off on a Road Scholar trip to Prince Edward Island (PEI). Here’s day two…
On my way into Charlottetown from the airport, my cab driver and I talked about the importance of agriculture and tourism to Island economy. Located on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Island depends upon the sea. Agriculture, fishing, and tourism make up the backbone of the PEI economy today. But, with an ample supply of timber and demand for ships in the early 1800s, PEI became a center for shipbuilding.
Fortunes were made and lost as the shipbuilding industry waxed and waned. That brings us back to Beaconsfield House, the beautiful estate where Mary and I paused on our way to the boardwalk along Victoria Park.
On the way, Susan (our guide) took us for a walking tour along Kent Street past St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral, the smallest cathedral in Canada. Standing next to it is All Soul’s Chapel designed by William Critchlow Harris and built of island sandstone. Mary and I looked in later in the week when we had some free time. Inside, it is decorated with murals by the artist Robert Harris, brother of William.
At Beaconhouse, we met Boyde Beck, Beck is a curator with the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and was our Instructor for the week. If you ever have a chance to attend a lecture he is giving, jump at it. Beck knows how to weave historical fact and down to earth story together to make history come alive.
Beaconsfield is another PEI landmark designed by William Critchlow Harris. It was built for the shipbuilder James Peake Jr. and his wife Edith Haviland Peake, daughter of the prominent lawyer and politician Thomas H. Haviland.
Beaconsfield was completed in 1877, two years before Haviland became Lieutenant Governor of PEI. It was easily the most splendid and expensive house in the city, featuring every modern convenience, including gas lighting and running water. Beaconsfield was the site of many elegant events. Among the notable guests entertained there was the Marchioness of Lorne, Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. Sadly, when the ship building industry declined and nobody could afford to buy Beaconsfield the Peaks lost it along with their fortune. The house reverted to the mortgage holder, Henry Cundall,
who lived there with his sisters rather than see the house fall into ruin.
We stood under a tree at Beaconsfield looking out at Hillsborough Bay while Beck told us about the house’s tragic history and how Cundall, who had no heirs, wanted the house to be a residence for “friendless young women” studying at the teacher training college nearby. It later became a residence for third year nurses in training. Beck showed us the spot across the street where the nurses threw their old black shoes when they qualified to wear white—not quite throwing ones mortar board into the air, but an equally important ritual, I imagine. Now the site is mostly an asphalt parking lot and tidal rush-filled pond, but Beck wonders what kind of surprise will be in store for the archeologist who unknowingly digs there sometime in the faraway future to find thousands of bits of old shoes.
Overlooking the boardwalk and the bay is Government House. Government House is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island, personal representative of the Canadian monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II . Don’t plan on being invited in for an overnight stay unless you are part of the royal family—then I think they have a spot for you on the second floor.
Named Epekwitk by the Mi’kmaq First Nation people, the island was renamed Isle St-Jean by the French and St. John’s after the British took it. In the late 1700s it was renamed in honor of Prince Edward, father of Queen Victoria and younger brother of King George III. Along Victoria Park one can still visit the remains of Fort Edward with its cannons, one of the most photographed sites in Victoria Park.
Later in the day, Beck took us to Province House where the Charlottetown Conference first met in September 1864 to discuss federal union. As the birthplace of Confederation, it is a site important to Canada as a nation as well as to the Island. The building is being restored (I think that means deferred maintenance has its limits) so we were not able to go inside.
It houses the PEI Provincial Legislature. Dominating Queen’s Square, Province House offers a view of the historic Great George Street all the way to the harbor.
We headed toward Confederation Landing, where the ship landed carrying delegates to the historic meeting at Province House, pausing by St. Dustan’s Basilica. St. Dustan’s is an example of the High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture of many of the historic buildings in the city. Nearby, St. Paul’s Anglican church, the first protestant church in the city, is another William Critchlow Harris building. It is distinctive in its use of Island sandstone.
From there, we explored the harbor. In September and October the city receives cruise ships giving a last boost to the tourist season before Canadian Thanksgiving, the second Monday of October, when the first breath of winter usually begins to hit. Two ships were in. After some time to visit Confederation Landing Park, we ate at one of the restaurants on Peak’s Wharf.
Our full day of PEI history was a great beginning. It left me feeling like I’d had starters to a much more bountiful meal. We were focused on the European settlement. The earlier history of the Mi’kmaq First Nation People was alluded to as we went along.
I looked online after I got home to see what I could find out about the Mi’kmaq. Legend tells how Kluskap created Epekwitk (PEI) on the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and slept on its sandy shores, waking to devote his time to protection of the island. The Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island was established in April 2002 to educate and provide resources to the Mi’kmaq community. The website notes that establishment of the Confederacy is analogous to Kluskap’s awakening. The Mi’kmaq website includes legends, stories and resources as well as current events.
Coming up: a visit to Anne of Green Gables country.