Back in October 1780, when Charlottetown was naught but a fledgling colonial capital, two of its most prominent citizens made one of the Island's first important contributions to science when they took it upon themselves to make careful observations of an important astronomical event. What was it all about? And why was the data they collected so significant? Check out this week's post on peihistoryguy.com for all the details!
Take a close look at the centre of this 'Make Our Hometown Beautiful' award winner plaque bestowed by the City of Charlottetown. What do you see? A three-masted ship, plow, and sheaf of grain, encircled by 'City of Charlottetown Prince Edward Island' and including 'Incorporated 1855', all of which comes together to form a likeness of the official seal of the Island's capital. When Charlottetown became an incorporated city in 1855, a local artist was called upon to design the emblem still used today. His name? George Godsell Thresher. His story? Check out this week's post on peihistoryguy.com for the details!
If you've ever wandered along Queen Street in downtown Charlottetown, this weathered plaque may have caught your eye. In 1961, the Prince Edward Island Historical Society placed it on the facade of the large brick building that today houses Terre Rouge Bistro Marche and Liquid Gold Olive Oils & Vinegars. Before the Island's capital had much of anything, it had the Crossed Keys Tavern, a multi-purpose public building that supposedly once stood at this very location and where, it is said, the colony's House of Assembly met for the very first time in July 1773. That meeting was a strange affair - one observer even went so far as to dub it a "damned queer parliament". Find out why in this week's post on peihistoryguy.com!
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges - something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!" -- Rudyard Kipling, 'The Explorer' (1898)
Island history is rife with the stories of individuals who left these shores seeking to make their mark - and maybe even their fortunes - in distant lands throughout the world. It was a gamble that proved ruinous for some, while for others it paid dividends. Such was the case for Harvard-educated Dr. George Byron Gordon (1870-1927), whose story begins in New Perth and ends with him ranking among the foremost Canadian-American archaeologists of his day. Think you might want to learn more about this erudite, globetrotting scholar of the ancient world? Check out this week's post on peihistoryguy.com for all the details!
February marks Black History Month in Canada and the United States, a time to celebrate and learn more about black heritage in North America. Over the past three weeks, I've been examining issues relating to the Island's historic black population, referred to as "African-Islanders" or "Black Islanders". Material has centred mostly on the institution of slavery as it once existed here, and so for my last post I decided to take things in a different direction.
What you're looking at is a detail of the west-end portion of Charlottetown as it appeared 136 years ago, culled from Meacham's 1880 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island. Historically, this area, bounded by Euston, Pownal, Richmond, and West streets, was known as the Bog, wherein could be found the highest concentration of African-Islanders in the province. Interested in learning more about the Bog's history? Be sure to check out this week's post over on peihistoryguy.com for all the details, and for additional material pertaining to the Island's black heritage!
Be you Islander or tourist, you've likely taken in a theatrical or musical performance of some sort at the MacKenzie Theatre ('The Mack'), which occupies a prominent place at the corner of Great George and Grafton Charlottetown. But how about during the heyday of its first incarnation, when it was the preeminent motion picture house in the city?
Designed by architects Blanchard and Brennan, with the assistance of craftsmen R.A. Corbett (mason), William Vincent and Abbie Weeks (painters), and Stewart Chandler (carpenter), it was built in 1927 at what was then known as "Beale's Corner". Constructed in brick, it lacked a balcony but featured sloped seating, and an auditorium and orchestra pit designed to complement each other and provide excellent sound throughout. It's heating system was even futuristic for the time and was controlled by a thermostat, believed to be one of the first on the Island.
Dubbed 'The Capitol', the theatre was officially opened on December 5, 1927. It was billed as "the day of days in Charlottetown theatrical circles, when one of the prettiest and most up-to-date exclusive motion picture theatres in Eastern Canada will open its doors to the Charlottetown public". At the helm was F.G. Spencer Co. Ltd. of Saint John, New Brunswick, who already had two such businesses in operation here. The first film played was "The Lone Eagle" at 2PM that afternoon, which catered to a standing-room-only crowd, with continuous screenings into the evening, including the short Our Gang comedy "Love Me, Love My Dog".
The Capitol remained untouched until 1950, when renovations were carried out to install new seating, screen, and lighting, along with improvements to the box office and lobby. Eventually purchased by the Confederation Centre of the Arts thanks in large part to finances acquired through the estate of Dr. Eldon MacKenzie, it was renamed in his honour and the interior renovated once more to its present state. But one thing hasn't changed during this theatre's 89 years (and counting): whether as The Capitol or as The Mack, it has been keeping audiences thoroughly entertained since 1927. Enjoy the show!
Just before the Cape Road in picturesque French River takes you to the mouth of New London Bay, hemmed in by iconic Island potato fields and set against the backdrop of the famed north shore, you'll find this tiny burial ground.
Today it is known as Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery, so named after the family that acquired the land in the 1830s; however, it likely dates from the late 1770s, and contains the graves of some of the earliest settlers in the area, who came to the Island at the behest of Robert Clark. A merchant and Quaker who acquired co-ownership of Lot 21 between 1767-1773, it was his intent to establish a lumber industry and trading centre, in addition to a settlement of "repentant sinners" he dubbed "Elizabethtown", situated within a larger area he coined "New London Village". The latter prospect proved an epic disaster: late in 1775, the 'Elizabeth', arriving with a new crop of settlers, was wrecked offshore, taking with it the supplies needed to sustain the settlement. It put Clark in dire financial straits and he walked away from it all, leaving his settlers to fend for themselves. Today, the only tangible remains of Clark's vision are two cemeteries (one being Sims Field), along with Cape Road, then referred to as "Leadinhall Street" after its namesake in London.
Following a land dispute in 1811, during which time access to Sims Field was temporarily blocked after an irate tenant attempted to turn Leadinhall Street into a private roadway, burials were resumed in 1816 and continued as late as 1843.
As of August 2011, Sims Field Pioneer Cemetery has been a provincially recognized heritage place, and now falls under the jurisdiction of the L.M. Montgomery Land Trust. The group, a non-profit organization established in 1994 to preserve the agricultural landscape of the Island's north shore, scooped up a 55-hectare parcel in French River (the Ash Property) in 2011, within which sits Sims Field, in order to maintain it in keeping with how it would have looked in Montgomery's day. Be sure to check it out the next time you're in the area!
World-renowned Island authoress Lucy Maud Montgomery has made famous a few places in this province. One, of course, is Green Gables National Historic Site, immortalized by the adventures of everyone's favourite redhead, Anne Shirley (that's Anne with an 'e', mind you); another is this tiny, seemingly mundane dwelling in New London.
It's hard to miss, no matter from which direction you approach the intersection of Rtes. 6, 8, and 20 along the Island's North Shore: a white, one-and-a-half storey, gable-roofed vernacular cottage trimmed in green, with a central chimney. It was built c.1874 on a centre hall plan by Island Senator Donald Montgomery (1807-1893) for his son, Hugh John, and daughter-in-law Clara Woolner Macneill. And it was here, on November 30, 1874, that their daughter Lucy Maud was born.
Lucy Maud's time in the house, however, was brief. At just 21 months of age, she lost her mother to tuberculosis. Her father, profoundly affected, sent her to live with her maternal grandparents in nearby Cavendish at the Macneill Homestead. He would later remarry and relocate to Saskatchewan.
As Lucy Maud grew up and set out on the journey that would, after a few twists and turns and a bit of bouncing around, earn her worldwide acclaim as a writer, so to her birthplace never seemed to sit still for long. After her father moved out West, the property changed hands a number of times until it was eventually scooped up by entrepreneur and industrialist K.C. Irving of Saint John, New Brunswick.
In 1964, the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace, as it is now known, was given to the province by Irving in order that it might be put to use as a tourist attraction; the following year, the L.M. Montgomery Act was passed which provided for the "administration, operation, and maintenance" of the house.
Today, the site is run by a volunteer organization, and is open each year from mid May to Thanksgiving. Other than the addition of an ell-shaped kitchen c.1890, and new windows and foundation in 1965, the house has remained relatively untouched and has been lovingly maintained and furnished with many period items and delightful exhibits. Well worth a visit!
Are you a film buff? How about a fan of Island history? And do you like vintage cinema? If you answered Yes to any (or all) of those three questions, then my latest post is for you! Check out the link below for curtains up on the sights of Charlottetown, filmed during the course of Old Home Week in July 1925!
Just off the TransCanada Highway 20 minutes east of Charlottetown, the history-lover has a chance to step back in time and get a taste of the Island's 1890s rural lifestyle. Once a bustling agricultural crossroads and today a historic village (one of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation's seven sites), Orwell Corner sits perched on a plateau overlooking a river and cove of the same name. And nestled in the heart of the village, you'll find D.E. Clarke's General Store.
Now significant in its capacity as a provincially designated heritage place and a stunning example of a rural mercantile establishment, D.E. Clarke's General Store once held an important role as the heart and soul of Orwell Corner in its heyday, occupying a prominent place at the intersection of roads leading to and from Charlottetown and points east. Prior to the store's advent, many groups of people had called the Orwell area home. But it was only in the mid-1800s, when two Irish immigrant brothers of a mercantile bent opened for business at the Corner, that the community really began to take shape.
Dennis E. Clarke and his family had come to the Island in 1856, all the way from County Galway in Ireland. They settled first at nearby Orwell Cove, and in 1864 relocated further inland to Orwell Corner, where Dennis and his brother, Richard, built a general store. Constructed in the Commercial style and set atop a foundation of Island sandstone, boasting large storefront windows and doors, for many years they dispensed a wide array of goods required for day-to-day life. Attached to the store was a sizeable, one-and-a-half-storey, gable-roofed house which became the Clarke family home. Later, the village's post office, and a dressmaker's shop, would also be housed in the building, recreations of which can be seen today.
As more and more people began to flock to the crossroads, additional infrastructure would also be built. But D.E. Clarke's General Store was the hub around which daily life revolved. And although the people have since gone, even today, stepping through the doors one can very much feel an energy from days past, an energy that breathed life into a village.
Located on Rte. 20 in Springbrook, with an enviable view of beautiful New London Bay, sits one of the oldest extant churches on the Island, a church whose namesake is recognized as the "Father of the Presbyterian missions of the South Seas".
Erected c.1836, Geddie Memorial Church was constructed in the Maritime Vernacular "meeting house" style - with neo-classical details - by the hands of its parishioners under the guidance of James Clark: timber was hewn by the men, and the line for the wall plaster was derived from oyster shells burned by the women. Known for nearly three decades as "Anderson's Church" (so named after the family that provided the land on which it was built), it replaced a log structure that had been located on nearby Yankee Hill.
Part of the significance of the church is that it has remained little untouched over the past 180 years; however, its greater significance comes from its association with a pioneering Presbyterian missionary of the mid-19th c.
The Reverend Dr. John Geddie was born in Banffshire, Scotland, in April 1815. His family immigrated to Pictou, Nova Scotia where, at the age of 19, Geddie felt the call to serve. After working in different congregations, Geddie came to the Island in 1838 and was ordained to serve the pastoral charge of Cavendish and New London, based out of Anderson's Church. But although dedicated to his post, Geddie itched for something more.
In 1845, he resigned in order to pursue foreign missionary work. Although it took a bit of convincing, he won over his superiors, becoming as a result the first Canadian Presbyterian foreign missionary. He was sent to the island of Aneityum, New Hebrides (present-day Vanuatu), where he and his family would live for nearly twenty years. During this time, he survived numerous brushes with death, and helped pave the way for other Presbyterian missionaries who followed in his footsteps.
Geddie retired to Australia for health reasons in 1871, and passed away at Geelong in December 1872. Artefacts related to his time as a foreign missionary can be seen on display in the church, such as a cloth sample from the South Seas Islands, and a New Hebridean war club.
Flush to the ground on the North side of Queen Square in Charlottetown, you'll find what is perhaps one of the most understated monuments around. If not for its placement just off a main pathway, this flat slab of sandstone surmounted by a simple plaque would be easy to miss - poignant, given the depths to which its subject has fallen into obscurity.
By 1860, Charlottetown's Queen Square had become a patch of ground resembling a "farmer's pig pen or cow yard". While it might have contained the capital's most important buildings, years of neglect had rendered it rather unsightly. What was needed was someone to spruce it up. That someone was Arthur Newbery.
Born in Siena, Italy in April 1850, Newbery was one of fourteen children born to father John and mother Adela Travilini. They came to the Island about 1860, settling at Rocky Point and then Charlottetown. After receiving his education at Prince of Wales College, Newbery landed the post of Assistant Provincial Secretary-Treasurer, which he held for over fifty years. In 1889, he married Ella Malcolm of Boston, by whom he fathered three daughters.
In May 1884, the Charlottetown Arbor Society celebrated its inaugural Arbor Day with intensive tree planting on the city's five public squares. Each was overseen by a committee, and that of Queen Square was led by Newbery. The day was a smashing success; but for Newbery, it sparked something inside him: a desire to devote his life to the resurrection of Queen Square.
Immediately, Newbery took action. Lacking training as a landscape architect, he hired professionals to help him execute his aesthetic vision. Under his direction, pathways, trees, gardens, and even fountains were laid out, and over many years, he worked tirelessly to raise funds and improve the area. He passed away in June 1930.
Although Newbery's efforts, which garnered him the Imperial Service Order in 1905, only continued to bear fruit as the years wore on, perhaps the most revealing description of just how much he transformed Queen Square comes courtesy of the Saint John Globe, which wrote that: "That desert waste known as Queen Square...has been converted into a thing of beauty - a veritable oasis.
First post of the new year, and a shot no doubt recognizable to many - behold, in all its glory, Point Prim Lighthouse! Built in 1845, this 170-year-old sentinel of the sea sits proudly on a large point of land of the same name that juts into the Northumberland Strait. The Island's first such structure, it is one of only a very small number of round, brick lighthouses in all of Canada.
For such a historic place, it is only fitting that it have an origin story to match. It's a tale of perseverance and triumph, featuring a cast comprising some of the Island's most influential inhabitants including three future Fathers of Confederation. Even the Steam Lion himself, Sir Samuel Cunard, plays a role. If you'd like to know the fascinating details, be sure to check out http://peihistoryguy.com/2015/07/24/point-prim-lights-the-way/ !
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support throughout the past year, and to wish each and every one of you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016! Here's to more PEI history!
Christmas is a time for family, friends, food and festivities, a bit of magic, and perhaps even a miracle or two - and for Charlottetown's Catholic parishioners, 1914 certainly proved no exception.
On March 8, 1913, disaster: the devout of St. Dunstan's Cathedral watch in helpless horror as a blazing inferno tears asunder their place of worship. The stone edifice, begun in 1897 and completed ten years later, was the third Catholic church to be built on the site, located near to Province House on historic Great George Street. The first, a small chapel, had gone up in 1815, followed by a larger wooden structure in 1843, up and moved to make way for something more substantial. And now, six short years later, that something substantial was gutted.
Almost immediately, plans were drawn up for an even larger edifice that would be architecturally stunning, and fire resistant. Helming the project was a relatively unknown architect by the name of John Marshall Hunter, tapped to come to Charlottetown specifically to work on the church. His design was a large Gothic cross fronted by twin spire soaring an imposing 200 feet, supported by a foundation of solid Wallace stone. When all was said and done five years later in 1919, the cathedral (elevated to basilica in 1929 and now a national historic site), was a thing of pure beauty, featuring massive marble columns and vaulted ceilings. It remains little changed.
Although far from complete, work had progressed enough by December 1914 that it was decided to hold Christmas Eve mass in the basement of the new structure. The midnight service was delivered to a standing-room-only crowd, and was front-page news. The setting was described by The Guardian as having the "appearance of sober magnificence eminently befitting the occasion", with a "significant intermingling of patriotic and episcopal emblems...beautifully illuminated by electric light". Even packed into a crowded basement, that Christmas Eve celebration must have been magical for those in attendance, and nothing short of a miracle give the catastrophe nearly two years before. No doubt it was an event fondly remembered long after.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
A grand point of curiosity, and perhaps one of the most popular photo-ops on the Island - for both locals and tourists alike - can be found at 45 Park Roadway just southwest of the Lt. Governor's residence in Charlottetown.
Known colloquially as "The Cannons", the Prince Edward Battery, or Fort Edward, was built over 200 years ago in 1805. Britain was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), and as a British colony, the Island feared that it ran the risk of being invaded. Although it would never come to pass, the fear stemmed in part from an invasion that did take place in November 1775 during the American Revolution, when two privateering vessels out of Massachusetts laid anchor at an unfortified Charlottetown, raided the capital, and kidnapped the colony's acting Governor and its Chief Surveyor.
From its inception in 1805 until 1864, Fort Edward was under the command of British regular forces garrisoned in the city, whereupon it was given over to the Charlottetown Volunteer Militia Artillery. While its guns were never used in actual defence of Charlottetown, they were greatly relied upon for ceremonial functions, and to train militia units, a few of which proved to be some of the best in the country, winning numerous prizes throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Presently, the site consists of three long, 32 lb. mounted muzzle-loading smooth bores which date from 1866 along with three mounted muzzle-loading rifled guns dating from 1901, in addition to others which lay prone on the ground. In 1882, the placement of the guns was switched from embrasures a "sunken barbette" in which they were fired from over a parapet (since reversed). The powder house was erected sometime before 1868.
Over the course of the 20th century, Fort Edward slowly fell into disuse until it became nought but a relic of the Victoria Park landscape. In 2001, reconstruction was begun in a bid to restore the site to its former glory, the result of which was formally unveiled in 2005 by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in honour of Charlottetown's 150th anniversary of incorporation, and coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the fort's construction.
For nearly 200 years, one of Charlottetown's most desirable properties has been this one-and-a-half-storey dwelling, and grounds, situated at 238 Pownal Street.
Built c.1825 in the Regency style, it was first the residence of then Colonial Secretary John Edward Carmichael (c.1790-1828). Carmichael had come to the Island as a lieutenant with the 104th Foot sometime before 1813, which is when Gov. Charles Douglass Smith appointed him as his private secretary, in addition to Receiver General of quit rents. In 1814, Carmichael married Smith's daughter, Frederica, and in 1819 was named Colonial Secretary, Registrar, and Clerk of the Council.
Unfortunately, Carmichael would not live to enjoy his new house for very long. Upon his premature death in 1828, the property was leased by Chief Justice Edward Jarvis until 1830, when it was sold to Charlottetown's most prominent physician and surgeon, Dr. John Mackieson.
Born in 1795 in Scotland, Mackieson came to the Island in 1821. He married Matilda Brecken in 1830, whereupon they took up residence in Carmichael's former house - for over fifty years.
Throughout his career, Mackieson donned many caps. His most significant role, however, was as the medical superintendent of the Island's first lunatic asylum, which opened in Charlottetown in 1848. It was a capacity in which he would serve for 26 years, and it would ultimately prove his undoing.
The asylum quickly became overcrowded and fell into disrepair, and although he did his best to treat his patients, Mackieson's pleas for proper resources largely fell on deaf ears. In July 1874, he was forced to resign his position amid controversy when both he and the asylum's keeper, Richard Gidley, were indicted for misfeasance, and the asylum itself was shut down. Mackieson passed away in 1885.
Today, the Carmichael-Mackieson house, as it is now known, is one of Charlottetown's oldest houses. Set back from the street, it occupies an enviable landscape, and is a stunning example of the Regency style favoured here between 1820 and 1840. Recently, the property has been put up for sale - if you find yourself in the market, here's your chance to own a unique piece of Island history!
Nature versus nurture: are we shaped by the genes we inherit? Or the environment in which we live? Perhaps it's a bit of both.
In May 1924, the first of four sons born to Barney McCluskey and Bessie Gormley was brought into this world. Called after his uncle, Tom McCluskey grew up on lower Dorchester Street in Charlottetown's east end, which at that time was such a hard-nosed locale that it had earned the name Hell Street. But it bred some very talented boxers.
Tom was born into a boxing dynasty: both his father and his uncle were fighters of no small renown on the Island; however, it was Tom and his brothers (Wilf, Louis, and Bernard) that would take the family's reputation to new heights as the Fighting McCluskeys.
Known as Young Tom in the ring, McCluskey was a diminutive 137lbs. (on average), and stood at only 5'7.6" - but despite his stature, he still proved a tour de force. Beginning in October 1937 at the age of 13, he went on to an undefeated 35-bout career that took him across the Maritimes and New England (for many years, he held the record for fastest knockout in New England history). McCluskey joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a stoker during WWII but kept up his boxing all the same, and in 1942 he won the welterweight championship of the Maritime Atlantic Fleet, the youngest to ever do so; however, a skull fracture during the course of his service would cut short his career in the ring in March 1948 at just 24.
McCluskey would go on to have enormous success as a trainer, and as a manager for a slew of fighters, with many going on to win prestigious titles. In 1982, he was named Trainer of the Year by the Canadian Boxing Federation and, along with his brothers, was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in June 1999. Some believe him to have been the most talented to ever come out of the province. He passed away in February 2012, aged 87.
Recently, the PEI Brewing Company has honoured the accomplishments of an Island boxing legend with a limited edition doppelbock by the name of Hell Street, which bears on its label a likeness of "Young Tom" McCluskey, fists at the ready - and at 8.1%, it may be just as likely to knock you off your feet.
You've heard of such notable "bell"-ebrities as the Liberty Bell, Old Tom, and Big Ben - but have you heard of Big Donald?
Cast in 1875 by William Blake & Co. (formerly H.W. Hooper & Co. of Boston, MA), Big Donald was so named in honour of Donald MacKinnon. A successful tanner, MacKinnon operated the Brighton Tannery, and built the beautiful, brick behemoth at the corner of Brighton and Ambrose in Charlottetown; however, in his spare time he served as chief of the city's volunteer fire department, from 1875 to 1880.
Now a monument, for many years Big Donald played a key role in the city's firefighting arsenal. Charlottetown's ability to fight fires had come a long way; however, prior to his advent, the task of sounding the alarm had fallen on the shoulders of the Town Crier and word of mouth, which hardly ever proved efficient. But Big Donald would remedy this shortcoming.
Big Donald's first home was the belfry of the city's third market house (the Butcher Market House), built in 1867 on the western portion of Queen's Square. His lofty perch was constructed in 1876, where he rang out until he was removed to present-day City Hall, completed in 1888, which also housed a new fire station.
Big Donald hasn't been without his injuries over the years. He first cracked in 1877 and was sent away to be recast (although returned a bit smaller, as the company was trying to save itself money). He then cracked a second time, and after ringing out on February 20, 1884, completely fell to pieces and had to be recast again. Despite all this, today he looks no worse for wear.
In 1952, after 76 years of service, Big Donald pealed his last and was replaced by an air horn. He continued to hang in the bell tower of City Hall until July 1966, when he was taken down and mounted on Kent Street. On August 7, Natal Day, he was formally unveiled by mayor and council in commemoration of the 111th anniversary of Charlottetown's first municipal election in 1855.
In closing, and to paraphrase the words of John Donne: "Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls/It tolls for...FIRE!"