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Folk & Heritage Centre

by Treva McNally

The paintings of A.L. Morrison illustrate the history of Prince Edward Island so well that in1980 his book, My Island Pictures, was in every grade 6 classroom on Prince Edward Island accompanying the course in Island history. This beautifully illustrated book contains thirty-five full-colour reproductions of his work, and next to each painting is a story describing the event or scene in the picture. A self-taught artist, his folk art illustrates everyday life, happenings, and events.

Alfred Morrison was born in 1908 to fifth generation Island parents who were working in Boston at the time of his birth. With the onset of the Great Depression, he could no longer afford to continue his university education in the United States, and he moved to Prince Edward Island to be with his family who had returned many years ago to their Island home. He settled in, married an Island girl, and began a lifetime of farming in Pleasant Grove. Morrison loved Prince Edward Island and over his lifetime painted more than eighty scenes of Island life. On the back cover of My Island Pictures, he states: “To paint a commendable picture, one must have Love for the subject matter being dealt with. Pictures of Prince Edward Island are therefore easy to paint. Everyone loves Prince Edward Island, unless they come from a better place; that would have to be Heaven.”

His work is highly regarded and has been the subject of shows in the Confederation Centre Gallery in1980 and again in 2000. Accompanying the show in 2000 was a second book of his paintings, The Narrative Landscapes of A.L. Morrison, compiled by Shauna McCabe. He is known internationally and last year, his work was displayed at Morehouse State University in Kentucky as part of an exhibit of the folk art of North America.

As beautiful as his work is, it cannot be found in private collections or galleries because he didn’t offer any of his paintings for sale. Instead, the originals were given to family members and were only seen by the public as reproduced in books. This decision, while affecting his financial worth as a painter, has made it possible for his son, Chick Morrison, to gather all his works from various family members to mount a permanent exhibit at the new Morrison Folk Art and Heritage Centre in Bonshaw. This venture has been a labour of love for Morrison, who built and has just opened the attractive two-story structure overlooking the beautiful Strathgartney area. Visible from the Trans Canada Highway, it contains a gallery housing the complete works of A.L Morrison as well as an artist’s work area and a gift shop. Chick Morrison hopes it will become a stop for school students studying history, and for visitors and residents alike who want to visit 20th century P.E.I. as represented by the paintings of his father. The paintings are still not for sale, but they are now permanently on display for everyone to see.


New interpretive facility in Mount Stewart nears completion

by Treva McNally

The Eco-Centre in Mount Stewart at the convergance of the Convederation Trail, Tracadie Trail and Pigot TrailMount Stewart is situated on the Hillsborough River, surrounded by brooks filled with trout, a wildlife management area home to over fifty eagles, and wetlands where migrating waterfowl visit each fall. The Confederation Trail, the Tracadie Trail, and the Pigot Trail all converge here so it is fitting that the residents are building an Eco-Centre to interpret and celebrate the marvelous location of their town. In 2000 a volunteer committee began exploring the concept, and the tall shingled building in the centre of town is the result of all their hard work. Barb MacDonald chairs the Interpretive Committee and Earl Affleck chairs the Building Committee and the two of them, along with many others, have put in long hours to make the vision a reality.

The Eco-Centre, with its beautiful open ceiling of B.C. cedar beams, is scheduled to open the beginning of July. Located on the Confederation Trail just across the street from the Trailside Café, it provides a view of the historic Hillsborough River which visitors can enjoy from the second story observation area. An innovative design uses hot water from the ground for heat in winter and air conditioning in the summer, eliminating the need for a furnace. A window from the old Mount Stewart Railway Station, donated by Mount Stewart native Bruce Pigot, has been inserted into an interior wall and links the new building to Mount Stewart’s past.

The highlight of the building will be its interpretative area where historians have combined artifacts of the area with a series of interpretive panels in English, French and Mic’maq telling about the history of Mount Stewart. This part of the Island was once home to some of the first Acadians settlers, including the Gauthiers who settled in Mount Stewart before moving to Rustico, and some early Acadian dikes can still be found along the river. Another group with strong ties to this Hillsborough River region are the Mic’maq and their contribution will also be recognized.

Designed to be a community building, it will be home to the town library, an office for Ducks Unlimited, and a retail space for Glenroy Fine Furniture. Prominent on the first floor is a mini theatre where the Discovery Channel’s video of the Hillsborough River will be shown to visitors, and this space will also be available to the Library and other community groups who wish to use is. Other amenities include washrooms for Trail users, a gift shop for visitors, and some floating boat wharfs for adventurers who want to canoe or kayak from Charlottetown.

In July 2003, 2500 people used the Confederation Trail passing through Mount Stewart, and a further 4800 visited in August. Already blessed with natural features for outdoor enthusiasts, the town will now provide more reasons to visit and make Mount Stewart a destination area for nature lovers.

Province House

by Treva McNally

At the foot of University Avenue sits an imposing, yet unpretentious, neoclassical building which dominates the downtown core of Charlottetown. It is the symbol of the downtown area on the city signs and is regularly shown on television whenever politicians are interviewed. The building is Province House, steeped in history and still in operation as the provincial legislature. When architect Isaac Smith designed and built it between 1843 and 1847, Province House was the pride of Charlottetown and the primary building in the capital, housing the office of the Lieutenant Governor, both Houses of Parliament, the Supreme Court and the tax office. (The grooves worn in the stone floor by the hobnail boots of farmers coming in to pay their taxes are still very noticeable on the first floor.)

No matter how much a person tries, it is hard to believe that events that are happening today will eventually be in the history books. So it is with the story of Province House. The view from University Avenue is actually the back entrance. The front doors open to Great George Street where over one hundred and thirty-five years ago, representatives of Upper and Lower Canada walked up the street from their ship in the harbour to invite themselves to a meeting about Maritime Union.

The prize-winning video presented by Parks Canada at the beginning of a tour is titled “The Great Dream” and tells the story of that first meeting of the Fathers of Confederation here in Charlottetown. There were no minutes taken and no decisions reached, and to the citizens of the day, it must have been seen as an example of politicians living high on lobster and champagne. However, the men who were to become known as the Fathers of Confederation spent that week getting to know each other, and it led to their sharing a vision of one country from sea to sea to sea.

Viewing this film with visitors from western Canada and Europe, I was impressed with the importance of our local history and the impact it has had on the whole country. After listening to Parks Canada staff speak so passionately about the building and its importance to Islanders and Canadians, I realized I could never look at the building the same way again.

This National Historic Site belongs to the people of Prince Edward Island, and Parks Canada staff are there to interpret its history. It is open year round and there is no admission charge, so if you haven’t visited it before, or if you haven’t been there lately, why not drop in, see the film, and listen to Parks Canada staff tell you about Charlottetown’s most important building. It will remind you how great Charlottetown’s contribution has been to the history of Canada and give you another reason to be glad you live on Prince Edward Island.

The Eptek Centre

by Treva McNally

Eptek  Art and Culture Centre in SummersideThe Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside is part of a complex which includes the beautiful Jubilee Theatre and the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame. Approaching the Eptek entrance, the first thing you see are beautiful stained glass pictures hanging in the windows. Created by Muriel Lanque, they were donated to the Centre in her memory in 1994 and this donation is symbolic of Eptek Centre’s connection with the citizens of Summerside.

Nearly every display in the facility reflects its Summerside location. The foyer is hung with a sixty year retrospective of paintings by Summerside artist Georgie Read Barton. The corridor adjoining the Centre to the Jubilee Theatre has a permanent display of the history of Summerside, serving as a reminder that it was once the world capital of the fox industry, the largest exporter of potatoes in the province, and the home of the world famous Malpeque oysters. In February, Eptek hosted a temporary exhibition featuring a selection of photographs assembled by parishioners of St. Paul’s Church for its 150th anniversary.

The main exhibit this winter is Isle of Contentment, a beautifully mounted exhibit highlighting the story of the Scots who are the ancestors of more than 50 % of Islanders. Curator Boyd Beck used dark-stained hinged pine doors as a backdrop for information panels and for the artifacts which include a millstone brought to the Island by a Lord Selkirk settler. A painting of the MacDonald Lassie is prominently displayed alongside a portrait of the founder of MacDonald Tobacco, William Christopher MacDonald, whose grandfather led the first large emigration of Catholic Highlanders to P.E.I. Island Tartan is used generously throughout the display which will become a traveling exhibit after it leaves Eptek near the end of March.

The next exhibit, from March 25 until April 21, will feature the Summerside Art Club and the Ladyslipper Rug Hookers. Following that, the Centre will host the Arts Acadie to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Acadians, featuring visual arts and crafts from the permanent collection of Museum and Heritage P.E.I. as well as art work and hand crafted pieces from local contemporary Acadian artists and artisans.

The Eptek Centre receives strong support from the Friends of Eptek. For nearly twenty years, they have been running a weekly lunchtime film series which regularly attracts more that 75 people. The Friends have also raised enough money to buy the Centre a grand piano which has allowed Royal Conservatory of Toronto examiners to test Summerside area music students in their own community.

The staff of this little jewel on the waterfront is justifiably proud of its ability to support both the arts and the community. Eptek Art and Culture Centre is open daily in the summer and is closed Saturday and Monday in the winter.

Museé Acadien

by Treva McNally

Just a few miles past Summerside on the All Weather Highway in Miscouche is the Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island. This large modern building was constructed in1992, but the Museum was created many years earlier by a group of Island Acadians who wanted to preserve their heritage. 2004 marks both the 40th anniversary of the Museum and the 400th anniversary of the first Acadian colony in Canada, and a special exhibit this spring will commemorate this heritage which began with the arrival of the Acadians to Prince Edward Island in 1720.

A visit begins with a 17-minute video, available in either French or English, telling the story of the Acadians on P.E.I. Currently, Islanders of Acadian ancestry make up 25% of the Island population. The video ends with the credits rolling over a performance by the recently disbanded group, Barachois, who were the unofficial ambassadors for Island Acadians for many years.

Several exhibits highlight the Acadians belief in the co-op system. A grain bank (get 4 bushels of grain in the spring and pay back 5 bushels in the fall) and the Farmers Bank in Rustico are two examples from the 1800s which show how the Acadians worked together to survive. Another exhibit features Stanislaus F. Perry, the first Acadian elected to the Island legislature as well as the first Acadian elected to the House of Commons. A collection of early farm implements is testimony to the foresight of a Mont-Carmel priest who, in 1912, asked his parishioners to gather up their old unused farm tools which he then stored in the church steeple for more than 50 years until there was a museum to house them.

The Museum is very proud of a sculpture, L’acadiens, which represents an Acadian family during the deportation of the French in the 1700s. It was created by Quebec artist Louis Philippe Hebert in 1908 and was owned by a Montreal man who phoned Miscouche one day to determine if it was actually an Acadian Museum. Assured that it was, he then asked if he could donate a sculpture and they enthusiastically said yes, even though they were not sure exactly what they were receiving. This beautiful gift is now prominently displayed.

This winter the Museum hired its first archivist, Jean Bernard. The Museum houses many Island Acadian Church records prior to1900 as well as copies of the 1881, 1891 and 1901 Canadian census for the Egmont Bay area. Bernard is computerizing a data bank with this information and encourages people to research their Acadian and West Prince roots here.

The Acadian Museum is open year round, Monday to Friday 9­5 and Sunday 1­4 with longer hours in the summer. There is no admission during the winter; after April15, the fee will be $3.50 for adults and $1.75 for students. Call 432-2881 for more information.

Bideford Parsonage

by Treva McNally

Bideford Parsonage Not far from Lennox Island, in eastern Prince County, is the Bideford Parsonage Museum. One reason for its historical fame is that Lucy Maude Montgomery lived there in 1894­95 while at her first teaching post at the Bideford School, but if that was all this beautifully restored home could lay claim to, it is possible that it might not have become a Provincially Designated Historical Home.

Built by Thomas H. Pope in 1878 for his residence, it was later purchased by the local Methodist church for its parsonage and later became the manse for the United Church. This historic home and museum has three focuses: the era of shipbuilding in Bideford (the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum is just down the road); the residency of L.M. Montgomery and her contribution to the recorded history of Bideford and area; and the importance of the church and its parsons to the local community.

It was lovingly restored by the determined members of the West Country Historical Society following an attempt several years ago by a tourist attraction in Cavendish to acquire it and move it. At that time, the home had been the recipient of many well-intentioned “improvements.” A photography display shows the home as it was before the restoration, and a comparison of then to now is impressive. The restoration involved removal of the woodwork, carpet, an enclosed porch, a brick fireplace, the hardwood floors, and the bathroom; closing off of several doorways; stripping off ten layers of wallpaper; the replacement of the windows by the woodworking class at Westisle Composite High School; rebuilding a picket fence along the whole perimeter of the property; and repainting the home inside and out in historic colours.

Great care was taken to return the home to its original state, although the Historical Society made one concession to modernity by building a bathroom in the back porch where the privy had been. Curator Shelley Campbell and summer guide Scott Smith proudly showed me through the home, furnished with donated furniture from the era, including an organ similar to the one Montgomery played with “dismal fear” when she was the substitute organist at the Methodist Church. Upstairs, Scott pointed out the view from the front window which Montgomery wrote about in her diary.

The Parsonage holds “An Evening with L.M. Montgomery” weekly throughout the summer, hosts an Annual Strawberry Social the last Sunday of July and a Victorian Christmas in December. The home is open daily from June till September. For more information, call 902-831-3133.

Social Prominence

by Treva McNally

Across from the provincial government offices, just where the boardwalk begins at Victoria Park, a large, golden yellow Victorian home dominates the street scape. This elegant residence is Beaconsfield Historic House, one of the most interesting homes in Charlottetown.

In 1877, when wealthy businessman James Peake wanted a prestigious home for his young family, he chose one of the most attractive locations in the city overlooking the harbour. William Critchlow Harris was commissioned to design the 25 room home which is decorated with elaborate gingerbread trim and topped with a mansard roof and a belvedere. It had imported chandeliers and hand-made tiles, central heating, gas lighting, and eight fireplaces. At a time when the average annual salary was $300 and a comfortable middle-class home could be built for $1000, it cost $50,000. It was described as the most luxurious and expensive private residences on the Island.

The Peakes were from socially prominent families. James was the son of wealthy shipowner and his wife Edith was the daughter of a Father of Confederation, Lieutenant Governor T. H. Haviland. When Queen Victoria's daughter and her husband visited PEI in 1879, Fanningbank was undergoing renovations so the Peakes were asked to host a dinner party in their honour at Beaconsfield. It was the social event of the year.

Within five years, the economy crashed and with it the finances of the Peakes. Edith and James were forced to leave their home, and Henry Cundall, the mortgage holder, reluctantly moved in with his two unmarried sisters when he was unable to sell it. Cundall died in 1916 and willed the home “as a refuge and temporary home for friendless young women.” The Cundall Home was used as a residence for women working in Charlottetown or attending Prince of Wales College. From 1935 to 1970, the house was the residence for student nurses at the old P.E.I. Hospital. In 1972, the Heritage Foundation purchased the property and in 1973, it was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II as the foundation's headquarters.

Today, this beautiful house has been restored to the grandeur it had when it was James and Edith Peake's home. It is open to the public year round for tours. A highlight of the year is December when the home and carriage house are decorated for Christmas with Victorian themes. Beaconsfield is open for tours from 1 to 4 pm on December 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28. Admission is by donation.

MIlitary History

by Treva McNally

The militia has a long history on PEI beginning in 1780 when the Island’s first Militia Act was passed. It has been through many changes since then before emerging as the Prince Edward Island Regiment, a reserve unit based at the Queen Charlotte Armoury at the west end of Water Street in Charlottetown. Outside the Armoury, a vintage tank and armoured vehicle are on display; inside is the Prince Edward Island Regiment Museum where artifacts from a long military history are carefully preserved.

You will be disappointed if you expect to see displays of weaponry. This museum reflects the men and women of Prince Edward Island who served in Canada’s military, and gives a sense of life in Canada during wartime. A framed display features Christmas cards from 1916 reflecting patriotic themes and soldiers’ sentiments about being away from home; a Star Weekly cover from World War II shows a man in uniform with an admiring female; and posters ask everyone to buy War Savings Stamps, Certificates, and Victory Bonds.

Some marvelous uniforms are on display, such as the 1930 PEI Light Horse Mess Dress Uniform made of red and gold serge with a white leather helmet topped with red and gold plumes. Another is the North Nova Scotia Highlander dress uniform complete with bagpipes, sporran and beautiful pin which holds the tartan sash in place. The walls are filled with displays of military insignia, badges, and gleaming brass buttons, including a Canadian Officer Training Corp badge from St. Dunstan’s College which later became part of the University of Prince Edward Island.

The story of the Regiment is, in some ways, the story of PEI. The first depiction of trees as the symbol of the province appear on an etched breast plate from the early 1800s worn by members of the P.E.I. Volunteer Militia. One of the few pieces of weaponry in the museum is an 1807 six pound field gun which looks like a small cannon. It was shipped to PEI in 1812 from England to be used for local defense but was used by the Post Master on ships bringing the Royal Mail to PEI from Pictou, NS to signal residents that the mail had arrived.

The Regiment Museum has made the best use possible of all available space to display its treasures which go right up to the ceiling and cover every wall. It is well worth a visit—for many older visitors, it will be a walk down memory lane; for younger visitors, it will give a better sense of why Canadians observe Remembrance Day.

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