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.