Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead, National Historic Site, in Orwell
by Treva McNally
On a narrow, poplar-canopied road running behind Orwell Corner Pioneer Village in eastern Queens County sits the Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead, a National Historic Site honouring one of PEI’s most accomplished native sons. Surrounded by experimental farmland, Victorian gardens and heritage woods, it is preserved as a tribute to Sir Andrew Macphail.
His accomplishments were many—he and his brother are considered to be the fathers of the seed potato industry on Prince Edward Island for their experiments to improve PEI potato stock; he was the founder and first editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal which he started when he was a professor at McGill University teaching alongside his friends Stephen Leacock and John McCrae; and he was knighted in 1918 by the King for volunteering his services at the age of fifty to set up field hospitals during World War I.
Born in 1864, Macphail was a second generation Scottish settler who grew up with his nine brothers and sisters in this comfortable middle-class 19th century Island farm home. The front doorstep is a seven square foot stone brought here from Nova Scotia by Macphail’s father when they moved to PEI. The family kept sheep for food and wool, and many of the beautiful woven fabrics in the home were created in the weaving room upstairs. Particularly interesting is a hooked memory rug hanging in the dining room, created by a niece to tell Macphail’s life story.
A walk on one of the three trails on the 140-acre property takes you through woods where there are demonstrations of sustainable forestry practices showcasing native trees, shrubs and wild flowers. Watch for the original entrance to the property which is marked by two granite pillars; Macphail rescued them from a burned building on the McGill campus and shipped them to his family home where he spent every summer.
In the summer, a tearoom on the enclosed front porch invites you “to recapture a bygone era with traditional Island food” and throughout the fall, the home opens for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners which are held in the lamplit family dining room. Make a reservation as soon as you see these dinners advertised—they fill up quickly.
The property is a beautiful place to go for a walk in any season but particularly in the fall. There is no admission fee, either for touring the home (which closed near the end of September) or the grounds but donations are welcome.