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Historic MacNaught house in Summerside now open as history centre and archives for Wyatt Heritage Properties

by C.J. Veach

The MacNaught History Centre and Archives opened recently in Summerside and, in the coming months, hopes to highlight the fascinating cultural heritage of the area.

Located at 75 Spring Street, the MacNaught house is part of the Wyatt Heritage Properties, which also include the Lefurgey Cultural Centre and the J.E. Wyatt House.

Archivist, Faye Pound explained the purpose of the History Centre: "The house is the administrative and curatorial headquarters for the staff of Wyatt Heritage Properties and home to the historical archives and genealogical research centre."

Built in 1887 by John Clay, the house was last inhabited by J. Watson MacNaught, who become the first Islander to serve as the Solicitor General of Canada. The house would eventually be purchased by Wanda Wyatt shortly before her death, and sold to the city of Summerside as part of the Wyatt Heritage Properties for one dollar.

"Wanda Wyatt had a keen interest in preservation of things both environmental and historical," Pound noted. "She wanted her money to serve heritage by donating these properties and she included a capital fund for building upgrades."

Now the house serves as an ideal setting for researching community and family history. "We have for the first time outside the Public Archives, the master name index, and it is an ideal beginning place for research or to find out more about a particular heritage property or personal history," stated Pound.

As well as offering a research station, MacNaught House displays many maps, books, photographs and manuscripts on the area and Prince County. Paintings and sketches of long departed edifices add to the strong sense of nostalgia present in the meticulously restored building.

"People are very curious about what Summerside looked like in the days of horse and cart and here they can get a glimpse of that era," said Pound. "People love to connect with history on a local level."

MacNaught House also serves now as the starting place for two different walking tours through historic Summerside.

"We're very fortunate to have one of the highest concentrations of heritage buildings in the Maritimes, along with Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. And we've been able to manage this without a specific heritage bylaw," Pound said. "We hope to foster a sense of appreciation and pride for these buildings by telling their stories about the lives lived in them."

To that end the MacNaught house is displaying "Family Circles"-a pictorial and written history of the eight families who have lived in the three Wyatt Heritage Properties.

Tapping into the growing "cultural tourist" market, the J. E. Wyatt House next door will open this spring as a museum to complement the Lefurgey Cultural Centre and the MacNaught History Centre.

"The trend in tourism is moving toward older people, travelling without children, and possessing a high level of education," observed Pound. "What they will want to find coming here is what is indigenous to Summerside, what is the history of the area. We offer a genuine look into that history and are looking forward to serving that market."

But for now the MacNaught House is open to the public Tuesday through Friday 10 am to 4 pm and Wednesday evenings 7 pm to 9 pm.

Top: MacNaught House at 75 Spring Street in Summerside.
Bottom: J. Watson MacNaught, former Solicitor Gerneral of Canada

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