Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, played a giant role in the creation of the nation.
It was here, at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, that discussions on the subject of union were held by representatives of the colonies of British North America. The often heated debate formed the basis of agreement that resulted in Confederation of the colonies to form the Dominion of Canada.
Most of the debate took place in Province House, located in the centre of Charlottetown. This imposing Georgian building had served as the legislative assembly of the colony of Prince Edward Island since 1847. The imposing stone building, designed by the self-trained architect Isaac Smith from Yorkshire, is an excellent example of the recreation of the latest style of British architecture in North America. So important is the building both for its form and for what transpired in it that it was designated a Nation Historical Site in 1966 on the eve of Canada’s Centennial Year.
In the summer months guided tours of Province House are offered by costumed guides who eagerly explain the building and the events surrounding the Charlottetown Conference. One of the stories they will relate concerns the complete lack of interest by the residents of Charlottetown in the important goings on in Province House in September of 1864. A circus in town at the time was much more interesting to the populace than political wrangling. The harbour officials had declared a holiday for themselves and were not on hand to greet and assist the delegates to the conference as they disembarked on the wharf.
When darkness falls on summer evenings the rear of Province House on Victoria Row is illuminated with a free, informative sound and light experience. The show, replete with interesting graphics, traces the early history of Prince Edward Island and the role Province House played in the unfolding drama of events in the city, the province and Canada in the 19th century.
Be sure to take a walk down Victoria Row. At the intersection of the pedestrian street and Queen Street, right in front of the Anne of Green Gables Store, you can sit on a bronze bench and chat with your companion, a life size bronze Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.
Sir John A. Macdonald, in this sculptural manifestation is unusually mute for a politician. To find out what he was like and how important he was in the founding of Canada walk back down Victoria Row to Great George Street. Walk down Great George Street to the harbour at Peake’s Quay and off to the left you will see Founder’s Hall – Canada’s Birthplace Pavilion.
In Founder’s Hall you can follow a time travel tunnel which will transport you back to 1864, the year of the Charlottetown Conference. From this beginning a multimedia display celebrates the growing pains of the new nation of Canada and the history of its people.
Founder’s Hall has all of the services expected in a museum. A restaurant with a spectacular view of the harbour and boutique are sure to please. While in Charlottetown be sure to walk along the well-marked city trail and boardwalk that connects most of the waterfront of the city. Along this trail you will pass by fine Victorian houses. Just off the path is Beaconsfield Historic House which is open to the public. It was the home of a local shipping magnate, James Peake Jr. A tour of the house gives a picture of how the wealthy lived in 19th century Prince Edward Island.