Lunedi Lunacy


Perhaps its the sultry weather, perhaps it’s living near a port – yes I know it’s only cruise ships but it is still a port so get over it! Perhaps it is a whiff of nostalgia but I’m in the mood for one of those French cinema noir classics. You know the sort where Jean Gabin was Pépé le Moko (above) or Jean-Paul Belmondo romanced Catherine Deneuve or Simone Signoret smouldered in a seedy cafe – all in black and white.  So I did a YouTube search and here’s what it came up with based on my “preferences”:

I really have to wonder what’s up with the YouTube search engine??  Well Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner…..  guess that’s almost as good as Gabin, Belmondo, and Signoret.

On this day in 1624: The French king Louis XIII appoints Cardinal Richelieu as prime minister.


Mercoledi Musicale

The First Fruits of the Season

Recently the Guardian ran a piece on the late Irish playwright Brian Friel and it brought to mind two of his plays that I have always loved:  Philadelphia Here I Come and Dancing at Lughnasa.  Both plays brim over with a sense of longing, wit, despair, humour, and sadness that it seems to me only Irish writers such as Sean O’Casey, Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchey, Frank McGuinness,  and Edna O’Brien* seem to be able to catch without being maudlin or tin-pan alley faux-Irish sentimental.   As I flashed back to a remarkable production of Dancing at Lughnasa that played Ottawa back in the mid-1990s I tried to remember when exactly that old pagan feast was celebrated only to discover that is today:  August 1.


Lugh is associated with skill, the arts, crafts, law, oaths and truth.

Falling half way between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox, Lughnasa is the last of the four festivals of the Old Celtic Ways.  It is named after the god Lugh who is said to have instituted the festival as a harvest feast and funeral games for his foster mother Tailtiu.  Legend says she died from exhaustion after having cleared the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

It was the day that the harvest of the spring planting were celebrated with ritual ceremonies, athletic games, feasting, festive markets and dancing.  It was also the time for proclaiming laws and settling legal disputes, drawing-up contracts, and the proclaiming of marriages. As happened so often with the old feast, in Christian times it morphed into Lammas Day with many of the same observances and customs.

I searched for music to celebrate the day with dancing in memory of Friel’s Mundy sisters.  In trying to avoid the pseudo-Celtic new-age kitsch of Enya or Lorrena Mckennitt so beloved in health spas, I came across this piece by Hymir’s Kettle played on an Irish bouzouki.  Though the instrument may not be authentic to the Old Times the tune is certainly one to set the feet tapping and the spirit, if not the body, dancing to give thanks to the god Lugh for seizing a bountiful harvest for us and his foster mother Tailtiu for clearing the land.

And once we catch our breath it only leaves for me to wish that your harvest be abundant and your dancing be abandoned.

*To name but a few.

On this day in 1893: Henry Perky patents shredded wheat.

Lunedi Lunacy

A day late so let’s call it Martedi Mirth

Perhaps this was the occasion of the infamous g-string incident.

That great musicologist Professor Peter Schickele has devoted much of his life to researching and unearthing details of the justly buried life and works of P. D. Q. Bach.  In one of his lectures (?) he refers to a bunch of the boys in Leipzig sitting around one night jamming a hot session of trio sonatas when the g-string on the violin broke.  P. D. G. Bach, who was know for his elaborate hair styles, took a hair from his wig and replaced the broken string.  Which according to the good Prof was the first time that “Bach’s hair had been used for a g-string.”  Hey he’s the expert and that’s what he said, I don’t make these things up.

This young gentleman doesn’t have a wig but he does have several g-strings on which he plays P. D. Q.’s illustrious father’s famous air.

On this day in 1703: Daniel Defoe is placed in a pillory for the crime of seditious libel after publishing a politically satirical pamphlet, but is pelted with flowers.

On This Island

A Visit to Orwell Corner Historic Village – Part II

Education on the Island
George Coles (1810-1875): brewer, distiller, merchant, farmer, first premier of PEI.

I’ve heard George Coles referred to as PEI’s greatest premier and a brief look into his life would suggest it may be an honest assessment.  He was a member of the elected House of Assembly under the Colonial government and became the first premier when the Island won responsible government in 1851.   He was present at both the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences in 1864; however the resolutions didn’t address the Land Question he advocated for a “No” vote on joining the Confederation of 1867.  He was a tireless crusader for a settlement to the Land Question and an advocate for a system of free education for the Island.

In the first half of the 1800s the education system on the Island was in a precarious state.  Teachers’ wages were poor and often went unpaid which had an effect on both the quality and the availability of education in smaller communities.  By 1851 the public had grown disenchanted with the state of education in the colony and began to push the government for reform.  Coles himself had little formal education and his activism on behalf of free education for all was linked to the Land Question and what he saw as exploitation of the illiterate tenant farmers by the land owners.  Typically many tenants were forced into binding leasing agreements, the subtitles of which they could not possibly understand.

In 1851 the the Assembly received 56 public petitions: fifty-three supporting free public education and three decrying taxation to support such a system.  On March 18, 1852, the Free Education Act was passed in the House of Assembly by a tally of 16 in favour and 3 against. It was quickly ratified by the Legislative Council and was given royal assent by the Lieutenant Governor on April 3rd.  By 1854 enrolment in Island  schools had doubled.

The Schoolhouse – Orwell Corners

Outside Charlottetown most of the schools were the one or two room buildings that Lucy Maud Montgomery writes about in her Anne books.  The school in Orwell opened in 1895 and is one of the best school master J. S. O’Neil taught grades one through ten.  Though he was hired by the local school trustees his salary was paid by the Colonial government.  The building replaced previous buildings including a crude log structure from 1825.

As well as the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic – the curriculum including some Latin, British and Island history, geography, and perhaps some French.  The practical sciences of botany and biology were considered important in farming communities and were often simply reinforcing what was learned in the fields and the barns.  Amongst the objects on the “show and tell table” at the Orwell Schoolhouse was a sample of a branch of every kind of tree found in the neighbourhood.  Memory work for younger pupils was important as writing materials were at a premium and the luxury of slates was the privilege of the older students. Many students left school after grade 8 to learn a trade or work the family farm however a good many went on to college and university.

School at Canoe Cove PEI – Robert Harris
Not as well known as his Meeting of the School Trustees this watercolour by Harris captures the traditional one room school house of the 1900s.
Confederation Centre Art Gallery

School was held year around except for a two or three week period when the children were needed for planting or harvesting.  In the winter the community, who were responsible for maintaining the building, supplied firewood and an older student would be charged with tending to the pot-bellied stove each morning.

The schoolhouse in Orwell Corners was in use until 1969 when school consolidation forced its closure.  For over 75 years it had served the needs of the community and its young scholars.

Much of this information came from the very well-informed docent who welcomed us to the school house on our visit.  As well a paper on 1850s PEI by Marlene Campbell for Culture Summerside provided an interesting overview of life in rural PEI at the time and education in particular.

The Community Hall

After the church and school house the Community hall was the most important building in the settlement.  It was the centre of social and often times political life: concerts and box lunch socials were got up to raise money, matches were made and courting was done at dances, local and provincial affairs were debated and settled (or not) at public meetings.


The original Orwell Community Hall burned down in the 1950s and was replaced by the present structure in the 1970s.  As well as being a feature of the Historic Village during the summer it stills serves the community year round as a social centre.  Next time we’re there we’ll stop in for a chicken salad sandwich and lemonade or maybe a scone and tea prepared by the ladies of the parish.


Next we’ll head over to Clarke’s General Store and see what new fripperies and gee-gaws Mr Clarke has in stock.  And while we’re there we may want to pay a visit to Mrs Eliza Latrobe in her rooms on the second floor.  She’s sure to have the last words in millinery and fashion in her pattern books.  They come all the way from Boston!

On this day in 1754: The first recorded women’s cricket match takes place near Guildford, England.

On This Island

A Visit to Orwell Corner Historic Village – Part I

Now the good weather is here (finally) we’re getting out and about the Island a bit more than in the previous few months. We’ve made several visits to the Sir Andrew MacPhail Homestead in the Orwell area in the past two years and written about them here. However we’ve never stopped over at the Orwell Corner Historic Village just at the turn-off to the Homestead at the Trans-Canada Highway. That was remedied two  weekends ago when we made the 30 minute trip over for a Strawberry Social in aid of the restoration of Stanley/Lindsey House.  Located at Orwell Corners, agood mile away from the Homestead, it had served as a – very commodious – guest house for Sir Andrew’s visitors (he would not countenance overnight guests at the Homestead ).  As well as giving us a peak into the proposed work it gave us the opportunity to spend a little time at the Village itself.

A Little Bit of Island History

I do not claim to be an expert on the history of PEI so I would ask any of my Island readers to feel free to comment on any corrections or inaccuracies so they may be righted.

A plan of the island of St. John by Samuel Holland with the divisions of the counties, parishes, & the lots as granted by government, likewise the soundings round the coast and harbours, published by Andrew Dury, 1775
Image Credit: Boston Public Library

In his 1766 survey of what was then known as St John’s Island Samuel Holland undertook the mammoth task of charting the Island. He divided it into three counties of roughly 500,000 acres (2,000 km²): Prince, Queens, and Kings. Each county had a “royalty” or shire town.  The counties were subdivided into parishes (for the Church of England) of 100,000 acres (400 km²): Prince and Queens Counties had five parishes and being smaller Kings County had four. Each parish was further subdivided into roughly 20,000 acre (80 km²) townships or “lots”. On July 1, 1767 a lottery was held in London for 64 of the 67 lots: most went to wealthy friends of the Crown and Government of the day. The resulting years of absentee landlords and the attempts by settlers to gain title to the land they worked and lived on is a well known story to every school child here.  The struggle to free the island of leasehold tenure was a long and complex one but by the 1880s had been accomplished.

Orwell Corner
A defaced map of the village of Orwell as it appeared in 1880 – many of the original buildings are still there and have been lovingly restored.  The village sat at a crossroads on the boundaries of Lot 50 and Lot 57.

In that 1776 survey Holland named the area after the British Minister of Plantations Sir Francis Orwell.  By the early 1800s the area had been settled by Irish and Scots immigrants and British Loyalists from the United States.  Orwell Corner Historic Village is an actual farm settlement from the period with most of the buildings left intact and in situ. In TripAdvisor comments several people suggest allotting plenty of time to explore and they bemoan the fact that they hadn’t. We echo that sentiment twofold. After exploring the Stanley/Lindsey property, having our strawberries and ice cream and chatting with the volunteers we only had an hour or two to wander around the grounds before closing time. Which means we will be back to take in the Blacksmith Shop, the Farm, Shingle Mill, PEI Agricultural Heritage Museum and maybe enjoy a glass of lemonade and an egg salad sandwich at the Community Hall.

As was typical of many farm villages Orwell Corner was located at a crossroads.  Heading west the dirt road led to nearby Vernon and onward to Charlottetown.  To the north was the MacPhail estate and the small community of Uigg; to the east east was the settlement of Kinross; and a short journey in a southerly direction took you to Orwell Cove.  At Brush Wharf you could catch one of the inland steamers that provided regular passenger and cargo service to the Capital.  And on occasion they provided the means for a day-trip to picnic and explore settlements along the coast. In his fascinating blog Sailstrait PEI historian and sailor Harry Holman writes an account of such a trip from Charlottetown to Orwell Cove.

Orwell Presbyterian Church

With the number of Scots immigrants who settled there the presence of a Presbyterian church in the area was a given.  In the first days of the settlement worshippers would go to nearby Belfast for services.  However by the 1860s the growth in population led to the construction of the Orwell Presbyterian Church.  The exterior with its arched lancet windows and decorative tracery is a valuable example of the Gothic Revival style.  The adjacent cemetery dates from 1884 and is still used by local families today.

Though by 1861 they had their own house of worship Orwell shared their minister with the Belfast congregation.  At the time this practice was not uncommon with many faiths on the Island and seems to be the case in parishes today.  Reflecting the Scottish heritage of the congregants services were conducted in Gaelic and English well into the 20th century.

The land for the church was donated by Peter Nicholson and the community donated material and their labour.  Martin Martin, from Grandview, supervised the building in the Gothic Revival style favoured for many churches at the time.  Initially no provision was made for musical accompaniment and psalms were sung a cappella following the lead of a percentor.  In 1892 an addition was built to accommodate a choir platform and organ.

The interior (recently refurbished to reflect how it would have looked in 1930) has the simplicity that would be expected in a Presbyterian church.  However the splendid woodwork on the pulpit and table as well as the ceiling prevents it from looking cold or severe.

In 1925 the Orwell congregation voted to join the United Church of Canada, the movement to bring together the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational Union and several regional evangelical churches. Of the 4,509 Presbyterian congregations in Canada only 302 chose to remain as the Presbyterian Church of Canada. In the late 1960s nine of the smaller United churches in the region amalgamated and moved their centre of worship to St Andrew’s in Vernon Bridge. Services were discontinued at Orwell and it was decommissioned in 1978.

Across the red dirt road from the church was a building of equal importance in any farm settlement: the school house.  In the next few days I’ll be telling a bit about it and the community hall.  And afterwards we’ll drop into Clark’s General Store for a chaw of tobacco and the fat.

On this day in 1901: O. Henry is released from prison in Columbus, Ohio, after serving three years for embezzlement from a bank.