Mercoledi Musicale

One of the first things I noticed was the tremendous wealth of musical and theatrical talent on the Island.  When Marlee, Evan, and I were putting together a 1920s cabaret for the PEI Symphony Orchestra fundraiser we had a wide array of performers and styles we could approach.  We ended up with an eclectic programme of performers reflecting the diversity of entertainers here in PEI.

Max Keenlyside

The evening began with Ben Aitken at the piano as folks gathered, ordered their Mary Pickfords (a very potent little 1920s cocktail), and perused the auction offerings.  The Cabaret was compèred by Peter Bevan Baker, the leader of the Green Party in our Legislature.  Later on in the evening he multi-tasked and played trumpet in The Little Big Band that provided dance music for the evening.  But first our line up: Katie Kerr – a well-know musical comedy performer, Brendan Howard Roy – a young singer on his way up, Lewis and Peters – a comedy duo on stilts (yes I said stilts!), a talented trio of ladies from the Charlottetown Burlesque (yep we have a Burlesque troupe here on PEI), the Charlottetown Swing dancers, and the young man in the picture to the right  – Max Keenlyside.

Max Keenlyside is a multi-talented performer: ragtime pianist and composer as well a piano restorer.  In this clip he performs the original version of Scott Joplin‘s The Ragtime Dance on a 1927 Mathias Schulz piano which he has recently acquired.  As a surprise during the stop-time section he switches between the Schulz and a 1850s Kirkman upright that he has restored.

Keenlyside also transcribes music – often from audio recordings, old piano rolls, or old manuscripts.  The Silver Swan is the only Scott Joplin piece that was issued on a piano roll rather than in music notation.   Max transcribed it from an original 1914 piano roll and also wrote an historical analysis of this late and until recently disputed Joplin piece.  He plays it on a restored Woodward & Brown square grand piano built in 1851 – a good half century before Joplin composed the piece.   The sheet music shown in the video is another of his projects:  Engraving musical scores in the classic style of old publishing houses.

As I said we have a wealth of talent here on the Island.

On this day in 1971: Having weakened after making landfall in Nicaragua the previous day, Hurricane Irene regains enough strength to be renamed Hurricane Olivia, making it the first known hurricane to cross from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific.

On The Waterfront

Originally posted on Sailstrait:
In recent years the residents of Charlottetown have become accustomed to the seasonal visits of cruise ships emptying their hundreds or thousands of passengers on a city hungry to sell meals, tours and Anne of Green Gables effigies. While this may seem to be a recent phenomena the first visit of…

It has been a busy cruise season here in Charlottetown and being a block away from the dock and cruise terminal we have seen most of them arrive and depart.  Our Nora, and lately Nicky, have met a fair number of visitors and had their photos taken numerous times.   There had even been talk of getting Nora a little straw hat and red braids but frankly she doesn’t need any accoutrements to make her lovable or appealing.

This year there are 82 ships scheduled into port with the majority (43) between September 1 and the final arrival on October 28.  Due to the new speed restrictions in the Gulf and Hurricane season in the south 11 calls have been cancelled but it still leaves us with a record 71 visits.   The largest will be the Disney Magic at 300m but the Crown Princess carries more passengers – 3080 – and crew – 1201.  The very last arrival on October 28 is the Victory I, the smallest  at 87.27m carrying 210 passengers and 90 crew, though slightly bigger the Pearl Mist has accommodation for the same number of passengers but 20 less crew.  These last two spend most of the summer cruising the Great Lakes from Chicago to Toronto and back. Holland America leads the pack with a total of 43 dockings over the season with their Veendam visiting port 18 times and the Maasdam on 16 occasions.

Most cruise ships arrived around 0800-0900 and leave at 1700 – a few like the Celebrity Summit leave after nightfall. It made me feel a bit like the townspeople in one of my favourite movies: Fellini’s Amarcord.

2017 has been heralded as the biggest cruise ship season yet however Harry Holman over at Sailstrait takes us back to June of 1913 and reminds us that the first cruise ship glided into harbour over a century ago:


In recent years the residents of Charlottetown have become accustomed to the seasonal visits of cruise ships emptying their hundreds or thousands of passengers on a city hungry to sell meals, tours and Anne of Green Gables effigies. While this may seem to be a recent phenomena the first visit of a purpose-built cruise ship to the port took place more than a century ago.
There had been earlier vessels fitted out for winter cruising but their chief role was as passenger and freight carriers and the cruising role was incidental. The Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’sNorthumberlandwas one of the first in the Florida-Bermuda trade with its freight deck temporarily fitted with partitions to create additional cabins and several of the Plant Line Steamers such as the S.S. Halifax and Olivette had winter charters in the Caribbean Sea when ice ended their seasonal work as the Boston Boat.


View original post 800 more words

The Piano in the Park

The walkway leading to the Confederation  Landing gardens and the Hillsborough River with the Park on the left and Peake’s Quay on the right.

It’s strange that you can pass something on a daily basis and not really think much about it.  Case in point the brightly painted upright piano in the open bandstand at Confederation Landing.  Nora and I pass it almost every day – except when it rains – on our walks (more about them later in the week) but it was only this past few days that I have paid it any mind.  Normally all that is heard from it are random series of jarring notes and cords.  Sometimes it bears a passing resemblance to chopsticks but more often it is just a series of random bangings by some five year old to the feigned delight of an exhausted parent.


But as we walked by it Sunday morning there was a young lad sitting on the log stool and playing a Chopin waltz.  Any imperfects in the sound drifting over the bricked walk were the result of the badly tuned piano and not the talent of the young player.   A glorious sunny morning,  a cool breeze from the Straits, and Chopin on the piano.  Talk about your idyllic existence – but lest we get all sentimental there was also Nora staining at the leash and barking at another dog.

100 years ago, Canada produced beautiful pianos. Now we send them to the dump.

Later that morning the radio was tuned, as it is every Sunday, to The Sunday Edition on CBC.  Though I have many bones to pick with our national broadcaster’s sloppy web reporting it is still unsurpassed in it’s radio documentaries and interviews – particularly those on weekend radio.  Being as it is summer the August 20th edition was a mixture of new items and some repeats.  New were an interview with Leonard Zeskind on the Rise of White Supremacy in the U.S., astronomer Don Hladiuk on the Magic of Witnessing an Eclipse, and a study of our obsession with Stuff.  Then two repeats from earlier in the year: a  thoughtful essay on dealing with dying, and the sad fate of the upright piano in modern times.

The last reminded me of that colourful upright in the bandstand and how it had been saved from the fate that Willow Yamauchi described in End Notes*.


Our Landing piano is an new addition to life on the waterfront and was the brain child of David Sheppard.   In an item on the CBC** he expressed the hope that more “public pianos” will appear around town.

I haven’t discovered the history of this old upright other than what is indicated in the CBC article.  It is identified as a Mendelssohn which means it was made in Canada by one of the leading manufacturers of pianos in the early 1900s.  The company was formed by Henry Durke and David Best by amalgamating a failed piano company and Best’s piano string and hammer factory.  Durke  prided himself on producing a moderately priced piano and advertised it in the Canadian Music Trades Journal as “made in Canada, by Canadian workmen, for use in Canadian homes.”  Between 1900 and it’s acquisition by the Bell Piano and Organ Company of Guelph Mendelssohn produced 25,000 pianos.  Perhaps our bandstand upright was one of that 25,000.

*A right click will take you to the full documentary.

**And another right click will give you some of the background on our “public piano”.

On this day in 1849: The first air raid in history. Austria launches pilotless balloons against the city of Venice.

Off The Wall

In a recent posting Laurent wrote of our little adventure to Point Prim and the Orwell area in the western end of Queens County.  By word of explanation the Island is divided into three counties:  Prince in the West, Queens (where we live in Charlottetown) in the Centre, and Kings in the East.  Our original destination had simply been Point Prim which is a pleasant 30 minutes drive along the Points East Coastal Drive – or the Trans Canada Highway*.   On our way out we noticed a sign directing the traveller to The Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead so on the way back, having had a hearty lunch of Portuguese chowder (shrimp, halibut, chorizo in a spicy tomato broth) at the Chowder Shack, we decided to investigate the good Island worthy’s birthplace and residence.

Laurent writes in some detail about both Point Prim, the Macphail Homestead and Sir Andrew himself at:  Some Surprises on PEI.

The Macphail Homestead looking towards the house from the Aboretum.

Sir Andrew’s father William was born in Nairn, Inverness, Scottland in 1828 and immigrated with his parents to Cape Breton in 1830.  On the voyage he and his family survived a shipwreck which left them with nothing but a book and a spinning wheel to begin their new life in the Colonies.  He moved to PEI in 1844 and married Catherine Moore Smith.  He purchased a 100 acre farm near Orwell and they moved there in 1864.  He became the schoolmaster at nearby Uigg and later became Inspector of Schools and then Supervisor of the Hospital for the Insane.

As so often happens there was one little detail in the house that caught my attention in the very interesting tour given by a very charming young lady.  She is currently studying music at UPEI and said that when she first saw this house she was struck by the unique tools that Sir Andrew’s father William used to teach music during his years as schoolmaster at nearby Uigg.

In all probability when William and Catherine moved into the small** Fletcher homestead they did some redecorating which including changing the wallpaper.  Supplies were often limited and it took a long time for things to be brought in from the mainland so everything was used.  But what do you do with rolls of leftover wallpaper?   Why you write music on the reverse, of course.  Or at least that’s what William did.

The hymn tune Kilmarnock has been written out on the reverse of this sheet of wallpaper.  A pencilled inscription dates this particular scroll to “Valleyfield Jany 13, 1881”.

William taught music at his schools and in churches and community centres across the Island.  Paper wasn’t easily come by and the large sheets of leftover wallpaper were perfect for the classroom.  He hand-wrote the texts, mostly hymns and psalms, in black ink and for uniformity, ink-printed the notes with a carved cork.  Amongst the surviving 17 scrolls are  Kilmarnock, Gethsemane, and Brown – all well-known hymn tunes of the time.  Other music – sacred and secular – was composed by Mr Macphail himself.

(A click on the hymn titles will take you to YouTube videos of each of the melodies being played.  Unfortunately I was not able to find a version of Brown (Bradbury) – or at least nothing labelled as that.)


As well as revealing Macphail’s unique method of teaching music the wallpaper also gives a possible hint of how the rooms of the Homestead were papered in those early years.  The scroll mounted on the wall was printed on a roll of blue/green and ochre small block print on a white background.  The rolls were handed down to the family by Sir Andrew’s sister Catherine.

In 2006 Nancy Whytock transcribed all the music from the scrolls and they have been performed and there has been talk of a studio recording.


*Yes the Trans Canada Highway comes over to the Island – don’t question it.  Just accept it as fact.

**Though it was a 100 acre property the original house is extremely small and it’s difficult to imagine that eventually 13 people lived there – William and Catherine, William’s mother, and ten children.

On this day in 1984: “We begin bombing in five minutes“: United States President Ronald Reagan, while running for re-election, jokes while preparing to make his weekly Saturday address on National Public Radio.

Get Me to the Church

Many visitors remark on the number of churches that are in both town and country here on the Island.  In sight of our home in the historic core of Charlottetown there are six:  St Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Basilica,  Zion Presbyterian, St Paul’s Anglican, Trinity United, First Baptist, the Salvation Army Hall, and the local mosque is only five blocks away.  As you drive out of town you encounter more churches – some are modern buildings but most are older wooden edifices that reflect earlier times on the Island.

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Indian River:  William Critchlow Harris’s rural gem was deconsecrated but saved from destruction through the efforts of the Indian River Festival.  The remarkable acoustics make it the perfect venue for the Festival’s summer performances.

A ride along the main highways or down country roads will reveal white clapboard churches with brightly trimmed steeples on hill tops and in secluded valleys.  In town you are more likely to see the red Island sandstone as the frequent building material chose by architects such as William Critchlow Harris., though one of his most beautiful churches – to my mind – is the timber-framed St Mary’s Indian River.

One of the more intriguing churches is located on a hill top on Highway #2 as you approach the town of Kennsington.  The tower can be seen from several kilometres away as the road dips and curves around the red, yellow and green landscape.  The first time I saw it I had a flash back to those trips through the Italian countryside that we made on Sunday afternoons or on holiday during Feragosto.  As we got closer I was puzzled as it also brought back memories of walking the streets in Trastevere – here was a strange mixture of the baroque, neo-Classical, and Palladian that was seen in many Roman churches … but in white clapboard on a hilltop surrounded by fields in PEI.  I became fascinated by what seemed like quite the anomaly in the country side of our Island province.

St James Roman Catholic Church, Summerfield – built in 1928.

Unfortunately I was unable to find much information on the internet; in his The Historic Churches of Prince Edward Island H. M. Scott Smith devotes less than a full sentence to St James Roman Catholic Church, Summerfield.  From a stop to take a closer look I knew that it was consecrated in 1928 but could not find the name of the imaginative architect(s?) who melded these styles to create the unusual facade that reminded me so much of Italy.

Several people suggest that I contact Reginald Porter, a well-known Island historian and lecturer, all assuring me that if anyone would know about it he would.  Fortunately he and Laurent are acquainted and within an hour or two of dashing off an email Laurent received a reply, several pictures of the interior, and a good bit of the history of the church.  I will quote and paraphrase from him, with his permission, liberally to piece together a bit of the history of this structure.

(A left click on the images below will take you to a slideshow of various aspects of the church exterior.)

On the church design in general Reg writes:

In the the post-war period and the 1920s a number of churches were built on the Island with strong classical design elements from Roman churches encompassing the Early Baroque to the Neo-classicism of Valadier.  These were found at Mount Ryan, Egmont Bay, Hope River and Summerfield.

In the early 1800s the largely Roman Catholic Irish settlers in the area of Summerfield had no church of their own; anyone who wished to receive the holy sacraments had to make the 20 kilometre journey to Indian River.  In the mid-1860s as settlement expanded a mission church, dedicated to the Holy Magi, was built to see to the needs of the local faithful.  In 1918 Summerfield was granted Parish status and the parishioners (no doubt with the urging of their priest) pressed the need for a larger structure more appropriate to their status.  Dedicated to the Apostle James it was built in 1928 and consecrated in 1929.  Though I am only guessing it appears that it has almost returned to a mission status church in union with St Mary’s Holy Family Church in Kensington.  As best as I can tell the congregation of St Mary’s Indian River amalgamated with Holy Family when the church was deconsecrated in 2009.

There is only one mass a week – Sunday’s at 1030 – and at all other times the church is locked and bolted.  Fortunately Reg was able to visit it at one point and had some photos of the interior.

Of that design he says:

The interior tries to be classical.  There are three altars, built locally of wood and incorporating classical details in the framework used for earlier Gothic altars found all over the Island.  At times it looks very odd.  The wooden ornamental details are quite crude.

There is some good and interesting stained glass as well as a classically-styled Stations of the Cross set.  The terrible destructions following Vatican II never hit this church and so they still have all their original altar decorations and fittings, as well as some old vestments.


He was also kind enough to include two photos of the lovely stain glass along with a possible explanation of their iconography.

St James Strained 1

There is a possibility that this memorial window depicts one of the many apparitions of Christ to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1672 that led to the institution of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

St James Stained Glass 2
The grotto in this window suggests that it commemorates one of the eighteen Visitations of “small young lady” who appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 and asked that a chapel be built on the spot.   The grotto lay well outside the town of Lourdes, on common ground which was used by the villagers variously for pasturing animals, collecting firewood, and as a garbage dump, and it had a reputation for being an unpleasant place.  It was to become one of the most visited pilgrimage shrines in Catholic Christendom.

Again I want to thank Reg Porter for the information and the photos he so kindly supplied.  I am hoping at some point to be able to get into the church and have a closer look at the interior and perhaps even find out the answer to the question that sent me on my search to begin with:  who designed this lovely reminder of the hills of the Italian countryside and the piazzas of Rome.

On this day in 1405: Ming admiral Zheng He sets sail to explore the world for the first time.