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.

Conference Castings

It’s not an easy task to escape the fact that Charlottetown is considered the “Cradle of Confederation”.  Whither it be the Confederation Players enacting the events of September 1864 or tour bus guides pointing out places of interest that first week of September one hundred and fifty two years ago has a major place in Island history.  A month or two ago  I told a bit of the oh so Canadian story of the events that led up to the seemingly random  founding of my homeland in my new home.

Province House was the site of the Charlottetown Conference in – you guessed it! – 1864.  At the moment it is closed for much needed renovation and repair; sadly it does not appear work will be started until next year.

Back in 2009 a, to my mind at least, whimsical bronze of John Alexander Macdonald was installed at the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row – given his penchant for gin cocktails (if straight gin can be considered a cocktail) a not inappropriate location for the wily old bugger.  Seated, legs crossed, his beaver hat beside him, his arm resting nonchalantly on the back of the bench, Michael Halterman‘s statue seems to invite you to have a seat and he’ll confide his plans for a united Canada to you – and probably talk you into agreeing to it.

In 2014 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Conference three other “Fathers of Confederation” took their place in town.  As well as being a PEI delegate at the Conference William Henry Pope was the one man “official” greeting committee when the “observers” from the Province of Canada showed up on the HMS Queen Victoria – you may recall that BwzhYlsIIAAtO8geveryone else had gone off to see a circus of another type that day.  And as he did on September 1, 1846 once again, and for the foreseeable future, he sets off from Peakes Quay to extend his welcome.

A week or two after the dedication in Charlottetown a statue (left) by Jules Lasalle, the same sculptor, was unveiled on the waterfront in Québec City of  a fourth Father of Confederation.  Étienne-Paschal Taché is shown greeting the delegates to the Québec Conference in October of 1864.  A gift from PEI it is set in a garden that finds its companion garden – a gift from Québec City – at Confederation Landing in Charlottetown


By odd coincidence two of the delegates from the Maritimes, though not related, shared exactly the same name: John Hamilton Gray. One was from New Brunswick and the other was from PEI.  Their presence at the Conference is marked by the work of Nathan Scott, placed – perhaps not just serendipitously – outside the Great George Hotel.  There has been a hotel on that location since 1846, and though it had served as a general store for a time by 1864 it had been returned to its original purpose as the Pavilion Hotel.  No doubt the two gentlemen would have had a few conversations in the salon of this fashionable Charlottetown watering hole.

There are twenty other “Fathers of Confederation” and I’m wondering how many of them have statues or memorial perhaps in their home towns or province?  Given that most Canadians can’t name more than a handful I’m guess not that many.

On this day in 1642:  The English Parliament led by Puritans issues an Ordinance suppressing all stage plays in theatres.

The Birth (?) of a Nation

A left click will display the entire newspaper ad – it was quite the show!

On August 31, 1864 when the S.S. Queen Victoria, carrying the political elite of the Province of Canada, steamed into Charlottetown harbour there was no one working on the public wharf at the foot of Great George Street. In fact her – and their arrival – went largely unnoted by the good people of PEI. Slaymaker & Nichols’ Olympic Circus was in town – the first visit by a circus to the Island in over twenty years. The lure of the daring feats of the “World’s finest riders, acrobats and clowns” was stronger than a gaggle of politicians in silk hats and beaver coats. Besides the delegation was, so they said, only there as “observers” of a planned conference on a Maritime Union; an event that engendered only slightly more interest in the general populace than their arrival.

A reception committee of one gave welcome – William Henry Pope rowed out to greet them to what became known as the Charlottetown Conference. And when it came time to find accommodation for the gentlemen from the Province of Canada there was no room at the inn – folks into see the circus from across both the Island and the Northumberland Straits had taken every available bed in town. Men who were use to throwing political invective and rhetoric at each other were forced to share close quarters and pleasantries on the Victoria.

For a more amusing account of what took place those seven days in September 1864 Michael Crummy tells us all about when The Circus Comes to Charlottetown.

The Canadian Encyclopedia gives a more sober, politically correct, version of the events that led to us becoming a Nation.

Laurent and Sir John A. talk politics before heading off to a local bar for a nice glass of gin.

Whichever version you feel may best capture the founding of our country – and I prefer Crummy’s – it is an event that is much remarked upon in PEI. Charlottetown is dotted with some fun bronzes of various players in the very Canadian drama (what drama?  There you see I said “Canadian” didn’t I?) that led to Confederation. More than one tourist has had their picture taken on Queen Street with Sir John A MacDonald.

Back in 1864 the water would have almost come up to what is now our back door – it is named Water Street for a reason – however today there is a landfill park behind us called  Confederation Landing.  No doubt so named because the SS Queen Victoria anchored just off shore at that point and it was from nearby Peake’s Wharf that Pope rowed out to offer his welcome.

Celebration – Then and Now
Metal Scupture and Design by Christopher Phillis; Ceramics by Carl Phillis

The area is pleasantly treed and planted – Nora finds it a treasure trove of smells – with an old fashioned boardwalk along the waterfront. In a copse of trees is a metal and ceramic sculpture “Celebration – Then and Now” which has become nicely weathered since it was installed back in 1996. The metal work, commemorating that arrival in 1864, is by Christopher Phillis who also designed the piece; his son Carl Phillis created the ceramics, celebrating the Provinces and Territories crowned by our flag. The senior Phillis was born in England but came to Canada in 1956 and is well known for his metal work; his son is a ceramic artist who features in the collections of many galleries.

The metalwork panorama is a circle with three tableaux representing Charlottetown Harbour, Pope rowing out to greet the SS Queen Victoria, and a group of delegates leaving Province House.
The tableaux are broken up by placques bearing the signatures of the 24 gentlemen who became known as The Fathers of Confederation.


By 19th century standards the Charlottetown waterfront of 1864 was fairly typical of any seaport – a bit seedy and ram shackled. Located at the foot of Great George Street, Peake’s Wharf was an maze of shipyards, warehouses, docks, taverns and decidedly not the best area of town. But as it does today Great George Street led the eye up past some no unsubstantial home and  Saint Dunstan’s Cathedral (later Basilica)  to Province House, the seat of the Island legislature.

Built in 1834 the Cathedral was an English style wooden structure that, though it had none of the impressive grandeur of the stone French-Gothic pile that replaced it in 1908, still dominated the skyline.
(A left click will take you to a slideshow of the panel and a few close-up details including a charming rendering of Province House.)


Built in a Scottish shipyard the S. S. Queen Victoria was launched in 1856 and acquired by the colonial government of Quebec as a tug, mail and provisioning ship. It had an iron hull and operated under a combination of sail and steam. Though given yeomen chores it was seen as elegant enough to serve as transportation for the Prince of Wales during his 1860 visit to Canada. It also saw service as vice-regal transportation for Viscount Monck, the Governor-General of the colony. And of course it served as transportation and accommodation for the delegates from the Province of Canada in September of 1864 but more memorably on that journey it was the site that hosted what many consider the turning point in the Conference.

(And once again a left click will take you to a slideshow for a close up of the delegates and William Henry Pope at his oars.)


Initial talks had prove lacklustre with little interest from the Maritime delegates but then that crafty old bugger Sir John A Macdonald invited everyone to an elaborate champagne luncheon aboard the Queen Victoria. Food was plentiful and bubbly even more so. The events of the day were described in a letter to his wife by George Brown, the Toronto newspaper man and a primary delegate:

“Cartier and I made eloquent speeches – of course – and whether as a result of our eloquence or of the goodness of our champagne, the ice became completely broken, the tongues of the delegates wagged merrily, and the banns of matrimony between all the provinces of B.N.A. having been formally proclaimed and all manner of persons duly warned then and there to speak or forever after hold their tongues – no man appeared to forbid the banns and the union was thereupon formally completed and proclaimed!”

(And once again a left click will take you to a slideshow of the delegates – perhaps leaving Province House at the end of the Conference).  I’m a little puzzled and haven’t been able to discover what that round building to one side is.)


The twenty-four “Fathers of Confederation” posed for a picture on the steps of Government House on September 7, 1864 – the final day of the Conference.  The gentleman seated on the steps in the centre is (the no doubt at this point smugly satisfied) Sir John A. Macdonald; the gentleman jauntily raising his hat – either to shield his eyes from the sun or in salute to the new country – was the youngest member of the group Andrew Macdonald, a delegate from P.E.I.

The architects of Canada in front of Government House, Charlottetown in September of 1864.
George P. Roberts – Archives and Library of Canada

Though it was the birthplace of the concept of a united British North America Prince Edward Island got cold feet and was not part of the original Confederation.  The 1867 terms of the union were seen as unfavourable and it was not until 1873 that they became a Province of the Dominion of Canada.  The first Premier of the new Province was James C Pope, the brother of the man who had greeted the Victoria and her passengers that late August afternoon.

On this day in 1940:The first successful west-to-east navigation of Northwest Passage begins at Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

By’s Folly

A few days ago Laurent and I thought we’d pay a visit to the Bytown Museum at the first set of locks on the Rideau Canal system.  We never did make it to the Museum except to buy ticket for boat tour on the Ottawa River.  I hadn’t been down in the Rideau Canal Park area for many years and on a previous visit had failed to see a monument erected to the memory of those who lost their lives building the Canal.

On September 26, 1826 Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers and the Earl of Dalhousie, Governor-in-Chief of British North America, stood at the foot of Entrance Valley near the conflux of the Rideau and the Ottawa Rivers.  They choose that spot as the start of the Rideau Canal and in doing so laid the foundations of Bytown (later to become Ottawa).

Champlain thought the falls that fed into the Ottawa River resembled a curtain and marked it on a map as “Rideau” and the river got it’s name.

By the time the work was finished in November 1831 a 202 km waterway had been constructed with 47 masonry locks and 52 dams.  On May 22, 1832 Colonel By and his family boarded the steamboat Rideau at Kingston and began the seven day journey to Bytown.  Unknown to By even as he was being greeted with salvos and celebrations at Smith Falls on May 25 an official memo was being penned in London ordering his removal from command and recalling him back to England.  In a series of bureaucratic wrangles and political manoeuvers By was abandoned by Parliament and his masters at the Board of Ordnance.  He was blamed for the cost overrun and never given a chance to defend himself.  He died four years later, weakened by the malaria he had contracted in Canada, never having received the recognition due him for a major engineering feat that is still in operation 184 years later.

The Rideau River in 1827 taken from Rideau Canal website.

If By went unlauded in his own time his work has now been recognized as being one of the major engineering achievements of the 19th century in North America.   It no longer serves as a military or commercial route but each summer is navigated by pleasure boats and visited by tourists.  And in the winter it becomes the world’s largest skating rink.  Colonel By’s Canal was designated a World Heritage by UNESCO in 2007.

Three years earlier recognition of another sort was given to the over 1000 people – workers, theirs wives and children – who died during the construction of the waterway.  A Celtic cross dedicated to their memory was created and placed at the foot of the Canal across from the first lock, very near the spot where By and the Earl of Dalhousie had stood that September in 1826.

Though the once held popular belief was that many people died in work-related accidents during the six years it took to build the Canal the truth was somewhat less sensational. Of the estimate 1000 who died, there are no accurate records and often newspaper reports were highly fictionalized to titillate readers, only a handful are known to have been linked to the construction.  Upon investigation it appears that many of the fatal accidents could be attributed to the effects of cheap home made whisky.  But the real  danger was not explosives, rock slides, cave-ins or intemperance but a simple mosquito bite.

The arms of the Celtic cross portray the tools of construction and causes of death in the building of the Canal.
It is known that 22 Sapers and Miners died during the construction: 16 from disease and 6 from accidents.
The work was all done by hand and was both strenuous and fatiguing. This left men susceptible to disease and illness.
The gravest danger was this little insect. The tiny Culicidae, a carrier of malaria, yellow fever, dengue and other arboviruses is the deadliest animal in the world

Today when you mention the word Malaria people immediately think of a tropical disease that can prove fatal however a less deadly form exists in North America, England and parts of Europe .   Though  Plasmodium Vivax can cause fever, chills and nausea – it was frequently called the “ague” – it is normally not fatal unless the infected person is already in a weaken state.  Dysentery, as a result of unsanitary living conditions , was a common problem at the Workers’ villages and the combination of that and malaria often result in death particularly amongst the families of the workers.   Another common myth was that the dead were buried in mass unmarked graves however they were all given Christian burial in cemeteries that were often dug along with the Canal for that purpose.  The  graves were marked with simple wooden crosses that decayed over time and graveyards went fallow or unattended and nature took over.

The text on the monument is in our two official languages but also in Gaelic in memory of the many Irish who perished.
It has also been translated into Algonquin in recognition that the Canal was built on unceded First Nations’ land.

The dedications on the monument are in the three main languages of the people who worked on the Canal:  English, Gaelic and French.  A fourth translation appears in Algonquin in recognition of both the workers who were from the First Nations and to make the point that this portion of the Canal was built on unceded Algonquin land.

This is only one of several markers or plaques along the Canal, a similar Celtic Cross can be found 200 kilometre away at Kingston.  Memorial in between the two commemorate the workers, Colonel By himself and events during the five years that it took to construct the Rideau Canal.

A far more interesting and detailed story of the Rideau Canal can be found on their website.  It offers a comprehensive and highly readable account of the events – good and bad – that surrounded its construction and subsequent history

On this day in 1895: Daniel David Palmer gives the first chiropractic adjustment.