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.

Have a Cigar!

As my friend Ron once suggested when we were strolling through the streets of Roma, you have to look up to see the unusual. And as I’ve often found that applies when walking through most cities in Europe. I hadn’t been looking up as we walked along Leidsestraat in Amsterdam I would have seen the fascinating displays in the Gant store but missed these charming friezes  on what was once a cigar makers shop.

Now I’m not advocating child labour, nor do I approve of children smoking cigars but this industrious little group, under the tutelage of a cherubic Mercury, seem pretty knowledgeable in the art of making a good cigar.

I noticed that though none of them seem to have taken to the addictive weed when they’ve finished their work they seem to know how to enjoy the fruits of the vine!

My friend MJ tells me that there was a time when it was cheaper – and in times of war politically more expedient – for plantation owners in the Southern United States to send their tobacco to Holland rather than England for processing. 

14 June -1789: HMS Bounty mutiny survivors including Captain William Bligh and 18 others reach Timor after a nearly 7,400 km (4,600 mi) journey in an open boat.

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Wanton Distruction

For six of the seven years that I lived there I was involved with the Aylmer Heritage Association (AHA). It is a group dedicated to saving the architectural patrimony of Aylmer, a town with one of the richest stock of heritage buildings in the Ottawa Valley. Founded in 1810 by a small group of Scots Methodists from New England the town thrived as a lumbering community and staging post for trips up the Ottawa River. As it developed Irish immigrants and French Canadians came in as labourers and workers; prosperous merchants built large stylish homes and all the businesses that were necessary for a town to prosper and grow were opened.

Given the background of the town founders it stands to reason that the first house of worship was a Methodist Chapel – a lovely building recently restored and the headquarters of the AHA. Churches of other faiths followed and in 1838 Charles Symmes, one of the city fathers and an ardent Methodist, gave land for the expressed purpose of building a Catholic church – he may not have agreed with the way his staff worshiped but he wanted them to worship! The first St Paul’s was destroyed by fire in 1892 and a new church built in 1893. In the Gothic style so favoured at the time, the interior was richly adorned and painted and the steeple reached for the heavens.

In the 1800s St Paul’s steeple was a landmark to travellers on both sides of the river whither arrival was by steamer or stage coach. And was still an indication that I was near home when I was coming back from trips up the Valley a full century later. I always knew I was almost there when I could see that steeple. That will no longer be the case.

Early on the morning of June 11th a fire broke out in the back of the church and within hours, no doubt fed by the old wood interior, St Paul’s had become an empty stone shell. It appears, from evidence and witness accounts, that the fire was an act of arson. The purposeful destruction of historical buildings is not unknown in the town but normally that would be when it stood in the way of some developer’s plans. This was a working and active parish church with a good size congregation and was in the process of being restored. Why anyone would want to destroyed it is a mystery.

An investigation is under way and it appears an arrest is imminent. But if found and then convicted what punishment do you give to someone who has destroyed a piece of history? What is a fitting sentence when the heritage of a place is wantonly destroyed? What do you get for taking the heart out of a community?

13 giugno – Sant’Antonio di Padova

Mon Pays – Aylmer, Sunday March 4, 2007

One of the oldest grand houses in townMon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver
Mon jardin ce n’est pas un jardin, c’est la plaine
Mon chemin ce n’est pas un chemin, c’est la neige
Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver

Rose arbour in our garden
La Maison Blanche My country isn’t a country, it’s winter
My garden isn’t a garden, it’s the plain
My road isn’t a road, it’s the snow
My country isn’t a country, it’s winter

The Barns Next Door
Mulberry Tree in the Garden Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver
Mon refrain ce n’est pas un refrain, c’est rafale
Ma maison ce n’est pas ma maison, c’est froidure
Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver
The Town Square Cenotaph My country isn’t a country, it’s winter
My refrain isn’t a refrain, it’s a gust of wind
My house isn’t my house, it’s the winter cold
My country isn’t a country, it’s winter

Mon Pays – Gilles Vigneault

From the Office Window – Friday February 23 – 10:30 a.m.

Last Thursday I posted a few shots from our office windows taken on a cloudy day. The next day it was bright and clear with a wind that whipped the flags a caution. It was also -25c with that bloody wind but the views from the warmth of the 15th floor are great when the sun shines.
The Canadian War Museum and Eddy Complex I’m ashamed to say I have yet to visit the Canadian War Museum – isn’t that always the way. I’ll have to wait for some visitors to come into town. I don’t find it a particularly attractive building and frankly it looks like a building looking for a location with that expanse of land around it. However I have been told the exhibits are extremely well done and the current show on Afghanistan is worth the trip.
Willson's Carbide Mill on Victoria Island
Tip of Victoria Island towards Place de Portage There has been talk about developing the entire Victoria Island complex including the Ottawa Carbide Mill (top photo) built by inventor Thomas Willson. Unfortunately the Aboriginal Experience village is complete covered with snow in the lower photo. This island has been a native meeting place for centuries.
The Casino Lac Lemay and Hull between the smoke
Cormier's Folly - the Supreme Court of Canada When I look down at the Supreme Court Building I am always puzzled by the crazy – and let’s admit it unsuccessful – attempt to wed the Beaux Arts style with the Mansard roof line. Apparently that what Ernest Cormier, the architect, was instructed to built by the Government of the day. And it’s still more attractive than the War Museum.
The Alexandra Bridge and the Interprovincial Bridge The first bridge, the Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge, was the railway bridge into town when Ottawa had a train station at Confederation Square rather than in a distant suburb.
The Peace Tower and West BlockSadly I will be losing my view of the Peace Tower in the next few days – the flag was always a good indicator as to how bad the wind was on a stormy day. The new job comes with a cost – relocation to an inside cell… sorry cubicle.