One Lady’s View

Well yesterday saw the last cruise ship of the season arrive and depart. The Oceania Riviera closed off what has been a record cruise ship season. A total of 87 ships disgorged 128,000 passengers and 55,000 crew members onto our ruddy shores. Our location and daily walks with Nicky and Nora meant that I met many of those visitors, often for long chats. The three top questions have been: Are you from here? What brought you here? What are winters like here? And the general opinions of their visit has been very positive. People seem to greatly enjoy their time spent on the Island.

But according to archivist and historian Harry Holman that wasn’t the case with at least one 19th century traveller. On his always informative blog Sailstrait Mr Holman reveals the Honourable Lady Brassey’s rather candid views on the Island and its denizens on her visit in October of 1872.

A left click on this illustration from Anna Brassey’s 1878 best-seller A Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months will take you to her entry from that earlier voyage and entry on her visit to Charlottetown.

An illustration from A Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months, Anna Brassey’s best selling travel journal of her trip around the world. A left click will take you to her private account of an earlier voyage.

Mr Holman tells me he has over 50 accounts of visits to Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island before 1900. He hopes to gather them together and publish them as a book. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

November 5th is Love Your Red Hair Day – so gingers of the world get loving!

A Royal Obsession

A recent look at the tabloids – oh come on you all read the headlines at the supermarket and you know it!!!!! – suggests a rather unhealthy obsession with our Canadian (Britian has some claim to them too) Royal Family. The details of suspected peccedillos, fusses and feuds amongst various members of the House of Windsor-Mountbatten seem to fascinate us lower classes as we tug at our forelocks and cry “Will they not leave poor Princess Megan alone?” Most totally unaware that she will never be “Princess” and isn’t exactly “poor” on any level.

But this obsession with British Royalty is nothing new for members of the fifth estate and their readers, particularly our American cousins. In 1860 Queen Victoria’s eldest son Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales visited the British Colonies and it appears that almost every breath he took was recorded by journalists and breathlessly read by their subscribers.

In his, always fascinating, blog Sailstait PEI historian, archivist and writer Harry Holman recounts the heady days in August 1860 when the visit to our Island by HRH was the news not only locally but internationally. Fine proof that the obsession with our Royal Family is nothing new.

March 29 is the 88th day of the year and a piano has 88 keys so naturally today is International Piano Day.


It was not a pretty sight and the correspondent for the New York Tribune made  it the centrepiece of his reporting of the event.  And what an event it was. The biggest thing to hit Charlottetown in its history. The first visit ever of a member of the Royal Family. Today it has become commonplace as every decade one or more Royals cycle through the province. It was not always so.

View of Royal Fleet at Charlotte Town 1860. From Journal of the Progress of the HRH Prince of Wales through British North America and his Visit to the United States. 1860.

When H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Victoria, came to North America it was a major event wherever he visited. Not only did he visit the British Colonies, still four years away from becoming a nation, but he also travelled to the United…

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On This Island

A Visit to Orwell Corner Historic Village – Part III

As important as church, school, and community hall were to a farm settlement the local General Store was just as often the centre of activity.  All types of goods were available that the local populace couldn’t make or produce themselves.  Purchased or bartered for produce from their farms it included kerosene for their lamps, fabrics and dry goods, occasionally a piece of ready made clothing or accessory, molasses, kitchenware and utensils, and the little luxuries like tobacco, perfume or sweets.  And in the winter the pot-bellied stove would provide warmth after the ride in from the farm and a chance to exchange news, stories and local gossip.

 Clarke’s General Story

Norman MacLeod had operated a General Store at Orwell Corner until 1893 when he put the property up for sale.  In the Daily Examiner he assured the buyer that it was “one of the most desirable stands in PEI for a country store.  There is a large store, warehouse, shed, dwelling house, and orchard, all in good order”.  It would appear that no one took advantage of those assurances and the store closed.

In 1856 Richard Clarke and his brother Dennis arrived in PEI from Galway, Ireland  and records indicate that Richard went into business with his uncle Patrick Stephens in Orwell Cove the following year.  In 1864 they moved to Orwell Corner and Richard opened the store that is a unique part of the historic village.  The store had been moved to where it now stands at the crossroads from another location.  On his death Dennis assumed the ownership and ran the store until 1905.

The store has been restored and is well stocked with the items that Mr Clarke’s customers would find familiar.  At our visit the gentleman on duty was well-versed in both the history of the store and his inventory.  Amongst the more intriguing items were a little sailor suit of the sort that appeared in family portraits.  I was surprised to learn that it was not for sale but for rent for that occasion when the travelling photographer came around.  Farm implements included a rather deadly looking pair of shears for castrating bulls and new blades for your plow.  There was even a stereoscope with an ever so naughty moral lesson for girls who went into service.

A postage stamp from 1872, the year before PEI joined Confederation.

The Colonial government in Nova Scotia had first set up a post office in Charlottetown in 1801 and by the time PEI joined Confederation in 1873 there were 180 post offices on the Island many served by mail boat.  By 1900 there were 252 one of which Clarke operated out of a small room between the shop and the farm house.  It gave him a small commission but more importantly brought people into the store.   In the Weekly Examiner of January 26, 1900 it is suggested that “after the recent local elections, Mr. D. E. Clarke is about to lose the post office. The People of Orwell would be very sorry for any such change.”  According to the postal records they did not experience that sorrowful change as Clarke continued as post master until his death in May 1904.

Dennis Clarke and his family in front of the General Store.

The Farm Wife’s Domain

As well as his store and the post office Clarke had a farm.  As was the case with many of the farms in the area his main cash crops were oats and potatoes.  Other crops were  grown and  livestock was kept for the daily needs of Clarke, his wife, and their brood of seven children.

Mrs Eliza Latrobe’s Fashions

Eliza Ferris was born in 1849, possibly in Skye, and immigrated to the Uigg area where she met and married J. F. Latrobe.  She died in 1921 and was buried in the Baptist Cemetery at Uigg.  A rather strange note in the cemetery records indicates “came to this island in 1828” – though this could be referring to her husband of whom no other details are recorded.   She was a dressmaker and milliner by trade and for ten years operated her business from space she rented from  Clarke on the second floor of the farm house attached to the store.

Eliza would receive the latest Ladies Journals from Boston and perhaps even as far away as London.  Using an intriguing “garment drafting machine” she would adjust a pattern to fit the lady who had ordered it.  No doubt the fabric would come from Mr Clarke’s store downstairs as would the hooks, eyes and buttons.  Adjustable lasts allowed her to make, often in a matching fabric, fit for a town lady to dance the night away.

She had a supply of “bashing block” to aid in creating a stylish chapeau adorned with ribbons, rosettes and occasionally feathers from local wildlife.  Ladies often wore their hair up and Eliza’s creations would sit jauntily atop their heads held in place by elaborate, often cabochon encrusted,  hat pins purchased from Mr Clarke’s stock.  The wooden blocks could be carved into new shapes with changing fashion.

I’ve been unable to discover the circumstances that led to Mrs Latrobe quitting the Clarke residence in 1905 though possibly when Dennis Clarke died she may have decided to stay with her family in Uigg.  There was also competition from Effie MacPherson who had her business above D. D. McLeod’s General Store down in Orwell Cove.  As many women did their own sewing at home dressmaking did not rank high on the profitable occupation scale.  Fortunately the tools of her toil are beautifully displayed in the two rooms above the Clarke family farm house.



As I mentioned when I started this little series we only had an hour or so to wander at the Corner.  A trip back is in the planning for sometime in the next week or two to see the Farm, the Shingle Mill, the Blacksmith Shop and perhaps even take a carriage ride up to the Macphail Homestead for afternoon tea.

On this day in 1904: The automobile tire chain is patented.

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 Corner

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 Corner 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 Corner, a good 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.