I left the Heritage Foundation early in 1988. Somebody, I can no longer remember who, wrote the following gracious obituary in the May 1988 Newsletter. All that was missing was the date for the funeral.
Well, I didn’t die – I couldn’t – because I was teaching the Spring Term of Baroque and Rococo Art at UPEI. (In the following 11 years, until my retirement in 1999, I taught 44 Art History courses at UPEI – on campus, in Summerside and in Montague.)
HOME SWEET HOME
My centre of operations now shifted to my home, the most beloved apartment ever, at 162 Dorchester Street, owned by the late Orin Carver, a gentleman, a noted hockey player in his youth, a most successful businessman, and the kindest landlord ever. His praises can never be sung too often; my debt of gratitude is vast.
The house, in the Italianate style, was built in 1872 for Judge George Alley. He was a keen student of Charlottetown historic architecture and his glass lantern slides for lectures on the subject, hand coloured, are now in the Public Archives. I wondered, when I prepared my own lectures on PEI architecture, if I sat in the same room as he did so long ago.
When I moved to 162 Dorchester the back yard was a mess of tree stumps, mounds of cinders from the old coal furnace and forgotten garbage. My great friend Trevor Gillingwater visited and insisted that he build me a garden so I could appreciate that potentially lovely private space. A truckload of bricks arrived from Nova Scotia, and sand and gravel from a local supplier and Trevor got to work. Mr. Carver gave his doubtful blessing and, in the end, paid for all the materials.
The prospect of working from my wonderful home was appealing. In the summer months the garden was a perfect place to work, and I had my lunch and dinner there nearly every day. The moment of twilight, when Jack the Perfect Cat leapt several feet into the air to try and catch dragonflies, is still a vision I treasure. In a remarkably short time, the garden plants flourished, and my additions to the garden had come to public attention to the extent that the magazine Canadian Gardening would come to do an article on it.
Everything was absolutely perfect except that I had no regular job or income and no savings. It really seemed as if I was on the brink of losing it all.
REGINALD PORTER – HERITAGE CONSULTANT is born
Encouraged by several friends I decided to set myself up as a heritage consultant. I got a letterhead designed by Linda Steele, another Heritage Foundation colleague who had abandoned that milieu and set up her own business. My letters and invoices now looked very snappy and Times Roman.
I rearranged my study in half of the big double parlour of my apartment. Furniture was flung around, my big army surplus IBM typewriter to be replaced eventually – excruciatingly – by a rebuilt IBM computer my cousin had discarded. I became computer-literate, after a fashion, in 1991. Since I was now potentially teaching Art History at the University on a regular basis – an insecure and low-paying job at best – I created a corner for my vast collection of colour slides and art books. Soon the north parlour looked like this.
BACK TO WORK
The first sign of security came, not from a consulting contract, but an amazing request from archaeologist Rob Ferguson at Parks Canada in Halifax that I apply for the job of Archaeological Crew Supervisor for the excavation of the alleged house of Michel Haché dit Gallant, the progenitor of all the Gallants on the Island. He had lived next to the fort at Port LaJoye and worked for the French authorities, perhaps as Harbour Master or manager of a Customs warehouse. I worked there with my crew from June to August, 1988.
Port LaJoye was founded by the French as their administrative base on Ile-St.-Jean in 1720. It was thought that the Island would be a good agricultural base to help feed the garrison at Fort Louisbourg on Ile Royale – Cape Breton Island. I will be dealing with this story in more detail in a later post, but I want to give you an idea of what this new experience in my new life was like.
The lovely drawing at the top of the picture is from a French map of 1734 showing exactly how Port LaJoye looked – or should look. Opinions vary. Below is a picture I took in the summer of 2018 from the steps of Government House, showing the same location.
After explorations in the summer of 1987 Rob Ferguson wanted to return to see if there were any remains of the French fort, which, unlike the later English Fort Amherst on top of the slope, was on the slope itself.
His team had also that summer, in a small test pit, discovered what seemed to be a step going down into a house cellar in an area that corresponded where it was believed Michel Haché’s house had stood. I was given a crew with instructions to open a large square.
Over the summer, centimetre by centimetre, we worked our way down until we reached the bottom of the cellar. On the way down we encountered thousands of artefacts, from original early French glass, nails, pottery and coins to later English garbage dumped into the cellar of the burnt house after the Deportation.
The house had been burned down by marauding New Englanders in the 1730s and Michel Haché Gallant had fallen through the ice on the Hillsborough River and drowned at roughly the same time. The house was never rebuilt.
But that story is for another day. The experience and knowledge that I gained was enormous, and having Rob Ferguson as a director was a happy one, and the basis for a long friendship. I am also immensely proud that I took part in the exploration of the only intact Acadian house cellar excavated on the Island to date.
THE MIRACLE OF WORK
Consulting work started to become gradually available that fall. It is at moments such as this, when a terrible crisis looms, that kind people quietly step in and help. I will always be grateful to those individuals who thought of me in my wilderness and took steps to bring me back into the fold of meaningful work.
I believe the first job offer I got was for the preparation and analysis of an Audio-visual Questionnaire for the University of Prince Edward Island, that took me through October and November of 1988. It came from the office of the President, Dr. Willie Eliot, an old friend, and one of my greatest teachers ever.
Early in 1989 I received two lovely commissions from the Friends of Saint Andrews. On August 24, 1803 the Bishop of Quebec, responsible for the Catholics on Prince Edward Island, told the local priest, Fr. Bernard McEachern to build a church at Saint Andrew’s, near Mount Stewart. By 1805 it was largely completed. It served its purpose until 1864, when, over the frozen Hillsborough River, it was hauled to Charlottetown to become a school on Pownal Street. A new brick church, modelled on the one at Tignish in the Gothic Revival style, was to be built to replace it. Eventually it became known as the Rochford School. On July 17, 1987 it was destroyed by fire.
So powerful was the response to this disaster that a group, the Friends of Saint Andrew’s, headed by Fr. Wendell MacIntyre, was formed. With indescribable determination and hard work, they had what was left of the 1805 structure moved back to its original site in Mount Stewart on flatbed trucks, re-erected, and given a new roof.
Fr. Wendell asked me to advise them on two issues. The first was to propose a plausible way the church could be restored to its original appearance. Studying the archaeological information on the building I suggested that the round-headed aisle windows be replaced in their original openings, which could still be seen in the smoke-stained walls. Above these big windows, in what would have been the gallery space, there was clear evidence of much shorter round-headed windows. Nothing remained of the facade of the chapel so I had to improvise. I proposed a restored entrance way covered by a small porch for which there was no archaeological evidence, but which most likely would have been there to protect from the blast of winter. I also suggested, following my intuition, that there be a semi-circular window in the gable, filled with a fanlight. All my suggestions were followed and everything was rebuilt to my exact specifications. This was the result.
The Friends also wanted to do some interior restoration, and I suggested that they reconstruct the gallery to my plans, using only the most basic materials, and set up a sanctuary area with a rail and balusters copied from examples of that period.
The second issue I was asked to advise on was the altar. The altar had been a bone of contention ever since it was first built, arousing the ire of the Quebec officials. It was said to be disproportionally long! Quebec had a long tradition of building superb altars, with the most elaborate superstructures imaginable, in both Baroque and Neo-classical styles. This diagram shows the basic requirement for altar table and tabernacle superstructure.
No one on the Island at that time could build anything like that or could even imagine what it would have looked like. I proposed the most basic design, following the liturgical guidebook, the Roman Céremonial, for specific dimensions and necessary details, and the following was constructed. Whether or not it looked like the original will never be known, but it was liturgically correct – and too wide!
In spite of the risks I took in proposing details that had no archaeological support in what remained after the fire, I am very proud of the work done by the Friends who so faithfully followed my suggestions. As they say in books, the author takes responsibility for all errors.
A DISTRESSING BREACH IS HEALED
In March 1989 I was contacted by my former boss Catherine Hennessey, who now worked for the Charlottetown and Area Development Corporation. She asked me if I could prepare an audio-visual kit that could be taken around to various places so that a lecture, illustrated with colour slides, could be given. I very happily took on this project, most grateful to Catherine for magnanimously setting aside our animosities, and for finding me work to keep me going. I wrote a script called P.E.I. Storefronts and Commercial Signs: An Historical Survey, that could read or used as briefing notes, and filled a Kodak carousel slide holder with a large selection of slides of signs and reference material that applied specifically to PEI.
Again, in May of 1989 Catherine and CADC offered me another contract to write a report called The Possibilities of Urban Archaeology in Charlottetown: A Discussion Paper. That was a fascinating task as I explored and reproduced in overlapping sections the most important historical maps of the city on which I indicated every site I believed might yield important archaeological information.
Work continued to come in. In June 1989, Joanne Bieler, the Training Coordinator of the Community Museums Association of PEI (which I had helped establish in my Heritage Foundation days) asked me to prepare A Handbook for Museum Supervisors on P.E.I. This would eventually lead to more work from the CMA that in 1994 would fund a study trip to Florence.
In July of that year David Webber, now the Director of the Heritage Foundation asked me to draft A Five Year Plan for the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation which would be published under The Executive Director’s name in April 1990. To this day I am very proud of the policy documents I wrote for the Foundation and wouldn’t change a word. I also believe that this plan still makes perfect sense today, as it addresses problems that have never been resolved due to lack of interest, or funding.
MY FIRST PROJECT FOR THE ACADIAN HERITAGE COMMUNITY
The first Acadian to be ordained priest on the Island was a boy from the original settlement of Tignish, near the area of the harbour called the Green. His name was Sylvain Ėphrem Poirier (he would later spell it Perrey). There was a strong tradition that the site of his father’s house still existed on the road to the Green.
For more than 175 years the road had deliberately twisted around a house cellar site. In September 1989 the Comité Commemoratif S.-E. Perrey, Tignish, with the encouragement of Léonce Bernard, the Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs, hired me to write an Archaeology Resource Survey: The Perrey House Cellar Site, Tignish, to gather together the known documentary and map material about the Poirier property and to survey the site, taking detailed elevations in case of future damage. I did not have a permit for archaeological testing, but that was later done by the archaeologist Scott Buchanan, and he found archaeological fragments that confirmed it was an Acadian site.
Also in September I received a contract from Parks Canada to do some archaeological testing at Site 11F in New London Bay. A bridge was to be installed over a wet area for a footpath and archaeological clearance was required.
In my eighteen years living in Charlottetown I met some very fine people who showed me great kindness and affection. One of these, Dr. Don Stewart, took a personal interest in my rudderless state and encouraged me to take on consultations in historic house restoration and renovation. He had just bought one of the Ten Most Important Houses in the city – the 1834 Gainsford house, a brick double row house at 102-104 Water Street – and against all bets, turned the neglected, painted and peeling mess into this vision of architectural splendour. (Photo: Courtesy of Don Stewart.)
These photos give you an idea of the difficulty he faced in returning the beautiful variegated bricks to the light.
Don retained me in 1989-90 as a consultant to advise on specific issues connected with restoration, inside and out, with decoration issues and renovations involving a new kitchen wing and stone front steps.
The back of the Gainsford house was a mess, with the remains of a huge very old outdoor oven and chimney stack and a shabby modern porch protrusion. In spite of my ethical reservations about tampering with a brick structure of archaeological interest, I recommended that it be dismantled and the bricks recycled in the restoration. I also provided a possible design for a modern kitchen wing, that could contain all the space and facilities for two kitchens, should the house ever be divided.
I have strong views concerning the restoration of structures people are going to live in: these buildings are homes, not historic sites, and priority should be given to convenience and practicality. The façade was flawlessly restored by Don Stewart; the back of the row is appropriate and practical new construction.
I was wildly proud and happy of the way this great project turned out. My very knowledgeable friend and client agreed with most of my suggestions, and proceeded to recommend my skills to others.
The Countess of Westmorland’s House at 269 Queen Street
In the autumn of 1839 the Countess of Westmorland, who owned part of Lot 29, arrived in Charlottetown with her entourage and was the talk of the town with her eccentric ways. She moved into the house at 269 Queen Street, which must have been built soon before her arrival. It was in the Greek Revival style that was the rage in Charlottetown and the surrounding countryside at that time. That version of the style, particular to the Island, was probably invented by the builder Isaac Smith, who in turn was probably influenced by the famous architect John Plaw, who died in Charlottetown three years after Smith’s arrival from Yorkshire. I believe the details of the trim were taken from Plaw’s 1811 Courthouse. These Greek Revival houses, of which Government House is one, were typically Georgian in style, with a central plan, although they could have a gable entrance as well. There were very wide panelled corner boards or pilasters topped by a modillion or flat bracket, which served as the crowning element instead of a capital. This drawing by David Webber illustrates this well.
The house, owned by Charlottetown lawyer Scott MacKenzie, was in need of restoration on the exterior as all the corner pilasters with their topping modillions were in bad condition or missing the top elements. The front porch, a later addition, needed to be modified slightly to make it blend in with the architecture of the house, a new fence with appropriate landscape elements installed, and a new paint scheme was required. Don Stewart recommended me to Scott who retained me in July-August, 1990, to supervise the restoration of the architectural elements and to select appropriate colours for the house. This was the result.
I was so proud and happy to have been given the privilege of advising on the restoration work of another of the Ten Most Important Houses in Charlottetown! The house has had a number of significant owners.
After the Countess of Westmorland returned home, Admiral Henry Bayfield, who did the hydrographic survey of the Island and Northumberland Strait, bought the property and he lived there over 35 years. His wife, Fanny Wright Bayfield, was an accomplished artist in the topographic tradition, and gave lessons in painting from her home.
Here is a B&W photo of a watercolour, perhaps by Fanny Bayfield, of Euston Street intersecting with Queen Street. The house can be seen on the corner. I have never had a chance to study this artwork and don’t even know whether its from the Archives, Confederation Centre AG or the Heritage Foundation. I found it on the internet. I would say its before 1850 because of the tower on the Kirk of Saint James is in its old form, before it was Gothicised with tall pinnacles.
The MacKenzie family has owned the property for a couple of generations and it is greatly loved by the present owner and his family.
MORE PRIVATE CONTRACTS
Around this time I received other requests for advice on the restoration of significant Charlottetown homes. Linda and Peter Steele had bought the huge Queen Anne style house at 12 West Street that was designed by C. B. Chappell in 1897. I consider it also to be one of the Ten Most Important Houses in Charlottetown! They wanted to restore various architectural components of the house that had suffered damage over the years, or which were missing. They also wanted a suitable colour scheme. This was the result – or very close to it, as the house has been touched up over the years.
I also provided advice for the restoration and paint scheme of this 1854 house at 17 Pownal Street. It is a handsome wooden building in the Georgian style with the central plan abandoned for a side entrance.
BRIEF RETURN TO THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION
The late Irene Rogers, author of the indispensable 1983 book, Charlottetown: The Life in its Buildings (I use it as I write this), had left the Heritage Foundation about the same time as I did, and for similar reasons. For years she had provided a valuable public service as Architectural Consultant, advising home owners on the history of their houses, where it was possible to do so, and giving them advice on how these houses could be sympathetically renovated in a way that respected the original style of the building. Her position had been empty for nearly ten years and individuals still went to the Heritage Foundation looking for advice that nobody could provide. They were also looking for money, which the Province would never provide.
David Webber arranged for me to be retained as Architectural Consultant at the P.E.I. Museum and I responded to architectural queries on their behalf from March 1990 to March 1993. It was strange going back there, from time to time, to do this work. I never felt comfortable and always sensed a toxic aura around unhappy Beaconsfield.
A GRADUAL TURN TO MUSEUM CONSULTING
In 1990 my work started to take on a distinctly museum-oriented turn. I would still do archaeological survey work from time to time and would be invited by Public Works to write two planning studies to direct the restoration work being done at Government House.
My first museum-oriented job was in December 1990 for the wise and knowledgeable Comité Consultatif de l’Ecomusée de l’Ile-du-Prince-Edouard and was called Planning a Community Heritage Inventory: A Working Paper for the Ecomusée Acadien de l’Ile-du-Prince-Edouard.
Starting in the 1960s in Quebec, there was a museum movement, inspired by similar ideas in France, called the Ecomusée or Ecomuseum. In the Tignish Arts Foundation days, Elizabeth Cran and I had been fascinated with the idea and thought that perhaps something like that would be appropriate for small communities like Tignish.
The thinking behind an ecomuseum was that museums need not be dead collections carefully preserved and interpreted in designated buildings, but could involve a more ecological approach where a living community could be the museum, and access provided to it through signage, walking tours, controlled visits to natural and built sites, participation in local festivals and events and, of course, a local museum.
Thirty years later, I still believe that the information I collected in this report, and the practical suggestions I made, are still relevant today, and could with advantage, be re-examined by Island Tourism today. (I hope to digitise it and add it to the collection of my manuscripts on the right of this screen.)
We constantly speak of the Island Way of Life in hushed tones but do little to share the real thing with visitors – and most importantly – with Islanders themselves. In a province where genealogical activities play such a vital role in the identity of its citizens, much more could be done to lure Islanders to explore their own home territory, about which they are mostly shockingly ignorant.
Instead of a double-decker bus trip to The Land of Anne, that Romantic fantasy that has nothing to do with Real Islanders, all 140,000 of them, why not a day trip to West Prince County, visiting Tignish, with its extraordinary Gothic Revival church – the best on the Island! – and North Cape, with its reef, exciting geology and fascinating ecological phenomenon of the Black Marsh, all full of legends, its 1860s lighthouse and the great windmill site that now dominates the landscape. There is even an interpretative centre and a restaurant where delicious meals could be arranged.
I remember vividly such a day trip at the conclusion of my week of teaching a course in Island Folklore at a summer session of the Atlantic Canada Institute at UPEI in August of 1980. I had talked about Tignish song writer Alec Shea, and a vast Irish contingent, headed by Dr. Brendan O’Grady, piled into a bus and we made our way to explore every sacred and profane site in Lot 1, with stops to savour other cultures along the way. This photograph, from the August 7 edition of the Summerside Journal, sums it all up. What an unforgettable experience!
Tignish was founded in 1799 by a few Acadian families who left the Malpeque area to get away from landlords who wanted their rent paid on time. They were soon followed in 1811 by a group of Irish settlers, most of them literate and, in some cases, with fine furniture and family portraits.
In 1990 the Heritage Foundation put on a real blockbuster exhibition in collaboration with the Confederation Centre, David Webber’s former place of employment, It was called New Ireland: The Irish in Prince Edward Island. It was based on the impeccable scholarship of Dr. Ed MacDonald, a historian at UPEI, and the late Boyde Beck, Curator of Exhibits and Public Programmes at the Heritage Foundation. Together they made a formidable team. The exhibit was designed by Webber. I was hired as Project Coordinator for the planning and production of the exhibition and drove everybody up the wall with my huge flow-chart and check marks. The exhibition required hundreds of artefacts, some, like a printing press, borrowed from Nova Scotia! It was like walking into a dark-green cave, with the glint of gold panel banners everywhere, through the labyrinth of history.
My photographs of the exhibit did not turn out. It was simply too dark for a 35 mm camera with tungsten film. The only one that gives you an idea of content and space is the Irish funeral, a chapel with a Gothic window, complete with a Neo-classical altar, coffin, and mannequins – which I constructed – dressed in black funeral vestments. That display component was my proud contribution to this massive project.
The Parish of Saint Joachim at Vernon River had agreed to allow their pastor, the late Fr. Parnell Wood, a kind man, full of shy charm, and who loved cats, to donate their fabulous collection of antique vestments to the Province. The whole black funeral ensemble with white silk braid was shared, as intended, with Islanders soon after it was donated.
It is appropriate that I end this portion of my years as a heritage consultant with this wonderful Irish exhibition, as the next 8 years would be mostly spent in museum planning and the design and assembly of exhibits of Island heritage in various communities.
In the next section I will examine the process of my immersion into Prince County, with projects at Miscouche, Summerside, O’Leary, Tignish , Skinner’s Pond (Stompin’ Tom), North Cape and Lennox Island! In all but one of these projects I collaborated with the most flexible, intuitive, patient and brilliant exhibit and gallery designer of my life – Peter Ratelle!