1991 was a very exciting year for me which was dominated by the building and setting up of the musée Acadien de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard in Miscouche. Since the early 1960s Miscouche’s historical treasures had been housed in a huge log structure that was suffering the fate of such buildings – extensive rot. A new museum was designed by a team of Charlottetown architects in a simple but clever way. An L-shaped building with a protrusion at the back housed the permanent exhibition on the left, as well as a gallery for changing exhibitions. A generous reception area provides adequate room for a book stand and gatherings of people. On the right is the office space, a genealogical centre and a storage area for the collection not on display. A highly kinetic brace of banners creates high excitement in the forecourt, as they flutter in the breeze. (Photo by Brian Simpson)
I was very heavily involved in this project as Consultant and Project Coordinator in the planning and production of the museum’s permanent exhibition, and Consultant for the creation of an open storage conceptual plan at the museum.
Nearly every museum has a vast part of its collection in storage because it is impossible to display everything in a meaningful way without creating the impression of a warehouse storing facility. Some important artefacts are always on display in the permanent exhibition, if they can tolerate the stresses of light and moist visitor air. The remainder of the collection is in storage, waiting to be displayed, over the years, in various theme exhibitions of a temporary nature. Miscouche, extremely advanced in its planning even before the ground was broken, wanted visible storage, which is a method of storing all un-exhibited material according to museum standards in such a way that visitors can be permitted to wander through the storage area and see hundreds of fascinating objects. I designed an open storage facility which was constructed to my specifications. The storage dimensions were in accord with what the museum owned at the time, with enough extra space for an expansion of nearly 100%. Twenty-eight years later, space is at a premium as the collection expanded quickly in significant areas.
The permanent display takes you through a maze of graphics, reconstructions, artefacts and a diorama that tells the story of the Acadian people on Prince Edward Island.
I even indulged my passion for setting up one of my ecclesiastical reconstructions in an awkward corner, where I was able to display altar fittings, a couple of engraved Stations of the Cross, a very elaborately decorated white chasuble and a hand-painted tabernacle veil from Tignish, perhaps by local artist Alma Buote.
It was inevitable that the government would think of inserting the musée Acadien into the existing Heritage Foundation provincial system of sites. This caused dismay among many people. The musée stood to lose its autonomy, so carefully developed with the highest standards over the past few years. And of course, there was the age-old issue – Island-wide – of Francophobia. Like everywhere else, the Land of Anne has a few nasty characteristics, xenophobia being one of them. At a meeting of the Heritage Foundation Board – and I have this on the best authority – an important member said that the Acadians would join the provincial system over her dead body. Well, before too long, the musée Acadien became part of the provincial system over her living body. Those holding their breath had to wait for some years before her transmigration into the celestial realms would take place, one fancies, like a Rubenesque painting of the Assumption, with hundreds of supporting rustic angels and cherubs.
I continued to accept contracts for archaeological background research which took me out into the countryside as well as various archives. Jacques, Whitford and Associates Limited, from Dartmouth, N.S., had received a number of contracts, following the requirements of the new Archaeological Sites Protection Act, to survey lands for new developments, some, quite large. They hired me to provide as complete a picture of possible, from documentary sources – maps especially – that could help them focus their field work on like areas of significant human occupation.
In April 1991 I provided the Preliminary Background Research, Cultural Resources, for the Charlottetown Perimeter Highway, Westward Corridor Location Study. That same April I assembled the Background Research, Cultural Resources Overview, Lakeside Development, P.E.I., and in November 1991 I did the Background Research to Support Archaeological Field Work in Lots 45-46-47. That was a huge task, covering a vast area and involving not only map study but the transferring of that data onto huge aerial photographs provided by the government Mapping Division as dark print-outs.
In July of 1991 I spent some happy time doing research, planning, design and coordination of the production of a lighthouse exhibit at the Victoria Seaport Museum. There was a great deal of local enthusiasm, and also a great deal of local artistic and design skills which residents were able to apply to the project.
During these happy and productive years I spent an enormous amount of time on the road, going from place to place all over the island to meet with potential clients or to become familiar with the ground – often huge areas – of archaeological surveys. My constant companion was my big four-by-four truck that took me everywhere, sometimes even through overgrown trails. I think that this wonderful truck, and individuals associated with that particular calling in life, should be celebrated by a personal digression on 4×4-ing, as it came to be called among the cognoscenti. (Note: the ing is not to be pronounced as four-by-four-in, but the terminal consonants must be emphasised thus: ING.)
A PERSONAL DIGRESSION ON THE LOVE OF 4×4-ING
In the late 1980s I gave in to a long-suppressed passion for 4×4 trucks and bought an old GM Jimmy for an outrageous rip-off price. I was a sitting duck. Over the next few years it was fixed up, painted a military green, and given huge Ground Hawg tires imported at great expense from the US. A little later it was completely rebuilt, with a new body, and even larger mud tires. I have moments – only moments – of wishing that all that money was now in my savings account.
Many men are attracted to trucks, especially 4x4s, and soon I had met a couple of guys who became good friends over the next few years. Through them I met a few other fellows whose knees weakened at the sight of a sexy truck and before too long, the Cats of Neuterville (that’s another story that I will soon tell you) founded the Prince Edward Island 4 x 4 Association. A parchment certificate, perhaps signed illegibly by a cat or two, and a baseball cap with the Association’s insignia, were signs of memberships. Soon those caps were worth their weight in gold and complete strangers would walk up to me and ask how they could join the Association. Somehow, it always remained exiguously limited in its membership.
My life, hitherto extremely secluded with my privacy fiercely guarded, was now invaded regularly by these tough guys who would come and sit by the fire, eat spaghetti, drink beer and make fun of me and my ways in a not-too-vicious manner. Duffy would often open a conversation with, “Tell me this, Professor…”
They represented various walks of life. Joseph Corrigan on the left was in the taxi business. Jerry Duffy, in the middle, went into masonry, and Dwayne Gillis was in the oil business. Together they brought a dimension into my life that changed me from a reclusive scholar into a moderately reckless mudder who learned to drive anywhere with almost-complete confidence. I even learned to “take air” as the first photograph shows. Thank God I had a brutal custom-made suspension system…
This love of driving around to explore the countryside with my 4×4 was useful in many ways. It got me out of the house and into the countryside – both muddy and filled with the evidence of our heritage in every possible manifestation. In another post I mentioned the topographical map atlas that I made to guide me in my explorations and on which to record not only the conditions of the roads over which I drove (they were coded with coloured markers) but also to make notes of landscapes, buildings and archaeological sites. I still have that atlas, torn and covered with mud, but still valuable today as I continue to study the Island.
THE BEGINNING OF MY ASSOCIATION WITH GOVERNMENT HOUSE
After the Heritage Foundation came into being in 1970 it was given the responsibility of monitoring and even directing everything that happened on the Government House estate, called Fanningbank, both inside and outside the House, and the various gardens in the grounds. To accomplish this the Foundation very wisely set up the Government House Committee, reporting to the Heritage Foundation Board, so that work could begin to restore the house and its estate to a semblance of what it was originally meant to be.
This committee kept minutes faithfully and I have read carefully through over 40 years of them, taking notes of significant actions, for good or for bad, taken by the Committee over the years.
Such a committee had an extremely difficult task to do because, to do its work successfully, it need members with expertise in a wide variety of areas: the history of the estate, the origins of the style of the house and its decoration, both inside and out, and a knowledge of historic interior design and furniture styles. They never really possessed these qualifications and the minutes tell that they were aware of these limitations and wanted to do something about it. The only area where the Committee had very important knowledge was what items that used to be part of gubernatorial furnishings over the years and who the present owners were. Often the members, who themselves were part of the Charlottetown and Island aristocracy, owned some of these very pieces.
There is plenty of evidence from the Minutes that shows how deep their concern for accuracy was in all the work they did. From time to time they would consult outside experts, but in those years, specialists with architectural history knowledge were rare and far away. Antique dealers, while helpful with some things, were interested in business and could never be completely trusted to act in the interests of the House.
By 1990 the Government House Committee had gained an ardent – and highly informed – member in the person of the late Dr. Willie Eliot, the President of UPEI. Willie Eliot was a classical archaeologist who had been Professor of Archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. He was a great topographer, a field archaeologist, a very astute scholar, and himself a collector of antiquities of the kind that related to the history of Government House.
Before he came on the Committee, an attempt, which had turned into a disaster, had been made to restore the great south Ionic portico to its original appearance. Very oversized custom-made columns, completely ignoring evidence still on the building, were ordered from the US. Refusing well-informed guidance, and again ignoring evidence still on the building, members of the committee and a local craftsman designed Ionic capitals by looking at those of Province House from the ground and then carving them out of laminated wood. Not only were the designs incorrect but structurally they could not take the stress required of them and they began to disintegrate. In the end the main entrance of Government House had to be roped off because of falling bits of Ionic capitals. In time the problem of the capitals would be solved in a semi-satisfactory manner by placing a correct Ionic design, based on archaeological evidence, and cast in metal, over the oversized wooden columns of the South Portico.
It was at this time that the Government House Committee, urged by Dr. Eliot, decided to gather together all the information available on the structure of Government House so that, in future restorations, they would have relevant information to guide them. I had been lecturing on local architecture, including Government House, for years and it was decided to hire me to write a “discussion paper” on the architecture of Government House.
The Department of Transportation and Public Works hired me to write Planning a Restoration of the Exterior of Government House: A Discussion Paper in 1991. David Webber did some reconstruction drawings for me, especially one of the exterior shown in the Greek Revival style that Isaac Smith was using in all his buildings at that time. It consisted of the heavy corner boards or pilasters topped with brackets or modillions in the style John Plaw had used on his 1811 Courthouse in Queen’s Square. The cladding of Government House employed heavy planks laid horizontally with grooves cut between them to give the effect of an exterior stone finish called French Rustication. The west side of the west wing is still cladded in that manner. The rest of this was stripped off the building when it was shingled all over with spruce shingles in preparation for the Prince of Wales visit in 1860.
Here are two photos showing, on the left, the original 1834 cladding on the west wing, and similar cladding with pilaster and modillions from a house at 18 West Street.
In this report David Webber had written, at the request of the Committee, a brief paint analysis that might guide the Committee in future restoration of the exterior. David and I were both uneasy about this because we felt that such work should be done by experts, such as the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa. We did not even have access to Munsell charts and so, in my recent revision of this manuscript, I removed the brief section on the paint analysis.
AN EXCURSION TO SOUTH RUSTICO
In a completely different vein of work, but still in the realm of architectural design, Judy and Gary MacDonald of the Barachois Inn at South Rustico hired me in December 1991 to design an appropriate veranda for their house, which had either lost it over time, or never had one. There was no photograph to guide me in this so I used information already on the house.
The house is a fine austere Italianate structure, probably from the 1870s. The MacDonalds, for the comfort and convenience of their guests, wanted a veranda somewhat wider than what is found on the Island and I obliged. The architectural details of the veranda are taken from the corner boards and eaves of the house, but with reduced dimensions. The effect is very pleasing to look at and to experience. I also advised on the kitchen wing.
THE POTATO MUSEUM AT O’LEARY – AN EXCITING NEW COLLABORATION
For many years O’Leary, with a powerful community spirit driven by the late Dr. George Dewar, had declared itself as the potato capital of the world. In the midst of potato country, as well as interpreting community history (they already had a community museum) they decided that they would have a purpose-built structure that would also incorporate the community interpretation because the original building was deteriorating severely.
Dr. Dewar persuaded me to take on the project of the planning and coordination of exhibit production for the new Potato Museum. This took place in 1992-93 and changed my consulting life in two most important ways. The first was by developing a format for working out a storyline that would contain the actual major text that visitors would read. As well, all the graphics – maps, photos, drawings, charts etc. – would be identified for each section of the story. Finally, there would be a list of whatever artefacts necessary to bring all these words and pictures into a three-dimensional presence.
I spent two days working with the Museum Board, in a very excited discussion, questioning them about everything they wanted to include in their particular story and writing it on a blackboard, and then big pads of paper on stands. It was brainstorming at its most dramatic. At the end of these sessions we had identified THIRTEEN areas that were vital to the telling of the story of the potato’s role in the wold and the Island. Each section of the storyline was presented on a table like the one illustrated above. It included everything – words, graphics and artefacts – that would appear in the museum. By now I was beginning to be computer literate and this was my first computer-generated major proposal I ever did! This format, of developing a storyline into the three-column system of TEXT-GRAPHICS-ARTEFACTS, would be my standard modus operandi for the rest of my consulting days. I still recommend it today as being the most practical system of getting a storyline written and articulated to the point where designers and fabricators can take over.
The second way my life as a museum consultant was changed was when I met the designer the O’Leary Board of Directors had chosen. It was Peter Ratelle, of Professional Drafting Services in Summerside.
Never in my life, in all its various manifestations, have I ever met such a person with so many varied qualities. Embarking on a project with him would be a voyage full of pleasure, excitement, surprise and utter satisfaction. Having read the storyline, Peter instinctively understood what kind of space an exhibit required and he had the easy ability to construct passages in the assigned space that could lead the visitor in a chronological sequence through the story, while permitting open spaces where artefacts could be grouped in a meaningful way.
I seem to have lost the majority of the pictures I took in O’Leary all those years ago, but this smudgy WORK IN PROGRESS photo gives you an idea of how things were grouped.
The centrepiece in the equipment hall featured a fine antique tractor pulling a digger which in turn pulled a sorting apparatus on which people stood. On the wall, there were to be large photo blow-ups showing work crews from years before in the field, working with the same equipment.
The exhibits at the Potato Museum have been changed considerably through the passage of time and our first very brave experiment as a team is largely a happy memory. There would be other projects in the years ahead, all in Prince County. Working with Peter would continue for several more years.
Other projects continued to occupy my time in between the many hours spent at O’Leary. Here are some of them.
In July 1992 I prepared an historical and architectural analysis of the Farmers Bank at Rustico for the Board of the Farmers Bank Museum.
Also at that time I prepared an historical analysis and architectural history component in Conservation Report: Farmers Bank at Rustico, Project 911135, for Coles Associates Ltd., Charlottetown. This report would begin the process of restoration that turned the shabby building in this photograph into the beautiful elegant edifice it is today.
On 17 October 1992 I gave a day workshop, at the Eptek National Exhibition Centre, Summerside on Studying Summerside Architecture and Planning for Restoration/Renovation.
So many things happened in the brief time described in this section that I would at times feel exhausted and unable to concentrate properly. When that happened I re-established my private life and would hop in the truck for a long exploration of back roads unknown to me, or, in my own home, and before the fire with the cats and a glass of sherry, I would listen to Early Romantic opera and recharge the battery for another go at my crazy schedule.
As a postscript, one must remember that I was teaching, during this period, the equivalent of a full-time lecturer position in Fine Arts at UPEI, averaging 5 courses per year. Here are the courses:
Fine Arts 311 – Renaissance Art, Montague and Summerside, Spring 1993
Fine Arts 321 – 19th Century, UPEI Campus, Spring 1993
Fine Arts 452 (SS) Art and Architecture of PEI, First Summer School Session, UPEI Campus, 1993
Fine Arts 101 — Introduction to Art History, UPEI Campus, Fall 1993
Fine Arts 321 – Canadian Art, Summerside and Montague, Spring 1992.
Fine Arts 102 – Introduction to the History of Western Art II, U.P.E.I. Campus, Spring 1992.
Fine Arts 302 – Baroque and Rococo Art, UPEI Campus, Fall 1992
Fine Arts 452 SS – The Art and Architecture of Prince Edward Island, Summerside and Montague, Fall 1991
Fine Arts 101 – Introduction to the History of Western Art I, U.P.E.I. Campus, Fall 1991
Fine Arts 211 – Roman Art, Montague, Spring 1991
Fine Arts 302 – Baroque and Rococo Art, Charlottetown and Summerside, Spring 1991.