Fathers of Confederation like George Coles and Sir John A. Macdonald would hardly recognize the Colonial Building in Charlottetown if they walked up to it today, encircled as it is by construction barriers and covered by workers wearing hard hats.
The Fathers of Confederation at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Back in 1864, the Colonial Building hosted the fathers for the historic first meeting called to discuss the formation of the Confederation of Canada. Delegates spent a number of days debating and dreaming inside the building’s solid sandstone walls. It had become evident in the mid-1830s that a fireproof public building was needed to keep the records of the colony as well as to accommodate the houses of the legislature and other public offices. The result was the Colonial Building, which was designed by Isaac Smith and opened in 1847.
We know the building today asProvince House. The name changed on July 1, 1873, when Prince Edward Island became a province of Canada. But regardless of the name, the building has been the scene of many historic meetings and colourful debates. It also serves as a double symbol of Prince Edward Island. Because of the 1864 meeting, many people view it as a symbol of Canada. On the other hand, it is the home of the P.E.I. legislative assembly.
So it is only fitting that as 2014 draws near, the 150th anniversary of the meeting of the Fathers of Confederation, the building where they met is getting some much-needed renovations.
Clifford Restoration, a firm based in Mississauga, ON., has begun work on the $2-million job. The work will consist of upgrades to the exterior of Province House that have been identified as high priority and necessary to protect the character-defining elements and heritage fabric of the building. Included in the list of renovations are repairs to the building’s foundation, masonry repointing and maintenance of the roof, windows and doors. The interior of Province House will see a few renovations but nothing the public will likely notice.
“It will look freshened up a little bit,” says Greg Shaw, project manager with Parks Canada. “From a distance it won’t look a whole lot different, but it will certainly go a long way to maintaining the building to make sure it’s there for another 150 years.”
Maintaining the grand old building at the head of Great George Street is costly. Between 1977 and 1984, Parks Canada spent $3.4 million on restorations. The work now underway is the largest renovation project since the early 1980s. The idea behind the current construction project is to make the grand old building look much like it did when the 1864 Charlottetown Conference was held.
The only unfortunate aspect of the work is that it is taking place during the tourist season, but that is something that cannot be avoided, especially if it is to be ready for next year’s 2014 celebrations. On the plus side, visitors are still allowed to tour the inside of the building and soak in its important history.
Province House has been the background for many famous pictures over the years, including those of members of the Royal family and other famous people. The current renovations will prove to be a challenge for people who want to take photos as the scaffolding will remain up on the Great George Street side of the building until late in the year. But the good news is they can slip around to the Grafton Street side of the building and hit the shutter button.