This morning we decided to go to Point Prim Lighthouse built in 1845, it is one of my favourite spot on the Island it also has a seasonal restaurant called the Chowder house.
This 2017 photo shows the Lighthouse with the re-built guardian’s house which had been torn down when all lighthouses on the island were automated some decades ago. This recreated guardian’s house is now a very tasteful gift shop focused on the Prim Point Light House. The Federal government also rebuilt, re-claimed about 30 feet off the cliff with a huge pile of rocks, soil erosion is a problem. The rocks are granite not the red sandstone of the Island which melts like sugar in Sea water.
We had lunch at the Chowder house which is just down the road, the sea was choppy today and the wind from the Sea was fresh it was so nice. Depending where you look the view looking back is Charlottetown in the far distance, Rocky Point the entrance to the harbour and straight ahead is Nova Scotia across the Strait.
On the way back we decided to stop in Orwell which is a very small place. Some years ago the Provincial government decided to turn the old village into a museum, it is surrounded by forest and next to the Estate of Sir Andrew MacPhail.
I knew nothing of Sir Andrew, except that one year ago in the Art Gallery where I work as a guide, I noticed his bronze bust, made by a famous Canadian sculptor 100 years ago.
The house of Sir Andrew is down a narrow road made for carriages in a thick birch and Red Oak forest, you turn off at the great stone gate to his home. The house is beautiful all wood panelled inside. Built in 1864 it is typical of the Island homes of the time and is quite large, surrounded by the original farm, which is now the MacPhail Woods Forestry Project. The area is very peaceful and quiet, very few tourists come here, it is secluded and not on the main tourist track, which is a good thing, since the farm is full of rare flowers, plants and the last stand of the original Acadian forest.
Macphail was born in 1864 in Orwell, PEI, on the family’s newly purchased 140-acre farm. His father was William Macphail, a schoolmaster; his mother was Catherine Moore Smith formerly of Newton, P.E.I. The parents of Sir Andrew belonged to the Church of Scotland and were strict protestants.
Macphail was educated at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, and then at McGill University in Montreal, where he received his medical degree in 1891. “During his studies at McGill Macphail wrote reviews and articles for various newspapers, including the Montreal Gazette and the Chicago Times, and saved enough money to finance a trip around the world.” He resumed his studies in England, where he became “a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. He returned to Canada in 1892.”
A side view of the house with the bell in the garden which was commissioned by Sir Andrew to commemorate the death of his grand-father, father and eldest brother. The bell has a crack in it and could not be used. Sir Andrew had a second bell created and it is installed in the Valleyfield Church in Montague, PEI.
He married Georgina Burland of Montreal in 1893, she died in 1902, a tragedy in the life of Sir Andrew. They had two children, Jeffrey and Dorothy. He and his family lived on PEI in the Summer months at this point. He did not like the labour of farming but was very interested in the subject for study and advancement of techniques.
From 1893 until 1905 Macphail practised medicine and taught at the University of Bishop’s College. At Bishop’s, he was professor of the diseases of children. Beginning in 1895 he also served as a consulting pathologist at the Montreal Western and Verdun hospitals.
In 1903 he became editor of the Montreal Medical Journal; “when it merged with another medical periodical eight years later to establish the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Macphail was made editor of the new monthly.”He was editor of the Journal until the outbreak of World War I.
He was appointed McGill’s first Professor of the History of Medicine in 1907, and held that position until 1937.
Macphail enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1914 at the age of 50, and served at the front with a field ambulance corps for 20 months. Assigned to the Sixth Field Ambulance, he served with distinction at a number of battles including Vimy Ridge.
He wrote and published a lot of books on various topics of interest to him.
Macphail was knighted for his literary and military work in January 1918.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate from McGill. He received the Quebec government prize for literature in 1928.
He was friends with Rudyard Kipling who visited him and with whom he had many conversations on Farming and agriculture both shared similar views. On this topic he is the man who introduced modern potato farming to PEI, it was an obvious success. He was also the person who encouraged Colonel John McRae, the author of the famous poem In Flanders Field to claim authorship and not leave it anonymous. He was friends with the great Internationally known Canadian Author Lucy Maud Montgomery of PEI, who visited him often at the house.
Amongst his many talent Sir Andrew was an author and essayist, he published a lot.
Macphail’s book The Master’s Wife was published posthumously, in 1939. It is the book to which Macphail devoted most care, and which he considered his best. Part biography of himself and his family (“The Master” was his father), part history of their community, Orwell, the book has been called “an excellent description of 19th century life on P.E.I., a very important social history of P.E.I.’s past.” I bought the book at the house and am looking forward to reading it to see how similar or different it is from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 8 books on Anne of Green Gables, which are also a social commentary though fictional of life on PEI.
The house itself is very interesting and shows how Sir Andrew was an eccentric man. In the morning he would eat a bowl of porridge in bed with a dram of single malt Scotch. His favourite grandchild was allowed and only her, to sit on his bed while he ate. He loved solitude but he also loved dinner parties and invited a lot of people to his home. However no one could stay the night at the house, so he had a guest house built for his guests to sleep separated by a barrier of trees, for privacy. So his children Dorothy and Jefferey did not bother him during the day, he built them large play houses in the garden. They are made of wood and are quite handsome.
His daughter’s Dorothy playhouse, inside there is a simple table, a chair and and toys of the period.
He would not install electricity, running water, indoor plumbing or any modern convenience. When Sir Andrew was a child 13 members of his family lived in it, and this does not include the servants who worked at the house, all this prior to the extensive extension being built. His daughter lived in the house until 1961 and then gave it to the Province to be a memorial to her father. It was only in 1992 that the government finally installed electricity and running water with modern washrooms for the staff looking after the estate. He refused modern conveniences because he profoundly disliked modernity and the rapid changed brought upon Canada after 1919. He simply could not see why life could not continue as always.
He so wanted to live on his Estate as the great man he had become, so a Post Office was set up just for himself, this was a very great privilege. It was located behind the house beyond a row of trees, again to preserve his cherished privacy. When the postmaster would receive mail often 3 times a day or a package he would run a white flag up the pole to signal to Sir Andrew that mail had arrived, who then would send a boy to fetch it.
The Estate is quite large and would require several hours to explore. It is well worth it and beautiful. In one area where there were lots of flowering bushes, you could hear the bees buzzing and see them rubbing themselves with pollen.
The house today serves lunch and tea in the great glass veranda, everything is made on the premises and uses local ingredients and produce from the garden of the Estate.
I really enjoyed this visit and discovery and hope to return for lunch. There are lots of interesting things to see and do on the Island, outside of the well beaten path and again just 20 minutes from home.
Sir Andrew MacPhail (1864-1938) painting by Alphonse Jongers, c.1924