Two restoration projects in Charlottetown have attracted a lot of attention, both are within 4 blocks of each other. One the Sydney Street Convent is now complete and the other is the Legislature building, Province House just getting under way.
The Convent goes back quite a few years, the land at the corner of Weymouth and Sydney street was given by Mr. Daniel Brennan in 1857 so the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in Montreal could establish a school and convent. The school existed for 100 years, many girls graduated from it. Until 2014 a diminishing number of nuns continued to live there. The property was sold to investors in 2015 and they renovated and converted the old school and convent into a new boutique hotel. Initially $6 million dollar had been earmarked for the transformation but an additional $10 million was required to finish the job properly. The old Convent is located across the street from one of the original City parks, Hillsborough Square, it is a very nice and quiet area, the old Train Station is just a few steps South of the Convent.
People in the area were very concerned when it was revealed that the investors were Chinese immigrants, however after the public and the remaining nuns were invited to visit the new Sydney Boutique hotel, everyone was happy with the turn of events.
The other big project is the restoration of Province House, the Legislature of PEI. Built in 1847 by Isaac Smith who we celebrate this year the 200 anniversary of his arrival on PEI. It was in this building that the delegates of the British colonies of Canada met in 1864 to bring about the Canadian Constitution and the creation of a new country Canada.
This beautiful building in the neo-classical doric style has many architectural problems because the architect Isaac Smith despite his great success at building many famous building which remain with us today, did not always have the expertise to take on those complex projects. In the matter of Province House, Smith had not included the two porticos on the South and North side of the building. At the last minute politicians demanded he add them in an effort to copy the Legislature building in Halifax. Smith was against the idea, it was not in his plan but the powers that be would not listen. Isaac Smith left Charlottetown 2 weeks after completing his most famous project never to return a disappointed man. He went to live in a small village in Nova Scotia becoming a Methodist missionary. His house at 100 Prince Street still exist today, dating back to 1820.
I attended an information session by the chief engineer of the restoration project. This project will last about 5 years, what is being restored are the foundation, outside stone walls and the slate roof. The interior made of wood containing all the historical rooms will not be touched but protected during the restoration.
At the moment the work is to prepare the grounds to install the great steel skeleton which will cover and support the wood interior while the stone walls are dismantled one stone at a time, cleaned and repaired. It will also hold up the roof. The two porticos on the South and North facade will be dismantled also and a new foundation created to stabilize them for years to come. Then the stone and columns will be put back into place.
It is almost surgery when you think of it very careful work.
Rubble being extracted from the walls, apparently this type of rubble served as filler between the stone facade and the wood structure of the building. Since the building sits on the bare ground with no protective envelope to prevent water infiltration, over the years much damage has been done. This restoration work was urgently needed.
Province House before the start of the restoration project, hopefully returned to this aspect in a few years time.
A ball at Province House during the Charlottetown Conference in 1864