Charlottetown, P.E.I. – the historic Canadian city where a nation was born, where politicians became drinking buddies, and where you can now enjoy ice cream, funnel cake, great shopping and a wonderful arts culture.
On a recent tour of Province House in Charlottetown, P.E.I. I discovered the secret of Canadian Confederation. In time honoured political tradition John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier and representatives from various parts of Canada arrived in Charlottetown on September 1, 1864 aboard the S.S. Victoria. Since the Olympic Circus was in town almost all government functionaries, dock workers etc.were congregated at the Big Top with the sole exception of politician William Henry Pope, who had to row out himself to greet the functionaries. What followed was the Charlottetown Conference an eight day, somewhat drunken round of balls, private drinking sessions and general male bonding between erstwhile strangers. This resulted in no written documents, but most importantly the Fathers of Confederation became “drinking buddies,” an unofficial but profoundly important part of our national political apparatus to this day. On a somewhat shaky handshake our nation was born.
Exactly 147 years after the original Charlottetown Conference ended, I found myself ensconced in the Holman Grand Hotel, a new boutique inn just across the street from Province House. While the funky decor and comfy rooms were a far cry from Victorian era P.E.I., I was right on the door-step of Canada’s place of birth. Charlottetown, a little gem of a town with a population of about 30,000 nevertheless supports a vibrant arts community. Cheek-by-jowl with province house is the Confederation Centre of the Arts covering a city block, which formerly was the site of the city market. It comprises several theatres, an art gallery as well as a restaurant and gift shop.
Charlottetown’s Georgian heritage is clearly visible in its architecture, place names and perhaps most of all in its name, called after Queen Charlotte, George the Third’s beloved wife. Not far from the city centre is Victoria Park and adjacent the elegant colonnaded mansion of the province’s Lieutenant Governor, the Queens representative for Prince Edward Island. Visitors are free to wander the mansion’s elegant gardens but please don’t knock on the Lt. Governor’s door unless you have an invitation!
Be sure to take a walk down to Peake’s Quay and its waterfront stores. After you’ve had your fill of shopping try the funnel cake and/or the handcut fries at Taters. Or you can treat yourself to a decadent and reasonably priced facial or massage at Pure Spa, also on the water front, just down from Founders Hall. Founders Hall houses an extensive tourism bureau where visitors can familiarize themselves with the island’s attractions or book tours. It also has an interesting exhibition on P.E.I.’s history.
Even getting to Prince Edward Island is an adventure. You can still take the ferry from Nova Scotia, but more recently with the completion of the Confederation Bridge, you can drive all the way. The largest such span ever built in ice-covered waters, it is an engineering feat designed to deflect huge masses of winter ice with no structural damage. Eight miles in length it was opened to traffic in 1997 after much controversy and a plebiscite which saw 59.4% in favor of the link.
For further information on Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island go to:
© George Burden. All rights reserved.
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