Three rivers flow into a confluence in the central part of Prince Edward Island’s south shore and this was deemed a most advantageous spot for early settlement. When Samuel Holland, the first Surveyor General of British North America, presented his evaluation of what was then called St. John’s Island in 1764 he selected this site for the county seat. The next year Charlottetown, named for the wife of King George III, was designated colonial capital.
By the time the island’s name was changed to honour the Duke of Kent and Strathearn in 1798, during his term as Commander-in-Chief, North America, Charlottetown was building its identity as a fishing port and shipbuilding centre. In 1855 Charlottetown, some 6,500 residents strong, was incorporated as a city.
On September 1, 1864 a congregation of 24 delegates arrived to meet in the colony’s spacious legislative building that had been constructed two decades earlier. Over the following days at the Charlottetown Conference the groundwork would be laid for the exit from the British Empire and the establishment of Canada as an independent country.
Occasional fires, especially the Great Fires of 1866 and 1884, helped shape much of today’s urban core of downtown Charlottetown. The result is an eclectic mix of Victorian buildings, many taking advantage of the distinctive hewed red sandstone quarried on the Island. And our walking tour to explore the past and the present of this seaside capital will begin at the “Birthplace of Confederation...”
Grafton Street at head of Great George Street
Isaac Smith was born in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, England in 1795 where he apprenticed as a builder. He sailed with his brother to Prince Edward Island in 1817 and started working as a carpenter and contractor. Over the years he began drawing up plans and was involved in the construction of most of the public buildings on the Island. In 1839 Smith entered the competition to design the new Colonial Building in Charlottetown and won First Premium of £ 20.00 for his Neoclassical vision. Construction commenced in 1843 and was completed in time for the legislative session on January 26, 1847. The final bill was £10,000.
On September 1, 1864 representatives of the colonies of British North America convened here to hammer out the framework for a new nation. The Charlottetown Conference lasted nine days and resulted in the Canadian Confederation. While the provincial government still meets in one end of Canada’s second oldest seat of government the room where Canada’s founders met has been restored to its 1864 appearance and is open to visitors.
WITH YOUR BACK TO PROVINCE HOUSE, FACE DOWN GREAT GEORGE STREET. ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
128 Great George Street at northeast corner of Grafton Street
This is one of several performing arts venues around town operated by the Confederation Centre of the Arts; it seats 200.
ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Bank of Nova Scotia
143 Grafton Street at northwest corner of Great George Street
This Neoclassical vault opened in 1922. It features a balustrade across the roof line and the formal entrance is framed by fluted Doric columns.
TURN LEFT AND WALK DOWN GRAFTON STREET. ‘
Confederation Centre of the Arts
130 Queen Street at southeast corner of Grafton Street
The three buildings at street level - a theatre, a library, an art gallery - appear to be three unique buildings but are linked into a single visual and performing arts complex. Celebrated Canadian architects Raymond Affleck and Hazen Sise contributed the plans. When the Confederation Centre opened in 1964, Queen Elizabeth presided over the ceremonies.
150 Queen Street at northeast corner of Grafton Street
There was a pharmacy operating on this site beginning in 1810. The current three-story building with colorful brickwork arrived in 1901 courtesty of the DesBrisay family. Thomas DesBrisbay was the Island’s first lieutenant-governor and early land speculator. His descendant Theophilus was mayor of Charlottetown in the 1870s. The Hughes Drug Store operated in the DesBrisbay Block until 1986 when, after 176 years, one of the longest operating pharmacies in Canadian lore closed forever.
TURN RIGHT ON QUEEN STREET.
Charlotteville City Hall
199 Queen Street at northwest corner of Kent Street
Public officials in the late 1880s were enamored by the Richardsonian Romanesque style, innovated by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Architects John Lemuel Phillips and Charles Benjamin Chappell adapted one of Canada’s best versions here in 1887. It features hallmarks of the style such as bold entrance arches, decorative gable and prominent corner tower. A renovation executed by Chappell and John Marshall Hunter in 1916 added a fire hall on the north side. Prior to the opening of this impressive headquarters the Charlottetown City council had worked out of a small wooden building on Queen’s Square that had once been a meal market.
TURN LEFT ON KENT STREET.
75 Kent Street
This classically flavored Georgian Revival hotel was built in 1931 as one of the Canadian Railway’s stable of grand hotels. It is outfitted with marble florrs and barrel-vaulted ceilings in the lobby. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are among the famous who have signed the guest register here.
TURN RIGHT ON POWNAL STREET
Samuel Holland conducted the first survey of Prince Edward Island in 1764. In it Holland identified the site for Charlottetown and Charles Morris laid out the street plan in 1768. But he made no provision for public squares. That oversight was corrected in a 1771 revision which included four sqaures laid out by Thomas Wright. This one was called Rochford Square, although it has enjoyed various spellings throught the years. On May 24, 1884 the Charlottetown Arbour Society celebrated the first official Arbour Day by planting 110 trees, which help Rochford Square to be considered the most beautiful of the town’s squares.
Kirk of St. James
35 Fitzroy Street at the northwest corner of Pownal Street
The first Protestant services on Prince Edward Island were conducted in private houses and a local coffee shop. The first church for the Established Church of Scotland and the Established Church of England (St Paul’s) held services in 1796. The first Kirk building was assembled out of wood in 1831; it would be moved to the north as a Sunday School in 1877. This Gothic-styled sanctuary replaced the original in 1878. A new Kirk Hall was designed by C.B. Chappell in 1895 and the wooden Kirk was sold.
Alexander Brown House/Fitzroy Hall
45 Fitzroy Street at northeast corner of Pownal Street
Alexander Brown could never help taking his work home with him. The son of a headmaster of the Central Academy, Brown became a banker. When he constructed this house in 1872 one of the downstairs rooms was used as a bank. The house displays elements of the Second Empire with ornamental ironwork over the entrance. Instead of a full mansard roof, as is frequently seen in Second Empire houses, Fitzroy Hall boasts a truncated hip roof.
TURN LEFT ON FITZROY STREET. TURN LEFT ON ROCHFORD STREET.
Prince Edward Island Government Administration Complex
southwest corner of Fitzroy Street at Rochford Street
The current Island government operates from a triplex of buildings named for Premiers of Prince Edward Island: Sir William Wilfred Sullivan, Conservative who agitated for the rights of PEI under the new Confederation as premier from 1879 to 1889; John Walter Jones, who won the King George V medal as the best farmer in the province and was a leader in introducing potatoes to the island before serving from 1943 to 1953; and Walter Russell Shaw, a livestock breeder and longtime Deputy Minister of Agriculture who guided PEI from 1959 until 1966.
St. Peter’s Cathedral/All Souls Chapel
northeast corner of All Souls Lane and Rochford Street
Following the tenants of a branch of the Church of England known as the Oxford Movement, St. Peter’s was founded in 1869 as a convenient sanctuary for the poor living near Governor’s Pond, beyond easy access of St. Paul’s on Queen’s Square. Ten years later it was designated a cathedral by the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and remains the seat of the celebration of the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism on Prince Edward Island. The adjoining All Souls’ Chapel was constructed in 1888 as a memorial to the first St. Peters priest, George Hodgson. William Crtitchlow Harris provided the High Victorian Gothic design and the Lowe Brothers executed the plan using Island sandstone. Several artisans of the firm performed the exquisite wood carvings in oak and walnut inside the chapel. Robert Harris, the architect’s brother and a celebrated artist, contributed the interior artwork.
TURN RIGHT ON KENT STREET AND CONTINUE ONE-AND-A-HALF BLOCKS TO CHARLOTTETOWN HARBOUR . ACROSS FROM THE WATER ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
1 Terry Fox Drive
The beautifully proportioned Georgian wood frame building was constructed in the early 1830s on 100 acres of land as the residence for the sitting lieutenant governor of the colony. Most of the estate grounds has become Victoria Park and Government House operates as the official greeting spot for visiting dignitaries. If you are touring at the right time during the summer, Government House may be open to the public.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO WEST STREET. ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
2 Kent Street at southwest corner of West Street
As the west end of Charlottetown became the most desirable neighbourhood in town in the 1870s shipbuilder and trader James Peake set about building a residential showcase here. Architect William Critchlow Harris blended influences of the popular Second Empire and Italianate styles for the new mansion which was outfitted with seldom seen luxuries such as a water closet, central heating (in addition to eight fireplaces), running water and gas lighting. Peake named his new home after British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whose title was the first Earl of Beaconsfield. Peake ultimately suffered business reversals and could find no buyers for such a pricey house in Prince Edward Island. He lost his mortgage and the house did duty as a YMCA and nurses’ residence until being restored in the 1970s as a house museum.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST STREET.
22 West Street at southeast corner of Kent Street
Architect William Critchlow Harris adapted the burly Richardsonian Romanesque style for this home for Richard Young, a railway accountant, in 1892. The house boasts multi-coloured stone, much of it imported, dramatic sloping gables and an arched stained glass window. Young sold the house to James Beale, a merchant tailor, shortly after its construction for $5,000 - roughly twenty times the annual wage at the time. The Beale family called their house the Priory.
Eden Hall Inn
12 West Street at southeast corner of Grafton Street
In 1890s business was booming for tavern owner and wine merchant James Eden. Enough so that he was able to move to the fashionable West End. He hired leading architect Charles Benjamin Chappell who delivered a statement Queen Anne house. Eden was able to splurge for oak and sycamore finishings inside. Eden moved in during 1897 and stayed until 1923 when George DesBrisay DeBlois, a prosperous importer and exporter took over the property and lived here until becoming Lieutenant Governor.
TURN LEFT ON GRAFTON STREET. TURN RIGHT ON POWNAL STREET. TURN LEFT ON RICHMOND STREET. CROSS QUEEN STREET ONTO VICTORIA ROW.
126 Richmond Street at southeast corner of Queen Street
Catherine Pippy’s family owned this corner when she married Henry Stamper in 1841 and after the marriage the Stampers sold books and stationery from the wooden store that stood here. When the property passed down to two Stamper daughters, Sarah and Eva, they carted the building over to Grafton Street and retained the firm of Charles Benjamin Chappell to construct this Romanesque-styled commercial block in 1892. Benjamin Charles Prowse, who sold dry goods with his brother Lemuel as the Prowse Brothers, was a long-time occupant here. Known by its colorful advertising as “The Wonderful Cheap Men” and “The Farmer’s Boys” who “slaughtered prices,” the Prowse Brothers firm was considered the biggest dry goods merchants in the Maritimes.
132 Richmond Street
In February 1884 fire broke out in the main district of Charlottetown and fire fighters, hampered by a lack of water, watched helplessly as this entire block of mostly wooden buildings burned to the ground. In the aftermath Charles Benjamin Chappell and partner John Lemuel Phillips won the commission to design this three-story commercial block for John George Hamilton Brown Jr. Brown’s family operated the British Warehouse, a dry goods concern, on Richmond Street.
144-150 Richmond Street
The Cameron Block, designed by William Critchlow Harris, was the first building to rise after the 1884 fire. The property was in the hands of the Cameron family since the early 1800s. Original deed holder Ewen Cameron, a merchant and Member of the House of Assembly, died in a drowning accident in 1831. Harris’ Italianate design, with its decorative flourishes, became the standard for Victoria Row.
154-156 Richmond Street
The Morris family built what was considered the town’s first brick house on this site in 1823 but it could not withstand the fire of 1884. Charles Benjamin Chappell helmed the re-build and accented the Romanesque arches of this 1890 commercial block with Island sandstone.
160-164 Richmond Street
In 1884 John Newson watched his furniture store on this corner go up in flames. He immediately hired go-to architect William Critchlow Harris and a spanking new Italianate-flavored brick-and-stone building was ready the next year. Harris added some Venetian flare with pedimented Ionic entranceways and columns separating third floor windows. Newsom later went in and out of bankruptcy but the commercial block has still retained its Victorian sensibilities.
THE OTHER SIDE OF PROVINCE HOUSE IS ON YOUR LEFT. WALK PAST PROVINCE HOUSE TO THE BUILDING ON ITS EAST SIDE IN QUEEN’S SQUARE.
175 Richmond Street
This large free-standing Italianate brick building began life in 1876 as the Law Courts Building. Designed by famous Prince Edward Island architect Thomas Alley, this was the home of the Supreme Court for 100 years. After the justices departed following a fire in 1976 the Public Archives of Prince Edward Island moved in. The building eventually was named to honor George Coles, a farmer with little formal education who became the 1st Premier of the Colony of Prince Edward Island at the age of 40 in 1851 and was a Father of Canadian Confederation.
TURN AND START YOUR WALK DOWN GREAT GEORGE STREET.
Union Bank Building
94 Great George Street at southeast corner of Richmond Street
This handsome three story brick building features Italianate-styled stone block corner quoins, window caps and elongated narrow windows beneath a mansard roofwas built for the Union Bank in 1872. The bank was absorbed by the Bank of Nova Scotia after its assets were hamstrung by expenses building the PEI Railway. The first telephone exchange on the Island operated from offices in this building in 1884. Thomas Alley was the architect on the project.
68 Great George Street
All of the frame houses on this wide residential street were here by the 1860s. The Wellington House was raised by John Howell in 1811 to replace a former inn that had been destroyed in a storm. The functional design utilizes Georgian elements with a hipped roof in its construction. The Wellington quickly became a hub for local politicians who hashed out several cornerstone Island policies at its tables. After spending time as a variety store the Wellington House is once again welcomingguests.
St. Dunstan’s Basilica
65 Great George Street
St. Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is a national historic site with soaring Gothic towers and pinnacles. This is actually the fourth church to occupy this site. The first chapel was built in 1816. Quebec architect Francois-Xavier Berlinguet created a High Victorian Gothic showpiece that was damaged by fire in 1913. This English Gothic replacement crafted from Nova Scotia stone boasts towers and pinnacles soaring 62 metres high. St. Dunstan’s was elevated to the status of Basilica in 1929.
Great George Hotel
58 Great George Street at northeast corner of Dorchester Street
This was the Regent Hotel when James H. Downe opened it in 1846. The tourist trade was not brisk and he sold the property to Henry Haszard who operated it as a store called the London House. By 1857 it was signing in guests once again as the Pavilion Hotel. These days it is a guest house once more.
45 Great George Street
Traditionally Prince Edward Island bishops did not live in the city after the Diocese of Charlottetown was created in 1829. That changed when Bishop Peter McIntyre set up shop in Charlottetown in 1860. For a dozen years he lived in a modest wooden house before initiating the construction of what some would call “the most handsome mansion in the Lower Provinces.” John Corbett designed the palace-like residence in an Italianate style with Gothic elements in the entranceway and windows. Cut stone was used for the three-and-a-half story Bishop’s Residence which was far more elaborate at the time than even St. Dunstan’s next door. The house has expanded over the years with a wing to the north in 1914 and a large balcony coming along in 1924.
Bank of Prince Edward Island
40 Great George Street at northeast corner of King Street
The Bank of Prince Edward Island organized in 1856 and set up this exquisite headquarters in 1868, using local materials from Kelly’s brickyard. The bank ran into a rough patch and became insolvent. After that the building has seen a number of private and public occupants, including the Customs House and Department of Marine and Fisheries.
TURN RIGHT ON WATER STREET.
102-104 Water Street
This historically commercial street was decimated by fire in 1857 but this tenement was saved with a tireless application of wet blankets. The brick tenement was constructed in 1833 using a Flemish bond pattern for the bricks with alternating stretchers and headers.
90 Water Street
The Batt family were familiar tugboat operators in Charlottetown Harbour during the early 19th century. This handsome Georgian-style frame house is an 1858 addition to the eclectic Water Street block. It has most recently been used as apartment houses.
92-94 Water Street
The three-story mid-block building was typical of the Italianate commercial buildings that were popular in the mid-19th century on downtown Canadian streets. The Merchants Bank built the headquarters in 1871, the same year Prince Edward Island became the last North American colony to jettison the pound in favour of the dollar. In 1889 the assets were merged with those of the Bank of Prince Edward Island on Great George Street. H.W. Longworth moved in and started canning lobster here.
91 Water Street
Donald Hodgson served the government in many ways: as Coroner, as Prothonotary, as Clerk of the Crown, as Judge of Probate and more. He built this brick structure in 1860 and rented it to the Customs Department. The bonded warehouse was built to protect valuable goods and it withstood the Great Fire of 1866 on this block - stopping the conflagration from going any further.
TURN LEFT ON QUEEN STREET.
23-25 Queen Street at southwest corner of Water Street
James Ellis Peake hailed from Plymouth, England and came to Prince Edward Island when he was 26 years old in 1823. He quickly inserted himself into the fabric of island life as a shipbuilder and owner and then politician. He constructed this commercial building in 1856 with separate sections for three businesses. Jedediah Slason Carvell, a Charlottetown mayor, and his brothers Jacob and Leis bought the building in 1912 for their burgeoning produce business. They stayed for over six decades.
Prince Edward Island Convention Centre
18 Queen Street
With 59,000 square feet of multifunctional convention space, this modern meeting facility came online in 2013. The price tag was $24.3 million.
CONTINUE ONTO THE BOARDWALK AND FOLLOW TO YOUR LEFT AROUND THE CONVENTION CENTRE.
8-10 Lower Water Street
This was the third shipping quay constructed on the Charlottetown waterfront for the shipping empire established by James Peake. The year was 1872 and the Peake boys were in charge by then, sending Prince Edward Island potatoes, oats, dried fish and wood to the other Maritime Provinces. it was said that half of all the island trade filtered through these wooden buildings. Since 1989 Peake’s Wharf has been transformed into a collection of shops and restaurants.
Confederation Landing Park
foot of Water Street
Six acres of the Charlottetown waterfront were developed as a park in the 1990s under the guidance of Toronto landscape architects Hough Stansbury and Woodland Limited. The attendees for the Charlottetown Conference landed here on September 1, 1864 to begin the process of founding the nation of Canada. An old Prince Edward Island Railway building was restored and a new Founders Hall interpretive centre built to tell the story of Confederation.
RETURN TO WATER STREET AND WALK NORTH ON PRINCE STREET.
Samuel Street House
163 King Street at northeast corner of Prince Street
Documentation is unclear but this is likely one of the oldest buildings in the province. Robert Clark owned the land in the 18th century and he may have built a house here before selling the property to Samuel Street, a mariner, in 1799. It is known for sure that a house was on this corner in an 1833 survey, nine years before Street drowned in a fishing accident off the coast of Pinette.
Thomas Alley House
62 Prince Street
Thomas Alley was a star Victorian architect who also did a stint as Superintendent of Works for the Provincial Government. He constructed this French Second Empire confection for himself in 1874, borrowing heavily from his work on the courthouse on Queen’s Square. Even the brick pattern is identical. The Alley family made this their home into the 1940s.
220 Richmond Street at northeast corner of Prince Street
The Methodist congregation on Prince Edward Island organized in the late 1700s, meeting in private homes until 1813 when a rudimentary chapel was raised. The first services were held here in 1835 but new space was continually needed. The current brick meeting house, with seating for 1200, was constructed in 1864. Although there have been additional renovations this is the oldest church building in Charlottetown still in use for worship.
St. Paul’s Church
101 Prince Street
Accommodations in the form of 100 pounds for an Anglican church on Prince Edward Island were made when the colony was formed in 1769. But the parish did not get underway until 1777 after Theophilus DesBrisay lobbied for three years to make the church a reality. Services were held in Richardson’s Coffee House Ballroom before moving to a house provided by Lieutenant Governor Edmund Fanning. The first actual meeting house for St. Paul’s was constructed west of this corner in 1795. The current Gothic-inspired church building was built using Island sandstone in 1896, using plans drawn by William Critchlow Harris.
Zion Presbyterian Church
135 Prince Street at northwest corner of Grafton Street
Zion Presbyterian Church was created in 1870 with the members of the congregations of the Free Church and the Queen’s Square Church. After meeting for many years on Richmond Street until this stone house of worship came along in 1913.
TURN LEFT ON GRAFTON STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.