Disclaimer: What follows is an opinion piece. You are free to agree, or disagree, with what I have to say. All I ask is that you at least consider what you read.
Whew, what a week! Things have really ramped up at Deli Gasta now that our roadside signage has been installed, and I’ve barely been able to surface for air. I have lost complete track of how many cappuccinos I’ve cranked out, but I know it has to be a lot. Outside of work, I’ve recently managed to get chased along a narrow footpath by an aggressive highland cow, and witness a sheep give birth on a cliffside ledge somewhere near Kylerrhea. It was equal parts mesmerizing and horrifying.
O.K., enough of that. Now to business.
There was some big news on the Island history front recently, although in my opinion it was news none too surprising: Founders Hall, near the foot of Prince Street in Charlottetown, has been permanently shelved and will no longer be opening its doors. And to be completely honest, I can’t believe it didn’t come to pass much sooner. Touted as a new age, interactive explanation of Confederation, it opened in the old Intercolonial/Prince Edward Island Railway car shop in 2001. $4-million was dropped on what was hoped would be a winning concept capable of generating oodles of revenue. The only thing is, it flopped – it well and truly flopped.
Founders Hall simply never proved a hit; in fact, in its opening season it only managed to draw a paltry 25,000 visitors. That lacklustre admission, coupled with the expenditure of $4-million dollars to get it up and running, quickly earned it the sobriquet of “Flounders Hall”. It was a name that stuck, and rightly so.
From 2001 to 2012, Founders Hall was operated by Tourism Charlottetown Inc. before being taken over by Charlottetown’s Harbour Authority. Following the sesquicentennial celebrations of the Charlottetown Conference in 2014, the its doors were slated to be shut; however, it was kept operational for another year, pulling in a measly 7,000 visitors. Outdated displays lacking in digital technology have been cited as the reason why the site failed to take flight, and while I’m sure that may have played a small part, I consider it a convenient excuse for a venture that was so far off the mark, it was doomed to fail from the get-go.
As a historian, the affair creates a mix of emotions. On the one hand, I hate to see a site dedicated to interpreting the past shut its doors; but on the other hand, I’ll admit that I’m not sad to see it go. Founders Hall was never what the Island needed. I mean, take your pick – the story of Confederation is everywhere around here (PEI). But a whole interpretive centre dedicated to that fact alone? Entirely superfluous as far as I’m concerned.
The big question now concerns the fate of a significant piece of historic real estate suddenly made vacant. According to what I’ve read, the CADC is in talks with a developer about renting the space, a fact that sends more than a few shivers down my spine. Apparently it is something that will draw people to the waterfront, but the fact that no one will say just what that something is makes me more than a little suspicious. More often than not, whenever developers get involved – especially in the past few years – what we end up with are condos. I have had just about all I can take of those, and I know I ain’t the only one.
So what to do?
Frankly, there’s really only one thing for it: the perfect opportunity has presented itself for provincial powers to step forward and finally create Prince Edward Island’s long-awaited provincial museum. The only province in Canada still lacking such an institution, the matter of establishing one museum to tell the Island’s story has been debated for well over a hundred years now. The closest we’ve managed is the current network of seven sites operated by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation. Scattered about the Island, each one is devoted to interpreting an aspect of the Island’s heritage, the whole of which is complimented by a goodly number of smaller, community museums overseen by the Community Museums Association of Prince Edward Island. But as much as I admire and support the work that these organizations do, we are sorely in need of something larger and overarching. All-encompassing is probably a better term.
But as much as I would love to entertain the notion of a provincial museum rising from the ashes of Founders Hall, and positively salivate at the mere thought of it, I’m certainly not going to hang my hat on that hook for fear of getting it bent out of shape. Why? Because I know full well that our provincial government, despite a plethora of past promises to the contrary, will fail to act on it as they’ve been wont to do. So much bureaucratic lip service has been paid to building a provincial museum that I’ve simply stopped listening. It melts your brain, lowers your IQ, and is basically nothing more than a big old slap in the face to those of us who actually give a damn about heritage and culture. Especially when vast sums are budgeted for unnecessary highway realignments, grassy mounds in Borden-Carleton, and trying to turn the Island into some sort of online Las Vegas.
Or maybe I’m just being cynical.
But anyway, who am I to be pontificating on matters beyond my ken? After all, I’m not one of those people blessed or intelligent enough to have worked my way into a position of authority, a position that allows me to control the destiny of situations such as this. Nope, I’m simply one of the many sitting on the sidelines who knows full well what should be done, and knows that it won’t be. Sigh.
Put me in, coach? I’m ready to play…
PEI History Guy
P.S. – If I had to pick a runner-up to a provincial museum, I would be pleased as punch to have my favourite Saturday morning haunt, the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, relocate to the premises. It has outgrown its present location on Belvedere Avenue, and I think it would make a terrific addition to the city’s core, much as its counterparts do in places like St. John and Halifax. And just imagine the industry that could be generated by having it open during the summer on days when cruise ships put into port?
P.P.S. – The featured image for this post is taken from Meacham’s 1880 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Prince Edward Island and shows the location of Founders Hall as it appeared in 1880. Best I could do so far from home.
May 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm
As we’re just moving to Charlottetown I’m not really entitled to speak about things on the Island but wouldn’t I just love to see the Farmer’s Market there. Just a block away from my house – okay there would be a bit traffic on a market day – a bit????? Okay a whole load of traffic but to able to walk to the cornucopia that is the Market … the mere prospects gives me another reason to move.
May 14, 2016 at 5:16 am
Reblogged this on Island Hearth.
May 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm
While I think a provincial museum MIGHT be good, I feel that for a place as small as the Island, it would benefit the communities more if tourists were to actually go to the various historical parts of the Island. This way they would learn from people in the area who may be able to pass on various folklore. I believe a farmers market may be more beneficial to the area with only a slight problem. There is limited parking and the Port Authority does not allow parking on their gold covered areas. A market could also incorporate and accommodate in-house eating as other markets allow in other places, Halifax being one and the ethnic foods there are excellent. But if something is that good and government decides to put a finger in it will soon go sour. Government should NEVER be allowed to run a business including liquor outlets or golf courses, liquor being the only thing that has succeeded.
May 15, 2016 at 2:36 pm
G’Day to you too there, History Guy! Enjoyed your piece, obviously very informed you are, and certainly very articulate. I have been away from the Island for many decades, (although am not “from away”) so know nothing of its politics. I do return home, annually, from BC however, as I can’t seem to stay away. My question, why wouldn’t a well-informed lad such as yourself join the provincial political ranks so as to positively impact what seems to be sorely lacking? I think Canada’s jewel would likely shine brighter. Yes? Just sayin…
May 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm
While I agree that we have much interesting and historically significant stuff stored away in what I like to call the “Art Barn”… it’s a shame people can’t see it! … I think a Provincial Museum would be just as much a flop as Flounders Hall. Who would go?
Cruise ship visitors would probably get a free pass, and some spin might be created to rationalize a Museum on those visits; but it would be bunk. People want food, art and vibrancy – not another Confederation display.
However the idea of implementing a Market/Historical Display/Musical Stage is a good one. Replacing the Farmers Market on Belvedere might not fly (and without $ the space isn’t big enough – Is it?); but having an additional market, downtown, on the water would be great! And might release some of the space constraints at the Belvedere location.
My .02 too. 🙂
May 15, 2016 at 7:20 pm
I LOVE the idea of the Farmer’s Market being relocated, or being added to for the summer . . . . It would become a downtown focal point, opening up all sorts of possibilities for family/friend gatherings . . .
May 16, 2016 at 5:30 pm
I like the idea of moving the farmer’s market to that location. It makes much more sense than having the congestionon Belvedere Ave. It would give our cruise ships a real idea of how deversified we have become and there is more parking for buyers and it is in walking distance of downtown.
We don’t need any more condos or apartment buildings, we have enough as it is!