When people ask me what I do for a living, I like to tell them that I’m a freelance historian and writer. Because in a perfect world, that would be my ideal bread and butter (irony: I don’t actually care for butter on bread, and yes, I know that’s weird); however, an unfortunate fact of life is that the world is anything but perfect, and while I have found work in my field here and there, it’s been slim pickings. I take what I can get when I can get it, but truth be told, the prospects for someone like me here on the Island, in this line of work at this moment in time, are so dismal that if I were to rely solely upon it for financial stability, I’d be in a worse state of existence than an unfortunate soul confined to a Dickensian poorhouse.
But despite that doom-and-gloom analogy, I didn’t come to you today in complaint; far from it. I know there are countless people like me out there going through the same thing.
The fact is, I don’t really spend the majority of my time playing at historian. It’s who I am on the inside and I suppose it’s the false impression I give, but when it comes to the daily grind, I’m actually a motel caretaker. You can find me most days, all day, at the Banbridge Inn in Charlottetown, a boutique motel lovingly owned and operated by my girlfriend’s family for 50 years since they purchased the business in 1966/67 (those of an older generation might know it better as the Zenith Park Motel). It sits at 105 Capital Drive, just on the outer edge of the city and kitty corner to the Tim Horton’s on North River Road. You’ll see two large yellow buildings fully stocked with red geraniums and a sizeable front lawn. Look a little more closely, and you might even see me puttering around. Just make sure you pay attention to the road.
(Now, I think it’s important that we pause here a moment to address a certain item. Before you even get any ideas, please spare me the jokes about Norman Bates, Bates Motel, etc. I’ve heard just about all of them, a good ninety percent of that number coming from no less than my own father.)
So what do I in my capacity as caretaker in the run of a day? Well, it’s constantly in flux, but generally revolves around exterior maintenance and groundskeeping; however, this is subject to change at any given time, and I can just as easily find myself tackling an assortment of interior odds and ends. All told, I like to think I’ve built up an impressive skill set in the two (almost three) years I’ve filled the position, a skill set full of things I never thought I’d be able to do. Like pulling apart air conditioners, for instance; or installing bathroom sinks. Heck, I’ve even begun to develop green thumbs, and I’m capable of carrying out (very) minor electrical repairs. I’ve also done a good amount of tech “troubleshooting”, and I’m fairly certain that I’ve unscrambled enough TVs, fixed enough phones, and resolved enough WiFi connectivity issues to justifiably refer to myself as a one-man call center. One of the things I have not done is unclog enough toilets to qualify as a plumber. And I’m OK with that.
Where am I going with this? Right – I don’t get to clock in at the library or the archives everyday, or sit at my desk and spin words out onto paper, as I often daydream of doing. That simply isn’t my reality, but maybe one day it will be; however for the time being, what I do have is an honest day’s work in the employ of people who like me (at least I hope they do), one that pays the bills and never fails as an overflowing font of (mis)adventure. It even affords me the opportunity to take on those historical contracts when they pop up. And far away though it might seem from the world I hope to inhabit, oddly enough life as a motel caretaker has actually afforded me a number of chance encounters with history (if you were expecting a twist, we’ve arrived).
Now, one of the fascinating aspects of the accommodation business is the wide (make that very wide) spectrum of guests you meet on a daily basis. They come from everywhere far and wide, and all walks of life, their reasons for travel are just about as numerous. The overwhelming majority are really quite nice and friendly, respectful of property and just happy to have a roof over them; but then there are those chosen few so foul-tempered and unpleasant and disinterested that you’re left scratching your head and wondering why they’ve even left home in the first place.
But I digress.
As a historian, I find the constant slew of new faces doubly interesting, given that every so often a guest turns up out of the blue, lured to the province on the trail of an ancestor or some relation to Island history. It was such a situation two years ago that brought me face to face with a pair of distant cousins (sisters) from Tennessee, here on the hunt for our mutual connection Thomas Hooper (1734-1816), a United Empire Loyalist who put down roots in Bedeque by way of New Jersey. That was an interesting experience, and entirely unexpected.
Recently, a guest landed on our doorstep, coaxed here by their own connection to Island history: a descendant of Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy Scottish-American industrialist and former president of Standard Oil. If you’re familiar with the National Park, then you’ve no doubt seen his architectural legacy – it’s hard to miss. Struck by the beauty of the province while on a visit here, in 1895 he commissioned the construction of Dalvay-by-the-Sea for use as his family’s summer residence; today, it serves as a hotel. Unfortunately, I did not have the good fortune to cross paths with said guest; however, I look forward to more chance encounters with history.
Well, that’s all for today. The next time you find yourself cruising along Capital Drive, honk twice for hello as you pass by the Banbridge. I’m there, somewhere.
PEI History Guy
P.S. – Above is a postcard of the Banbridge Inn as it appeared in the 1960s, when it operated as the Zenith Park Motel.
P.P.S. – You know, before he became a world-famous inventor, Edison was a telegraph operator. And Einstein, he clocked hours at a patent office before eventually developing his theory of relativity. I’m just sayin’…
P.P.S. – And yes, I am aware that today is Wednesday. This was supposed to go out yesterday. Life got in the way.