This Week in History


If These Walls Could Speak . . .

For the week of Monday September 6, 2004

On September 8, 1864, the Charlottetown Conference ended with a banquet at Province House on the city’s most important thoroughfare, Great George Street. Conference delegates were by then quite familiar with the street. They had arrived by boat at the wharf at the street's base, attended meetings leading to Confederation at Province House, the Prince Edward Island legislature, and had stayed in hotels along the street. For this reason, Great George Street will forever be associated with the birth of the Canadian nation. The importance of the street, however, goes beyond its physical reminder of Confederation. It also has rich 19th-century domestic architecture, and elegant commercial and religious buildings demonstrate the evolution of Canadian architecture.

The oldest surviving buildings on Great George Street
© Parks Canada / 1990

Great George Street, physically Charlottetown's central thoroughfare, first appeared on the town plan in 1771. Its earliest buildings were houses and hotels, all of which were built of wood because the pioneer Island economy did not permit any extravagance. Today, the oldest surviving buildings date from the 1820s to 1860s and are simple rectangular frame structures, placed close to the street. The Wellington Hotel, the oldest building, was a popular focus of social life in the period 1820-50 and served as the birthplace of several important societies. When prosperity increased at mid-century, Islanders then could afford to build with brick, and occasionally, stone.

The Neoclassical-style Province House, completed in 1847, set a new architectural standard in the townscape, as it was the first grand stone public building. It created a sense of pride in the Islanders and symbolized their maturing political life. In the late 1860s, important Island institutions moved to Great George Street marking yet another stage in the street's architectural development. The new structures included architect-designed public buildings of high style, further demonstrating the growing maturity of the province. Examples of this change include the Prince Edward Island and Union Banks, built in 1868 and 1872 respectively, the Queen Anne School built beside St. Dunstan's Cathedral in 1868 and the Bishop's Palace, an austere Italianate-inspired structure, constructed in 1872-75. 

The Bishop's Palace and St. Dunstan's Cathedral circa 1912
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-10728

Fires and modern development destroyed some of the street's buildings in the 20th century but, overall, Great George Street remains a witness to a formative period in Canada's political evolution from colony to nation and a rich architectural testament of the city's transition from pioneer to modern times. For these reasons, Great George Street is a district of national historic and architectural significance.

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