By Melissa Heald
Nov. 9, 2014
Robert Henderson gets goose bumps every time he walks into Province House.
“So many people have entered the building over the years and so much historical significance has happened in that building… it always gives me a bit of a chill,” said the province’s tourism minister.
But Henderson isn’t sure he will have the same feeling when the Legislative Assembly moves to the Coles Building. Province House closes at the end of December to undergo renovations that could last up to five years.
Word came Oct. 23 the federal government will invest more than $10 million to allow Parks Canada a chance to address areas of greatest priority, said project manager with Parks Canada Greg Shaw in an email.
“These include structural and water infiltration issues.”
The work begins in January and it requires the national historic site to be closed, said Shaw.
Henderson wasn’t surprised by the closure.
“We knew the scope of the renovations was going to preclude the ability for the legislature to continue on in that capacity. If that was going to happen, there was a pretty good chance that the accessibility to visitors to that site would be reduced or limited.”
They are still trying to get a handle on how to best continue telling the story of Province House, said Henderson.
“We will still be promoting Province House as a key tourism, cultural and historical landmark in the province. That’s not going to change, even through it’s under renovations.”
Shaw said Parks Canada is committed to telling the story of Province House and its role in the Charlottetown Conference.
“Parks Canada is producing a new video about Province House and the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which will be available next year,” he said.
They are installing new interpretive panels and signs for 2015, as well as producing a new visitor experience that will provide an alternate multi-media opportunity for visitors to learn about Province House, he said.
Henderson said people want to experience history and culture by visiting one of the most significate historical landmarks in Canada.
“If they can’t get as close to it or really touch and feel and see it all close up, obviously that’s going to be a disappointment.”
But he hopes visitors understand, like any other older structure, Province House has to be modernized over time.
As for moving into the Coles Building, there will be difficulties moving into a new location, sorting out security issues, getting all 27 members of the assembly in the facility and making the assembly accessible to the public, said Henderson.
One of those working on making sure the Legislative Assembly will be operational in the Coles Building is JoAnne Holder, the manager of external relations and special projects with the Office of the Clerks.
She is working with the province and Parks Canada to try to make the transition as easy as possible.
“It will be a challenge to move everything, but we are very well organized because we are all working so well together and we are just taking it one step at a time.”
Province House will close officially to the public on Dec. 31 and the Legislative Assembly staff moves to the new location hopefully by the end of January or the first week of February, said Holden.
They will set up in the Pope Room of the Coles Building, a room about the same size as the chamber. They are moving all the furnishing, the desks, the tables and the curtains to the new area, she said.
They are also working with PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation to ensure the moving of any artifacts is done properly. Any artifacts not being moved to the Coles Building will go into storage, said Holden
So far, the process has been stress free, said Holden.
“We all have the same goal in mind, to make sure Province House is a safe and secure building which still represents the birthplace of our country.”
“Province House deserves protection and rejuvenation that a building of that importance deserves. And hopefully the money allocated and the people involved will do their due diligence to make sure it upholds that historical significance of the landmark of that stature.”