Friday, April 6, 2018

Fiefdoms run by political, lifetime, patronage-appointed boards; beneath radar of public

Founders' Hall on the Charlottetown waterfront with the outdoor skating rink located in front. (Guardian File Photo)


GUEST OPINION published by The Guardian March 21, 2018

Founders’ Hall is like a cat with nine lives as far as it affects taxpayers.

Various public entities appear to be playing musical chairs in their involvement in this previously public-owned heritage property.

These entities are quasi-government agencies, boards, authorities, corporation, whatever their names, created for political convenience. Many appear to be like little fiefdoms run by political, lifetime, patronage-appointed boards; staff, operating with taxpayers’ money, and beneath the radar of public scrutiny.

To recap the history of Founders’ Hall:

Canadian National Railroad built it. When redundant for its original use, it became the property of the provincial government.

Various uses were proposed such as a provincial museum or a farmers’ market. All were rejected and part of it became the home of the Tourist Information Centre.

A gruesome amount of money was then poured into the hare-brained idea of creating a museum with entrance fees, that imitated the real thing, available for free at Province House, just a few blocks away.

Ironically, they closed it, just as restoration brought visitation to Province House to a halt, and when that substitute could have given some pleasure to so many disappointed tourists.

In 2016 with the museum closed and in an expensive experiment, the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) was reborn and twinned with an alcohol sales venue in the tiny adjacent stone house.

This left Founders’ Hall mostly empty save for a few offices, and a sign on the door directing tourists to the stone house across the lot.

Last year saw the TIC moved back to Founders’ Hall and all traces of the museum gone - gone where? Nobody knows.

The owner of the building, Charlottetown Development Corporation, then sold the building and land to a private developer for a reported $3.35 M, (is the province holding the mortgage?) who immediately announced great plans for an artisan market for the vast area not leased by the government for the TIC. This, in competition with the well-established vendors in the cruise ship arrival terminal?

In January 2018, the City of Charlottetown announced the purchase of a land portion of the property for $1.25 M from the developer, amidst comments that had CADC sold it directly to the city, the taxpayers could have saved almost half the purchase price.

Roll forward to March 2018 and we learn that not the developer, but a public agency, the Port Authority is 'gauging different levels of interest' in space for an urban market, and has, before completing 'the gauging,’ already signed a two-year lease from March 2018, details of which of course are unknown.

do not know the amount of the lease. We do not know if it is for the bare hall with the cost of shelves and other furnishing to be borne by the Port Authority, in which case two years would hardly make a dent in recovering the cost.

There appears to be no business plan in place and rent is being paid while research (gauging) into sales space demands, and prospective numbers and kinds of vendors is being conducted.

What if there is no or only scant demand for space? Is the lease/rent adjustable, if this venture is only feasible during the summer months? A two-year lease is hardly long enough to develop a market presence in the community.

This is a rather unorthodox way of doing business, but perhaps it is not to be regarded as a business venture at all, but rather as a simple good will gesture between friends. How are we to know?

The announced lease arrangement between the Port Authority and the developer is obviously not based on a normal business decision.

It would be in the interest of all parties involved to have an investigation to clear the air, and to establish if this is a profitable venture or a form of bail-out or subsidy at the taxpayers’ expense.

The frosting on the cake for taxpayers, and to come full circle, would be if CADC bought back Founders’ Hall for $10 M and established a provincial museum there. The irony would be almost unbearable.

- Kirsten Connor was chair of the City of Charlottetown’s Heritage Review Board from 1979 to 1986

Monday, February 19, 2018

EDITORIAL: Paving paradise

Published originally by The Guardian - April 19, 2017

The Brighton Road site of the old Prince Edward Island Hospital, Prince Edward Home and palliative care unit, is slated for demolition in Charlottetown.

"There is speculation the site is being considered for a provincial museum "

Victoria Park in Charlottetown has been under tremendous pressure from development almost since the day it was created.  

The original 100-acre site was established in 1789 for the administration of the colony – primarily as a residence of the governor.
Over the following 228 years, the face of the park changed dramatically as green space was designated for recreational, institutional or commercial use.
A city – especially the Birthplace of Confederation – can never have enough green space. Charlottetown must make every effort to retain what’s left of the crown jewel of Victoria Park.
Future generations will benefit and be thankful.
Attention is focused recently on the former P.E.I. Hospital, and later the Prince Edward Home and palliative care centre. The building is empty and slated for demolition. The province is hesitating to declare the building surplus, because when it does, it will set in motion a final determination for the site.
Time is running out.
Several groups have their own narrow plans if they can obtain access or ownership. One hideous option is expansion of parking for public servants working in nearby provincial government buildings.
There is speculation the site is being considered for a provincial museum when other options are more appropriate. Developers are slavering at the prospect of commercial enterprises if the opportunity ever arose.
The city has the right idea. It wants no development, preferring the site revert to green space. That was the intent of legislation, which vested the property for a hospital in 1931 and for expansion of that facility in 1955.
Mayor Clifford Lee supports a memorial garden “to commemorate what that property was used for.’’ Many people spent their final days in the hospital, nursing home and palliative care. A memorial would be appropriate.
It’s essential to protect what’s left of Victoria Park. Access and service roads opened it up for heavy use. The park has seen the construction of ball fields, canteens, tennis courts, clubhouses, public swimming pool, playground and a skateboard park. 
Enough is enough.
The park was intended as a place for “retreat from the heat, filth and dust of the city.” In 1873, just days before the colony officially became a province, the governor vested a majority of Victoria Park to the city for all citizens “as a park, promenade and pleasure ground . . . On no condition may it be used for circuses, shows or exhibitions of any kind.”
The remaining 30 acres or so stayed with the province for a residence, gardens and grounds for Government House. The area has historical significance to province and country. The Fathers of Confederation gathered there for a famous photo and likely strolled the grounds now occupied by the former hospital. Countless royalty did the same.
The 1955 legislation stated “ . . . no part of the lands . . . shall henceforth be used otherwise than for hospital use.”
This is a chance to regain a portion of what was lost.
The province and city must ensure this will happen.

EDITORIAL: Betty Howatt leaves lasting legacy

As published in The Guardian Dec 13, 2017

This photo of Betty and Everett Howatt was taken in 2013. (Doug Sobey Photo) - The Guardian

 If ever a provincial museum should become a reality, the name of Betty Howatt should adorn the main entryway. Islanders owe her that and so much more.

A staunch and unfailing defender of rural P.E.I. died last Friday in Summerside

Tuesday, in Tryon People’s Cemetery, a grand lady of Prince Edward Island was laid to rest. Betty Zelda (nee King) Howatt, a staunch and unfailing defender of rural P.E.I., died last Friday in Summerside. Her obituary was short and unassuming, omitting details of the immense impact she had on this province throughout her 88 years.
Her numerous honours and achievements were not included in that simple death notice. It was typical of Howatt, who placed family, community and province ahead of self. While many Islanders are familiar with them, they certainly deserve mention again.
Howatt was a wonderful connection to the pastoral, unhurried province of yesteryear. It was almost as if she tried to recreate the romantic view of L.M. Montgomery’s fictional Avonlea at her beloved Willowshade Farm, where for 50 years she and her husband Everett operated a mixed fruit operation within sight and sound of the Northumberland Strait. Together, they ran the 75-acre farm that has been in Everett's family since 1783.
Howatt came to prominence in 1973, the Island's centennial year, when she helped form The Brothers and Sisters of Cornelius Howatt to counter a philosophy of "selling the province at any price." The Tryon farmhouse was the birthplace of Cornelius Howatt - Everett's great-great uncle and one of only two members of the Island legislature to vote against joining Canada in 1873.
Betty embraced change for the better, but that often meant she clashed with decision-makers when she thought the ‘Island way of life’ was under threat or things were going too far, too fast.
A well-known author and storyteller, she entertained Islanders with her popular and long-running weekly segment on CBC Radio’s MainStreet – Tales From Willowshade Farm where she provided weekly lessons on Island plants and wildlife. She also turned those snippets of country living into a book by the same title.
For many years, she was a loyal contributor to the Voice For Island Seniors. Her final submission, which appeared just last week in a Guardian insert, was timely and on topic, entitled ‘A Christmas Concert.’ Early in her career, she taught in rural schools of P.E.I. where the teacher’s reputation hinged on two things – keeping order in a one-room schoolhouse, and organizing a memorable Christmas concert. Her story of staging a Christmas concert more than 60 years ago was both vintage whimsy and humorous.
Her opinions were well known and she wasn’t hesitant about sharing them. At many key meetings where important decisions were being discussed, she was there to passionately defend her point of view.
She waged a 10-year campaign against the construction of the Confederation Bridge, fearing it would unleash a tide of development, which would forever negatively change the face of the province she loved. A founding chairman of the anti-link Friends of the Island, she took a leading role at public meetings during the plebiscite campaign. Even after the Yes side won, the Friends waged a legal battle against the bridge, winning a federal court ruling about an insufficient environmental review.
The outspoken activist on behalf of Island heritage was also an early champion of P.E.I.s environmental and agricultural heritage, promoting land stewardship, protecting our water and supporting the importance of farming to the Island’s economy and way of life.
An active public speaker and volunteer, Howatt also served with many local and national organizations. She was presented with the prestigious Award of Honour from the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation for contributions in raising awareness of Island heritage and for her work on the foundation’s board for 12 years. She was among the inaugural six recipients of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medals for her community work, an honour later recognized on the floor of the Canadian Senate.
Howatt supported a P.E.I. heritage museum to preserve the stories of the Island. She said, “There are too many people who are just in the here and now and they forget what has come before.”
Now she is at rest close to her beloved Willowshade Farm. A pillar of Island society is gone but not forgotten. If ever a provincial museum should become a reality, the name of Betty Howatt should adorn the main entryway. Islanders owe her that and so much more.
- "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." (Timothy)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

CATHERINE HENNESSEY: New direction for museum

As published in The Guardian, Nov 2, 2016

Let us not move too fast; ponder together what is best, how to proceed

Founders Hall is now up for sale. It has been touted as a possible site for a new provincial museum.

Yes, it is true we are the only province without a provincial museum and we have been on the lookout for one since 1880.
We took steps in 1964 with the memorial to the Fathers of Confederation and again in 1973, creating a network of heritage sites under the wing of the new P.E.I. Heritage Foundation.
Then in 2001, Founders Hall took shape in a very carefully restored railway building, although one has to admit the exhibits were far more for tourists than for Islanders.
The point I am trying to make is that we have done something, but as we have done things, the sector has changed and we would have been unfair to ourselves if we built - as we would have - had we moved for the ‘real thing’ on those past occasions.
To build for the 2020s we must pause and ask what exactly should be built. No doubt some of you have visited the new Halifax Library or The Rooms in St. John’s. Very interesting places that make me think.
Before we move too fast, let us contemplate a direction – one that fits our needs and that we can afford, both as a capital exercise and an apportioned one.
And before we go too far, should heritage foundation and museums, natural history groups, the library and archivists all be sitting down together and talking about it – and then they should invite others in to join them.
For one thing, just take a look at how, at both the Halifax Library and St. John’s – and many other places for that matter - are dominated by a bay of computers that could answer the common needs of all.
Please, please let us not move too fast and let us ponder together what is best for us and how we should proceed.
One roof sounds good to me. Leadership is essential.
 - Catherine Hennessey, Charlottetown’s best-known heritage activist, has been working to preserve and protect the city's historical distinctiveness for many years

Monday, October 24, 2016

Founders Hall should be provincial museum: Bevan-Baker idea supported by the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation

As reported by CBC News Prince Edward Island
Oct 24, 2016

The Green Party leader thinks Founders Hall would be a great site for a provincial museum, something P.E.I. governments have been exploring but have not acted on for years. (Charlottetown Area Development Corporation/Canadian Press)

The Green Party leader is urging the provincial government to turn Founders Hall into a provincial museum.

"I think it would be a fantastic opportunity for the province of Prince Edward Island to finally have its own provincial museum. We're the only province in Canada without one," said leader Peter Bevan-Baker.

He also thinks the timing is excellent given that Founders Hall is up for sale, and Ottawa is taking applications for infrastructure dollars specifically for social and cultural projects like this.

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan Baker says the timing is good because Founders Hall is up for sale, and Ottawa is accepting applications for infrastructure dollars specifically tied to social and culture projects like this. (Green Party of P.E.I.)
"So the dollars are there to be had, and if we had a provincial government with the will to do something, then to my mind this is the perfect time," said Bevan-Baker.

"Not to mention the fact that next year is, of course, the 150th anniversary of our country, which, of course, was founded here in Charlottetown."

Bevan-Baker said this would be an excellent legacy for that anniversary.

"Do we want our infrastructure legacy in the 150th anniversary of our country's history to be a perimeter highway, or do want it to be a place that celebrates the unique and the rich varied history of Prince Edward Island?"

Museum and Heritage Foundation supports idea

The suggestion of using Founders Hall for the museum was made by the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation three years ago.

The current board chair still believes Founders Hall would be an excellent location

"We are at capacity at our storage facilities in Charlottetown," said Carolyn McKillop.

"The ideal solution would be to have our artifacts out where everybody could view them and enjoy them."

McKillop said more people are donating important historical items to the foundation for further generations to enjoy, but that's not happening with them stored in the Artifactory at the West Royalty Industrial site.

She said having a provincial museum would help Island history come alive, especially for younger Islanders.

Provincial response

"Government continues to discuss a provincial museum but they have not reached  a point where‎ sites are being considered," said the province in a written statement.

CBC News was not given an answer whether a funding request has gone to Ottawa for a provincial museum.

Greens to renew museum support

As published in The Guardian, Oct. 24, 2016

EDITOR: I was delighted to see your recent editorial promoting the idea of using Founder’s Hall as a potential location for a provincial museum. As the only province without a museum, we are missing out, as your editorial says, not only on major tourism opportunities, but more importantly, ongoing opportunities for all Islanders, and in particularly our children, to learn more about P.E.I.’s fascinating heritage.
Whether it is cultural, geological, artistic or ecological, we have a uniquely rich and varied history which deserves to be on permanent display, helping to strengthen Islanders' sense of identity, as well as knowledge about our past.
It was Premier Campbell who set up the P.E.I. Heritage Foundation, and it would be a nice symmetry and a fitting tribute, if our current Premier - who literally wrote the book on Alex Campbell - would take this opportunity to leave a legacy worthy of their shared appreciation of Island history.
I made a statement in our Legislature last year supporting the establishment of a museum on P.E.I., and bolstered in part by The Guardian’s enthusiasm, look forward to bringing this up again when the House opens next month.
Peter Bevan-Baker,
Leader, Island Green Party 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

EDITORIAL: Founders Hall offers opening for museum

As published in The Guardian, Oct 20, 2016

Founders Hall in Charlottetown is now up for sale.

Memo to the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC): Delay a plan to donate remaining historical displays inside Founders Hall to Confederation Centre and Heritage P.E.I. There might be life yet for the building and items relating to Charlottetown’s 1864 Confederation Conference.
The building on the Charlottetown waterfront - mothballed since last fall although several retail tenants did operate there this summer - is now for sale.
Isn’t this an opportunity to finally move forward on a long ignored and much needed provincial museum for Prince Edward Island? The location is superb. The building is historic. And the need is great.
Just over a year ago, Rosemary Curley, the president of Nature P.E.I., came out swinging in a guest opinion in The Guardian to argue for a provincial museum. She wanted the province to tap into fresh infrastructure funds being promised by the then-new federal Liberal government.
Ms. Curley was hoping for a positive decision on a provincial legacy project to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017. And what better way to proceed than on a human and natural history museum? We are the only province without one.
Sadly, her plea has fallen on deaf ears.
There has been a general underwhelming interest in celebrating the sesquicentennial of Canada’s founding, especially in the cradle of Confederation and despite our own successful 150th celebrations in 2014.
The lure of federal infrastructure money saw the province recently commit to a massive $65 million Cornwall bypass project. Is the Cornwall bypass going to be the provincial legacy for 2017?
The surge in cruise ship and tourist traffic in recent years has failed to pay dividends at Founders Hall. Why? The waterfront has been booming, especially since 2014 when the Confederation Landing Park hosted numerous events. But tourists and Islanders seem to have skipped Founders Hall.Founders Hall opened in 2001 after the former rail car shop was converted into an attraction saluting our founding fathers. It did have successful early years but tourism numbers have fallen. The decline is blamed on outdated displays that didn't prove popular in the digital age. Modern interactive exhibits might have drawn more visitors but CADC seemed to have quickly given up on this facility.
CADC wants the private sector to try something else - to develop the property as a multi-purpose retail venue to bring people to the waterfront. The corporation acknowledges its initial investment did pay off and the building was a significant player in the rejuvenation of the eastern end of the city. So why did its support for Founders Hall come to an abrupt end?
P.E.I. was left without a permanent legacy for 2014, despite the enormous benefits to the city and province from the Confederation Centre national memorial built for our 1964 celebrations. Now it appears the same fate is imminent for 2017.
Before the rush continues to divest this potential treasure, someone must step forward and explore the museum options for Founders Hall before it becomes another condo development obscuring the waterfront.
There is need for vision.