Sunday, August 27, 2023

Is P.E.I. closer to having a provincial museum?

As published by CBC News July 14, 2023

'Who wouldn't love to be cutting the ribbon on a Prince Edward Island Museum?'

by Cody MacKay · CBC News · Posted: Jul 14, 2023 8:24 AM ADT | Last Updated: July 14

Exterior view of Beaconsfield Historic House.

Investments through the government's capital budget this fall — should they materialize — could help Beaconsfield and other sites around P.E.I. that need the upgrades. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Whether it's on the street, in the garden at Beaconsfield or somewhere around town, time and again Matthew McRae gets asked the same question: When is P.E.I. getting a provincial museum?

McRae, the executive director of the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, said he used to think it was a joke, a little elbowing from Islanders who think the idea is far-fetched.

But there's something to that question.

"There's a magnetic appeal to the idea of a provincial museum," McRae said. "It is one solution to the question of how do we tell our story."

The idea of P.E.I. having a provincial museum in Charlottetown has been floating around for decades. Previous governments have danced with it, but none has acted on it.

Central P.E.I. museum part of new government RFP

P.E.I. to build central museum

The concept resurfaced recently in the P.E.I. Legislature. A few weeks ago, Tourism and Culture Minister Cory Deagle responded to questions from Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker on the subject.

"Yes, a museum would be amazing to have," Deagle said. "However, we think that there's a number of museums and whatnot, sites across the Island where we have exhibits, which really haven't received any capital upgrades, whether it was the former government or our government before them."

But the government's plans for smaller museums may actually show the path toward a provincial museum — even if the existing facilities need funding of their own.

'I'm excited to find out what the best way to tell our story is,' says Matthew McRae.

'There's a magnetic appeal to the idea of a provincial museum,' says Matthew McRae. (CBC)

"Who wouldn't love to be cutting the ribbon on a Prince Edward Island Museum? It'd be great," he said.

"But I'm also aware that … we already have seven museum and heritage sites embedded in communities across Prince Edward Island. Beaconsfield is just one of them, and they all need a lot of TLC in order to be maintained."

Beaconsfield has seen better days

The Beaconsfield Historic House in downtown Charlottetown has been through the wringer.

Nick Longaphy says repairs to Beaconsfield will cost into the tens of thousands of dollars, and that it'll be done in phases.

Nick Longaphy says repairs to Beaconsfield could cost tens of thousands of dollars. (CBC)

Winds from Fiona tore against the shingles and siding, shaking the building violently according to staff. During the storm, a tree smashed onto the roof.

On the inside, plaster on the ceilings cracked and opened up so much that an entire room is covered floor-to-ceiling in protective plastic sheets, with dehumidifiers working overtime.

The building has been closed to the public for months as it undergoes repairs.

Every day the building goes without much-needed fixes, the damage worsens and the repair bills rise, said site manager Nick Longaphy.

Because of damage to the outside and inside of the building, Beaconsfield Historic House is shut down for repairs.

Beaconsfield Historic House has been shut down for months while it undergoes repairs. (Cody MacKay/CBC)

"If you want these buildings to stay in good repair, it's costly. It's time-consuming. You have to make good choices," he said.

"To keep the building running, to keep the museum running, to keep our community centre running, there's a cost to that — and right now that's substantial."

Longaphy estimates repair costs to go into the tens of thousands of dollars. He said they will likely have to be done in phases.

Investments through the government's capital budget this fall — should they materialize — could help Beaconsfield and other sites around P.E.I. that need the upgrades.

'We could really put some money into those areas'

Deagle has hinted in the legislature about a capital plan for the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation.

Minister of Tourism and Culture Cory Deagle in the P.E.I. Legislature taking questions from opposition members.

'We could really put some money into [smaller museums],' Tourism and Culture Minister Cory Deagle has said previously. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

"We could really put some money into those areas. But also perhaps a site somewhere where we can … perhaps have a few exhibits a year, where we can move artifacts through and whatnot to showcase those."

We think that there's a number of museums ... which really haven't received any capital upgrades.

— Cory Deagle

CBC News reached out to the minister for comment, but his office said they're entering capital budget planning, so there isn't more to say.

At the moment, Deagle's acknowledgement that smaller museums could use more investments from the province may be promising to the sites that need it.

And the upgrades the minister alluded to would be in-line with recommendations outlined in a 2022 report commissioned by the government, which also presented a path toward a provincial museum.

A 'gateway' museum

The more than 90-page report details strategies for P.E.I. museums while also giving details about what a provincial museum on the Island would look like. 

The Barker Langham report, which is over 90 pages long, details strategies for P.E.I.'s existing museums while also outlining what a provincial museum on the Island could look like. (Barker Langham)

The report, done by Vancouver cultural consultant firm Barker Langham, presents three alternatives:

Option A: $40 million to enhance, revamp and connect existing museum sites through "carefully curated narrative tours."

Option B: A $57-million museum and storage space designed to present "an overview of the history and heritage of P.E.I. in a central location, before introducing visitors to the various sites around the Island."

Option C: A larger, $112-million museum "which suggests the development of a provincial hub museum, which would present a broad history of P.E.I."

The report recommends Option B, saying the $57-million museum would act as a year-round "gateway" that would keep many exhibits in-house, but also direct people who want more information about P.E.I's history to smaller museums.

"A new collections facility should be developed providing safe storage and access to the collection and funds made available for each site to enhance their offer and attract new and wider audiences" the report said.

We're excited to try and raise all boats with this rising tide

— Matthew McRae

McRae said it's not immediately clear whether P.E.I. will get a provincial museum. But he wants to see what the next chapter is in this decades-long journey.

"I'm excited to find out what the best way to tell our story is," he said.

"Whether it's a provincial museum, whether it's several sites that really get communities across the Island excited about our history and sharing their part of the story, I'm open to anything.… We're excited to try and raise all boats with this rising tide."


Cody MacKay

Multi-platform Journalist

Cody MacKay is a writer, editor and social media producer for CBC News on Prince Edward Island. From Summerside, he's a UPEI history and Carleton masters of journalism grad who joined CBC P.E.I. in 2017. You can reach him at or on social media as @CodyBMac

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

PEI Provincial Museums System Strategic Plan Survey - Feb 2022

An online survey is now available through the website of the Prince Edward Island Museum & Heritage Foundation Facebook page:  

PEI Provincial Museums System Strategic Plan Survey

We would like to welcome and thank you for your participation in this survey! 

We really value your opinion and your experience and we’re so pleased that you’re joining us on this exciting journey.


The province of Prince Edward Island (PEI),  through the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation, is currently developing a Provincial Museums System Strategic Plan. This means that we are thinking carefully about the future of our Museums on Prince Edward Island. 

We are launching this short survey to collect insights from our local community to help define the strategic direction of the provincial museums, inform future investments, and ultimately create a vibrant and holistic cultural heritage infrastructure for Prince Edward Island that we can all be proud of. 


There are 10 questions in the survey,  and  it should take about 10 minutes of your time to complete. Participation in the survey is voluntary. Personal information in this survey is collected according to section 31 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which means that the information you submit  will only be for the purposes of developing a strategic plan for the Provincial Museum System and evaluating the demand for museum programs and services.

Should you have any questions about this survey, please contact


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

We Need a Museum to tell our Natural History

As published in The Guardian, Charlottetown, PEI on Monday Jan. 20, 2020

We Need a Museum to tell our Natural History 

Daphne Davey’s excellent letter of Jan 14th outlined the need for a provincial museum that includes natural history. While the Museum Act of 1983 included natural history, we are still lacking facilities and staff for the PEI Museum & Heritage Foundation to carry out various roles under that act.

The branch museums across the province provide interpretation of specialized topics like shipbuilding on a seasonal basis, but the need remains for a central facility to tell the full story. The natural history story is one of many needing to be told and hopefully it will be told within a central museum that addresses fully for the first time natural history and cultural history.

A new provincial museum facility could tell the full 10,000 year story of human life here as well as the natural history. Integrated interpretation of natural and human history as an interrelated story in a facility with adequate storage and work space would be ideal. Perhaps this year when we acknowledge 300 years of European settlement on PEI and increasingly recognize that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and our relationship with nature are paramount, we will see the Province commit to this much delayed project.

Significant cultural and natural artifacts have been donated and purchased, while others await repatriation; it is now time to ensure these are housed in adequate space and shown to the public in a central facility. Without staff and facilities, all Islanders are deprived of an opportunity to share in learning more about this special place we call home. We continue to welcome millions of visitors with many asking directions to our provincial museum. We need a place that can tell the story of Prince Edward Island in a museum worthy of this remarkable place.

Ian Scott

P.E.I. Needs a Natural History Museum

LETTER: P.E.I. needs a natural history museum
 Premium content
As published in The Guardian
Published: Jan 19 at 10:32 a.m.


How exciting about the find of a 300-million-year-old fossil (Guardian, Jan. 11) in Cumberland! But how sad that Matthew McRae, curator of history for the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, is reported as saying his priority is to find a way to share it with the public, to put it on display.

The obvious home for this fossil is in the P.E.I. Museum of Natural History – alas, still a gleam in the eyes of many Islanders who have advocated for years for such a museum. What a big gap in our Island institutional assets! Such a museum would serve the causes of public interest, education, tourism, and above all conservation of our rich, natural environment.

This is not the first, nor the last, fossil to surface, and there are many more fascinating nature artifacts tucked away around the province. There are also other finds from P.E.I. housed in museums in other provinces, and even in the U.S. They ought to be housed at home where Islanders and visitors alike can enjoy them.

I add my voice strongly to those advocating to the provincial government for the establishment of a P.E.I. Museum of Natural History.

Sooner rather than later, please.

Daphne Davey,


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

OPINION: Provincial Museum - Years of Procrastinating

As published in The Guardian, April 11, 2019

Rosemary Curley and Ian Scott
Science educator Laura MacNeil points out the dimetrodon fossil’s patterns to Finance Minister Heath MacDonald and Parks Canada superintendent Karen Jans. - Contributed to The Guardian

Guest Opinion
Perhaps it is time to ask hopeful candidates on our doorstep a perennial question. Do you intend to provide Islanders with a museum telling the cultural and natural history of their own province?

In May 2007 we were promised that,

“A Liberal Government will put Islanders first by, . . .putting greater emphasis on educating our children about the human and natural history of our province. . . consulting with P.E.I. communities, museums, and our arts and cultural communities to explore options for a Provincial Museum”.

Liberal Party of PEI policy identified the provincial museum as a key issue in 2011 when “working to establish a provincial museum” was their stated policy.

The PEI Museum & Heritage Foundation has statutory authority as the provincial museum covering both natural and cultural history yet they have been deprived of the ability to tell us of this unique land, its creatures, and its culture. A curator of natural history, a natural history collection, a permanent display or exhibit telling of the natural history of PEI have never existed.

We need a provincial museum worthy of this province telling both the human and natural history.

Museums play a key role in conserving and developing a sense of identity as we each learn our place as part of unique ecosystems forged of land and sea. Closeness to nature needs to be introduced early and museums are key places for learning what nature can teach. In a generic world, the culture and history of your home province remains a strong asset in development of identity and sense of place.

Local identity is part of the reason tourists seek authentic experiences amid people living in relationship with land and sea. Attracted to unique cultures, tourists typically view museums as the introduction needed to begin exploration. Being a provincial capital without a provincial museum is hardly the way to welcome visitors. This summer when we honestly welcome the ‘dear mainlanders’ to our shores, isn’t it time we help ourselves and our visitors discover the real story of this remarkable island.

The Dimetrodon fossils located in the National Park date back 290 million years. Canada’s first ‘dinosaur’ was found in Spring Brook, PEI in 1854; yet it was Americans who ensured a world-class find was placed in a Philadelphia museum, in the birthplace of . . . America. Gradually science revealed that we were once the tropical heart of Pangaea, the supercontinent and our Dimetrodon predated dinosaurs.

The largest creature in the world is the blue whale and when a massive Prince Edward Island specimen died it was British Columbia residents who ensure it went on display in their museum. Proudly they display an Island specimen, yet we lack even a basic show case or picture-panel telling our own story.

Our irreplaceable human and natural history should not be for sale. It is our story to preserve, and our story to tell. So when you see a candidate knocking, have your questions ready.

Rosemary Curley is president of Nature PEI and Ian Scott is the organization's past-president.

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.