Back to the 19th century in Charlottetown, PE

4 minutes read

Discover Charlottetown, the Canadian landmark, is like retracing the footsteps of the Father of the Confederation. Let’s explore Charlottetown’s 19th-century distinctive heritage. Travel back to the conference of 1984 and discover some central places like the Government house, the Beaconsfield Historic House, and religious structures like St Dunstan’s Basilica and Trinity Church.

A pinch of History

  • The Mi’kmaq peoples were the 1st people to live on Epekwitk [Cradle on the Waves] renamed in 1954 Ile de St Jean by French explorer Jacques Cartier.
  • In 1873, under Britain’s control, the city was named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of England.
  • The 1st groundwork meeting for the Canadian Confederation occurred in the city in 1864.
  • Green Gables 19th century farm inspired Lucy writer Maud Montgomery for the novels Anne of Green Gables.
  • Charlottetown is the largest city and the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island.


  1. Canada was made here: the conference of 1864.

On Thursday, September 1st, 1864, leaders from British maritime colonies (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) and the province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec) gathered in Charlottetown to discuss the unification of colonies to create a new nation. This idea arose as all participants had a common interest: the threat of the new American nation and the economic pressure from Britain.

Reproduction of the 1864 conference room.

For seven days, 23 participants talked, argued and debated. A month later, they met again in Quebec. After 30 days of discussion, a draft version of the 72 resolutions leading to the British North America Act (July, 1st, 1867) was approved.


 The British North America Act was sent to Great Britain for ratification by the parliament and Queen Victoria. This original act remained in the UK until 1982 when the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, patriated it back in Ottawa (after the referendum of 1980). Indeed, legally, any changes in the Canadian constitution until then required the British parliament’s approval.

Statue of William Henry Pope “welcoming delegates from the Maritime colonies arriving onboard the SS Queen Victoria.”, by Jules Lasalle.

Did you know? Prince Edward Island organized the 1st meeting nevertheless refused to join the confederation. They joined it later, in 1873, (7TH province to join) due to outrageous railway debts. Better late than never!


  1. Fanningbank: Government House and Victoria Park.

The original 100 acres property, Fanningbank, included the Government House, and a working farm. Nowadays, the ground covers only 10 acres for the Prince Edward Home and the Victoria Park.


Built in 1834 by architect Isaac Smith, the Government House was the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island. As the representative of the province, he welcomed officials there like the Prince of Wales who was the 1st member of the Royal family to visit Prince Edward Island in 1860.

These days, it’s a private residence which is open to the general public only in July and August (the ground is open to walkers all year long).



Victoria Park surrounds the Government House. The boardwalk overviewing coastal and the walking trails colored by autumnal trees make it a quiet and beautiful park.



  1. Beaconsfield Historic House, the Victorian elegance.

John Lewis built this house in 1877 for shipbuilder and merchant James Peake Jr. Beaconsfield was one of the finest homes in town, equipped with all the latest conveniences for the period: running water, gas lighting, etc.


August 1879 was the social heyday for James and Edith Peake. They hosted a dinner party in Beaconsfield for the Governor General of Canada and his wife Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter.


Regrettably, James Peake Jr’s bankruptcy leads to selling the house only five years after its construction.

James and Edith Peake

The second owner, Henry Jones Cundall lived in Beaconsfield for 30 years with his two sisters, Penelope and Millicent.

Portrait of Henry Jones Cundall


  1. Explore the city – The architectural and religious heritage

Links to the past have been preserved and a walk into the “Old Charlottetown” is a good tourist seeking view. Start with the Bishop’s Palace, the episcopal residence for the Roman Catholic Diocese erected between 1872 and 1875. Adjacent is St Dunstan’s Basilica, the Victorian-Gothic architecture built between 1897 and 1907.


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 Across the street is the historic home business built before 1864. It includes The Wellington Hotel (1812) and the Pavilion Hotel (1864).


Did you know? Before 1812, political leaders gathered, discussed and passed laws in local pubs like Keys Tavern. Indeed, there were no public buildings to host these meetings.

The original Keys Tavern.

Continue a few blocks to see Trinity church. This Methodist church was founded in 1778 by Benjamin Chappell and the current structure was built in 1863-1864.




  1. Explore the city – The Waterfront

Water transportation was essential during the early settlement period as commerce, communication, and shipbuilding grew. Walk along the waterfront, from the Charlottetown’s Yacht Club to the Founders’ Hall passing by the Confederation Landing Park for a pleasant and scenic walk.


Did you know? One of the old tradition in Prince Edward Island is to horse race on frozen water and harbors during winters. Artist Henry Buckton Laurence pictured it in 1870 as “Trotting March on the Ice.”


Ready to explore 19th century Charlottetown?



If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share with a traveler visiting Charlottetown.


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