© Guardian photo
Parks Canada field unit superintendent Jewel Cunningham and Senator Mike Duffy take a walk down a section of the upgraded trail system at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst Thursday.
An investment that would have seemed like a fortune to the original settlers has given an Island historic site a facelift.
Jewel Cunningham, field unit superintendent with Parks Canada, said an $895,000 investment in Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst helped improve the site for community use.
“That’s the ideal scenario,” she said.
Cunningham was at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst Thursday to celebrate the completion of infrastructure work at the historic site.
Planning for the site’s upgrades started in 2008 when the federal government first announced its stimulus funding.
The physical work started with Newson House, which was built in the 19th century and needed restoration work, along with stabilization to protect it as a cultural resource.
Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst more than tripled the length of its trail system with the addition of a six kilometre extension that was finished last fall.
In 2005 the visitor centre flooded, which meant it had to be closed because of extensive damage in the interpretive exhibit area, but it has since been upgraded with a redesigned interior.
The upgrades created a multi-purpose space with a fully equipped kitchen and the only thing left to finish is the addition of a shaded walkway at the visitor centre.
Outside, the site’s grounds got lighting and electrical upgrades and improved bathrooms to better handle large scale events.
Cunningham said the site has a special place in Parks Canada’s system of protected places because of its connection to Mi’kmaq, French, Acadian and British culture.
“Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site has a rich history and the site commemorates the interweaving of four cultures on Prince Edward Island who first called this place home,” she said.
The Mi’kmaq connection was on display Thursday as two interpreters blessed the site with sage smoke and held a smudge ceremony that included everyone who attended the announcement.
Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst is the site of the first European settlement on Prince Edward Island and was once home to a British fort, the remains of which are still visible.
Cunningham said the local tourism industry was interested in seeing upgrades to the site and an expansion of the old visitor centre.
“The site I think was really at a point of needing something new, some new rejuvenation,” she said.
Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site also has a stage for community groups and the hope is they will make use of the site, she said.
“Islanders and especially people who have ownership of the place because they have history here, have a chance to present their history to tourists.”
Although it is too early to say how much of an impact the changes will have on the number of visitors to the site, Cunningham said the trail expansion has already generated a lot of interest.
“We know for sure that there has to be more people using that now,” she said.
Senator Mike Duffy was also at the announcement representing the federal government and said the site represents a mix of different cultural histories.
“It tells the story of the cultures who formed the history of our Island,” he said.