© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Joe McGuirk from McGuirk Bros. Construction installs drywall in the main stairwell at Province House as part of the repairs needed after a large piece of plaster fell from the ceiling in January.
A building that once hosted the Charlottetown Conference couldn’t host a small tour group these days thanks to ongoing problems that have shut down historic Province House.
Foundation problems, a leaky roof and deteriorating masonry were some of the issues Parks Canada has dealt with in recent years at the site, with falling plaster adding to the list and shutting down the building for a few months of repair work.
But according to a report from an engineering firm hired to investigate issues with the building, there were more serious problems that threatened Province House’s structural integrity and public safety.
The Guardian obtained a copy of the May 2013 report from Taylor Hazell Architects through the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act. In that report, the firm detailed a host of problems with Province House, ranging from serious structural issues like crumbling foundation walls to window frames that were only half painted.
Doug Boylan, who worked in Province House for almost 20 years and who was a former clerk of the legislative assembly, said it’s arguably the most historic building in Canada and should have a level of attention to reflect that.
“It’s as simple as that,” he said.
“If we believe the Island myth about the birthplace (of Confederation), the place is pretty important isn’t it?”
The building opened in 1847 and was then known as the Colonial Building. Although it operates as a working legislature, Parks Canada maintains it due to an agreement the provincial and federal governments signed in 1974.
It was the site of the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, was designated a national historic site in 1966 and has been assigned Parks Canada’s highest level of national historic significance.
Parks Canada started to address some of Province House’s recent woes in 2012 and the initial round of repairs addressed issues with the building’s foundation.
In 2013 further work was done to fix masonry and install a steel beam to secure a wall that was leaning outward.
The most recent problem came when a section of plaster about the size of a large pool table fell off the ceiling last month in one of the building’ entrances.
Province House has been closed ever since and legislative assembly staff were forced to move to the Atlantic Technology Centre while repairs are underway.
Taylor Hazell Architects started its investigation in September 2012 and in October of that year use of the grounds was limited because of the apparent risk to public safety.
Emergency work was recommended and Taylor Hazell Architects said that without a comprehensive construction conservation program the building would become increasingly unstable with the potential for partial collapse.
According to the report, Parks Canada was notified in September 2012 that a sudden wall failure was a possibility and the engineers recommended taking immediate action that included limiting vibrations in the area, such as those created by the use of ground compacting equipment.
The report shows Parks Canada was aware of some of the issues with Province House after inspections were done in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2011, although those investigations weren’t as extensive as Taylor Hazell Architects’ work.
Problems with Province House seem to exist throughout most of the building, starting with the basement where the engineering firm found a concrete slab that was installed in 1957 to reduce dampness has made foundation wall deterioration worse by pushing moisture into the porous sandstone walls.
“The deterioration of walls has caused great harm to the historic building fabric and undermined the structural integrity of bearing walls,” the report said.
Water infiltration from several sources has also led to further deterioration and possibly mold buildup in the basement.
The report described the condition of basement walls and brick support piers as ranging from fair to very unstable, including collapses in some areas of the walls while some of the wood has rotted.
Investigative work on a portion of the third floor exterior walls found the core of the rubble masonry between the sandstones had turned to sand and flowed freely when it was disturbed, so much so that it filled several buckets.
That deterioration likely carried down to the lower floor, the report said.