© Photo special to The Guardian by Brian Simpson
Province House in the snow photographed by provincial photographer Brian Simpson.
Parks Canada fails to meet obligations to protect iconic national historic site
It’s time Parks Canada stops neglecting Province House and properly restores the national historic site to its rightful splendor.
The home of government on the Island since 1847, Province House was where the Fathers of Confederation met in 1864 to begin their craft of nation building. The importance of that seminal event was officially recognized Sept.1, 1996, when Parliament declared Charlottetown the birthplace of Confederation.
If Parks Canada had done its job properly over the past few years, we wouldn’t be facing the embarrassing closure of the building for the next two months after a large piece of plaster came crashing down from the ceiling Jan. 21. It is fortunate no one was injured when the four-feet wide and 10-feet long section fell in the north entrance.
The closure comes barely a month after the completion of a $2-million renovation just before the New Year’s Eve gala celebration in downtown Charlottetown to welcome 2014. This is an important year for the province and the country — the 150th anniversary of the 1864 meeting of the Fathers here in Charlottetown. The building should be open every day this year to welcome Islanders, guests and visitors to the centrepiece of the sesquicentennial celebrations. To see it shuttered for more repairs is a disgrace.
If extensive, lengthy and costly renovations had been done properly, we wouldn’t be facing this problem today. Why wasn’t a thorough inspection done when renovations began in 2011 and any problems identified and fixed. There was a damning engineer’s report about crumbling masonry to launch those latest renovations. Did no one bother to look elsewhere except the exterior walls?
Then we had to ensure the visual blight of scaffolding, tarps, plastic and construction equipment around the building for many months while work to repair masonry was completed.
Parks Canada says the safety of visitors and occupants at Province House is a priority but it might have a different comment had some unlucky soul been walking beneath the plaster when it crashed to the floor.
It’s some relief the building has been declared safe apart from the need to replace the plaster on the ceiling near the main stairwell. If all goes well, the building should be open by the time the legislative assembly reopens in April.
The falling plaster is the latest in a series of problems at Province House. After repairs were completed to help stabilize the building and prevent water infiltration, Parks Canada had to deal with water dripping into the building in December after ice built up on the roof and leaked in through windows.
A late December press release from Parks Canada proudly proclaimed it was ready to ring in 2014 and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference at Province House and tell the Confederation story throughout the sesquicentennial year. That plan has been seriously derailed. It’s disappointing the building is unable to welcome visitors until April in this historic year when it should be open to help educate Canadians on the birth of the nation and our heritage.
The neglect of Province House must stop. Thorough repairs should have been completed a year ago to ensure all was ready for this historic year. Parks Canada and the federal government have obligations to live up to, following a 99-year agreement signed in 1973 establishing the park's primary role to protect and interpret for all time this important site to Canadians. One can only imagine the international furor if this plaster incident had occurred when Prince Charles, the future king of England, was visiting here in May.