Celebrating the Island’s ‘home place’

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Sir Andrew MaPhail Homestead

This year celebrates 150th birthday; 25 years since formation of Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation

“It was in this world of Orwell we had early being,”  wrote Andrew Macphail, in his great memoir The Master’s Wife, “and the whole universe became familiar to us.” This eloquent statement of the power of the local — especially as it relates to rural Prince Edward Island — is at the heart of the interpretation program at the Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead, one of the Island’s foremost heritage and natural history sites.

This year, 2014, is a time of special celebration at the Homestead, for not only is this the 150th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Macphail at Orwell on Nov. 24, 1864, but it also marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation in 1989. This was some 28 years after the Macphail descendants had made a gift of the family homestead to the province in 1961.

The Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation has had a wonderful legacy — which is still continuing. This independent, community-based organization of volunteers assumed direct responsibility for the restoration of the Macphail house, which was in a derelict state some 30 years ago. The beautifully-renovated Homestead was opened to the public in 1993.

Since then, the foundation has continued to operate and interpret the 143-acre site, both house and property. Recent initiatives include a one-acre organic garden at the Homestead and the production of a stage version of The Master’s Wife, which played to sell-out crowds this summer at the Orwell Corner Hall. We also support the wonderful work being done by our neighbours on the property, the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project. We take special pride in the fact that anyone can visit us — at the Homestead or Forestry Project — without having to pay an admission fee.

Although Macphail’s primary residence for most of his adult life was Montreal, where he was professor of the History of Medicine at McGill University, he spent many summers at Orwell. Here, for some years, he and his brother Alexander conducted experiments in what they called “scientific agriculture,” particularly in growing tobacco and seed potatoes. This practical dedication to rural Island life is something the Macphail Foundation is committed to continuing.

At present, the Macphail Homestead property is managed though a partnership between the province and the Homestead Foundation. Some five years ago, the provincial government assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the house and buildings. It has also assisted the foundation with an annual grant to help defray the cost of a part-time site director.

In this year of special celebration at the Macphail Homestead,  the foundation urges Islanders and visitors to join in by visiting the Homestead, attending our various events, and generally supporting our work. You can help us by becoming members of our foundation, by assisting as a volunteer, or by contributing to our 2014 membership and fundraising campaign, to be launched officially at the Homestead on Sunday, Sept. 14, 2 to 4 p.m.

For more information, please visit our website at www.macphailhomestead.ca; or contact us by email at  macphailhomestead@pei.aibn.com.

Given its deep historical resonance, and its origins as a family farm with a beautifully-restored 19th-century farmhouse, the Macphail Homestead can be considered a special “home place” for Islanders. Please support us in our ongoing efforts to make this a place where everyone can feel at home.

By Harry Baglole (guest opinion)

Harry Baglole is president of the Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation

Organizations: Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation, Macphail house, McGill University Homestead Foundation

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Montreal

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