P.E.I. exhibition sheds light on the extensive work of architect Charles Benjamin Chappell

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 2, 2016

Curator Harry Holman shows some examples of P.E.I.  architect Charles Benjamin Chappell’s work. These are included in From Housebuilder to Architect: Charles B. Chappell’s Charlottetown. The exhibition is on view at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown.

©Heather Taweel/The Guardian

On Prince Edward Island, where great value is placed on the work of William Critchlow Harris, it’s easy for other architects to fade from view.

“One of the reasons we know so much about Harris is through the work of (the late) Canon Robert Tuck, who was very good at dramatizing his work,” says Harry Holman, former provincial archivist, historian and heritage blogger.

“As a result, a lot of people are under the impression that Harris was the only architect in Charlottetown.”

That perception is about to change because Holman is shedding light on the contribution of Island architect Charles Benjamin Chappell in a new exhibition.

Chappell was born in Charlottetown on Oct. 10, 1857, to William Chappell and Mary Ann Turner. Starting his career as a builder, he trained with architect Lemuel Phillips, becoming his partner. In 1884, the success of the partnership led to Charlottetown City Hall. Chappell went on to design houses on Prince Edward Island and throughout the Maritimes. He also created designs for hospitals, churches and commercial buildings.

“The work of C.B. Chappell is all around us and has made a huge impact on the look of Charlottetown . . . . He was prolific,” says Holman, curator of From Housebuilder to Architect: Charles B. Chappell’s Charlottetown, currently on view at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown.

The exhibition includes architectural drawings, watercolour and ink drawings and photographs, as well as a collection of tinted postcards of Chappell’s work.

“This is a small sample,” says Holman, pointing to the artifacts on the gallery walls.

“Beside these there are thousands of sheets of plans from Chappell and his various partners at the public archives office.”

For anyone wanting to take it outdoors, all they have to do is stand outside the Confederation Centre of the Arts to see the influence/impact of his architect’s pen.

“More than half the buildings on Victoria Row were designed by Chappell. He designed four or five buildings on Queen Street, facing on Queen Square. He also designed most of the buildings on the Grafton Street side of Queen Square.”

Other surviving structures include Zion Presbyterian Church, St. Paul’s Anglican Church Hall and the old Prince Edward Island Hospital on Kensington Road.

Also, in certain neighbourhoods, like Brighton, there are two or three Chappell Houses on one block.

“In fact, there is probably not a street in Charlottetown that doesn’t have at least one Chappell house on it. He designed over 150 houses.”

Gallery director Kevin Rice likes the artifacts he sees.

“It’s always fascinating to see the plans for buildings that we recognize in the streetscape, such as the extension to City Hall, and to see the details in the drawings and just how skillfully they are rendered and envisioned by the architect.”

While Chappell was prolific, he wasn’t good at marketing himself. And, for that reason, perhaps, he’s fallen under the radar.

“While Harris did these wonderful presentation drawings, apparently Chappell didn’t,” says Holman. “He just got to the working drawings. He was very much an architect for builders. I think he considered himself more of a technician than an artist.”

In his drawings, Harris was very much an artist.

“He developed his own style. Harris buildings are quite unmistakable. They have truncated gables and false wooden buttresses.”

In contrast, Chappell was much more versatile.

“He designed, using many contemporary architectural styles, from Romanesque to bungalow. So you have houses like EdenHurst on West Street, which is in the Queen Anne style, or Paton House on Prince Street, which is Romanesque style.

“And all through the city we have these wonderful houses.”


If you are going

- The public is invited to the official opening reception for From Housebuilder to Architect: Charles B. Chappell's Charlottetown on Thursday, Feb. 18 at Confederation Centre of Charlottetown at 6:30 p.m., followed by an art talk at 7:30 p.m. with exhibition curator Harry Holman.

- The exhibition is open, by donation, until May 1.


Doing the research

- The exhibition was inspired by a paper and web page prepared by Darrin MacKinnon, registrar of Historic Places, and found at http://peihistoricplaces.ca that identified C.B. Chappell properties registered or designated by the province and the City of Charlottetown.

- After Harry Holman discovered just how many buildings Chappell had been responsible for in Charlottetown, he was astounded that there hadn't had any study of his work or exhibition. So, he began his research. This led to the creation of the exhibition and an article in "The Island Magazine".

- Holman recognizes the support of Catherine Hennessey and Robert Hill of the Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada in his research.

From: "The Island Magazine", Fall/winter 2015 From House Carpenter to Architect: Charles B. Chappell and the Changing Face of Charlottetown.