Ottawa announces $10M for Province House repairs

Teresa Wright
Published on June 2, 2014
Greg Shaw, Parks Canada project manager on the Province House restortion project, stands in front of a scaffolding encassed Province House during its restoration project.
Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

P.E.I.’s Province House is getting a much-needed $10-million facelift, thanks to funding announced Monday from Ottawa.

Provincial officials have been lobbying Ottawa for money for a host of repairs and remediation work required throughout the 171-year-old building.

P.E.I. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Robert Vessey says he is pleased to finally see some money dedicated to this project, but much more will be needed.

“It’s a start,” Vessey said. “We’re very happy to see the announcement today on it but there will be more funding needed to repair the building.”

Province House has faced a series of structural problems, and even had to close recently after a section of plaster fell from the ceiling within the building earlier this year. Emergency repairs were also required last year to secure an exterior wall and an engineer’s report prepared for Parks Canada showed extensive problems that could take years to address.

That report identified leaks in the roof that have contributed to water buildup in the basement. At times, the sound of rushing water has been heard in the walls during heavy rains. Water also leaks in through poorly sealed windows and through the roof.

Moisture was also identified as a major problem in the building’s foundation 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.

Before submitting a final report in May 2013, Taylor Hazell Architects notified Parks Canada about some of the issues it viewed as urgent, including the possibility that exterior walls could collapse.

Parks Canada has completed a series of patches, repairs and restoration over the last few years, but a major structural overhaul of the building is required.

Vessey says the estimated total price tag for the project would be in the vicinity of $30 million to $50 million. But he says he was given assurances during a recent meeting with federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is responsible for Parks Canada, that funding for the renovations will be issued in stages. He is hopeful this means more money will be forthcoming.

“Our government is proud of the investments we have made to support Province House to provide Canadians and visitors the opportunity to connect with our country’s heritage,” Aglukkaq said in Ottawa Monday. “Today’s investment of $10.05 million in Province House National Historic Site will ensure the conservation of this iconic structure.”

Charlottetown resident Peter Rukavina believes Province House should be more than a museum.

He made a presentation to the provincial Standing Committee on Legislative Management in 2010 after a motion was passed in the legislature at that time resolving to “transform Province House into a much more dynamic place for engaging Islanders in the history, culture and operation of their own Legislature and democracy.”

“I think Province House should be a living, breathing institution, not a historical artifact,” Rukavina said Monday.

He pointed out the building was erected well before the 1864 Charlottetown Conference and has served as P.E.I.’s provincial legislature since the Island attained responsible government.

Parks Canada’s mandate to treat it as a museum about the 1864 conference ignores many other roles the building has played and continues to play in the Island’s community and democracy, Rukavina said.

“Islanders need to own Province House in a way in which, maybe in recent years especially since it was leased out the federal government, we don’t have that sense of ownership. As much as one appreciates the $10 million and realizes that it’s not going to come provincially, it does also serve to reinforce that sense of beholdenness to Ottawa, which is net is positive, but doesn’t increase Islanders’ sense of ownership of the building as a living institution.”

A call for design tenders will be launched this year to ensure work can begin as soon as possible.

The work will focus on repairs to the roof and windows, addressing water infiltration into the building and contributing to the preservation of the structure. It will begin after 2014 celebrations conclude.