Kevin Murphy, left, and artist Nathan Scott, stand with the newly unveiled bronze statue of two Fathers of Confederation named John Hamilton Gray. The statue, situated on Great George Street was unveiled during a ceremony held Thursday.
©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Great George Street in Charlottetown now has a story to tell.
Designated a national historic site in 1990 because of its strong association with the birth of Canada, it was obviously always rich in history — but nothing outside a tour of the city was telling that story.
That changed on Thursday when a statue of two Fathers of Confederation, having a conversation about creating a nation, was unveiled on the street. The eye-catching bronze sculpture is located just outside the doors of The Great George Hotel, across the street from St. Dunstan’s Basilica church.
The two Fathers have the same name yet were not related — John Hamilton Gray, the former premier of P.E.I., and John Hamilton Gray, a politician from New Brunswick. The large statue is the latest effort to commemorate the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, the first of three meetings that led to Confederation.
“Let’s sneak up and eavesdrop at what they’re saying,’’ said Catherine Hennessey, a Charlottetown historian who was instrumental in getting the statue idea off the ground, referring to the fact the two Grays are having a conversation.
“They were not the most prominent Fathers but the fact there were two at the same meeting is a wonderful story.’’
The statue project cost $165,000 to do, from start to finish. That includes landscaping. It was paid for by Charlottetown Area Development Corporation, City of Charlottetown, P.E.I. 2014 Inc., The Great George Hotel and The Gray Group.
Nathan Scott of Brentwood Bay, B.C., was commissioned to do the bronze statue and was at Thursday’s news conference with his seven children.
“I love history and you guys are steeped in it,’’ Scott said.
“I wanted to capture a photograph, a snapshot of two guys having a conversation. John Hamilton Gray of New Brunswick was doing a sell job on John Hamilton Gray of P.E.I. (about Confederation).’’
Kevin Murphy, who owns The Great George Hotel, said he wanted something on the street to recognize the area’s rich history. So, when P.E.I. 2014 Inc. put out a request for proposals looking for ideas on where and how to spend money, he jumped.
“At that time, we always felt Great George Street needed more of a story and everyone knew how important it was but there was no real story told on the street,’’ Murphy said.
“The tourists walk up and down all summer long so that’s where the idea came from. We wanted to come up with another concept, seeing how well (the scuplture of former prime minister) John A. Macdonald worked over on Queen Street.’’
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee said it’s the perfect way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.
“The message is this city has a strong history and the city is now showing its history,’’ Lee said. “It has been a great year and this is another tremendous piece of public art. It is a legacy for people who visit us.’’
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson said much the same.
“It’s time to pay tribute to those individuals who had a strong vision. Their hard work and diplomacy led to what is the greatest nation on earth,’’ Henderson said. “This leaves a lasting legacy and helps beautify and makes our province much more interesting.’’
P.E.I.’s John Hamilton Gray even had family at the unveiling Thursday.
Joanne Lord MacLeod and Sandi Hurry of Charlottetown are Gray’s great-great-granddaughters.
“I think it’s lovely,’’ MacLeod said. “It feels pretty special.’’