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Undeserved reputation: Tignish residents say incident at a Charlottetown hotel was not the first case of discrimination

Tignish residents Sean McGivern, left, and April McInnis chat inside Shirley’s Café with an overhead picture of the town behind them. Both were surprised to hear of Tignish residents being turned away by a Charlottetown hotel on New Year’s Eve because of where they were from.
Tignish residents Sean McGivern, left, and April McInnis chat inside Shirley’s Café with an overhead picture of the town behind them. Both were surprised to hear of Tignish residents being turned away by a Charlottetown hotel on New Year’s Eve because of where they were from. - Mitch MacDonald

TIGNISH, P.E.I. - Sean McGivern can’t think of a place he’d rather live than Tignish.

The former Ontario resident sold his farms in Guelph and purchased property in the West Prince community before moving here last summer.

While McGivern previously travelled all around North America, and looked at several areas in P.E.I. to move to, he chose Tignish as his new home.

He said it has “everything you need in a community”. More important was the welcoming nature of its residents.

“The first week I moved in, I probably had half a dozen people just drive into my driveway and introduce themselves, asking if I needed anything… people leant me tools, all kinds of stuff, without even knowing who I was,” said McGivern.

McGivern was surprised when he heard of the Charlottetown Inn and Conference Centre turning away a number of Tignish residents with reservations on New Year’s Eve solely for being from West Prince.

“I thought that was pretty rude, really, for someone to be treated like that because of where they’re from,” said McGivern. “I don’t know what kind of unpleasant experiences other people have had, but I’ve never had any myself… I don’t think you’ll find a nicer place on the Island than around here.”

Related: Charlottetown Inn manager apologizes for staff member rejecting Western P.E.I. guests

At least six people were turned away at the hotel that night. While the manager later apologized and said the employee made a mistake, for many West Prince residents it appeared to be the most recent example of unfair treatment based on an unsavoury – and undeserved – reputation.

“I’m speaking from the heart, I love this place up here and I love the people… the people of West Prince, as far as I’m concerned, are special people. We’re the kind of people where what you see is what you get.”
-Tignish Mayor Allan McInnis

Tignish resident Jude Greenan feels young people especially from the area are targeted.

She knows some people who found it difficult to even rent an apartment while attending university or college in Charlottetown.

“Sometimes they’ll look at you and say, ‘You’re from West Prince, I don’t really feel like I’d want to rent to you’,” said Greenan, noting that while there has likely been some unfortunate incidents where individuals may have gotten rowdy at hotels, “I don’t think you can specifically put that on a community as much as you can put that on an age group…. Really it wasn’t very fair.”

Resident April McInnis said she was shocked when she heard about the hotel incident.

“I couldn’t believe they actually said that to their face,” she said. “I’ve heard other stories, but it’s never happened to me. People just get judged for being from up west. It’s unfair.”

While some other residents expressed shock and surprise over the story, the reputation has appeared to plague West Prince for a number of years.


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Shirley Harper, who has operated Shirley’s Café in the community for 26 years, experienced it first-hand while travelling for hockey tournaments years ago.

“It was at different hotels… if you’re from West Prince they’d ask you a lot of questions. It probably happens everywhere,” said Harper. “You can’t judge people… I didn’t think it was appropriate myself.”

Shirley Harper stands outside her Tignish restaurant, Shirley’s Café. Harper said she and others have been treated differently by businesses because they’re from West Prince.
Shirley Harper stands outside her Tignish restaurant, Shirley’s Café. Harper said she and others have been treated differently by businesses because they’re from West Prince.

Tignish Mayor Allan McInnis, who has lived in the community since 1952 and served on council since 1999, said he felt insulted by the actions of the hotel employee and manager.

McInnis said the same hotel called him last year asking if he could identify a guest who claimed he was from the community.

“And the name they gave me was not anybody from our community or the surrounding area,” said the mayor, who questioned whether West Prince residents sometimes become scapegoats for the actions of others. “I was very upset.”

He’s also heard of many others who have been turned away from establishments like hotels, cottages and campgrounds, even after making reservations.

However, it appears residents have had enough.

McInnis said he’s heard of hockey teams and other groups and individuals planning to boycott the Charlottetown business.

He’ll be one of them.

“I’ve frequented that hotel a number of times in the past, and I won’t be knocking on the door again for what they did to my constituents.”

McInnis said while every group has a couple bad apples, he feels the reputation of Tignish should be one of a town that “looks after everybody and anybody.”

While McInnis was careful to note he wasn’t saying other areas in P.E.I. aren’t filled with good people, he’s seen first-hand how Tignish residents are quick to spring into action for those in need.

That includes numerous benefits for those who have been involved in accidents, had their homes destroyed by fires or received a devastating medical diagnosis.

“I’ve seen a carrot cake go for $300 (at a community benefit)… we’ve been known to raise as high as $50,000 in one night,” he said. “I’m speaking from the heart, I love this place up here and I love the people… the people of West Prince, as far as I’m concerned, are special people. We’re the kind of people where what you see is what you get.”

The kind-heartedness in the community is something Harper, who describes her neighbours and fellow residents as being like a large family, knows all too well.

“It’s the best community you could ever live in,” said Harper, who laughed when asked if she had ever turned anyone away from her business based on where they were from. “Never.”

 

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