War of 1812 comes apart in city

New sculptures in Charlottetown celebrate historic years of 1864 and 2014

Published on June 9, 2014

The numbers installed at Province House and Founders Hall celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference are proving popular with tourists and Islanders alike. Many tourists like Akssell Leiva, who is taking a photo of his wife, Ling, stop to take photos of the sign or to read the history behind the 1864 conference on a plaque adjacent ot the numbers.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Little did the brave souls fighting in the war of 1812 realize that they would be helping taxpayers on Prince Edward Island save money over 200 years later.

The war of 1812 was a military conflict between the United States and Great Britain. As a colony of Great Britain, the pre-Canada territory was caught up in the war and invaded a number of times by American forces. Provincial and local militas played an important role in the conflict and the positive outcome of the war — our side won — helped foster the idea of Canadian nationhood. A half century later Canada became a reality.

Given the war’s historical significance, its 100th anniversary was celebrated with great fanfare a couple of years ago. The federal government was particularly enamored with the anniversary and used it as an excuse to salute the flag and sing Canada’s praises. Celebrations were held, battles were recreated and sculptures erected.

One of the sculptures featured the number 1812 in large red numbers. It was set up in Halifax. And this is where the connection to Prince Edward Island comes into play.

But, like all anniversary years, 2012 came and went and the sculpture lost its raison d'être. But, thanks to some inventive person in inventory, the 1812 sculpture has new life. In fact, much like a micro-organism, it has divided itself and now helps mark not one significant year, but two — the years 1864 and 2014.

Province House in Charlottetown and the capital city’s waterfront now boast two large red sculptures featuring the numbers 1864 and 2014. They celebrate the historic Fathers of Confederation meeting in Charlottetown and the fact this year is the 100th anniversary of that meeting.

Alas, the big numbers come with a hefty price tag — $25,000 a digit. But, thanks to the War of 1812, Prince Edward Island has scored a bit of a bargain. The numbers one and eight from the Halifax structure are being used in the 1864 sculpture at Province House, which means Parks Canada only had to buy a six and a four.

The one and the two numbers from 1812 went to the 2014 sculpture on the waterfront. That’s the sculpture that P.E.I. 2014 Inc. is footing the bill for. Again, it’s a two-digit bargain.

Not so says Conservative Leader Steven Myers. His immediate reaction when told of the costs was: “Oh, my god.” He called it the epitome of bad decisions. “I can’t imagine that people are going to be happy to find out $50,000 was spent on two numbers,” he told a Guardian reporter.

The other debate surrounding the sculptures is whether they fit in with the historic ambience of the area, especially the “1864” that is snuggled up between Province House and Confederation Centre of the Arts.

In terms of the taste debate, the public, or rather the cameras belonging to members of the public, are weighing in. And if the number of photographs taken in front of the new sculptures is any indication, the general public is giving them a thumbs up.

Charlottetown, at least in the summer, is a tourist-friendly destination that features a wide variety of interesting experiences, from the cultural to the culinary. If the sculptures add a bit of colour and make people smile and say cheese, they will be well worth the price. After all, being tourist friendly also carries a pricetag.

And, it’s just another win for the veterans of 1812.