Reg Porter says he was “absolutely flabbergasted’’ at receiving one of the City of Charlottetown’s highest honours for championing heritage.
Porter was recently presented with the Catherine G. Hennessey Award for his extensive work in documenting and promoting the history of the capital city.
“It means a great deal to me on many levels because I wouldn’t be living on the Island if it wasn’t for Catherine Hennessey,’’ Porter said in an interview inside his home in Belle River. “I see Catherine and I think, ‘the heritage queen, the heritage goddess’, ... she was the driving force, the electrical driving force that started the movement to preserve Charlottetown and that’s why we have the city in the state it is today.’’
The award was established in 2011 to honour the long-time historian, author, heritage activist and is presented annually to an individual or group whose efforts have increased the appreciation of Charlottetown, stimulated love for the community or helped shape the city.
Porter’s publications on Trinity United Church, Methodist architecture in the city, Government House and many others are considered accurate and authoritative information to be shared for generations to come.
Porter was on the faculty at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., in 1981 when Hennessey invited him over to the Island, persuading him to get involved with the P.E.I. Heritage Foundation. While he had hoped to stay in New Brunswick until he retired, the Tignish native discovered he had a deep attachment to the Island.
He came to Charlottetown and began work in January 1982 although he didn’t stay with the heritage foundation.
“I did end up establishing myself with some marvelous individuals in town. There are some wonderful people in that city. I set myself up as a heritage consultant and got involved immediately ... (doing things like) restoring houses (and) doing museum planning all over the Island. It was just great.’’
He also taught art history at UPEI in the 1990s.
And, through a stroke of luck, he befriended an elderly couple who gave him the house he lives in today in Belle River on the condition that he restore it.
There, he proudly displays the books he has published on buildings in Charlottetown, such as “The Stained Glass Windows at Trinity United Church’’.
“Mr. Porter’s many historical and architectural themed lectures have captivated and educated audiences since the 1980s and his work in the restoration of numerous buildings has ensured historical accuracy and quality.’’
Then he went to work on preparing an architectural history of the present brick church, which was built in 1863 as well as gathering available information on the first 1816 chapel and Isaac Smith Greek Revival chapel. The resulting book is, “The Architecture of Methodism in Charlottetown’’. It’s filled with drawings, photographs and newspaper clippings.
“There is a fantastic passion (I have) for the city of Charlottetown,’’ Porter says. “It’s something that, before I die, I want to publicly lecture about in a big way.’’
Simply put, Porter calls Charlottetown the perfect city.
“When I moved to Charlottetown in 1982, I discovered the original 18th century city in every detail had survived and here I was being ravished as a classicist, seeing a roman city here and then finding as the capital of this province this perfect, perfect city of the European enlightenment surviving here.’’
Porter said to receive an award bearing Hennessey’s name is the ultimate reward.
- The following awards were presented to individuals and groups as part of Charlottetown’s recent Heritage Day:
- Lori Pendleton for conducting historically sensitive rehabilitation work at 93 Pownal St., the Duffy House.
- Paul Coles for his extensive and sympathetic renovations 15 Hillsborough St.
- Mark and Sharon Rostad for developing a compatible, contemporary new design within an historic neighbourhood, 1 Brighton Rd.
- Dave McGavin for constructing a historically sensitive, new home within a heritage area, 56 Weymouth St.
- Reginald (Dutch) Thompson for his recent publication “The Bygone Days: Folklore, Traditions & Toenails’’, which along with his other work documenting the stories of a past generation, has made a significant contribution to the city’s collective heritage.
- Reg Porter receives the Catherine G. Hennessey Award for his extensive work in documenting and promoting the history of the capital.
- The event also featured the unveiling of an exhibit, entitled “Down to Business: The History of Charlottetown’s Oldest Businesses’’. The exhibit is featured in the storefront windows of the planning and heritage department at 233 Queen St.
- Other historic images from the city’s archives, as well as artifacts from the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, and individual donors, will be on display in the space until March 23.