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The Cummiskeys

Dan Driscoll, a P.E.Islander now in India, has caused me to contemplate on the Cummiskeys' at Webster's Corner on the outskirts of Fort Augustus. He had thought that I had bought that wonderful old mansard roof house, but I never did, but I do have some stories.

The Hon. James H. Cummiskey was one of our more colourful politicians. Elected first in 1897, he went on to win again and again, ending his career as Speaker of the House and I think dying in saddle about 1912.

His term as Commission of Public Works [we'd call him Minister, now] is full of stories and great speeches. One of them has to do with him almost drowning at Cranberry Wharf. He was getting into a punt to cross the river when he was plunged into the water, heavy overcoat, brief case and all. It was November, and I'm sure to the surprise of many, the close call in the cold waters, took his voice away for many days.

He was also a merchant and had his store at the Corner where he build "a beautiful new mansion " in 1883. It was in this beautiful mansion that I found the Speaker's Chair that obviously had belonged to the Upper House, when we had one before 1873. It was an almost match to the one in the Legislative Council Chamber that would have then been the Lower House.

It was about 1970 when I dropped in to visit his daughter Kate MacKenzie, after many invitations. She wanted me to see the Speaker's Chair that her father had been given, as she said that was the custom when the Speaker left the position. I had seen many arm chairs like the ones in Province House all over the Island; picked up, I always thought, by "self-appointed" preservers when chairs would be needing repair or whatever. I certainly thought I was going to see just another arm chair as Kate opened the parlour door. No, what I saw was a real Speaker's Chair and it took my breath away! I was able to buy that chair from her for the Heritage Foundation and we had it in storage when Parks Canada did the fine job of renovations on Province House. We gave them the chair and they had it beautifully restored. When you visit the Confederation Chamber you will see it and just say a little prayer for The Hon. J. H. Cummisky for being a "self-appointed" preserver.

Written Wednesday, March 14, 2001 at 09:46 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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