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A Contracting Firm

Thirty years ago this spring the province was in the throws of preparing for the centennial of our entrance into Confederation. Remember we didn't join with the others in 1867, but waited until we had little choice because of railways debits etc..

To celebrate our 1973 Centennial the Federal Government's gift was a sizable number of dollars that were to be spent on capital matters. The debates went on and on as to how the dollars should be spent. As usual the debate pitted the sports people who wanted ice making equipment, yes, even a swimming pool, etc. against those who wanted to preserve something of the heritage of the place for "our childrens' children".

Early on it was decided that no great single great place would be built, but rather they would consider the whole Island worthy of interperation and that the focus would be on locations to highlight particular aspects of our history. When the dust settled in early June '72 we were headed for the development of a Ship Building Museum at Green Park, a farming complex at Orwell Corner and a Fisheries Museum at Basin Head. In addition Summerside was to get some display area that was unclear for awhile[it ended up being Eptek] and Charlottetown was to have a headquarters for the Heritage Foundation. [The other thing that was to happen was the establishment of an Endowment Fund for the general good of the Foundation's work with special empathizes on building, and caring for, a Provincial Collection - we'll leave the story of that for another day]

The Centennial Commission did not impose Beaconsfield on us, but rather said go find a headquarters. We looked around. For a while we thought the old Bank of PEI on Great George Street would be very good and it would have been too. We looked over the possibilities of building new - that didn't make sense because we would have had to buy land etc.. Then we learned that people were looking at Beaconsfield to tear it down and use it for a motel site. Ugh! We focused very quickly. Wanda Wyatt, Fred Hyndman and myself met with the Cundall Trust on June 27, 1972 and left with a building for $40,000 [twice as much as I thought they should have charged us, but I have to admit the price was good then and looks very good today]. It had without question location, location, location.

It was called The Cundall Home when we bought it. It was painted worn grey, it was tired inside and almost every room had a sink in it. It had been a home for girls from 1919; first as a YWCA and then as the nurses residence for the PEI Hospital. It was loved and if you closed your eyes you could see the gligging girls dashing up and down the stairs - or boys waiting in the parlor.

It was mid summer when Fred Hyndman and I went out to Brackley to see Walter Matheson about overseeing the job of renovating. What an evening. Walter Matheson was 86 at the time, but he was still in the construction business - sort of. He had graduated from McGill in mining engineering about 1912. After working in the states for a number of years, he returned to PEI and began a construction company. He exuded confidence and had a reputation of being wise and fair. He had the qualities we needed desperately, but he wasn't much interesting in taking on any work. After a lot of stories and impressive responses from us, he did agree to do the job. Within a few days he drove up in his big car, with his foreman with him. They were a team extraordinari. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship and how I met Bob Brown whose wake I was at today. It was a long way around telling you how sad I was to lose that friend.

Written Friday, March 15, 2002 at 09:48 PM

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

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