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Basil Greenhill

In spring of 1972 it was decided that the prime focus of the '73 Centennial Celebration was going to be heritage, heritage, heritage. It was quite a controversial time. I think I have written about it before. Anyway by June we knew that we were going to have a place to celebrate our fisheries history, our agricultural history and our ship building history. It was exciting and we had only a year to pull it all off.

Although there is a story around each of those projects, I want to draw your attention to Green Park, the site chosen to commemorate our ship-building history.

Green Park was the name given by Westcountryman, James Yeo (1788-1868) to his operation on Campbell Creek in Port Hill on Lot 15 in PEI. It was there he built his fine house and his store and shipyard. The Yeo family were involved, one way or another, with a largest percentage of the 335 vessels launched around Richmond Bay according to Marven Moore and Nicholas DeJong. I think their operation was surpassed by the Peakes, but I might be wrong.

Now back to 1972 , one hundred and four years after James died. The house had been acquired a few years before by the Province of PEI and they had even operated a display in it for a couple of summers, but now we had to do more.

Why had the house been purchased and how in the matter of one short year were we able to develop a story line for the site? It is simple. It all came to be because of a book entitled "Westcountry in Prince Edward's Isle" by Basil Greenhill and his wife Ann Gifford published in Toronto in 1967.

Basil Greenhill was in Diplomatic Service in Ottawa at the beginning of the 1960's. At a reception one night he met Angus MacLean who was then Minister of Fisheries.The talk, as it would, got around to PEI. Basil, who had previously published a number of articles on maritime history remembered a connection with Appledore in England and Prince Edward Island. They were interested in picking the subject up and they were talking to the right man.

It wasn't long before the Greenhills arrived on PEI and made connections - and friends - with the Islanders and in particular with the Port Hill people. Stories and research on the Island and in Ottawa and the Westcountry confirmed the traditional tales they had heard in England and the result was their book.

I don't think the province would have acquired Green Park if it had not been for the Greenhills whose work gave national recognition to what MLA Robert Grindlay had been saying before they even arrived. And I do think that even more of PEI's shipbuilding history would have been lost had their work not focused us collectively on those glorious shipbuilding years.

When The Greenhills visited the Island in September 1972 a group of us travelled around Port Hill area with them and we appreciated his help in shaping the story line for the Green Park site. A few years later I had a wonderful lunch with him at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich where by that time he was the director.

Basil Greenhill died a week or two ago in his beloved Westcountry. I wished I had had the opportunity to see that part of the world through his eyes. It is an area where PEI should be holding cultural exchanges. The cemeteries are full of our Island ancestors. He would have been a great tour master for us.

Written Monday, May 12, 2003 at 10:22 PM

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

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