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What’s in a name: P.E.I. Province House architect's signature shows a link to the past

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A major renovation of a national historic site in Charlottetown has revealed a piece of the past; a signature belonging to a man who played a major role in its construction.

Finished in 1847, Prince Edward Island’s Province House is one of the oldest buildings still standing on the island, and the site of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, which was the first interprovincial meeting on colonial union.

It’s a landmark of island and Canadian history, but also holds the history of one island family.

The site has been undergoing total structural renovations since being closed in 2015. As workers were tearing out old walls and ceilings which were no longer sound, they discovered a name on the rafters.

The name looked familiar to staff. It was that of Isaac Smith, the original architect of the building, but the match wasn’t exact. That’s when they got in touch with the family.

“Because they’ve taken the building apart, there it was,” said Kathy Large, Smith’s great, great, great granddaughter. “To see it on the beam above me was pretty exciting. It connects us all back to the days when this building was built.”

Her brother-in-law brought in a family bible and some other pieces signed by Smith himself and they compared the signatures.

“It looks pretty clearly to be Mr. I. Smith, so that’s, I think, proof that it was actually him laying claim to this wonderful building,” said Large.

Many have put their hands on the building since then, including Justin Guignion, a mason who worked on repairing the old Victorian stonework with modern tools.

“So if everything in here was done by hand it would have taken way longer, and you wouldn’t get any different of a look than you do by using pneumatic chisels,” said Guignion. “It’s one of those things where you walk that fine line between being true to the heritage of the building, but also using modern tools to be efficient.”

Connected through time, builders who’ve all left their mark on this piece of Canadian history.

For more P.E.I. news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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