Sale of Charlottetown's Founders Hall imminent

A deal to sell Founders Hall will soon be signed and sealed, says the current owner, the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) — but the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. is not happy about it.

'We are hoping to close the sale in the next 30 days or so'

A well-worn display at Founders Hall devoted to the story of Canada's birth is now closed and the building being sold — even with Canada's 150th birthday this year. (Charlottetown Area Development Corporation/Canadian Press)

A deal to sell Founders Hall will soon be signed and sealed, says the current owner, the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation (CADC) — but the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. is not happy about it.

The Confederacy has repeatedly objected to the sale.— Don MacKenzie, Mi'kmaq Confederacy 

The 1906 building, a prime piece of Charlottetown real estate, was built by CN to repair trains. An exhibit there celebrating Charlottetown's role in Confederation, open since 2001, had reached the end of its life and was losing money, CADC has previously said, so the property was put up for sale

"We are currently in the process of finalizing that sale," said Wade Arsenault, the assistant general manager at CADC, via email to CBC.

"We had talks with an interested party regarding a brewery last year but that ended in the fall and the building was put up for sale." CADC also rejected two market proposals, CBC has previously reported. 

No one will confirm who the buyer is — but well-known P.E.I. developers Danny Murphy, Kevin Murphy, and Tim Banks have confirmed it is not them. Neither is it Diversified Metal Engineering (DME), which builds micro-brewery equipment. 

"We are hoping to close the sale in the next 30 days or so," confirmed CADC's Arsenault. 

'Repeatedly objected'

The Mi'kmaq Confederacy is not the buyer, either — but it's not happy with the transaction.

Founders' Hall was originally built and used for CNs' Railway Car Shop. (Brian Higgins)

"The Confederacy has been advised that there is an agreement for the sale of Founders Hall," said the group's Executive Director Don MacKenzie via email.

"There are rights-based and title issues related to the property, so on behalf of the Mi'kmaq, the Confederacy has repeatedly objected to the sale until an acceptable accommodation can be negotiated with CADC's shareholder, the Province of P.E.I.," MacKenzie said. 

CADC is a development partnership among the province of P.E.I., which owns 83 per cent, the City of Charlottetown which owns 15 per cent and the Town of Stratford which owns two per cent. 

P.E.I.'s Mi'kmaq people have the right to consultation and accommodation, or some kind of compensation, on all P.E.I. Crown land transactions. 

CADC's Arsenault had no comment on the Confederacy's objection.

The asking price for the property was $4.8 million.

Arsenault told CBC the current value of the property was approximately $3 million, noting there had been two offers on the property, and two appraisals. 

"The selling price is in line with those appraisals," he said, while the second offer was "well below."

Heritage value

What could happen with the historic building? It has been suggested it would make an excellent spot for a provincial museum.

The property is not designated under the city's municipal heritage bylaw, officials say, but is covered by regulations in the 500-lot area that require any changes to the building exterior be reviewed by the city. 

"Depending upon what they are proposing, it may trigger the design review process established to ensure that any additions are sympathetic to the building," said Alex Forbes, manager of planning and heritage with the city. 

The sale includes this green space in front of Founders Hall, which in winter the city has flooded for use as a public skating rink. (Rudi Schuller/Facebook)

"There is a development agreement applied to this property which outlines a number of obligations they have to maintain with regard to the use of the building," Forbes added. 

To demolish the building, the owner would have to obtain either the approval of the city's Heritage Board and possibly council, Forbes said, adding "this scenario is definitely discouraged."

The prospective owner has not approached the city with any definite plans for redevelopment, Forbes said. 

Surrounding properties

The sale includes the land in front of Founder's Hall — between Water Street and the old brick building itself — as it's one parcel, said Arsenault. That's where for the last few winters, the city had created an outdoor public skating rink.

It's also land that developer Tim Banks tried to buy and develop into a five-storey apartment building last year, without success. The complex would have included shops on the lower level. 

At the time, CADC said it was in negotiations with another developer who had been considering leasing Founders Hall, so it wasn't entertaining selling the street-side property separately. 

In 2009, developer Paul Madden built the Hillsborough Waterfront Condos which includes a spa on the ground floor, and in 2011 added a marina with floating docks in front of the property.

As of 2013, Madden owned the property between the condos and Founders Hall, and received approval to build a 10-unit, four-storey development there — approval he won after several years and a court case appealing city council's rejection.


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at