11 cool things to know about Charlottetown as the city turns 163

Think you know the Island's capital? Here are some fun facts about this historic small city, home to about 36,000 people according to the city.

Fires, parks and those mice statues

The Old Protestant Burying Ground is a beautiful, fascinating and spooky site on University Avenue. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Happy birthday, Charlottetown! P.E.I.'s capital city, the birthplace of Canadian Confederation, is celebrating its 163rd birthday this weekend. 

Think you know the Island's capital? 

Here are some fun and interesting facts to know about this beautiful, historic small city, home to about 36,000 people according to the city. 

1. A very regal name

Surveyor-General Samuel Holland suggested in 1765 P.E.I.'s capital be named in honour of Queen Charlotte, who reigned with her husband King George III. (Submitted by the City of Charlottetown )

Charlottetown is named for Queen Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg, who lived from 1744 to 1818. At the age of 17, she married King George III, the king from the 1990s movie The Madness of King George — Great George Street is named after him.   

Before Meghan Markle, Queen Charlotte may have been England's first biracial royal. Some research shows the Queen was descended from a branch of the Portuguese royal family believed to have Moorish ancestry.

Surveyor-General for the British Empire Samuel Holland suggested the name Charlotte Town in 1765 as he surveyed the Island. 

The city was incorporated in April 1855, so even though it is much older, it is celebrating 163 years. 

2. One female mayor

Dorothy Corrigan, Charlottetown's only female mayor, served from 1968 to 1972. (Submitted by the City of Charlottetown)

Charlottetown has only ever had one female mayor — Dorothy Corrigan, a former nurse, wore the chain of office from 1968 to 1972, after serving as a councillor for eight years. She died at age 96 in 2010. 

Current mayor Clifford Lee is the city's longest-serving mayor — 15 years. He was elected in 2003 and will relinquish his role after civic elections this coming November. 

3. Last people hanged

The 1911 jail on Longworth Avenue in Charlottetown is now a pizza parlour. (PARO)

The last hangings in Charlottetown were in 1941 — Earl Lund and Fred Phillips were hanged at the Queens County Jail, also called the 1911 jail (built in, you guessed it, 1911.) 

They were charged with the gruesome murder of Peter J. Trainor, an elderly shopkeeper, said Charlottetown historian Natalie Munn, although both denied it. More details on the province's website here

Charlottetown's pre-1911 jail, known as Harvey's Brig, was located in Connaught Square, which is now a city park. (PARO)

The double hanging took place in an enclosure on the grounds of the jail on Aug. 20, 1941 — there are still residents alive today who remember it. 

The last public hanging, however, was long before that, in 1869 — George Dowie was hanged in Connaught Square where the first jail, known as "Harvey's Brig," was located. He had been convicted of murdering a man during an argument. "It took the executioners a few tries before he finally passed," Munn shared. 

4. Rest in peace

The Old Protestant Burying Ground is the oldest graveyard in Charlottetown and pre-dates Confederation. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

The oldest graveyard in the city on official record is the Old Protestant Burying Ground on University Avenue, which opened in 1784. 

It is rumoured there was an older graveyard in the City associated with the military, city officials say, but its whereabouts are unknown. 

5. Haunted sites

Like any heritage place, Charlottetown has several sites that are rumoured to be haunted

The ghost stories include the Kirk of St. James with its phantom bell ringers of 1853, 177 Euston Street built before 1860 and haunted by an unhappy female ghost, and a large home on the Heartz Road built in 1833 called Binstead, haunted by a screaming woman and infant. 

6. The great fire

Ruins of Charlottetown after the largest-ever fire in the city in 1866. (PARO)

The Great Fire of 1866 was the most destructive fire in the city's history, razing 100 homes and businesses in the section from Water to Dorchester streets and Pownal to Great George. Only a few brick buildings were spared as the fire raged for eight hours. 

A description from the July 18, 1866 edition of the Herald newspaper reads: "The house, as well as some outbuildings in the rear of it, were in full blaze before any of the fire engines arrived on the spot, and, even when they did arrive, they were paralyzed for the want of water. In fact, the utter inefficiency of the fire department was as conspicuous as ever, and augers badly for the safety of the city in future.

"We cannot, however, expect much from a city council guilty of the folly of erecting a large wooden Market House on Queen Square — an enormous Lucifer match we might call it, placed in the centre of the city."

Before a major fire in 1884 Victoria Row in Charlottetown, seen here, was mostly wooden buildings. (PARO)
 A fire in 1884 destroyed the wooden streetscape of Victoria Row on Richmond Street. It was caused by a local confectioner named Kennedy, who knocked over a lantern while putting rat poison in his closet, said Munn.

"After the fire, renowned architects W.C. Harris and C.B. Chappell were hired to rebuild in 'fireproof' stone and brick and we still have those lovely buildings," Munn said. 

7. City Hall 

Charlottetown City Hall circa 1893, with hoses and other fire-fighting equipment on the sidewalk. (PARO)

Charlottetown's stone and brick city hall was built in 1888 on the site of Love's Tannery and contained the police station, fire station, civic offices and jail cells. Some people claim that it is haunted, said Munn. 

Before 1888, city council met in a private home on Pownal Street as well as the Market Hall on Queen Square.

8. The Farmers Market

A photo of the farmers market on Queen Square (Market Square) in Charlottetown taken some time between 1890 and 1902, when it burned. This is likely taken from a rooftop on Grafton Street. (PARO)

The current Charlottetown Farmers Market is on the outskirts of downtown on Belvedere Avenue. But for 145 years, the market was right downtown.  

The first market was built in 1813 at the centre of Queen Square where Province House is now — it quickly outgrew the building and a new, circular one was built 10 years later. Farmers would simply pull up their loads of hay, oats, vegetables, wood or slaughtered animals and trade outside on market days, usually Wednesdays and Saturdays.  

The round market was moved to one side in 1842 to make way for the construction of Province House. Soon there was debate about whether the market should be moved to a less urban location but the city decided to keep it on Market Square. 

Designed by famed Charlottetown furniture-maker Mark Butcher, the two-storey Butcher Market House opened in 1867 but burned down in 1902. 

Famed architect W.C. Harris designed the fourth market building downtown made of Island sandstone — it opened in 1904. By the 1950s the way people shopped for food had changed and the building was little used when it burned in 1958. 

Soon after, the Confederation Centre of the Arts was built to celebrate 100 years of Confederation. 

Find an excellent history of the Charlottetown markets from the Island Magazine here

9. Victoria Park was once just the LG's yard

A 1905 shot of Victoria Park, which was established in Charlottetown in 1873. (PARO)

Victoria Park was once entirely the property of P.E.I.'s lieutenant governor. 

A 40-hectare (100-acre) parcel of land was set aside in 1789 by then-Lt.-Gov. Edmund Fanning as the site for a future home and agricultural land. In 1834 Government House, also calling Fanningbank, was finally built. This guide to the estate's history was created in 2014 and is a fascinating read, if you're inclined. 

Government House, also known as Fanningbank, circa 1860 when its grounds included all of what's now Victoria Park. (PARO )

As the city grew, so did demand for access to green space — the park was established in 1873, giving the city 15 hectares (40 acres) for public use. The park was expanded in 1905 with the addition of 16 more acres of land including the Prince Edward Battery.

The road around the park remained unpaved dirt until 1925. 

10. Mice in the city

Eckhart the mouse surveys the city from his perch on a corner of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Strolling through Charlottetown these days, you'll likely spot several of these bronze mouse statues. 

Based on the character of Eckhart in Island author David Weale's popular children's story The True Meaning of Crumbfest, the statues are part of an educational walking tour of Charlottetown presented by business group Downtown Charlottetown for the last decade. 

Download the brochure for Downtown Charlottetown's Eckhart in the City walking tour here

11. Infamous tunnel

The basement of Province House — where there's a tunnel to Confederation Centre on one side and the Coles Building on the other — as it undergoes renovations last fall. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Did you know there's a tunnel that connects Province House with both Confederation Centre and the Coles Building to either side?

Most people didn't, until P.E.I.'s first female Premier Catherine Callbeck used it to avoid angry civil servants demonstrating outside Province House in 1994 after she announced wage rollbacks of 7.5 per cent.

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About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email