Restoring heritage homes 'passion' projects for award winners

Heritage award winners on P.E.I. share why they invested so much time and money in restoring old homes to their former glory.

'You don't do it for money'

Ron Coffin won an award for restoring the old schoolhouse in Alma, P.E.I. (Carter Jeffery)

Interest in restoring P.E.I.'s historic buildings remains high, going by the number of recent heritage awards to people investing in the Island's built heritage. 

Heritage awards were recently given out in ceremonies by the City of Charlottetown and the province. CBC talked with some of the award winners to find out why they decided to buy and restore heritage properties. 

'You don't need to do too much'

Ron Coffin received an award for restoring the old Alma Schoolhouse, outside Montague in eastern P.E.I. While many old one-room schoolhouses still exists on P.E.I., many have been changed beyond recognition — but not this one. 

'I believe strongly that places should and do have their own integrity, and should not be fussed with so much,' says Ron Coffin, who kept interior changes inside the old Alma Schoolhouse to a minimum. (Submitted by Ron Coffin)

"I really do think it helps if you are going to live in the space a little bit," Coffin said. "Sometimes you realize that well, why shouldn't it just be what it is? A lot of times doing less is the best answer, you don't need to do too much to make these things habitable." 

I do like taking an ugly duckling and turning it into something that's a good addition to the downtown streetscape.— Terry Hennessey

Coffin has maintained the open layout of the schoolhouse, adding a modern kitchen and a small loft over it. He has saved the original windows and added new ones that match. 

Coffin is originally an Islander and moved back home a few years ago. He is now looking for another small heritage house to restore and would like to eventually have three, renting out two to tourists. 

"There's not even a word to describe how charming they are, and less is more — don't fuss them up," he said. 

Ron Coffin receives a 2019 heritage award from P.E.I. Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry for restoring the Alma School House.

'You don't do it for money'

Terry Hennessey's 25th renovation project is 25 Hillsborough St., he said. Although not a carpenter himself, Hennessey has been working with many of the same contractors for years and pitches in on many jobs like painting. 

'I really enjoy doing it,' says real estate developer Terry Hennessey, who was given a heritage award from the City of Charlottetown for restoring 25 Hillsborough St. (Submitted by Terry Hennessey)

The building was the former Knights of Columbus Hall plus two apartments upstairs.

"It needed a makeover, it was the ugly duckling on the street," Hennessey said. The renovation cost him well over $150,000, he said, plus the cost of the house. 

Renovations to any heritage properties in Charlottetown require approval by the city's heritage board, Hennessey said, noting there are stringent rules in place.

"It comes down to passion. You don't do it for money — in this particular deal, I probably have more money invested in it than I'll ever get out of it," he said. "But I do like taking an ugly duckling and turning it into something that's a good addition to the downtown streetscape. I've done it many times and it's worked out in the past. 

"This one is probably one of my nicer ones and it turned out well." He took what he called a "patchwork quilt" of previous repairs and additions, and restored it as best he could to how it looked when it was built in the 1930s.

Hometown proud

"That's the goal whenever I do buy a property is I want to restore it back to the original," Hennessey said. Hennessey is renting out the three units long term. 

Quentin Bevan received a heritage award for restoring the exterior of 100 King St. in Charlottetown. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Much of historic downtown Charlottetown has also been sympathetically restored, he said, leading to a much-improved streetscape. He said that's important to him because he grew up there. He's now restoring another property on Water Street where he and his family plan to live. 

"When people walk by a property I like people to stop and look and admire, and that's kind of my driver," he said. 

There are grants available from the city for some upgrades to heritage homes but Hennessey said he did not apply. 

It took a group of investors

Thomas Alley House at 62 Prince St. was most recently offices of the Canadian Red Cross. The building was purchased a few years ago by Dico Reijers, who got a group together to restore the building's exterior and make it into high-end rental units. The Thomas Alley House Group received a heritage award from the city last week. 

Thomas Alley House on Prince Street in Charlottetown before, top, and after, bottom. (Submitted by Bruce Donaldson)

Thomas Alley was an architect who built four notable brick buildings in Charlottetown, all still standing: Trinity United Church on Prince Street, the Coles Building (originally Charlottetown's court house), The Union Bank Building on the corner of Richmond and Great George, and his own residence at 62 Prince St.

"We've had lots of compliments on it," said Bruce Donaldson, one of the investors who, with his wife, owns one of four condos in the building. They live in their 1,800 square-foot, one-bedroom unit and they love living downtown, he said. 

Thomas Alley House in Charlottetown was gutted inside making way for modern finishes. (Submitted by Dico Reijers)

He and his wife had renovated a couple of other heritage homes over the years and enjoyed it.

"There's a lot to it, so you have to be patient," he said of abiding by the city's heritage rules. 

"For anybody going into these projects that's the first thing they've got to understand is there is going to be added costs," Donaldson said. "You're going to find things in these buildings that you weren't expecting."

He said receiving a heritage award was unexpected and rewarding. 

Parkview on Richmond

Steve and Nancy Godkin received an award from Charlottetown for their restoration of the exterior of 267 Richmond St. 

Steve and Nancy Godkin received a heritage award from Charlottetown for the restoration of 267 Richmond Street. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

The house was designed by renowned P.E.I. architect William Critchlow Harris and was most recently used as a group home until the couple bought it a few years ago. 

"Two years of hard work has gone into this so to get recognized for any part of it was very exciting and rewarding," said Nancy Godkin. 

This is what 267 Richmond St. looked like in 1896, more than 120 years ago. (Parkview on Richmond/Facebook)

The couple wanted the exterior to look exactly as it did back in the house's heyday in 1896. They say their contractor Paul Coles, who has extensive knowledge and love for Charlottetown heritage homes, probably took the restoration "a little further" than they would have, and they are thrilled with the result.

They turned the interior into three units they rent on Airbnb, and the house even has its own Facebook page where you can see all the renovations to Parkview on Richmond. 

Stacy MacInnis won a provincial heritage award for his period restoration of the Millman-Johnstone House in Burlington, built in the mid-1800s, before, top, and after, bottom. The house was part of the former Woodleigh Replicas attraction. (Carter Jeffery)

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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


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