Restoration of 130-year-old grand piano start of 'a new adventure' for P.E.I. inn

The Barachois Inn in South Rustico, P.E.I., will soon show off its historic grand piano which dates back to 1890.

'It's just very exciting to think that it will be back in use'

Max Keenlyside installs new strings into the piano. He's spent countless hours restoring it. (Laura Meader/CBC)

A historic 1890 Canadian-made grand piano is almost ready to be played again and the owners of the Barachois Inn are thrilled. 

Judy MacDonald, who co-owns the inn with her husband Gary MacDonald, said the piano hasn't been working for about seven years, but the restoration project is almost complete. 

They raised money for the $12,000 repair through community fundraising, help from the Central Coastal Tourism Partnership and support from local business people. 

"It's just very exciting to think that it will be back in use," said MacDonald. 

Music is a very uplifting part of everyone's life.— Judy MacDonald

"We're hoping to restore it as good as it was in the very beginning, in 1890." 

Piano dates back to time of the inn

MacDonald said they purchased the grand piano many years ago, and always liked it since it dated back to around the same time the inn would have been in its early days. 

The piano restoration work involved replacing the strings, removing the keys and going through a complex tuning process. (Laura Meader/CBC)

MacDonald said for many years, she felt it would be too expensive to get the piano fixed.

"It was quite a large job, and it was kind of not in the cards, especially during these times," she said. 

She said a friend convinced her to try crowd funding and she's glad she did, saying particularly during pandemic times, people need to experience music. 

"Music is a very uplifting part of everyone's life." 

Extensive restoration work needed

Max Keenlyside, the piano restoration expert who has taken on the project, said recently he's been working late into the evening. 

Keenlyside said there were delays with ordering some parts for the historic piano. He says it has a great sound now, and he hopes it inspires people to play. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He said the R.S. Williams piano is one of the earliest grand pianos built in Canada. 

"There aren't too many of these pianos of this calibre and of this variety that still survive," he said. 

He said it wasn't useable when he started the restoration "journey."

"It was a little bit rough when I first got to it," he said. "There were keys sticking, a lot of notes didn't play at all." 

Judy MacDonald said it gives her great pleasure to know the piano can be used again. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He took the whole piano apart and had to dry it out with dehumidifiers, replace the strings, and make constant tweaks to test the sound, vibration and tone. 

Although he's being paid for some of his time, he donated many hours to the project as well. 

"It's a wonderful thing to have a rebuilt piano in a historically appropriate house," he said.

Keenlyside will also give a performance on the piano once it's ready. 

McAskill Woodworking Ltd. also restored the piano cabinet. 

Hopes it will be played lots

Over the years when the piano was in better condition, MacDonald said, she would get requests from people who wanted to play it.

She tells a story of a music student who brought her elderly parents there to listen to her play and sing opera music for them. 

The piano will sit in the parlour at the Barachois Inn. The owners hope to hold regular concert events. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"The parents were 83 at the time and they dearly wanted to hear their daughter sing," said MacDonald. 

She said the experience was one she would never forget, and now hopes to have many more like it. 

"This is the beginning of a new adventure." 

The inn has plans for several concerts in December.


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