'Untouched' historic P.E.I. property inspires new book

A new book called Exploring Glenaladale documents the important Glenaladale heritage site at Tracadie Bay on P.E.I.'s North Shore, and is also a fundraising project for the property's restoration.

Glenaladale on Tracadie Bay much the way it was more than 100 years ago

'This one just blew me away!' Sterling Stratton says of the property that inspired his new book, Exploring Glenaladale. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

A new book called Exploring Glenaladale documents the important Glenaladale heritage site at Tracadie Bay on P.E.I.'s North Shore, and is also a fundraising project for the property's restoration.

A group called the Glenaladale Heritage Trust is now working to restore the estate, where Captain John MacDonald of Glenaladale, Scotland, lived and founded the first settlement of Scotch Catholics on P.E.I. in 1772. The trust plans to turn it into an education and conference centre. 

I couldn't believe the furniture that was in there, and I couldn't believe the architecture.— Sterling Stratton 

"It's a beautiful building," Sterling Stratton told Mainstreet P.E.I.'s Matt Rainnie. Stratton spent his career as an educator, but he's also a writer and artist.

"I knew they were trying to restore it and I knew they were a charity and so I said to the people running it, I said I'll go down and make a drawing of the building ... and you can use it any way you like, as letterhead or otherwise," he said. 

'So beautiful'

The current three-storey brick mansion was built in 1883. In 1905 the MacDonald family sold the property to the MacKinnons, who were fox farmers, and it was their descendants who put it up for sale in 2012. A group of Scottish heritage enthusiasts put together the charitable trust to buy the house and preserve it. 

There have been four houses on Glenaladale estate. The current brick mansion was built in 1883. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald-Gallant)

The property is not yet open to the public, but when he was sketching the exterior Stratton got the chance to see inside the home. He said he's been inside perhaps 100 heritage homes but this one was extra special. 

"This one just blew me away!" he said. "It was so beautiful! Needs to be restored, but I couldn't believe the furniture that was in there, and I couldn't believe the architecture." 

What began as a single drawing turned into Stratton donating his talents for an entire book of drawings and stories. 

'It's untouched'

"They said sure, you want to do a book Sterling? Go ahead!" he said.

Stratton donated his time and talents for the book of sketches of the house. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)
Two familes have owned the Glenaladale estate: the MacDonalds and the MacKinnons. (Submitted by Mary MacDonald-Gallant)

Stratton said he was impressed that only two families had owned the property for so long and they were both dedicated to preserving it and its treasures. He noted the beautiful woodwork inside, and loved the fact that the lock in the original wooden front door still contained the key. 

"I'm telling you, it's untouched," he enthused. "I even drew the original key and put it in the book." 

Stratton said he thought he would be able to sketch the mansion's rooms, but said they are mostly still in disarray. Then he noted the "enormous amount" of antique furniture in the house — he ended up drawing 80 pieces, from armoires and beds to desks and pump organs. 

'Wonderful chandeliers'

"I find people who see the book in advance — they love that part. They can't believe that that furniture is still there," he said, adding he understands the trust does not plan to introduce any antiques from other locations.

The beautiful woodwork inside the house remains unchanged, says Stratton. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

"There's wonderful chandeliers still hanging, there's home instruments like a stitching machine of all things and of course a spinning wheel," he said. 

Stratton plans to write a separate book about Ruth MacKinnon Barlow. She wrote an 83-verse poem about the MacDonald history of the house, Stratton said.

"It's the full story in poetic form! Beautifully written and very valuable." 

Work in progress

The house had minimal electricity and no plumbing — they had a central reservoir fed by a nearby spring, piped to the house and barn which no longer stands, Stratton said. The large barn is worth noting too, as it had been more expensive to build than the house and was said to be the best in Canada. 

The house contains both a piano and a pump organ. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)
The original beds still remain at the estate. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

Stratton said he thinks the property will become a destination where people will want to return. He said the trust plans to develop an outdoor stage, an animal barn and an art trail through the woods. He said even though it will be a work in progress,  it should be open to the public in the coming year. 

In 2018 the federal government provided the trust with $705,000 to help it acquire the property. It also won a $15,000 prize in a national heritage contest and fundraised, including through its buy-a-brick campaign.

They've already repaired an 1899 schoolhouse from Tracadie on the property — it will become a gateway to the historic property. 

The area was inhabited by the Mi'kmaq prior to being settled in what was then a British colony. 

Stratton's book will be launched March 10 at 2 p.m. at Beaconsfield Historic House in Charlottetown. 

A view of the house and barn at Glenaladale from the early 20th century. The barn was a marvel of agricultural architecture and was said to have cost more than the house. (Glenaladale Heritage Trust)

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With files from CBC Radio: Mainstreet P.E.I.


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