Public Archives Historic Buildings Research Guide
This guide outlines some useful resources for researching an historic home or building in Prince Edward Island. Each source has been annotated providing geographical areas, dates of material, and the type of information included. It includes printed materials on the styles and history of architecture of homes in PEI, collections of architectural drawings and papers, insurance maps, fire insurance underwriter minute books, land conveyances, maps and other land documents, business and city directories, community histories, photographs, and genealogical sources.
Unfortunately, very few architects' or builders' records exist. Many homes and other buildings would have been built by local carpenters and tradesmen who seldom kept any construction records.
Since few records of individual houses exist, you must consult many different and varied sources in an attempt to piece together the story of a building and its owners or builders. By researching the individuals who built, owned, or occupied the house, you may discover interesting details of activities (business, political, social, etc.) that may have been associated with the residence. Interviews with former owners or occupants of the home, neighbours, and elderly residents in the area may also be helpful in providing clues for your research.
Charlottetown: The Life in its Buildings. Irene L. Rogers (Charlottetown: PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation, 1983). Street-by-street listing of domestic and commercial buildings in downtown Charlottetown, providing historical details of the building, architect, architectural style, occupants, and photographs, where available. Well-referenced using a variety of sources, including land registry records, newspapers, probate records, directories, interviews, minute books of the PEI Board of Insurance Underwriters, etc.
Walks in Charlotte Town. Irene L. Rogers (Charlottetown: PEI Heritage Foundation, 1980, reprinted 1989). Includes buildings, mostly residences, on Great George, King, Hillsborough, Queen, Pownal, Water, Haviland, Richmond, West, Kent, and Euston Streets, as well as Rochford Square and Victoria Row. Precursor to Charlottetown: The Life in its Buildings.
"Heritage in Building." Irene L. Rogers. Canadian Antiques Collector: A Journal of Antiques and Fine Arts (Vol. 8, Centenary Issue No. 1, 1973). The article includes a discussion of architectural traditions and styles, typical domestic architecture in use in urban and rural PEI, photographs of houses, and dates built.
The Historic Houses of Prince Edward Island. H.M. Scott Smith (Erin, Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1990). Acc4242. Discusses the evolution of domestic architecture in rural PEI, illustrates various building styles used, notes on eleven architects, photographs and histories of individual houses, and information on known builders, owners, and current occupants. Also includes rectory, presbytery, and manse architecture.
The Cavendish Collection of Prince Edward Island Homes, Inns, and Cottages. Carter W. Jeffery, editor and consultant (Hunter River, PEI: Heritage Designs PEI, 1993). Acc4348. Provides floor plans for typical rural housing styles, as well as suggestions for decorative verandah trims, shingle patterns, and colours for homes, inns, and cottages.
Gothic Dreams: The Life and Times of a Canadian Architect, William Critchlow Harris, 1854-1913. Robert C. Tuck (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1978). Acc4289. Of particular interest is Appendix I ("Buildings designed by William Harris and built") which lists buildings standing in 1978 with name of building, date, and address, as well as a list of buildings in which Harris was associated with architect David Stirling.
The Island Magazine (Charlottetown: PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation) includes several articles relating to PEI architecture, such as:
- "Island Homes" by Irene Rogers (#1, Fall/Winter 1976).
- A series by Robert Tuck regarding communities and their architecture: Alberton (#24, Fall/Winter 1988), Bedeque (#5, Fall/Winter, 1978), Cardigan (#29, Spring/Summer, 1991), Georgetown (#4, Spring/Summer, 1978), Guernsey Cove (#8, 1980), St. Eleanor's (#18, Fall/Winter, 1985), Souris (#16, Fall/Winter, 1984), Tignish (#6, Spring/Summer, 1979), and Victoria (#7, Fall/Winter, 1979).
- "The Changing Face of Fanning Bank" by C. W. J. Eliot and Reginald Porter (#29, Spring/Summer 1991). Includes architectural analysis of Fanning Bank, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor, as well as insets on the verandah, the architectural influences of John Plaw, and references to the "Charlottetown Fifty Years Ago" column series in the P.E.I. Magazine.
- "D. R. Morrison: Island Builder" by J. Clinton Morrison, Jr. (#20, Fall/Winter 1986). D. R. Morrison (1886-1930) was a builder for the PEI Railway and had several private homes and public buildings to his credit.
Historic Places of Prince Edward Island. This website allows users to search for information about historic properties located throughout PEI. Entries provide details of the history and architecture of the buildings, as well as previous ownership.
“Search a Property,” Charlottetown's Heritage Database, City of Charlottetown. Search Charlottetown's Heritage Database to discover the history and architectural development of many of the city's heritage properties. Search results contain sections on property history and ownership, as well as architectural and building history.
'The Subject is Taste': Architectural Plans at the Public Archives and Records Office. A selection of digitized architectural plans from several communities, as well as information about some of the architects who have contributed to the structural development of the Island.
Architechtural drawings and plans
K. A. Hunt House architectural plans, 1876. Acc3466/HF73.102, Items 2, 3, 5-22. The Hunt House, located in Summerside, was designed by PEI architect William C. Harris. Includes architectural drawings for verandah, bay window, moulding, entrance, roof, gable, garden, and landscaping details.
Chappell & Hunter, Architects, fonds, ca. 1890s-1940s. Acc3607. The collection includes more than 1,100 plans and drawings of churches, commercial buildings, and some residences in Charlottetown, Summerside, Montague, and Souris. Includes parochial residences in Grand Tracadie and St. Margaret's.
William Maynard fonds, ca. 1910. Acc4280. Collection includes specifications, elevations, and floor plans for six homes and cottages in O'Leary, Port Hill, Tyne Valley, Alberton, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, by builder and architect William Maynard (1884-1963) of Port Hill.
James F. Toombs architectural fonds, 1917-1995. Acc4458. James F. Toombs designed many commercial buildings as well as some homes and churches. Records of renovations and conversions are also included in the fonds. The residential files include plans, estimates, correspondence, blueprints, time sheets, etc., dating largely from the 1950s through 1980s. Records are filed by individual's name (eg. "L. Monahan residence"). The fonds also includes the Goad insurance plans of 1881, updated to 1910, which includes numerous small communities and villages as well as Charlottetown and Summerside (Acc4458/Series6).
E. S. Blanchard fonds, 1920s-1950s. Acc3680. This collection includes 160 files of architectural drawings and papers of numerous Charlottetown and area residences and commercial buildings designed by architect E. S. Blanchard. The finding aid provides name of owner or client and street. Files include sketches, elevations, floor plans, details, etc.
Alfred J. Hennessey fonds, 1959-1984. Acc3827. This collection includes 56 files of architectural plans, five of which are for private residences.
Peter A. McNeill fonds, 1955-1978. Acc3731. This collection includes numerous files of architectural plans of schools, churches, recreation centres, commercial buildings in PEI and Nova Scotia. There are no plans for private residences.
Canadian Inventory of Historic Building Records. Acc5090. This collection consists of the PEI portion of a national inventory of historic buildings. Dating from the early 1970s, the inventory focused on building believed to have been built before 1880. Records in the collection include exterior photographs of each building inventoried along with recording sheets detailing architectural features. A small number of second phase records detailing building interiors also survive. Records are grouped by community and/or lot number.
Insurance minutes and plans
Board of Fire Underwriters minute books, 1883-1967. Acc2713. Minutes of the Board of Fire Underwriters provides a listing of new houses, owners' names, brief descriptions of house, location, and rate of insurance. Also includes commercial buildings and their uses. Records are chronological so knowing the approximate year of construction is helpful.
Goad Insurance plans of Prince Edward Island, 1888-1910. Acc4458/Series6. Insurance plans of several PEI communities updated to 1910, including Alberton, Cardigan, Charlottetown, Coleman, Crapaud, Georgetown, Hunter River, Kensington, Montague Bridge, Mount Stewart, Murray Harbour South, Murray River South, O'Leary, St. Peters Bay, Souris East, Tignish, Summerside, Tyne Valley, and Victoria. An access copy on microfilm is available in the Reading Room.
Insurance plans of Charlottetown. Underwriters' Survey Bureau Ltd., Montreal and Toronto. Nov. 1919, revised to 1922. Acc3303/1 (microfilm). Listed block by block, plans show locations of buildings, dwellings, businesses, schools, warehouses, hotels, etc. The plans provide street numbers, block numbers, and number of stories of buildings. The map includes an index to streets under various headings (asylums, hospitals, banks, churches, colleges, convents, schools, factories, firms and warehouses, hotels, public buildings, theatres, halls, railway station, shops, wharves, docks, piers) and a key to construction materials, roofing, walls, doors and windows, elevator shafts and stairways, power, waterworks, sprinkler and alarm system, etc.
Insurance plans of the Town of Alberton, 1919, revised to 1947. Acc4537. Two plans for Alberton.
Insurer's Advisory Organization of Toronto Fire Insurance Plans, 1919, 1937. Acc4121. Two plans for Tyne Valley (1919) and one for Breadalbane (1919, updated to 1937).
Insurance plans of Montague, 1922, revised to 1937. Acc4538. Two plans for Montague.
Insurance maps of Charlottetown and other communities, 1956, revised to 1968. Acc2815 (renumbered 0,618 - 0,635). Includes Alberton, Borden, Charlottetown, Crapaud, Georgetown, Hunter River, Kensington, Montague, Morell, Mount Stewart, Murray Harbour, Murray River, O'Leary, St. Peter's Bay, Souris East, Summerside, Tignish, and Victoria. Indexed in the Map Index under the heading "Cities, towns, villages, royalties".
Insurances plans of Charlottetown and neighbouring communities, 1956, revised to 1963.
Acc3466/XHF83.70.108 and Acc3466/XHF83.70.109. Includes plans for Charlottetown and communities such as Spring Park and Parkdale. Set of plans includes 1963 revisions sheets and handwritten annotations, likely by an insurance agent.
City of Charlottetown records (RG20)
Building permits, 1945-1958. RG20, Vol. 60. One volume of building permit application forms (1945-1958) for proposed new buildings and renovations or alterations to existing buildings in Charlottetown. Provides date of application, owner's name, address and signature, estimated cost of new building or alterations, builder's name and address, purpose of the building (apartment, single dwelling, warehouse, etc.), and location.
Notifications of building permit required, 1911-1935. RG20, Vol. 54. One volume (1911-1935), partially used, providing a record of notices sent to individuals in the midst of erecting or renovating a building, within Charlottetown, without a building permit. Information recorded includes date of notice, name, address, and type of building.
Valuation rolls, 1885-1936. RG20, Vols. 178-192. Fifteen volumes of valuation rolls (1885-1936) recording assessments on real estate and personal property of individuals. Information includes name of owners or occupant, occupation, street address, ward and block numbers, location of taxed property, type of real estate (house, land, commercial, brick structure, out buildings, etc.), civic assessment valuation, and amount of poll and school taxes paid.
City and business directories provide street addresses and names of residents. Directories can be useful for tracing previous owners of a property and the first occurrence of a street or house number. Directories can be found on microfilm in the Reading Room.
Tracing the history of the people who lived in a house or operated a business out of a property can add interesting social history details to your research. Several genealogical sources are available at the Public Archives including the Master Name Index, which includes references to books, atlases, census returns, cemetery records, some newspaper advertisements, and more.
The Public Archives has a large collection of maps, insurance maps and plans, and a series of 1935 aerial photographs. Many of the Public Archives’ maps have been digitized and are also available through Island Imagined. The 1863 Lake Map, 1880 Meachams Atlas, and ca. 1928 Cummins Atlas are good starting points. Manuscript maps in the collection are indexed by Lot and filed chronologically. The maps can also provide clues that may lead to land conveyances, leases, township ledgers, and government deeds. Also available at the Public Archives are 1878 panoramic or “bird's eye” views of Charlottetown (Map 0,396) and Summerside (Map 0,293). See also "Panorama for Sale: The Bird's Eye Views of Prince Edward Island" by H. T. Holman, The Island Magazine (#24, Fall/Winter 1988) for information on these unique maps.
Land conveyances do not usually provide many details of structures on a property, but can provide clues as to when property was sold or purchased, divided or developed, and possibly when buildings were erected. You must know the names You must know names of the property owners to search the conveyances.
Historic photographs can provide clues as to original architectural features and landscaping as well as approximate dates. The Public Archives has a large collection of photographs indexed in the Reading Room and in the PARO Collections Database. Many photographs are unidentified as to street. Some houses which were named (eg. Edgewater, Watermere, Beaconsfield) may be indexed by the name, while others may be indexed by the owner or builder's name. There are also many streetscapes of Charlottetown, Souris, and Summerside.
Most community histories include genealogies of families in the area and some may include maps or listings of individual farms or homes, as well as current and past residents. Some community histories may include lists of individuals and their occupations (house builder, mason, carpenter, etc.). The Public Archives has various community histories available for researchers to consult and many are also available through the Public Library Service.