Province House is a product?

Kim Green of the Capital Commission is quoted in today’s Guardian as saying of Founder’s Hall:  “We’ll orientate (tourists) in terms of what (to see) and then send them out to touch the real products like Province House.”

This is what’s wrong with tourism: it forces us to look at everything through a set of commodification glasses.  No longer can something be an historic building, the centre of our democracy, the heart of our community.  Nope, it’s a product.  Like Kleenex or Chevy Impalas.

Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of wonderful things about tourism, and, indeed, I derive a good portion of my livelihood from the tourism industry.  At its very root the notion of sharing our home with visitors is a Good Idea.

But we have to be careful of where this takes our thinking, and how it affects the way we look at our home.  Province House is my neighbour.  If I start looking at it as a “product,” then I start to conceive of my neighbourhood as a product too, and eventually I succumb to the notion that my neighbourhood cum product must be improved as a product.  The result?  My neighbourhood ceases to be a neighbourhood, loses the qualities that make it interesting to live in, and, ironically, ceases to be of interest to tourists because it becomes generic.


Alan's picture
Alan on March 23, 2002 - 23:26 Permalink

But this does speak to the democracy you live it. Democracy is not an absolute but something capable of diminishment through neglect or worse. When you realize the seat is nothing but a tourist product, it is pretty late in the game. Unfortunately, the legislature here was scene of a drinking party around 1864 that led to later talks about confederation. Other legislatures were the actual scene of advances in democratic reform such as the battle for responsible government throughout the empire(NS), the rights of minorities (Quebec) or the breaking of a local clique (Ont.). PEI has a nice but peripheral moment in history ripe for touristy misuse through its absence of constitutional substance. On top of that, PEI sold its physical legislative integrity with a deal with Parks Canada years ago and we are left with a bit of a shell. Sadly the importance of the place to visitors is not what is happening in the place now. Sad for locals, too.

Lana's picture
Lana on March 24, 2002 - 00:22 Permalink

Welcome to my masters thesis. And yes, PEI sold out long long ago.

Alan's picture
Alan on March 24, 2002 - 12:55 Permalink

Is it a thesis on the go or finished long time ago? I find the saddest thing is that there seems to be a real and interesting legacy of history affecting society today but there is a disconnect to that history. So the legislature is not know for the real battles in governance but only this silly interruption to a meeting on Maritime Union. The public stance on the population is of a mild and well mannered and somewhat homogenized folk but there were events like the Belfast Riot or the expulsion of 1758 which are out of the public mind. If the sell out were taken back, there would be much more of an attraction to tourists, I would think. Instead, we have ads about coming here to do nothing, see nothing, think nothing.

Lana's picture
Lana on March 24, 2002 - 14:48 Permalink

1) Masters thesis on the go currently in Ottawa.

2) I have quams with the Capital Commission and Tourism in general for constantly putting tourist needs above those of actual citizens. Let’s take Richmond Street for examply. Victoria Row my ass — let’s be more colonial, the tourists like that don’t they. How about Peaks Quay — how many souvenirs do you buy there? What does it do for you in the winter? How does promoting the “quaint lifestyle” to tourists work, if that “lifestyle” shuts down in September?

3) David Lowenthal calls tourism “cultural prostitution” and I tend to agree.

Lana's picture
Lana on March 24, 2002 - 14:53 Permalink

PEI &#153

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 24, 2002 - 16:16 Permalink

1) I have been in the heart of election central on election night, watching the gears of democracy turn; it is, literally, enough to make you gasp in wonder: 80% to 90% of Islanders coming out to exercise their franchise. Province House is the architectural symbol of that franchise. It is not a product.

2) I was on the board of the Victoria Row business owner’s association when we started to get the ball rolling towards what is now a fully fledged pedestrian mall. We always took great pains to consider the needs of residents, both of Victoria Row proper, and of the neighbourhood, in our plans. Victoria Row is not some cartoony name dreamed up by tourism — you can go back many years (look in Irene Rogers’ book) to see it called this. I’ve no problems with the commercialization of this area of Richmond St., for it is a bona fide commercial area. That’s what it’s there for.

Lana's picture
Lana on March 24, 2002 - 16:25 Permalink

Why can’t Victoria Row be supported by residents of PEI is the question.. it thrives in the summer, but then shuts down after the tourists leave. That area has always been the commercial heart of Charlottetown (recall the old market). My point, and yes I have a copy of Irene Rogers’ book, is that the reversal of the name to Victoria Row is part of the trend of branding the Victorian identity to the Island.

Province House, of course it still performs its original function as the seat of government, but it has taken on a new role as a tourist attraction. The fact that there is a gift shop inside is proof of its commodification.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on March 24, 2002 - 16:26 Permalink

It could simply be that in winter it is cold?

Lana's picture
Lana on March 24, 2002 - 16:30 Permalink

You still live there, don’t you?

Alan's picture
Alan on March 24, 2002 - 17:12 Permalink

Peter: I trust you shed the same tear for the beauty of local democracy with the delivery of the rum pints, gravel loads and pogie positions thanks to your local MLA if that MLA is in power. I recall the gravel deliveries of May 2000 with a fondness for the good old days long gone most everywhere else. People show in numbers when the dinner table is set.

The interesting thing about the Victorianization as the model chosen for the commoditization is its falsity — PEI as Disney in lace…[not that kind of lace, Willson!]. Where are the open sewers, work houses, diseases and rampant poverty that were the hallmark of the era here and everywhere else in the Maritimes? Where are the discussions about contemporary Victorian issues on PEI such as the protestant and catholic anamosity which became resolved to a degree through confederation. This wacky LM Montgomery-ized illusion for tourist dollar denies and undermines the actual understanding of history [and probably for present day political purposes shared without reference to party]. I totally agree with you, Lana, that it is being done without concern for the experience of the local citizen other than an opportunity for “getting the weeks in”. For example, was Victoria Row designed to not include winter use as the Historic Properties in Halifax were through use of internal walking areas between shops. Don’t get me wrong, Peter, it is the nicest — if only effort — to retain the old town. Check out the inventory survey in a schedule to the City heritage bylaw to see what else could be done with what exists under all the vinyl siding.

Sadly, the only realistic effort I see to get year round employment are the call centre jobs. Sad because they are being called IT jobs, sad because they are being “placed” separate from others so that there will not be a competative labour market that will allow wages to rise and sad because they are likely the only developments in employment that can be expected in the next ten years in areas such as O’Leary as the opportunities are not being allocated by market conditions. If there was a realistic and courageous plan to develop the economy as something other than a hinterland and tourist trap, folks might have some hope and politics (of all stripes) might have some vibrancy. The more I learn about the economic development plan of the late ‘60’s — which saw the roads paved and put sewer systems in the towns — the more I think it is time for a revivial of another such broad based plan. Otherwise, our present 15% unemployment will be pushing 20% within a few years.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on March 24, 2002 - 18:19 Permalink

I prefer my kind of lace, <allen>. You were just testing me to see if I had the patience to read through your comment I suspect.

I suspect that many of the readers of this blog are on our fair Isle because of the economic development plan.

christopher's picture
christopher on March 24, 2002 - 18:42 Permalink

Wow — great thread, folks. Maybe not as much fun as trebuchets (your cue for a mini-hijacking, Alan) but a crucial debate of the very kind our Development Department seems to try to avoid. Peter didn’t take his piece where I expected when I started reading it (a great feature of Peter’s writing, BTW). When I read the original article in the The Grauniad, I harked back to Peter’s review of the Founders’ Hall. I followed up on that piece by going to see it myself, and Peter was too kind in his comments. It was the sort of thing that, if done as a grade 11 class project, we’d all smile and talk of how well they’d done and where experience and training might take them. Taken as the expensive product of the infotainment industry, it was sloppy, tacky, cliche-ridden tat and pap. I was sort of astonished that they’d managed to make 30% of their visitor target, but of course most visitors haven’t had the benefit of prior reviews of the “attractions” laid on for their delight. As Alan neatly illustrates, development policy seems to have followed the same dumbing down and homogenisation as the treatment of the Island’s history and culture. I suppose if you regard your past as some sort of badly painted chocolate box pastiche, you will likely also be absolutely thrilled at the hollow promises which accompany a branch office economy and call centre based tech industry. I tried to figure out a way to work in a reference to Victorian lace and Mr Willson, but failed abysmally.

Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on March 28, 2002 - 15:36 Permalink

Lana: I’d love to read that thesis

mi mi's picture
mi mi on January 27, 2004 - 15:46 Permalink

this site sucks

Oscar's picture
Oscar on September 26, 2008 - 12:43 Permalink

How can I make contact with Province House Gift Shop?