Reproducing the furniture from the Confederation Chamber
While Province House in Charlottetown undergoes renovations Parks Canada and the Confederation Centre of the Arts have mounted an exhibit in the upper foyer of the Centre called “The Story of Confederation” which includes reproductions of the furniture from the Confederation Chamber. The original pieces are with Parks Canada curators in Halifax, and the reproductions are the work of Island artisans from McAskill’s Woodworking and Ladner Upholstery.
The original furniture was built in the mid 1800s by Mark Butcher, PEI’s most famous furniture maker. Joe McAskill was given the task of building exact replicas of the 26 delegates chairs, the Speaker’s chair, two settees, 2 side armchairs and the twenty-one foot table. He was provided with one original chair to measure (without taking it apart) and create the plans. For the rest of the pieces he had to rely mostly on photographs to make his patterns. “The hardest chairs I’ve ever built,” says Joe. “One small block that supports the arm where is meets the rail took twenty different operations.” While some parts could be turned on a lathe, much of the work involved hand carving. Joe and lathe operator Dellar Duckworth worked virtually every day for three months to complete the work. (While not neglecting regular customer orders.) “It was an interesting summer,” says Joe.
The uphostelry was made and installed by Gord Ladner of Ladner Uphostery with two helpers. The original furniture is covered in oil cloth (hard to find and expensive) so a modern material which matched the look and feel of the original was used. Braiding and buttons had to be exact replicas.
Next time you visit the Confederation Centre go to the upper foyer to admire the work of some contemporary Island master craftsmen.