Jun. 18th, 2006

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I'm intimately familiar with the community of Stanhope and its surrounding area. Located at the less-visited eastern periphery of the Prince Edward Island National Park, Stanhope as I remember it was a quiet farming community with discrete clusters of cottages hidden away from the ecologically sensitive white sand dunes and coastal marshes, free from the presence of the mainlander tourists who dominated Cavendish and other resorts. Stanhope was ours.

I've learned that it isn't any longer, thanks in part to Amy Rosen's glowing review, published in The Globe and Mail, of the new Stanhope Beach Resort.

When the Stanhope Beach Resort was founded, you might have heard a phrase such as: "O, here I lay, weary of rest, and wake the morning, when sun ariseth in his majesty." In other words, it dates back a very long time.

The property began as an oceanside log cabin, settled in 1789 by Cornelius and Isabelle Higgins and their brood of seven. In 1855, Angus MacMillan took over the land lease and built his farm, which he called Pleasant View. By 1860, he had changed the name to Pleasant Point Hotel, and by 1871 was charging the exorbitant rate of $1.50 a day. Decades then passed, as did the 1940s heyday of the hotel, when it was known as a first-class tourist destination with a dancehall, dining room -- and running water. From there, a sad, slow decline began.

But now, PEI's oldest hotel has a new lease on life. In 2005, it was purchased by Great George Properties, headed up by islander Mike Murphy, who says he found the place in such a state of disarray that "if something hadn't happened shortly, it would have been too far gone."

This month, Stanhope Beach Resort launched as the East Coast's latest heritage hideaway -- and a place where the Great Gatsby himself would be comfortable bedding down.


Rosen's article continues at length. Reading it, I feel an odd sense of alienation from the Island. It's as if she's getting the details right but she lacks the lived experience necessary to make it cohere properly, but I'm inclined out of principle to reject this as a xenophobic gut response directed towards auslander non-Islanders. I experienced Stanhope when it was a metastable environment, after the old patrimonial agrarian society implanted by British migrants in the 19th century collapsed, but before the remnants of that society had been assimilated into a globalized capitalist economy. My Stanhope just couldn't have lasted as I remembered it, not when the sort of capital-intensive ecotourism and cultural tourism that PEI just might have a niche in is in the ascendance.

I wonder if Mallorcans and Minorcans felt the way that I do now back in the 1950s and 1960s, back when the first waves of northern European tourists began to come to the Balearic Islands. I wonder how I'll feel about this in a half-century's time, for that matter.
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I spent most of today in Port Hope, a drive of one hour or one hundred kilometers east of Toronto via Ontario's famous Highway 401. I rather enjoyed this day, walking around the well-maintained brick buildings that dominate the compact downtown (Yahoo, Google Maps) and appreciating the fact that Port Hope lies well outside of the Greater Toronto Area's heat island.

With perhaps sixteen thousand inhabitants, Port Hope is comparable in size to Prince Edward Island's City of Summerside. It differs in most other details. Summerside's old buildings, for instance, are built not out of the unsuitable local sandstone or of inordinately expensive and necessarily imported brick, but rather out of wood. Port Hope, too, is immensely richer than Summerside, in part reflecting Port Hope's fortunate inclusion in the single wealthiest province in the Canadian confederation, but also because Port Hope has managed to find a niche in Ontario's tourist economy. As Garnet Clayton's complete Port Hope History site makes clear, although Port Hope was only the seventh community in Ontario to be granted the status of a town and prospered industrially up to the time of Confederation in 1867, thereafter it underwent a prolonged period of relative decline that left this community and its neighbours permanently in Toronto's shadow. Somewhat like the incorporated village of Victoria by the Sea of Prince Edward Island, bypassed by the major highways and spared development and change for generations, Port Hope's inhabitants managed to take their community's lack of change and make it a selling point to nostalgic visitors from larger centres.

Port Hope, I discovered today, has plenty of well-stocked antique shops. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that Port Hope is where some Ontarians, at least, go to discover Upper Canada.
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