Province House windows restored and reinstalled by Holland College students

It was a project three years in the making, but two windows at Province House National Historic Site in Charlottetown have finally been reinstalled after being restored by carpentry students on Prince Edward Island.

The 101 windows from the historic building were removed in 2018, and all but two were sent to a workshop in Ontario to be restored.

The windows that remained on Prince Edward Island were sent to the heritage carpentry retrofit program at nearby Holland College.

“This has been a fantastic project. This is as deep and important a project as we can get on a national level,” said Josh Silver, program learning manager at the college.

“I tell my students and I genuinely believe it, this experience will be on their resume for the rest of their career.”

Silver, third from left, says the ‘silver lining’ from delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is that three cohorts of Holland College students had an opportunity to work on the historic windows. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Work on the two windows started in 2019, but restoration efforts stalled in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were times when we didn’t even have class. There were times when we couldn’t be on-site,” Silver said.

“So it’s really neat to be able to see this through to the end.”

Silver says working on the windows from Province House will likely be on the resumes of his students for their entire careers. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Silver said there is an upside to the delays.

“The silver lining is instead of one class of students being able to experience this, we’ve had multiple years of experience, so a lot of people have had their hands in this.”

Heritage challenges

Province House, which was completed in 1847 and houses the provincial legislature, has been closed for an extensive conservation project since 2015.

Reinstalling the windows came with some challenges, as Silver and the students struggled to get the windows back into place because of some window sealing that was added to make them more energy-efficient.

“It’s very true to life when there are struggles. This is how projects go, especially with heritage projects,” Silver said.

Reinstalling the windows is more complicated because of the weather sealing that’s been added to make them more energy-efficient. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

“Nothing’s square. Nothing’s true. Everything is trying to be very respectful to the original fabric of the window, but bring it up to modern standards and make it last another 150 years.”

“We always anticipate hiccups. I would have said this is a four-hour job, but we’ve put aside eight hours for it. So we’re still on schedule, but there’s always a couple of hiccups.”

This is how projects go, especially with heritage projects. Nothing’s square. Nothing’s true.—Josh Silver, Holland College learning manager

Silver said there was some debate over whether to add the weather sealing to the historic windows.

“We hope that traditional carpenters will come back and do restoration work in another 150 years, so we need it to last that long,” he said.

“The beauty of the weather seals is when the windows are sealed and tight, no public sees that. What they see is the original windows, the original paint, and those behind-the-scenes pieces that make it last longer are just known to us trade people.”

This is the last week of classes for the current cohort of students, and Silver says finishing the windows is a fitting end to their time at Holland College. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Silver said he hopes this partnership with Parks Canada will continue.

“The next phase in here would be hanging trim, and we’re in discussions,” Silver said. “They would like us here, and we would like to be here as well.”

‘Careful and cautious’

Carpentry student Heather Harris had hands-on experience with the historic windows over the last year, helping to put the glass back in the windows, painting them and shaving wood off the side.

“I was trying to be pretty careful and cautious. You don’t want to accidentally break the glass or take off too much,” Harris said.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned would be patience. You don’t want to go too fast. Again, they are over 150 years old, so really just taking your time to make sure you do it right the first time.”

Carpentry student Heather Harris, left, has had hands-on experience with the historic windows over the last year, helping to put the glass back in the windows, painting them and also shaving wood off the sides. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Harris said she plans on visiting Province House some day in the future.

“I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be nice in 10, 20 years to tell someone, ‘I did this on this window, and I had my hands all over every single part of it,'” she said.

“So that will be really exciting, and hopefully they’ll last for years to come.”

Harris says she definitely plans to visit Province House in the future to see the restored windows. ‘Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned would be patience. You don’t want to go too fast,’ she says of working on the windows. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

So far, 17 windows have been installed — 15 on the third floor and two on the second floor — with several more underground.

Project manager Nicolle Gallant said it has been a learning experience for her as well, watching the windows being restored first at Holland College and now installed at Province House.

“It’s really cool. I mean, honestly, you don’t get to see that really anywhere. I got to see them all apart and see how all the parts come together,” Gallant said.

“Even to watch them in there today and see how it all comes together, the counterweights, and just all the intricate work that went with it, it’s just really great to see.”

So far, 17 of the 101 windows at Province House have been reinstalled as part of the restoration project. (Julien Lecacheur/CBC)

The restoration of Province House was originally set to be completed by 2018, at a cost of $20 million, but now Parks Canada is aiming for the end of 2023, with a total of $91.8 million in federal funds allocated thus far.

The project marked a major milestone in March with the completion of the masonry work.

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