The massive complex in the heart of Charlottetown might seem a tiny bit intimidating on first glance – imposing architecture, a full city block, four large sandstone cubes. But once you’ve stepped onto the property of Confederation Centre of the Arts, you soon sense the people-friendly atmosphere that permeates this cultural centre that is officially Canada’s memorial to the founding fathers. Visitors enjoy ice cream and a live brass quintet, families crowd into the amphitheatre for a rousing (and free) noontime show by a corps of young “triple threats,” and culture buffs study public works of art.
Venture inside and the fun continues. Newly opened in 2015 is “The Story of Confederation,” a startlingly realistic replica (also free) of the original Confederation Chamber, where the 1864 Charlottetown Conference discussions led to the creation of a country. The original chamber in Province House next door is currently closed for conservation work, but the first-rate film and interpretation provide a full and entertaining explanation of nation building Canadian style. For more on Confederation, visitors take in a vignette or walking tour with the Confederation Players, easily recognized by their warm wool suits and charming gowns – really the only folks around town wearing top hats and carrying fluttering fans.
Stepping across the pavilion and into Confederation Centre Art Gallery, you find yourself in a completely new setting, surrounded by contemporary art exhibits and historical artifacts. The exhibits extend from the four upstairs galleries into the lower concourse of the complex, and the classic Brutalist-style architecture of the 1964 building protects the treasure trove of culture within, but a pleasant surprise in the partly underground hallways is the beautiful light-filled, marble-clad space called Memorial Hall, where the founding of Canada is officially commemorated.
It’s not possible to leave Confederation Centre without taking in some live theatre. The Charlottetown Festival is noted for its first-class Canadian musicals, most famously for Guinness-record setting Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™, in 2016 running alongside the blockbuster Mamma Mia! and Soulpepper’s latest success Spoon River. With tickets in hand, fully inspired by visual art and historical anecdotes, it seems a perfect moment to settle at a table in Mavor’s courtyard – the finest outdoor dining in the city – with dinner and a drink before the show.