The Stanhope portion of the Prince Edward Island National Park has an unusual landmark. A grand and elaborate Victorian mansion sits amid forest, beach shelters, and sand dunes. A large, blue pond lies in front of it:
the road itself follows its wide circumference, so that it is impossible to escape a panoramic view. This was deliberate: the pond was once but a marsh and was engineered about one hundred years ago. Tweaking aside, it is the stuff of romanticized postcards: It has served many times as a conveniently idyllic setting for historical fiction series such as Road to Avonlea (based on works by the ever ubiquitous Lucy Maud Montgomery).
Dalvay-by-the-Sea, however, hardly needs fiction's embellishment to make the history colourful.
A Summer Cottage Fit for an Oil Baron
The North Shore
. has never been a particularly affluent region.
At the end of the nineteenth century, when Dalvay was built, the local economy
was rooted in the fisheries
and in farming
. Most people lived modestly and frugally.
However, even then there were tourists
scoping out the seaside real estate
. The McDonalds just happened to be obscenely wealthy tourists
, and rather liked the place.
Alexander McDonald, a native of Scotland, emigrated as a young man to North America in search of his fortune.
Settling in Cincinnati, Ohio, he would become a president of The Standard Oil Company with oil baron John D. Rockefeller. Like Rockefeller, McDonald was an active philanthropist. He also directed several prosperous rail-lines and the Third National Bank.
Money was not an issue.
McDonald married Laura Palmer in 1862, and had two children: a son who died in infancy, and a daughter named (Laura) Beatrice.
Their only child later married Edmund K. Stallo, a Cincinnati lawyer whose father was the U.S. Ambassador to Italy under President Grover Cleveland. This couple, in turn, had two daughters: Helena and (predictably) Laura.
Their mother died in 1895, their father remarried, and the young heiresses went to live with their maternal grandparents.
Provided with one of the best possible educations of the era, the girls accompanied the McDonalds in their constant travels around the world.
While visiting Prince Edward Island in 1895, Mrs. MacDonald became enamoured with the North Shore. She wondered aloud to her husband, "Do you think they would sell?"
They would. McDonald contracted a leading Charlottetown businessman as a land agent, securing through him 120 acres of cleared farmland and forest in what was the Tracadie area.
Construction of a massive "summer cottage" was begun the next spring under Rhodes and Currie of Amherst, Nova Scotia. The family moved in by July of 1896.
It is alleged that the project cost nearly $50,000 (a sum of money that would have seemed unimaginable to most folks in the region at the time).
McDonald named Dalvay after his boyhood home in the old country, later dubbing it "Dalvay-by-the-Sea."
Dalvay was constructed in the elaborate Queen Anne Revival style of architecture, using exclusively local building materials and many local workmen.
Island red sandstone makes up the bottom half of the house, and a large fireplace was also formed out of huge blocks of the gracefully erosive stone.
The house was furnished with oak and mahogany furniture and objets d'art collected on their travels in France, England, Italy and Egypt.
Water and power, meanwhile, was furnished by a system of windmills. The McDonalds entertained frequently, and almost always had several guests sojourning at Dalvay.
For their entertainment, there was a covered bowling alley, a billiards room, and a small sailing boat.
The McDonalds visited every summer, taking up company with a small army of servants: cooks, housemaids, a gardener, two butlers, two launderesses', a caretaker, and two men to tend the horses
(transported from Ohio each season) and stable. With such a retinue, the upkeep of the estate cost about $10,000 a year.
Before leaving at the end of the summer, the McDonalds would throw a dance for the locals and hired musicians
from Charlottetown. As a result, there were always a large number of people eager to work at Dalvay.
McDonald was also a collector of horse carriages of all varieties and sizes, and the
locals would watch with awe as, every Sunday, the regal family trekked to church.
Alexander's last visit was in 1909 (his wife had passed away a few years earlier).
According to the story: When he was leaving for the train station,
he ordered that the horses stopped before reaching Long Pond.
He remained alone for a moment, looking back on the house, and finally said quietly "Good-bye Dalvay".
He died in 1910 at Long Beach, California.
Alexander McDonald Turns Over in his Grave a Few Times
When McDonald was still alive, he had attempted to teach
the two young ladies about shrewd money management, frugality, and responsibility.
Not that anyone was listening. The granddaughters, aged 17 and 16 years old respectively, inherited most of the
immense fortune (at that time, $15 million). In their minority,
their father and step-mother held the inheritance in trust.
However, Edmund K. Stallo badly managed the inheritance by investing in multiple disastrous
schemes. He, his wife, and the children from both marriages lived extravagantly.
Stallo would later be institutionalized at a public State Hospital in California.
As for the girls, they were ambitious in their own right: while they probably had their pick of
high society Cincinnati men, they aspired to be European royalty.
Miss Helena, the younger sister, married Prince Michel Charles Anne Joachim Napoleon Murat of France (the nephew of one of Napoleon's former marshals).
Miss Laura married Prince Francesco Rospigliosi, and were happy for a short period. Both sisters would later be divorced from their princes. By this juncture, however, the girls would learn
that the entire estate amassed by Alexander McDonald had been reduced to nearly nothing. Thus ends the family
In happier days, Prince and Princess Rospigliosi visited briefly in the summer of 1915. However, with
the fortune in chaos, the family lost complete interest in Dalvay. Throughout this time, the house was empty:
caretakers William and Rose Hughes lived in a small house nearby. Intriguingly, Hughes was later able to purchase the estate
from Princess Laura for the sum owed in back taxes: a mere $86.57. Unable to afford the maintenance alone, Hughes
pass the property into the hands of various owners.
Rumrunning and Other Forms of Entrepreneurship
In the meantime, Prince Edward Island's history was becoming marked by the longest period
of prohibition in North America: alcohol became illegal throughout the province as early as 1901, and would remain
dry (in theory) until 1948. Medical and religious application was still permitted -- which perhaps explains the
proliferation of apothecaries throughout Charlottetown. Federal Customs officers (more than a few profitting under the table) were
vastly outnumbered by the rumrunners, the "secret" moonshine stills, and the other entrepreneurs out and about. The islands of St. Pierre and Miguelon were still
territories of France, and had no such laws. Also, Quebec was the only
province with the good sense to avoid the trend of prohibition. Production and distribution
would be very profitable for Montreal's famous company, Seagram. Rumrunning
was particularly rampant all along the North Shore, which provided plenty of little coves and bays in which
to undertake illicit transactions. To supplement income, the local fishermen would often delve into
the trade themselves. Afterall, during American prohibition, there was a huge black market.
Captain Edward Dicks was perhaps the most prolific rumrunner operating on P.E.I.., and spent
a conspicuous amount of time around the North Shore.
He and his ship, the Nellie J. Banks, have inspired many ballads (this merits a separate node). To cut a long story short, in 1930 Dicks was looking for a legitimate business
to conceal his other affairs. Dalvay was located, ideally, directly along the shoreline, and
had a fine view of the horizon of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1931, he undertook some upgrading to
make Dalvay an upscale hotel. Unfortunately, the renovations overtook the marketing budget.
After a short period, Dicks was bankrupt. The Hon. George DeBlois, his chief creditor and the Lieutenant-Governor of
Island at the time, had it sold to the federal government in 1937-38 so that it would be part of the newly created
Because I am not interested in advertising what is now a well-publicized summer hotel business,
I'll end my node here. As an epilogue, I should note that the Stanhope peninsula, like many other coastal
communities, continues to be a summer mecca. People from the city and Come From Aways
continue to build cottages, in varying degrees of taste, upon the old farmland.