Remarks of
Professor Thomas H.B. Symons, C.C.,
Past Chairman,
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada,
at the plaque unveiling ceremony commemorating
the national historic significance of
Shaw's Hotel
Brackley Beach, Prince Edward Island,
Saturday, 6 August, 2005.



Your Honour, Privy Councillor, Mr. Minister, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw and Members of the Shaw Family.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen; Messieurs et Mesdames:
Je vous souhaite la bienvenue à cette occasion si riche d'histoire, notre bien-afinée Hôtel Shaw's

Thank you, Robbie, for your thoughtful remarks about this famous and muchbeloved old hotel through which you and your family have contributed so much to the Island and Canadian community. Thank you, too, for your very kind personal remarks which you will understand, ladies and gentlemen, Robbie included in his address only after I had made clear that Christine and I would not rent our cottage again next year unless he did so. Also, I had to promise to say just a brief word about the hotel from the point of view of a guest. I am glad to do so and it is an honour to be invited to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for this occasion.

Professor Macdonald and Mr. Callaghan have spoken about the long and eventful history of the hotel and of its key place in the unfolding drama of Canadian tourism. Indeed, it is a great saga beginning with the coming of the Shaws to this very site in 1790, 215 years ago, and then with the beginning of the hotel operation in 1860, 145 years ago, seven years before the Confederation of Canada.
This rich history can be traced in the early guest books and registers of the hotel. I recall looking through these and coming upon a signature in the period of the 1880's, in a large school boy scrawl: Master Arthur Meighen, a future Prime Minister on holiday with his family from Ontario.

As Robbie has said, I was lucky enough to come upon Shaw's Hotel more than fifty years ago, when I was still a student, an Ontario lad, hitchhiking to Halifax. A farmer was kind enough to give me a lift near Sackville. But he told me that he could take me only a few miles before he would be turning off in order to go up to the Northumberland Strait to catch the ferry to Prince Edward Island. This seemed a good opportunity to visit the Island and he very kindly took me along, dropping me on the Island at Bright River, which some folk persist in calling Hunter River. From there I made my way to the North Shore, wondering where I might perch for the night. Dusk was failing, and I saw a light at the end of a long lane. It was Shaw's, of course, and the first person I encountered was the Innkeeper, Gordon Shaw, Robbie's father. I explained my presence, reporting that I was a student with just $28 in my pocket, and asked about the possibility of a bed.

Gordon was kindness itself. There was supper in the kitchen and a bed in the barn, and I was not allowed to pay any money. I did odd jobs, stayed three days, never did get to Halifax. It is, I believe, over that way. In fact, I fell in love with Shaw's and have been back every year since.

When I returned the next year, for a brief visit, I had some savings and was actually able to pay for my room. Located right beside the office, it was in what is now the ladies washroom. From time to time since then I have enjoyed telling other guests that I have slept in the ladies washroom, somewhat to their puzzlement.
My first night at Shaw's that summer was, as so often, an adventure. It began with my introduction to the Lobster Trap which was an informal little bar in a small cottage out behind the barn. It was then highly illegal, as bars were then not yet permitted on Prince Edward Island. My apprehension rose as I realized the enormity of my crime when a large good-natured gentleman who was enjoying the bar explained this situation to me. However, I was happily reassured when I discovered that he was himself an off-duty Mountie.
About midnight, I returned to my room at the main lodge to go to bed. Pushing down in the bed, my feet met with some resistance. In due course, I discovered that the bottom half of the bed was filled with horse manure.
The next morning I was curious to learn just how such a happening had occurred. The probable explanation became very quickly evident. A bevy of young ladies, led by members of the Shaw family, were much in evidence - obviously looking for some comment or expostulation from the victim. However, I kept mum until I was finally asked outright by one of the culprits if I had slept well to which I replied, clearly to their amazement, that I had slept very well indeed, and made no further comment.
In due time, it all came out in the wash - if you forgive the term, and the senior Shaw's led by Miss Louise were suitably scandalized.

For my part, it was simply an intriguing and colourful adventure, if perhaps a little wild. It seemed to me that a hotel which put horse manure in its guest's bed was, in fact, a very special place. This is a view which I have continued to hold for the ensuing 53 years.

The third year, I came back to Shaw's with a friend. We were met at Hunter River by Alix Shaw driving a small truck loaded with potatoes. Alix already had two passengers so Jim and I were instructed to sit in the back of the truck with the potatoes. In this way, we learned early on that potatoes are more important than tourists on Prince Edward Island and that people from "away" should expect no coddling.
Over the ensuing half century, in due course joined by my wife Christine, and then our children and now their children, my affection for Shaw's has grown and diversified. The scene remains and so do many of the people - but others come and go.

Shaw's is a remarkable centre of diverse social and cultural activity which has had an immense impact over the past 15 decades on Island and Canadian culture and society. Authors, artists, philosophers, naturalists, teachers, musicians, and sponsors of musicians, and so many more from every walk of life have found here the tranquility and the means for relaxation and for the refreshment of their spirit.
Over there, on that verandah, one of Canada's great statesmen, Robert Stanfield, rocked his chair. It was here that M. Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, came for his honeymoon.
Upstairs, the great Principal of Queens University, John Deutsch, wrote his report on Atlantic Union, and Professor Alexander Brady, the noted political scientist from the University of Toronto, edited the works of John Stuart Mill. In the Gaines Cottage over there, Pierre Berton wrote some of his 50 books including a slice of The National Dream.
During the second World War allied airmen from the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan found a home and a refuge at Shaw's; and, of course, one of the great love stories of the war was set here and written here, and said to be inspired by events here.
Happenchance plays a part - much depending on who one may bump into and what sort of chemistry then occurs. On one occasion, not so long ago, and quite by chance, three of the country's Chief Justices found themselves here and some deep legal issues were said to have been discussed.

Throughout all this runs a common thread: It is the Shaw family with their kindness and concern for their guests. This is the secret of this remarkable and remarkably successful hotel and why it is truly a national institution.

All their friends, guests, neighbours and staff join with the heritage community across Canada in thanks and in wishing them well as Shaw's Hotel receives today this well-deserved recognition as a National Historic Site.