Stone by Stone: Conservation Project Information

Province House National Historic Site

The Stone by Stone is a periodic newsletter showcasing the stories of Province House and the efforts being made to save this iconic piece of our cultural heritage.

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Holland College students restore and reinstall heritage windows at Province House National Historic Site

 Students carrying out the intricate reinstallation process of these centuries old windows at Province House National Historic Site.

As part of a partnership with Parks Canada, students in Holland College’s Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program have carefully restored and reinstalled two of the original windows at Province House National Historic Site (NHS). 

Students began this unique conservation work in 2019. The conservation work involved disassembling the windows, including the glass panes, and removing putty and paint in order to examine the condition of the bare wood frames. They had to identify what needed to be replaced, manufacture that piece and install it. They also had to rebuild the window frames by installing glass and putty before painting it with linseed oil. The final step, which was reinstalling the windows, took place May 2-6 at Province House NHS. 


The windows the students conserved are original to when the building was constructed between 1843-1847. There are a total of 101 windows being restored as part of the Province House NHS conservation project. Ninety-nine windows were shipped to a specialised facility in Ontario. The other two windows were conserved by students in the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program.

The windows are located on the left hand side of the main entrance to the building and will be one of the first sights visitors will experience when the building reopens to the public.


Nicolle Gallant, Project Manager for Parks Canada, PEI Field Unit, right, and Heather Harris, student from Holland College’s Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program at Province House National Historic Site where students carried out the intricate reinstallation process of these centuries old windows in May 2022. Harris is one of four graduating students from the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program hired to assist with reinstalling the remaining windows at the site. 

This rare, hands-on-the-job training experience proved to be an incredible learning opportunity for the students in the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program, including Heather Harris.

From Kensington, Prince Edward Island, Harris was one of 16 students this year involved with rebuilding and painting the windows frames. She also assisted with the intricate reinstallation process at the site. 

“I got to have my hands on a piece of history,” said Harris. “It’s something I never imagined I’d get to be a part of, so I think it’s really special that Holland College partnered with Parks Canada on this project.”

This project did not come without its challenges. One challenge the students faced was adding weather stripping to the windows. This process was introduced in 1880, shortly after Province House NHS was constructed. Weather stripping improves energy efficiency by reducing air leaks and preventing external moisture from penetrating the windows. 

Harris said the weather stripping added about an eighth of an inch on either side of the windows and, as a result, they did not quite fit back into the frame. 

“We had to do some tinkering here and there to make them fit so that took a little bit of work to do,” she explained. 

Josh Silver, Learning Manager for the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program, said the original plan was to conserve and reinstall these windows with one cohort of students, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 45 students have had the opportunity to help conserve these historic windows.   

“As a teacher, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” said Silver. “This is a job that will be on our graduate’s resume for the rest of their lives.” 

Students in Holland College’s Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program examine the condition of the bare wood frames. Conservation work on the windows began in 2019, under the guidance of Josh Silver, Learning Manager for the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program. Students reinstalled the windows at Province House National Historic Site in the spring. 

As a result of this invaluable partnership, Harris is one of four graduating students from the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry program that have been hired by Heritage Grade (the subcontractor hired to restore and reinstall the windows) to assist with reinstalling the remaining windows at Province House NHS. 

“Parks Canada is exceptionally proud of this collaboration and the ability to foster a sense of ownership and pride in students who have helped conserve these windows of immeasurable cultural and architectural value,” said Karen Jans, PEI Field Unit Superintendent. 

Parks Canada and Holland College are currently looking at other ways for students in the Heritage Retrofit Carpentry Program to assist in Phase 3 of the conservation project. 

“My students and I have had a wonderful experience,” said Silver. “They’ve opened the doors, they’ve rolled out the red carpet and the learning and education that my students have received over the years is second to none.”

A love for the craft: Robert Morrison is an expert in his field, with 41-years experience in the stonemason industry

Robert Morrison enjoys a good challenge when it comes to one of the oldest professions in the world.

Morrison, who is originally from Bristol, England, has 41-years experience as a stonemason, working on various historic buildings across Canada and the United Kingdom. 

Two hundred and fifty hours later, Morrison has completed one of the most technically challenging pieces of his career- the ionic capital for the Province House National Historic Site (NHS) conservation project. 

“That was a particularly complex piece,” said Morrison. “Something like that is once in a lifetime.”


In addition to being a stonemason, Morrison is also a certified CAD draftsperson and is the production manager for RJW Stonemasons, the contractor who is carrying out the masonry work for the Province House NHS conservation project.

The masonry work began in the fall of 2018 and is ongoing. Approximately 2,500 separate stone repairs are being performed- using the same tools when Province House was constructed between 1843-1847- a hammer and chisel. 

A further 1,300 exterior stones are being replaced. Morrison assisted with the drawing, cutting and shaping of the Wallace, Nova Scotia stone being used for the exterior walls of the building. 

Morrison said what made carving the ionic capital so challenging was the sheer magnitude of the stone and the fact that in all of his research, this ionic capital proved to be one of a kind. 

An ionic capital is located on the topmost section of a column in a façade (the porch-like structure at the entrances of classical symmetrical buildings). Province House NHS has eight ionic capitals, and although they appear classical, the size and proportion of the volutes (the scroll-like embellishment on the ionic capital) are significantly different than traditional methods.

Therefore, Morrison had to manually find the centre of each individual curve as it spirals in the volutes, create his own template then carefully measure and carve each section by hand. 

There is no room for error in this delicate work.

“You have to have a clear head,” explained Morrison. “You have to think 3-4 steps ahead so that you are not cutting something off that you may need.”

Robert Morrison carving the volutes (the scroll-like embellishment on the ionic capital stone) at Province House National Historic Site. 

Morrison began his career as a stonemason in 1980. He was immediately fascinated by the trade. He’s worked on the Palace of Westminster (which was constructed in 1016), Buckingham Palace, Balliol College in Oxford as well as several notable cathedrals in England.

Morrison and a team of stonemasons moved to Canada in 1986 as part of a 22-month contract to help rejuvenate the stonemason industry as many of the historic buildings across the country were in desperate need of restoration.

Their first project was the Nova Scotia Legislature (also called Province House). The team apprenticed 12 local employees in an effort to share these traditional stonemasonry techniques.

Morrison went on to make Canada his home and has worked on various historic buildings. His most recent projects include Province House NHS and the Parliamentary Precinct. 

Morrison said the ionic capital for Province House NHS is a real portfolio piece.

“I have a great sense of pride,” said Morrison on completing the ionic capital. “The opportunity to work on this piece is pretty unique.”

As Morrison reflects on his career at a stonemason, he has no regrets.

“I have loved every minute of it,” said Morrison. “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.”

What is an ionic capital?

An ionic capital is the beautifully adorned topmost section of a column. Province House NHS has eight columns, located on the north and south façades of the building.  The ionic capital on the south west corner of the south façade was the one needing replacement as part of the Province House National Historic Site conservation project. 

Mysteries at Province House National Historic Site

Every artist leaves a mark

While removing a small door jamb stone at the south-east entrance in July 2020, a stonemason discovered something unusual- polyethylene sheeting between the door jamb and the stone behind it.



The face carving has a 3D quality to it. 

After removing the polyethylene sheeting, much to the stonemason’s surprise, a carving of a human face was discovered. The stone was designated for replacement, so drill marks can be seen surrounding the face, but luckily, it did not ruin this unique display of artwork.

The face carving has a 3D quality to it. The smiling face has eyes looking to the side, with a nose and cheeks that slightly protrude, while wisps of hair frame the face. One of the cheeks has a unique stone pigment, giving him a rosy cheek.

The presence of polyethylene sheeting and newer mortar raises questions about whether the face was carved by one of the original stonemasons (James Watts, William Bain, Francis McDuff) and then repositioned and reinstalled during later renovations or whether the face was created later in the building's history, by a more modern stonemason.

We will likely never know for certain who carved it, but we can hypothesize that someone wanted to leave their mark by carving his own face into the stone. Whoever it was, clearly had a sense a humour, and never intended for it to be found.

Profile series

Malve Petersmann

Malve Petersmann is a Visitor Experience Project Manager with the National Project Delivery Services Team at Parks Canada.

Petersmann, who lives in Kjipuktuk, Miꞌkmaꞌki, also known as Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been with Parks Canada for over 17 years, working in various Visitor Experience positions.


She joined the Province House Exhibit Project Team in the summer of 2019 to assist with the fourth and final portion of the project: the design, development and installation of the new visitor experience offer at Province House National Historic Site (NHS).

Her job entails making sure that the right people are sitting around the project table at the right time, including content experts, historians and curators, writers and translators, designers, fabricators and stakeholders.

"There is a sequence of work that happens when you are in the process of developing an exhibit, and it is my responsibility to maintain that sequence,” explains Petersmann. “I make sure that conversations happen between key members of the Province House Exhibit Project Team so that decisions are made efficiently to help move the project forward."

She is also responsible for delivering the exhibits on budget and on time, but notes that this responsibility runs much deeper when it comes to an interpretive project.

"You have the responsibility to make sure you are telling the stories you need to tell in a way that is inclusive, respectful, and accurate and that the methods you are using match the needs and preferences of your target audiences so that visitors are easily engaged, and feel connected and inspired by their experience in the exhibit."

The Province House Exhibit Project is one the largest projects she has been assigned to in her career with Parks Canada, not only in scope, but also in the significance of the subject matter.

"I think over the course of this project, the Province House Exhibit Project Team has become increasingly aware that a lot of perspectives, opinions, and experiences have traditionally been excluded from the way that Parks Canada has represented certain stories,” said Petersmann. “We’ve been using the guidance of Parks Canada’s Framework for History and Commemoration to shift the way that we represent the stories that are being told at Province House."

The Framework for History and Commemoration is a document that was published in 2019 to provide guiding principals and practices for the way Parks Canada shares Canadian history ( This guide was developed following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report, which includes calls to action that guide the ways the Government of Canada addresses the ongoing impacts of residential schools on survivors and their families.

One of the key approaches the Province House Exhibit Project Team has used in the development of the exhibits is the establishment of several advisory committees as well as significant engagement with local and national Indigenous communities and other communities of interest who’ve typically been underrepresented and excluded from the stories told at Province House NHS.

“We’ve had a number of very deep, very good, and very honest conversations with Indigenous cultural heritage experts around the country and in several of those sessions, we’ve collectively found takeaways from those conversations that were big epiphanies and realizations about the history we’re representing at this site.”

Petersmann said this project is a great opportunity for Parks Canada to indicate its willingness to take steps towards reconciliation, not just towards Indigenous communities, but also to other marginalized communities.

She describes her involvement in this project as a fulfilling, enriching, and an overall incredible learning experience.

I feel blessed to be working with the Province House Exhibit Project Team that we have assembled and I feel very supported in the work that we are doing,” said Petersmann. “I’ve been very moved by the level of support that we have received from various departments and senior management within Parks Canada.

Petersmann says her hope is that the new exhibit space will feel welcoming to everyone and that all visitors will leave feeling inspired.

"Our hope is that visitors will leave the experience really feeling like they have learned something they didn’t know before, that they’ve had a powerful realization or transformative experience, and that they leave with a sense of agency and hope for what comes next for Canada.”

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