Description of Historic Place
92-94 Water Street is a large, brick Italianate Commercial influenced building. Originally built to house the Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island, the building was renovated and is now used as office space. The designation encompasses the building's exterior and parcel; it does not include the building's interior.
The heritage value of 92-94 Water Street lies in its role as headquarters for the Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island; its association with H.W. Longworth's can manufacturing operation; its Italianate Commercial influenced architecture; and its role in supporting the streetscape.
The Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island was founded in 1871 by a group of prominent Island merchants and importers. A list of the director's names appears in an advertisement for the bank, which contains a number of prominent members of the Island's Victorian business community such as Hon. L.C. Owen, Hon. A.A. MacDonald, John F. Robertson, George E. Beer, Alexander Brown and Artemas Lord. A later president of the bank was Lieutenant Governor Frank R. Heartz.
The year, 1871, was also the first time the Island adopted the decimal system of currency - switching from pounds, shillings, and pence to dollars and cents. PEI was the last British North American colony to do so. The Island issued a one cent bronze coin in 1871 known as the "Tree Cent" because one side showed the oak tree emblem of the Island.
When the Bank was first established, the Island was enjoying an era of economic prosperity due to its wooden shipbuilding industry. Unfortunately, a depression hit the world markets and the collapse of the wooden shipbuilding industry forced one of the Bank's main clients out of business. The closures of its two main competitors and a change to a more aggressive policy helped the bank recover and expand its operations to five branches throughout Prince Edward Island and one in Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, the death of both the President and Vice President of the company led to a merger with the Commerce, or what is now known as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on 1 June 1906.
In 1889, the Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island moved to the former Bank of Prince Edward Island building on Great George Street. At some point after the move, H.W. Longworth would operate a can manufacturing enterprise from the Merchants Bank of Prince Edward Island's former headquarters. The cans would supply the growing export of canned lobster. By 1881, canned lobster counted for over 25 percent of the Island economy. The building would later become a warehouse for the J.W. Windsor Company, which was also involved in the canning of fish products.
92-94 Water Street was built in the Italianate commercial style. This style was popular from the 1840s on in Charlottetown. Invariably constructed of brick, these buildings were considered more durable and fireproof than wooden structures. Decorative detailing was also common. This example is a unique variant of the style since it lacks a great deal of ornamentation.
The building has been well maintained throughout the years. It was renovated by the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation and now houses office space. An article that appeared in the 4 January 1952 edition of the local newspaper, The Guardian, referred to the vault left in the building from the days when it was used as the Merchant Bank. Although the vault was used for records and the key was lost, it took three men to break the seal from the vacuum created when the door was closed.
Associated with the economic history of the City of Charlottetown and the Province, 92-94 Water Street is still used to this day. An attractive and well maintained building among a number of heritage buildings in the area, 92-94 Water Street helps support the Water Street streetscape.
Sources: Heritage Office, City of Charlottetown Planning Department, PO Box 98, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7K2
The following Italianate Commercial style character-defining elements contribute to the heritage value of 92-94 Water Street:
- The overall massing of the building with its symmetrical facade of three storeys
- The brick exterior
- The flat roofline and corbelled cornice
- The size and placement of the windows particularly the paired arched symmetrically placed windows of the first and second floor, the storefront windows, and the transom light above the main door
- The size and placement of the doors
- The location of the building on Water Street