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Two of Prince Edward Island’s most influential creative minds are Robert Harris and William Critchlow Harris, brothers who came to the Island as children when their Anglo-Welsh family moved here from Bootle, England, (near Liverpool) in 1856. The Harris brothers were very close, sharing great mutual admiration, love, and friendship. Both are buried with their family in St. Peter’s Cathedral Cemetery in Charlottetown.

The younger and lesser known of the two is William Critchlow Harris (1854–1913), a talented and original High Victorian Gothic architect. With the exception of two years spent in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Harris worked and lived all his life in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. It is believed that his relative obscurity and lack of recognition as an architect of significance owes to his lack of travel. Harris’ designs are known for blending elements from a variety of styles, combining them to create both beauty and function in his buildings. Though he specialized in church design, he also built many private residences, banks, and business blocks that are still standing in Charlottetown and throughout the Island, as well as in Nova Scotia.

Harris apprenticed as an architect with David Stirling in Halifax, Nova Scotia for five years beginning in 1870. Two years after his return to Charlottetown, he established a cross-provincial partnership with Stirling, opening an office in Charlottetown. Perhaps his most spectacular and well-known St. Marks Anglicanbuilding on Prince Edward Island, the magnificent St. Mary’s Church in Indian River was built in 1902. Numerous Critchlow structures in Charlottetown include: the Kirk of St. James Presbyterian Church, built with red Island sandstone in 1877; St. Paul’s Anglican Church; business blocks on Victoria Row; and Beaconsfield house on Kent Street. A musician in his private life, Harris is known for designing his churches to be not only beautiful and functional places of gathering and worship but also giant musical instruments, designed for optimal acoustics. St. Mary’s Church in Indian River is especially renowned for its acoustic purity and, as a result, has become a recording studio for Island musicians and is the site of annual summer music festivals.

Robert Harris (1849–1919) was a portrait painter, among the best of his day. He is most famous for his 1883–34 piece depicting “The Fathers of Confederation” at the 1864 Quebec Conference. This painting is easily recognizable by most Canadians as it is recreated in virtually every Canadian history book in schools across the country. His oeuvre is all the more admirable in the light of the artist’s delicate eyesight. Harris financed his studies in Boston by painting portraits of prominent Island citizens and politicians. He often created these striking likenesses from photographs and descriptions. Today, Harris’ paintings can be found in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery and Museum’s permanent collection, which holds thousands of his works, including small drawings in sixty sketchbooks, landscape paintings, portraits, colour sketches of the Fathers of Confederation painting, and a large portrait of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. All Soul’s Chapel, Province House, and Fanningbank (the lieutenant governor’s residence) also display Harris pieces. Harris is also recognized as one of the early presidents of the Royal Canadian Academy.

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