From the archives: Catherine Hennessey (Herstory 2012)

Photo via the City of Charlottetown.

Photo via the City of Charlottetown.

Born in September 1933, Catherine G. Hennessey was raised in Charlottetown near the city’s historic Queen Square and has lived, for the most part, on Prince Edward Island. Her enthusiasm and passion for PEI’s “place in the world” has not gone unrecognized; when she was roasted in May 2010, then-Mayor Clifford Lee commented, “Without Catherine’s presence, much of what is so precious to us in this community could have been lost.”1

Known in her home province as “Charlottetown’s best-known heritage activist,”2 Catherine has been a tireless advocate for the preservation of public heritage buildings, documents and sites including the restoration of Province House, the birthplace of Canadian confederation.

As a young woman, Catherine considered studying architecture; however, a family acquaintance offered that “it wasn’t fit for girls to go into architecture.” Although she asserts that “I’d never have accepted that now,”3 at the time she opted for a career as a dental hygienist who worked and travelled throughout the province she loved. “I got to know the whole island which was a perfect thing,”4 she reflects.

Catherine and a small group of volunteers were instrumental in the 1960s and ’70s as researchers and advocates for the preservation of PEI’s unique heritage in both its natural and built public spaces. She later went into public politics as a city councillor to further the goal of a heritage bylaw and promote Charlottetown’s rightful place in Canadian and provincial history. Her work on national boards of Heritage Canada and the Canadian Housing and Design Council kept her abreast of similar heritage work in other parts of the country. She became the first executive director of PEI’s Heritage Foundation. Looking back, she contends, “I’ve done more for architecture than I would have if I’d ever become one!”5

Catherine’s wit, warmth and courage have been recognized provincially and nationally. In 1986, Catherine received an honourary degree from the University of PEI and was given the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal from Heritage Canada in 1988. In 2001, she was awarded membership in the Order of Canada.

“City to Celebrate Catherine Hennessey’s Accomplishments.” The Guardian (Charlottetown, PE), 10 April 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2011 from: http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/Living/Community/2010-04-20/article-1370349/City-to-celebrate-Catherine-Hennesseys-accomplishments/1.
Hennessey, Catherine. Interview with SWCC, 20 December 2010.
1., 2. “City….”
3., 4., 5. Hennessey.

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