**We began this series back in August, 2014 but life – oh, crazy, crazy life! – took over and finishing it went woefully neglected for over a year. Well, we’re back now and ready to resume the chronicle of our (last) summer vacation adventures. Better late than never, eh?! If you missed the previous posts in the series recounting our PEI 2014 trip, you can find them here and here.**
It isn’t often that you can actually stay at a place that has both hosted royalty and been featured in some of your favorite movies and tv series, but Dalvay-By-the-Sea is one of those unique places. Best known as the “White Sands Hotel” in the Sullivan Anne of Green Gables movies and on the Road to Avonlea series, historic Dalvay is owned by Parks Canada and operated as a small summer hotel and restaurant. It is located on Prince Edward Island’s beautiful north shore, within the boundaries of Prince Edward Island National Park, which means that the shoreline on which it sits, along with all of the surrounding area, is protected from development, keeping it pristine and looking just like one imagines it must have looked back when the beautiful mansion was built.
The mansion was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, almost entirely out of locally-sourced materials. The exterior facade and the interior fireplaces, for instance, are all local sandstone, retaining that beautifully distinctive red tint for which PEI soil is so famous.
Dalvay-By-the-Sea’s story is a fascinating (and rather sad) tale of an American oil fortune, two high society beauties, and fallen European royalty. The mansion house was built in 1895-6 by wealthy American businessman Alexander MacDonald, who once served as president of John D. Rockerfeller’s Standard Oil Company. MacDonald was born in Scotland, and PEI immediately impressed him with its charm, natural beauty, and nostalgic reminders of his homeland. On his first visit to the Island, he purchased 120 acres of land on the north shore on which to build a summer retreat for his family, christening it “Dalvay” in memory of his boyhood home of the same name. Annual costs to maintain the summer home were reportedly upwards of $10,000 a year. Much of this went to maintain a large household and groundskeeping staff, who were always on hand to serve not just the family, but the ever-increasing flow of guests who helped to make Dalvay’s summer parties so legendary.
MacDonald’s only daughter died young, leaving him to raise his two granddaughters, Helena and Laura. The family enjoyed a number of happy summers on the property until 1910, when MacDonald passed away, leaving the house in trust to his two beloved granddaughters. Their $15 million inheritance reportedly elevated them to two of the wealthiest young heiresses in pre-WWI worldwide high society. Both girls made socially brilliant marriages as a result of their new status: Helena married Prince Murat of France, while sister Laura married Italian Prince Rosspiglioisi.
Their massive family fortune remained legally under the management of their father, however, and sadly, poor investments on his part all too quickly decimated the family funds. Both girls were divorced by their respective spouses after they lost their fortunes. Laura moved to NY and worked for the remainder of her life to support her two children, and penniless Helena passed away at only 38 from cancer.
With Laura no longer capable of maintaining the vast and remote estate, Dalvay had to be sold. It passed through a number of hands (at one point, house, furniture, and land were all sold to the caretaker for a mere $486.57, the cost of the back taxes) until 1937, when George Deblois purchased it and then sold the house and property to the Canadian government to be integrated into the newly-established Prince Edward Island National Park. The house itself is also a Classified Federal Heritage Building.
Dalvay’s official history and gallery pages have some really neat historical photographs, if you’re interested in seeing what the house and grounds looked like in their heyday around the turn of the century. Not much has changed, comparatively, and today, images like these of Dalvay in days past are displayed throughout the hotel, so you really get a sense that you’re standing in history just by being there. The lobby also has several large albums available for guests to peruse that are chock-full of photos and press clippings chronicling every aspect of the estate’s life and times.
On their tour of Canada in 2011 not long after their wedding, Prince William and Kate visited PEI for several days and stayed overnight at Dalvay. Not a bad honeymoon spot, with views like these from your window every morning!
We had grand plans to make ourselves full 1908-1914 wardrobes for this trip (1908 because it’s the year Anne of Green Gables was published and 1914 because, well, it seemed the sensible pre-war fashion end date and it was 2014, so…). All of our source and citation material was compiled and all of the fabric, hats, parasols, shoes, and other materials were acquired and I had started cutting…and sewing…and sewing…and got as far as finishing one hat, (almost) both corsets, and cutting out both of our combinations. And that was it. *sigh*
In other words, of course, we bit off way more than we could chew, forgetting how difficult and time-consuming it always is to research and then build an entire outfit from the skin out when you’re dealing with an era that’s entirely new to you. So all that dreaming about lounging on the porch of Dalvay sipping tea in a broad-brimmed hat loaded with flowers…and all that scheming about lawn bowling in the shadow of the hotel dressed in 1909 lingerie dresses…yeah. Didn’t happen. Oh well. I guess there’s just going to have to be a “next time” to take care of all that unfinished business. Not that we need an excuse, mind you… 😉 Anyone else up for a costumed frolick across PEI?!
So in the meantime, here’s to dreaming ourselves back in time…
Additional photos can be found in our PEI 2014 album on flickr.
If you’re interested in staying at Dalvay, the hotel offers 25 guest rooms within the main mansion house, along with eight three-bedroom cottages on the lakeside. Both inn and restaurant are open seasonally from June through October. Reservations can be made by visiting their website.