The Homestead was originally built in 1829 as a family farm. In 1864, the Macphail family bought the property, the same year Andrew was born. The farm was meant to allow the family to be self-sufficient while Andrew’s father, William Macphail, travelled through Queens county as the Superintendent of Education. Growing up, Andrew knew the life of a farm labourer, and he did not enjoy it much. To avoid continuing in this livelihood, he devoted himself to education. At the young age of fifteen, Andrew received a scholarship to the Prince of Wales College. This allowed him to receive university qualifications to teach in PEI, after which he taught in Malpeque for two years before going on to McGill to attain degrees in Arts and Medicine. Andrew lived in Montreal for the remainder of his life, where he led a medical practice, met his wife, and had two children. Sadly, Andrew’s wife Georgina died in 1902 when their children were both under ten years of age. This was traumatic for Andrew and he could not speak of his wife again, and remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. Andrew had a prosperous medical practice until his wife died, after which he pulled away to be more involved with McGill. There, he became the first professor to teach the history of medicine.
Never losing sight of his origins, he returned to the Island in the summers, caring for the Island economy and its people. During the summers, Andrew would create projects at the Homestead to support Islanders in their work. One such project in 1907 was the first addition to the home, to extend the parlor and add an enclosed tea room. Then in 1911, Andrew added the Great Hall and a personal bedroom. In the same year, there was a slump in the economy while younger generations were going to work in the Boston States or Central Canada, and the potato crop did not have a prosperous harvest. Andrew and his brother began experimental farming to produce a potato with a better yield, and a include a (tobacco) cash crop to bring extra income for farmers. Andrew wanted the island economy to do well, and the Homestead was often busy with people hired to work in the home and fields, help with the events, and to care for his mother, Catherine Macphail, who lived in the Homestead until 1915.
In 1914, Andrew was fifty when he enlisted for World War I, but was denied access as a result of being partially blind in one eye from an accident the year before. Andrew wrote to Prime Minister Robert Borden to be accepted into the army being certain he would be an asset to the Canadian war effort. This assertion proved correct as when Borden allowed him to enlist, Andrew set up a field ambulance at the front lines, and was soon promoted to Captain and Director of Medical Services. When the war came to a close in 1918, Andrew was knighted for his services, in large part due to his successful enhancement with military field medicine. The Macphail Homestead displays artifacts of his experience in WWI as a Commander of a Field Ambulance Unit in France.
Sir Andrew was not only a renowned doctor and scholar, but throughout his life he was an active author, writing for newspapers, journals, and publishing ten books. The Masters Wife is his most critically acclaimed book, published in 1939, one year after his death. This book gives the reader an in-depth view of the Macphail family, the Island life and the social history of PEI. The Homestead remained in the Macphail family until 1961, when the property was donated to the government. The house was vacant for twenty years before it was completely restored, and now visitors can be swept back to the nineteenth century to see how the Macphail family would have lived.
Sir Andrew became a champion of Island farmers. His personal interest, combined with his research techniques, resulted in the development of higher quality tobacco and improved potato crops, making PEI a leader in the agriculture industry. The homestead is a non-profit organization and a treasure to PEI. When guests visit, they can immerse themselves in Island history and culture, recalling the days of Sir Andrew. His book, The Master’s Wife, a semi-autobiographical account of his life in rural PEI, is available for sale in the gift shop.
The history of Sir Andrew Macphail, his geneology and much more historical information can be found on this wonderful site: www.islandregister.com/macphailfoundation.html.
The homestead was built in the 1850’s and is known as a centre-gabled house. We are currently doing more research on the architecture and restoration of the house to add to our website. Please revisit our site at a later date for more information.
Community Museums Association of Prince Edward Island