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P.E.I.’s Government House bans group photo shoots, citing ‘extremely disturbing’ bad behavior

Bad behaviour at Prince Edward Island’s Government House, including visitors urinating and defecating on the historic building’s grounds, has prompted the province’s lieutenant governor to ban group photo shoots.

The site and its nine gardens, at the edge of Victoria Park along the Charlottetown waterfront, has always been a popular place for wedding and family photos as well as graduation and prom pictures.

But Antoinette Perry, the lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island, said the “extremely disturbing” situation has been getting out of hand.

“It really breaks my heart to see the disrespect,” said Perry, who has served as the Island’s lieutenant governor for more than five years. 

“There was damage to the property — or there was certainly disrespect to the property, from smoking, to drinking alcoholic beverages, to bringing their animals with them, to taking the furniture on the veranda.

People on my grounds have yelled at me, yes. I just turned around and walked away because I was scared I would say something that I would regret.— Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry

“As you can see, there’s no furniture now — they just throw them around whichever way they want. 

“They would drive on the lawn. Actually, they urinated and defecated on the grounds as well. It’s just disrespect for the property.

“To see something like that, with that utter disrespect for the property, it’s very disheartening, it really is.” 

A big white house, with white pillars and green shutters sits at the edge of the water.
Fanningbank’s grounds and nine gardens, at the edge of Victoria Park along the Charlottetown waterfront, have always been popular for wedding and family photos. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The Office of the Lieutenant Governor has posted a notice on its website saying that while the grounds are open daily for tours, groups are not allowed. That includes photo shoots for weddings, graduations and family reunions as well as family picnics.

Gates are now closed to the property in the evening to prevent cars from entering the site, and Perry said they’ve increased security this week because it’s peak season for high school graduations on the Island. 

‘They didn’t come to dukes but almost’

Perry said she’s even been personally accosted. 

“I’ve been yelled at. I’ve been yelled at for saying something to people, so I just don’t say anything,” she said during an interview with CBC News outside her official residence, which was built in 1834 and is also referred to as Fanningbank. 

“People on my grounds have yelled at me, yes. I just turned around and walked away because I was scared I would say something that I would regret.” 

Trees, shrubs and flowers are shown in one of nine gardens on the property of Prince Edward Island's government house.
The gardens at Prince Edward Island’s Government House are at their peak of greenness this week. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Perry said wedding parties have been particularly challenging. 

“We used to take names down for weddings. Then another party would show up and they’d get in odds because one was at a favourite photo shoot spot too long. They didn’t come to dukes, but almost.”

More security needed?

Perry said she thinks it’s time to take a closer look at security at Government House.

Unlike other provinces, P.E.I. doesn’t dedicate a security team tp the property. Commissioners based at the provincial government buildings a stone’s throw away do routine patrols of the Fanningbank grounds. 

Woman in red dress smiles at the camera with a family of three at her side, as a lineup of other people wait to greet her in the background.
Fanningbank may be banning group photos on the grounds, but it has a history of welcoming thousands of Islanders. In this photo from her 2020 New Year’s Levee, Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry poses with Miles Miao, Teresa Zheng and their son, Harris. (Laura Meader/CBC)

“We don’t have security or the personnel to monitor the grounds after hours,” said Perry. 

“It might be time to look at it. We definitely have to have some conversations from this on forward.” 

‘Maybe they’ll open it back up’ 

Questioned by CBC News outside Government House, visitors gave mixed views on the decision to ban groups from the property.

Tara Mahamad, in town from Toronto, said she understands the lieutenant governor’s decision. 

“I do think that it’s sad you can’t do prom pictures and wedding pictures and stuff,” she said. “If people start respecting it again, maybe they’ll open it back up.”   

If we’re respectful and want to have a wedding or some kind of celebration there, by all means they should be allowed to do it.— Dave Holdway

David Holdway from the neighbouring town of Cornwall said P.E.I. taxpayers foot the bill for the property and should be able to use it for photo shoots, or whatever they want. He said officials could give people disrespecting the property a warning, rather than banning the property for all groups. 

“It’s our house. If we’re respectful and want to have a wedding or some kind of celebration there, by all means they should be allowed to do it,” said Holdway.

A big tree overshadows the view of the watefront from Government House in Charlottetown.
The waterfront view, from the front yard of historic Government House in Charlottetown, is one of the reasons why so many people go there to take photos. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

“It distances you from the office,” he said of the group ban. 

Majority ‘are going to be good kids’

Deann Sullivan, a retired high school teacher who lives in Brackley Beach, said the key is to have proper supervision of prom groups, by parents or teachers. She said it’s too bad all students have to pay the prices for a few bad apples. 

“There will always be some kids who want to make some trouble,” said Sullivan, who said she has supervised a lot of proms. “But the majority of the kids are going to be good kids.”

Charlottetown Police Chief Brad MacConnell said officers have not been called to the Government House property for any reports of drinking or causing a disturbance. He said they did get a few calls about suspicious people in the nearby wooded areas, which turned out to be people without access to housing who were setting up tents.

A sign says 'Private Residence' outside government house in Charlottetown.
Bad behaviour at Prince Edward Island’s Government House has prompted the province’s lieutenant governor to ban group photo shoots. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

Perry said she realizes Fanningbank’s green expanses are public grounds, funded with taxpayers’ money. She said her arms are wide open for non-group people to come and explore the property, but she asks that those on the property treat it with respect.

“People do come — they do come by the thousands [each] year and they enjoy the property — but it’s the groups that cause the problems,” said Perry. 

“Like, do you see chairs here? I can’t keep chairs out here for me to come and sit and watch the sunset because they take them and they throw them around. I don’t know what the answer is. How do you educate people on proper behaviour on someone else’s property — or even on government property?” 

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