Former Wright brothers’ building is still flying after 140 years

Posted on July 07, 2023 | Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

The Wright Brothers’ General Store in the early days (Credit: Canada’s Historic Places).

 

Situated in the once bustling seaport village, a building formerly owned by the Wright brothers (yes, those Wright brothers) still stands in Victoria, P.E.I. With early beginnings as a general store, the property has served as a place of commerce for well over a century. Now home to a handmade chocolate shop, efforts are being made to preserve its historic significance.

 

First flight
Construction of the building and its adjacent barn dates back to 1883. Charles Laird/Leard was the first to operate a store onsite. In 1911, the Wright brothers acquired the property, which became the Victoria branch of their trade business. The main building was a general store, while the barn next door was used as a warehouse. Linda Gilbert, current owner of the building, says that in the early days, customers could find a variety of items in-store, including food, animal feed and clothing. “Anything you needed, you could get there.”

Gilbert also explained that the store had an interesting way to share their phone with the community. When someone called the store to speak with a local living nearby, a megaphone was used to get their attention so they could come answer.

 

Inside the Wright Brothers’ building in the 1950s or 1960s (Credit: Victoria Seaport Eco-Museum Collection).

 

Changing hands
Victoria resident Edward Boswell was the manager of the Wright Brothers’ General Store until 1946 when a former employee purchased the operation. According to Gilbert, the building passed through a few hands since then and was operating as apartments when she purchased the building with her late husband Ron in the 1980s.

It was Ron’s love of old buildings that attracted them to the property when they opened Island Chocolates in 1987. Originally from British Columbia, Ron met the owner of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, Charlie Sigvardsen, while working as a journalist. Once their family moved to the east coast, Ron and Linda were looking for a more stable income when Ron remembered that Charlie had once offered to teach him chocolate making. So, he reached out and Charlie became a valued mentor for their hand-dipped chocolate shop.

 

The barn next door to the former Wright Brothers’ building while undergoing restoration (Credit: Tom Steepe/CBC).

 

Preserving history
After taking over the building, Linda and Ron made some efforts to restore the interior to what it once was. For example, the couple replaced the windows that had been modernized over the years with historically accurate ones that resembled the originals. They also had doors custom-made to be more authentic; restoring the adjacent barn remains an ongoing project.

While Gilbert feels that preserving the history of the building is important, she says that it does come with the challenge of finding qualified labour and high costs that offer little return on investment. However, she adds: “We’re glad we did it, it’s something we really cared about.”

 

Island Chocolates, currently operating in the former Wright Brothers’ General Store (Credit: Province of PEI, C. Stewart)

 

Still flying
Today, Island Chocolates continues to operate from the building once owned by the Wright brothers, serving chocolates and other sweet treats. Working alongside her son Eric and daughter Emma, Linda says they both have some interesting ideas for the future of the business. “We will see what they want to do.” •

 


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