Alexander McDonald Family
The house was built in 1895 by Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman and one-time president of Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller. Originally from Scotland, MacDonald left his native home to seek his fame and fortune and eventually landed in Cincinnati, Ohio. He became director of numerous companies, including several successful rail-lines, mining companies and the Third National Bank. He was also active in charities and philanthropy. His salaries and investments from a number of these posts allowed him to amass a considerable personal fortune.
He married Laura Palmer in 1862. They had one son, who died in infancy, leaving their only daughter, whom they also named Laura. Daughter Laura married Edmund Stallo, a young Cincinnati lawyer and son of the U.S. Ambassador to Rome. Laura and Edmund had two daughters, Helena and a third Laura. Unfortunately, Laura Stallo died at a young age in 1895, leaving the two girls in the care of Mr. & Mrs. MacDonald. With Alexander’s wealth, the granddaughters were given the best possible education and were able to travel with the MacDonalds all over the world.
The Building of Dalvay
It was on one of these vacations that Alexander MacDonald and his family spent their first summer on Prince Edward Island. After a few days in Charlottetown they moved on to the old Acadian Hotel in Tracadie. (Since destroyed by fire.) MacDonald became so intrigued with the area that he contracted George Longworth, a leading island businessman, to act as his agent on P.E.I. They bought 120 acres of land on the north shore, which included a variety of cleared farmland and forested area.
Building was underway in late 1895. He named the house “Dalvay By-The-Sea” after his boyhood home in Scotland. His house in Cincinnati, OH was also called Dalvay. Construction of Dalvay By The Sea was said to have run close to $50,000. Local building materials were used exclusively in the construction of Dalvay. The lower half of the house was built with Island Sandstone in its natural boulder form and the huge fireplaces were also constructed with quarried blocks of the famous reddish sandstone.
Much of the furniture was oak and mahogany. The family had travelled all over the world and bought beautiful articles of furniture, pottery and draperies in England, France, Egypt and Italy. Some very fine pieces of furniture were also purchased from established British families in Charlottetown.
Summers at Dalvay
It cost $10,000 a year to operate Dalvay, a huge sum even by today’s standards. They kept a large number of servants, cooks, housemaids, a gardener, two butlers, two laundresses, a caretaker and two men to look after the horses and stable. MacDonald and his family entertained a great deal and his summer home was usually filled with guests. Every season before leaving, they gave a dance for the local people with a hired violinist; a lavish affair that was enjoyed and remembered by all.
The MacDonalds also owned a number of horses and Alexander was a keen collector of carriages. The carriages at Dalvay included jaunting carts, coaches and double-seated carriages. Alexander also built a covered bowling alley for his guests’ enjoyment, there was also a billiards room on the third floor, and he had a small sailboat for sailing on Dalvay Lake. Water and power was supplied to the house by a series of windmills. Alexander MacDonald spent many summers at the lovely spot he now called Dalvay-By-The-Sea.
During his last visit in 1909, Alexander was not well. On his return to the station, he requested to have the horses stopped when he reached Long Pond. He stood alone for a while gazing back to the beloved house and quietly said “Good-bye Dalvay.” He was never able to return and died in 1910 in Long Beach, California where he had settled.
The Princesses Laura and Helena
Alexander MacDonald left most of his vast fortune to be shared equally between his two granddaughters. Helena and Laura were just 16 and 17 years old when Alexander died. The estate was worth roughly $15-million dollars and made the two young women two of the wealthiest women of their day. Their father, Edmund Stallo, who was entrusted to keep it for the girls until they reached legal age, oversaw the estate.
Though both girls had made plans to marry successful young men from the Cincinnati Society roster, they were convinced that two such wealthy beautiful young women could make better matches by striking out for Europe and seeking royalty.
Miss Helena married Prince Murat of France, a nobleman and nephew of one of Napolean’s former Marshals. They had one daughter who they predictably named Laura. Her sister, Miss Laura, married Prince Rosspiglioisi of Italy. The first few years were happy and they had two daughters, Francesca and Camilla.
Unfortunately, their financial situation worsened when both girls realized that her inheritance had been badly managed by their father, Edmund Stallo. Stallo had invested in several bad schemes, including a failed attempt at a Gulf States railway. As a result, the large fortune Alexander had provided dwindled to almost nothing. Both of the “princes” divorced the girls not long after learning that they no longer had access to money. Helena died of cancer at the age of 38 mostly destitute. Laura moved to New York where she had to work to support her family and while she lived comfortably, the family could no longer afford keep the Dalvay property.
The Fate of Dalvay
William Hughes had been the caretaker at Dalvay for the entire period since Alexander’s death. Hughes lived in what is now the Park Administration Building just across from Dalvay house. Hughes continued to look after the house until it became clear that the MacDonalds were no longer able to afford to keep the house. He contacted Princess Laura in New York, and asked what she wished done with Dalvay. Princess Laura replied that Hughes could have the house for the sum owed in back taxes. Hughes went to Charlottetown and purchased Dalvay for the sum of $486.57! Hughes had no interest in keeping up the huge mansion, and Dalvay was sold through the years to several different owners.
Next was William O’Leary of Charlottetown, who lent the house to his brother, Bishop O’Leary from Montreal. Bishop O’Leary used Dalvay as a summer retreat. The O’Leary family unfortunately took most of the finer pieces of furniture back to Montreal and sold many pieces. Dalvay was then sold to the infamous prohibition rum-runner, Captain Edward Dicks. Dicks was looking for a “legitimate” business to cover his illicit activities off the north shore of PEI. Dicks had the idea to turn Dalvay into a hotel for upscale clientele. Unfortunately, he spent so much money upgrading Dalvay to hotel status that there was little money left for marketing to prospective guests. Dalvay was then remanded to one of Capt. Dicks’ creditors, former PEI Lieutenant Governor, George DeBlois.
In 1938, DeBlois was aware that there were plans to build a National Park on the North Shore. He then sold the house and all the land to the federal government. DeBlois made a caveat that he would retain a small piece of land in direct view of Dalvay. The large, white family cottage still sits across Dalvay Lake, and is private land to this day.
Dalvay In The Present (Since 1959)
Dalvay has since been operated as a leased private concession from Parks Canada. In 1959, Mr. and Mrs. Raoul Reymond became operators of Dalvay By-The-Sea. Hailing from Geneva Switzerland, the Reymonds had left Europe arriving in PEI in 1925 to take advantage of the lucrative fox breeding industry. After fox fur went out of fashion they turned their energies to inn keeping in summers and teaching music in winters to many Charlottetown families. The Reymond’s brought a European atmosphere of gentility and personal service to Dalvay that was unique to Prince Edward Island.
Dalvay By The Sea is currently operated by DP Murphy Hotels & Resorts. A major expansion was undertaken from 1995 to present. With an increase in demand for family/group accommodations, eight cottages were built on-site. Four are located immediately adjacent to the inn and another four along the shore of Dalvay Lake.
From 1999-2000 a full dining room expansion was also completed. The new dining facility is a spectacular curved room off the main house, offering views of Dalvay Lake from every table. All original materials were used to create this structure so it would retain the full Heritage Standard of the original house. This includes using pine wood panelling from the ceiling to the maple hardwood floor. Also, the exterior field sandstone was quarried locally and hand-built by local masons.