As the Cornwall Island Narratives Program was taking shape and oral history interviews began, the name of one man kept recurring. “If only Louis MacDonald was still alive… He knew everything there was to know about Cornwall,” was a phrase I heard more than once. After some inquiry, more and more information about Louis presented itself. He had written a sort of memoir about his life and the community. He had also often mentioned his ancestry; the Leonard family that emigrated from Ireland in the early 1800s. The most invaluable information provided by Louis came in the form of oral history interviews conducted by Island historian Dutch Thompson. Dutch had interviewed Louis in 2002, and posted four hours of interviews online at www.islandvoices.ca. These interviews proved to be beyond invaluable to this project. As Louis had a great interest in his genealogy and the history of this particular community, the stories and information he retold in the interviews provided information that I was not able to collect elsewhere. Every word spoken by Louis was like gold. The history of the community of Cornwall could not have been told without Louis.
Born on July 21, 1911, Louis was the youngest child of George and Isabel (Leonard) MacDonald. William Leonard was the original settler who came to Cornwall around 1819 and was the first Catholic in the community. Even in the early 1900’s the MacDonalds were one of only a handful of Catholics in Cornwall. In a predominantly Protestant community, Louis and his family were active and pious Catholics. In one of his stories, Louis makes mention of his family’s weekly trips to St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown for Mass, a journey which took up the better part of the day. As noted earlier, Cornwall was somewhat unique in earlier years, in the sense that one’s religious affiliation did not cause rifts as it did in many other communities. Neighbours were cordial and helpful towards one-another and enjoyed great relations, no matter their denomination. Louis is fondly remembered by every member of the community who knew him.
When the time came for Cornwall to finally establish a Catholic Church, Louis was actively involved with that process, and was an active member of the parish until his death. Having lived through most of the twentieth century, Louis contributed greatly to the community and experienced its many changes. Having gone from a very small farming community Cornwall has become one of the largest towns in Prince Edward Island. It has been my goal to create a history that he, and other life-long residents of Cornwall, could be proud of, and it is my hope that wherever he may be, this project meets his approval.
I would like to encourage all those who have browsed through these pages of Cornwall’s history to click on this link, and listen to some of Louis’s stories. He had so much to share with others, and I would like to honor his legacy.