University Avenue was originally a continuation of Great George Street. It was named University Avenue in 1971 in honour of the “new” University of Prince Edward Island (1969) that had been created from Saint Dunstan’s University and Prince of Wales College. Due to its proximity to Queen Square, where the market was held twice a week, and the court, legislature and City government were seated, it developed early.
The northeast corner of Grafton Street and University Avenue, referred to historically as both Smardon’s Corner and Beales’ Corner, was home to the City Grocery in the 1860s. The Capitol Theatre (later the MacKenzie Theatre) was built here in 1927. Owner, F.J. Spencer of St. John was a leading player in the picture theatre business in the Maritimes. He had already invested in Charlottetown when he acquired the Capitol Theatre, running the Empire Theatre in the old Market House. The Confederation Centre of the Arts later purchased it, assisted by funds received from the estate of Dr. David MacKenzie of Eldon and Montreal. Renamed the MacKenzie Theatre, the cinema seating was removed and the space redesigned.
The building next door to the north at 30 University Avenue replaced older, wood framed buildings in this section of the block after a terrible fire destroyed them in November 1991. The blaze damaged three businesses including: the Lunch Bar, C&M Opticians and Entre Nous (ladies wear). Fire hit the block again the following year during a snowstorm in February and destroyed five downtown businesses including: Tanton’s Auto Accessories, Dow’s Men’s Wear, a footwear store, Allison’s Hair Design and Dunkin Donuts. It was reportedly the worst fire firefighters had seen in memory. In 1995, Beanz Espresso Bar moved into 38 University Avenue replacing Mister Donut and celebrates 20 years in business this year!
Further up the block at 40 University Avenue, D. A. MacCannell purchased a property from the estate of Louis P. Tanton in 1945. The Tanton Family were long-time residents of this area and operated a photographic studio from here since the 1860s. Mr. MacCannell owned the Checker Taxi Company and ran his business from this location. In 1949, he constructed a two storey brick building on this site using brick from Island Brikcrete Co. Ltd. Shaddy’s, the Green Man Vintage and Vinyl, and Timothy’s World Coffee are all on land formerly owned by the Tanton family.
The Green Man Vintage and Vinyl opened for business at this location in September 2007 but closed and became a popup artisanal shop in 2014. In what was probably a first for University Avenue, in May 2012, Charlottetown band, The North Lakes, performed a concert on the rooftop of the building to promote their album release. Timothy’s World Coffee moved from its location on Kent Street to this building in approximately 2008 and is well known for being the first stop of the New Year’s levee schedule, ahead of such notables as the Lieutenant Governor, the Bishop, the Premier and the Mayor.
Next door, the Tweel Building on the south east corner of University Avenue and Kent Street was constructed in 1965 for Nemir Tweel. A wood framed building had been on the site for a number of years but was replaced.
Across the street, on the south west corner of University Avenue and Kent Street, the Financial Building (built in 1970), was once home to Jenkins Pharmacy – a massive 19th century wood framed building. Newer shops were constructed to the south on land that was once home to grocers, blacksmiths, upholsterers, cabinetmakers, florists, ladies wear stores and the Two Macs Drug Store. The area continues its retail tradition with long time businesses like Dow’s Fashions and Hearts and Flowers.
The oldest building by far on this stretch of University Avenue is 41 University Avenue. Reputedly it was home to the landmark c. 1850 Thomas and Dawson’s General Store. Built in the 1850s, this building has served a variety of purposes since then including: a men’s furnishing store operated by William Full in 1866; a photographic gallery run by C. Lewis in 1877; a harness maker’s shop owned by John Stumbles in 1887; a restaurant, a laundry, a crockery store, auction rooms and, several dress shops.
Just as it did across the street, fire also hit the west side of the University Avenue. The building at 35 University Avenue replaced one that was destroyed. A variety of businesses have carried on from this site including Dandy Duds, Chameleon’s Hanger Aveda Senses, Merle Norman Cosmetics and Cleopatra’s Hair Design.