Prince Edward Island, the smallest and most densely populated province of Canada. It is one of the Maritime provinces (along with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) and one of the Atlantic provinces (the Maritimes plus Newfoundland and Labrador). Prince Edward Island lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and has a crescent shape. It is separated from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia by the shallow Northumberland Strait. The provincial capital and largest city is Charlottetown.
Many of the islanders farm the fertile red soils that cover much of the land. Residents raise livestock and grow a variety of crops, especially potatoes—the traditional primary crop. Because of its rich agricultural resources, Prince Edward Island has been nicknamed the Million-Acre Farm, the Garden of the Gulf, and Spud Island. The Mi’kmaq, the island’s original inhabitants, called it Abegweit, meaning “Cradled on the Waves.” It was called Île Saint Jean by the French, and in 1799 its name was changed to Prince Edward Island in honor of a son of British king George III.
Prince Edward Island has an area of 5,660 sq km (2,185 sq mi). Apart from small ponds, there are virtually no inland bodies of fresh water. The province is about 230 km (about 140 mi) long and from 6 to 60 km (4 to 40 mi) wide. The shoreline is deeply indented by tidal inlets. Along the southern and eastern coasts, embayed river mouths offer excellent harbors, such as the harbor at Charlottetown. Few places on the island are further than 8 km (5 mi) from the sea or a tidal inlet. Along the northern coast, an almost continuous line of dunes and sandbars block the harbor entrances.
Prince Edward Island lies in a portion of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Plain, which is a subdivision of the Appalachian Region, a landform that dominates eastern North America. Structurally, the Gulf of St. Lawrence Plain is a low basin, and most of the island consists of gently rolling plains. Few areas on the island exceed 60 m (200 ft) in elevation. The highest point on the island, in the Bonshaw Hills, rises to 142 m (466 ft) above sea level. The northern side of the island has fine white beaches and is protected from the sea by dunes. The island’s southern side is bordered by low sandstone bluffs, averaging about 6 m (20 ft) high.
Long ago, Prince Edward Island was buried under a thick glacier, which left a deep mantle of sandy-red glacial debris. The soils that developed on this mantle, known as podzals, are moist, acidic, and comparatively low in plant nutrients. However, over large sections where they have been cared for and where organic material has been added, the soils support many types of agriculture.
Its maritime location gives Prince Edward Island a milder climate than might ordinarily be expected at its northerly latitude. The climate is very humid. In Charlottetown average temperatures range from a high of 23°C (74°F) to a low of 14°C (57°F) in July, the warmest month. In January, the coldest month, temperatures range from a high of -3°C (26°F) to a low of -12°C (10°F). The average annual precipitation is 1,200 mm (47 in), and residents can expect an average of 3.4 m (11 ft) of snow each year. About 150 days each year are free of frost.
In winter ice covers Northumberland Strait and parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and icebreakers must be used to keep sea lanes open. Drift ice can be found in offshore waters as late as the end of May, making maritime travel difficult for the province’s fishers.
Nearly 50 percent of Prince Edward Island is forested. There are few large wooded tracts, and most of the forested land is preserved in small woodlots that are privately owned. Little is left of the island’s original forests, which consisted mainly of deciduous trees. Today, coniferous trees predominate, including spruce and pine, although maple, beech, oak, ash, elm, and other deciduous species are also found. Wildflowers include mayflowers, devil’s paintbrush, and primroses. Irish moss, a type of seaweed, grows in some coastal waters.
The island’s large animals, including black bear, wildcat, and caribou, disappeared after European settlement. Some smaller animals remain, such as foxes, snowshoe hares, mink, muskrats, and weasels. Birds are numerous and include geese, ducks, pheasant, partridge, and snipe. The island’s rivers support many kinds of fish, including brook trout, perch, and Atlantic salmon. In the offshore waters are clams, oysters, scallops, lobsters, cod, mackerel, and herring.
Prince Edward Island has several significant environmental problems. The most important one is soil erosion caused by agricultural practices, including the overuse of crop and grazing lands, a heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the removal of hedgerows to maximize useable agricultural area. As a result of these practices, wind and water erosion have damaged some of the island’s best agricultural lands and led to problems with silting in many streams. Beginning in 1999 the provincial government implemented a sustainable agriculture program emphasizing improved crop rotation, livestock fencing and watering to limit grazing damage, hedgerow establishment, and other measures. Another environmental problem is water pollution caused by agricultural runoff, municipal sewage, and leaks from underground petroleum storage tanks.
Agriculture remains central to the economy of Prince Edward Island. Also important are service industries, especially tourism, manufacturing, and fishing. Manufacturing is limited for the most part to food processing. In 2006 the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) was C$4.3 billion (in 2006 the U.S. dollar was on average equivalent to 1.10 Canadian dollars).
The soil conditions and temperate climate of the island are well suited to agriculture. Farming on the island has changed dramatically in recent decades, as many small, family-owned farms have sold their holdings to larger agribusinesses. In the early 1950s there were more than 10,000 farms on the island with average holdings of 44 hectares (109 acres) each. In 2006 there were 1,700 farms, of which the average size was 148 hectares (366 acres). In 2005 the total farm cash receipts were C$510 million. The most important agricultural products in terms of value include potatoes, milk and cream, cattle and calves, hogs, tobacco, vegetables, eggs, hens and chickens, and furs.
For the most part the island’s agriculture is diversified, rather than specialized, because of the lack of a large urban industrial population within easy reach. The eastern section of the island produces the most fruit and specialty crops, but across the rest of the island, livestock and field crops predominate. Dairy farms are located throughout the island. Prince Edward Island produces much of Canada’s total crop of seed potatoes, which are sold throughout Canada and internationally. It also produces large amounts of potatoes for table consumption, and they are mostly sent to markets on the Canadian mainland. Potatoes account for nearly half of the value of all agricultural output on the island. Tobacco was introduced as a cash crop in 1959.
Fur farming began on Prince Edward Island in the 1880s, when two enterprising men, Charles Dalton and Robert Oulton, began to raise silver foxes. Silver fox fur immediately became popular and commanded high prices on the market. Fashion then changed, and the popularity of silver fox declined in the 1930s. Breeders turned to mink in the second half of the 20th century, while demand for fox revived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today the most valuable ranch-raised fur is mink, followed by fox.
Fishing has long been one of the island’s significant industries. The catch is not large, but the quality is excellent. Lobster is the most valuable catch, followed by other shellfish, including scallops and the world-famous oysters from Malpeque Bay. Redfish, mackerel, hake, tuna, flounder, herring, eels, crabs, and clams are also caught. A notable industry on the western coast of the island is the harvesting and processing of Irish moss, a red algae. Irish moss is processed into carrageenan, an emulsifying and stabilizing agent used in beer, ice cream, toothpaste, pie fillings, and other products.
A lack of inexpensive sources of power, capital, and raw materials has kept manufacturing to a minimum on Prince Edward Island. Long distances to large markets add to the difficulties. In 2004 manufacturing generated 12 percent of the province’s GDP. Major products include processed fish and seafood, dairy products, fertilizer, printed materials, boats, and wood products. Electricity output is minimal, and about 90 percent of the province’s requirements must be imported.
Prince Edward Island is a popular vacation resort, known for the rustic charm of its quiet villages, its white sandy beaches bathed by the warm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and its excellent opportunities for trout fishing, deep-sea and tuna fishing, and other sports. In addition, a wide range of festivals celebrate the province’s culture and history. Visitors drawn by these attractions have made tourism one of the island’s leading sources of income despite the relatively short summer tourist season. Improved roads, a new bridge linking the island to the mainland, and the expansion of recreational facilities have also stimulated tourism.
On the northern shore is Prince Edward Island National Park, the only national park in the province. The park contains sand dunes, salt marshes, and red sandstone cliffs, and is also the site of Green Gables, one of the finest golf courses in Canada. A fairway passes the national historic site commemorating Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the classic Anne of Green Gables (1908) and other books set on the island. There are dozens of provincial parks on the island, many of which offer hiking trails and opportunities for viewing wildlife. The Confederation Trail, developed on abandoned railroad lines and encompassing 280 km (175 mi) of gently rolling terrain, is popular with hikers and bicyclists.
Charlottetown, the cultural center of Prince Edward Island, is home to many attractions, including theater companies, art galleries, and museums chronicling the island’s fishing and fur-raising industries. The Confederation Centre of the Arts, opened in 1964 to commemorate a meeting of Canada’s fathers of Confederation in 1864, houses several theaters, an art gallery and museum, a library, and restaurants. Founders’ Hall, an interactive museum opened on Charlottetown’s waterfront in 2001, offers an historical interpretation of the events leading to Confederation. Charlottetown is also a renowned center for horse racing.
Until recently, transportation to and from Prince Edward Island was relatively expensive. Passengers and freight usually moved by ferry across Northumberland Strait as well as by air. This changed in June 1997 with the opening of the Confederation Bridge, which joined the island to the mainland by highway. The 12.9-km (8.02-mi) bridge, from Borden-Carleton on the central south side of the island to Cape Jourimain in New Brunswick, was built to withstand harsh wind and weather conditions, including ice floes that surge through Northumberland Strait every spring. The bridge, which takes just 12 minutes to cross, has helped boost the island’s tourist traffic.
The island has about 4,900 km (about 3,000 mi) of roads, almost all of which are paved. Airports in Charlottetown and Summerside have regularly scheduled service to the mainland. Seasonal ferry service is available between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island, and Caribou, Nova Scotia, and between the Magdalene Islands, Québec, and Souris, Prince Edward Island. Rail service on the island was reduced in the 1980s, and in 1990 the last remaining rail lines were closed.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND|
The population figures for Prince Edward Island have changed little over the last 100 years. Despite birth rates that historically have been relatively high, persistent migration from the island has resulted in little net population growth. According to the 2001 national census, Prince Edward Island had a population of 135,294, compared to 129,765 in 1991. In recent years, out-migration from the province has slowed. Today, the number of people leaving the province roughly matches the number of newcomers immigrating to the island, mostly from other provinces.
The average density of 24 persons per sq km (63 per sq mi) is fairly evenly distributed throughout the island, making Prince Edward Island by far the most densely populated province in Canada. The urban population (45 percent of the inhabitants) is largely concentrated in and around Charlottetown and Summerside. The remainder of the population lives in rural areas, including a small percentage who live on farms.
About 45 percent of people on Prince Edward Island trace their ancestry to England, Ireland, or Scotland. The French first settled at Saint Peter’s, Port LaJoie, Malpeque, and Rustico. Their descendants now constitute about 10 percent of the population, and a few of them speak only French.
|B||Principal Cities and Towns|
Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Island, with 32,174 inhabitants in 2006. It is the island’s chief market and administrative and financial center. Summerside, with 14,500 inhabitants, is the only other city. The seven incorporated towns are Stratford, Cornwall, Montague, Kensington, Souris, Alberton, and Georgetown.
Almost half the population of Prince Edward Island is Roman Catholic. The United Church of Canada claims the second largest membership, followed by the Presbyterian, Anglican, and Baptist churches.
The public school system of Prince Edward Island is jointly administered by the provincial department of education and by three school boards; two are regional English-language school boards, and one French-language school board serves the entire province. Education is free and compulsory for children from age 7 to 15.
The island has one university, one community college, and about 65 elementary and secondary schools. The University of Prince Edward Island, in Charlottetown, was founded in 1969 as a result of the amalgamation of Prince of Wales College and Saint Dunstan’s University. Holland College, a community college, provides a wide range of vocational training at several locations in the province.
A regional library system, with headquarters at Charlottetown, was established by the Carnegie Corporation in 1933 and is now operated by the provincial department of education. It includes more than 20 branches that serve the whole island.
Prince Edward Island is represented in the Canadian Parliament by four elected representatives in the House of Commons and three senators in the Senate. The senators are appointed by the federal government.
The nominal head of government is the lieutenant governor, who is appointed by the federal government. Real power resides with the premier, who is the leader of the party that commands a majority in the legislature. The premier appoints an executive council, or cabinet, usually composed of ten members who head the various government departments. The premier and cabinet remain in power as long as they have the confidence of a majority in the provincial legislature, called the Legislative Assembly.
The Legislative Assembly is a unicameral (single-house) body of 27 members who represent regional constituencies across the island. Charlottetown elects five members to the assembly and Summerside elects two. The remaining constituencies each elect one member. Assembly members are elected for terms of five years, but the assembly may be dissolved at any time by the lieutenant governor, at the request of the premier, or in the event that the government loses a vote of confidence. All citizens age 18 or older may vote.
The judicial system consists of a supreme court that contains trial division and appeals division courts, as well as one provincial court. The justices of the supreme court and the provincial court are appointed by the federal government.
Since the late 19th century, two parties have dominated electoral politics on Prince Edward Island: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Third parties have fared poorly in the province.
Before Europeans explored Prince Edward Island, it was seasonally inhabited by the Mi’kmaq, an indigenous Algonquian-speaking people. The Mi’kmaqs were nomadic fishers and hunters who moved from summer encampments on the island to winter villages on the mainland.
|B||Exploration and Settlement|
In 1534 Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, landed on the northern shore of the island and claimed it for France. In 1603 Samuel de Champlain, another French explorer, named it Île Saint Jean. The island was a base for European fishers for many years, and no attempts were made to make a permanent settlement until 1719. In that year about 100 settlers founded Port LaJoie, near present-day Charlottetown, and in 1732, Jean Pierre Roma founded Trois-Rivières. Roma’s colony, however, was burned by British New Englanders in 1745.
The British took control of the island in 1745 but returned it to France three years later under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended King George’s War between France and Great Britain. Many Acadians—French-speaking inhabitants of the nearby colony of Acadia (now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick)—migrated to the island in 1755 after being expelled from their homes by the British. Three years later, however, the island was again under British control. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the French and Indian War, the island became part of the British colonies. The British anglicized the old French name to Saint John’s Island and administered the colony as part of Nova Scotia. In 1769, Saint John’s Island became its own British colony. During the first few years of British rule thousands of Acadians were deported or fled.
In 1765 the British surveyed the island and divided it into 67 lots of about 8,000 hectares (about 20,000 acres) each. In 1767 the king awarded 66 of the lots to British nobles to whom he was indebted. It was expected that these new proprietors would develop their holdings and promote settlement. At their request, the colony was separated from the administration of Nova Scotia and given a constitution and government of its own. Walter Patterson was named the first governor. In 1799 the island’s name was changed to Prince Edward Island.
This system of absentee proprietorship lasted for 100 years and seriously hindered the development of the island. Fewer than half the proprietors tried to develop the land and attract settlers. Since most proprietors would not sell their land to potential settlers and free land was readily available in other parts of British North America, there was little reason to immigrate to Prince Edward Island.
In the late 18th century several hundred Roman Catholic Highland Scots migrated to the island, and about 200 United Empire Loyalists, American colonists loyal to Britain, sought refuge there after the American Revolution (1775-1783). The largest single settlement attempt was undertaken in 1803, when the fifth Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas, brought 800 Scottish peasants to Prince Edward Island.
As the population gradually expanded, the island changed economically and politically. Agriculture began to surpass the long-dominant fishing industry. As the forests were depleted to supply materials for shipbuilding, rich farmland was revealed. By 1827 the Agricultural Society had been formed to provide information on husbandry and soil conservation. In the 1840s, the islanders, like the other colonists in British North America, began to demand more powers of self-government. In 1851 Great Britain responded by granting the province complete control over its domestic affairs.
In 1864 a conference in Charlottetown opened negotiations that led to the establishment, in 1867, of the Canadian federal government, an event that Canadians call Confederation. Prince Edward Island, however, at first rejected Confederation. It feared a loss of identity in the larger Canadian union and was angered that the new union would not furnish funds to buy out the remaining absentee proprietors. Within a few years, however, the island was threatened with bankruptcy from railroad construction and agreed to join in Confederation. The federal government advanced a loan to purchase the proprietors’ land, took over the railroad, and guaranteed regular communication with the mainland. On July 1, 1873, Prince Edward Island became the seventh province of the Canadian union.
Since Confederation, the population and economy of Prince Edward Island have grown very slowly. Lacking raw materials and cheap electric power, the province has been unable to participate in Canada’s overall industrialization. For a time many younger people were attracted to more rapidly developing areas in Canada and the United States, and only during the 1960s did the island’s population regain its 1901 level.
The province and the federal government in 1969 formulated a broad development plan intended to revitalize the island’s economy during the 1970s and 1980s. The results of this extensive planning were disappointing, however. By the early 1980s the provincial government had renewed its emphasis on the traditional sectors of farming and fishing.
During the 1990s, farming, tourism, and fishing were mainstays of the island’s economy. Prospects for industrial economic development were dampened by the closure of the last railroad lines on the island in 1990. The old rail lines have been converted to trails for recreational purposes such as snowmobiling, bicycling, and hiking. The island suffered another economic blow in 1992 when its only military base was shut down. In recent years, the importance of tourism to the island’s economy has increased, in part due to the completion of a bridge to the mainland in 1997. Today, tourism is second only to agriculture as a source of revenue on the island.