PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND, the Million-Acre Farm

Overview and history

Prince Edward Island : points of interest
other provinces

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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND is also known as the Million-Acre Farm and the Garden of the Gulf because of its ubiquitous agriculture. Unofficially it is also called the Potato Province, because the potato culture is the main activity. The first thing you see when you reach the island is a McCain factory...

The island was named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the fourth son of King George III and father of Queen Victoria. In 1873 Prince Edward Island became the seventh Canadian province to join the Union.

The capital and largest city is Charlottetown, and the surface is about 5.6 million km2. The population is approximately 135,000, with a density of 24 per km2. This makes Prince Edward Island by far the most densely populated province in Canada. However, these numbers have remained virtually unchanged in the last 100 years, since many young people move to the mainland.

There are practically no more forests on the island, and no large animals either. In the northern central National Park you'll find a 40-kilometer-long beach with white sand and dunes, covered with the rather invasive Marram grass. This is a particular type of grass that grows roots down to 3 meters deep in its search for water. Then it spreads out into an interlaced network that fixes sand and dunes. This grass is able to regrow quickly, even when it is completely covered with sand. It is also resistant to salt droplets.

The economy is primarily based on agriculture, but the island is also famous for its lobsters, mussels and Malpeque oysters. Lobster was once so abundant that the scales were used as fertilizer for fields and gardens! Next to these activities, minks and silver foxes are raised.

Until 1997 the island was only accessible by ferry, but then the 13-kilometer-long Confederation Bridge was built, that connects Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick.

map of Prince Edward Island

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*** Read more about Prehistoric American-Indian cultures ***

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Prince Edward Island was called Abegweit (cradled on the waves) by the Mi'kmaq Indians, an Algonquin tribe. In 1534 the French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the island. He immediately saw the tremendous opportunities for fishing, agriculture and the wood industry. In 1603 Samuel de Champlain gave the island the name of Isle Saint Jean, but it merely served as a base for fishermen. Only in 1719 the French tried to establish a permanent settlement in Port La Joye.

In 1745 the British occupied the island, but in 1748, after King George's War, they gave it back to France. Many French immigrated from Acadia (now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), after they were expelled by the British in 1755. In 1758 the British again occupied the island, and after the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the whole area came under British authority. The British immediately renamed it to Saint John's Island, and they governed it from Nova Scotia.

In 1765 the British Crown divided the whole island in 67 lots of each approximately 8,000 hectares, and two years later the king "donated" 66 of them to British nobles, to pay off his debts. In 1769 Saint John's Island became a separate British colony, and thousands of Acadians were deported;

In 1799 the name was changed to Prince Edward Island. The fact that the owners lived in Great Britain strongly hampered the economic development, since most owners never tried to attract new settlers, nor develop their property or sell it.

After the American Revolution (1775-1783) many British Loyalists immigrated. In 1788 John Hill, an English shipbuilder and timber merchant, brought new colonists to Alberton, mostly from Devonshire. By 1803 their numbers were reinforced by 800 Scottish farmers. Gradually agriculture developed on deforested areas, and by 1862 Alberton had grown to an important trading center for timber and shipbuilding.

In 1864 negotiations started in Charlottetown (named after George III's wife) between the Canadian provinces. In 1867 these would lead to the founding of the Canadian confederation. Initially Prince Edward Island didn't really want to join the confederation, because the local politicians were afraid to lose their absolute power in the expanded new federal nation. Furthermore, they required that the Confederacy buy all the land of the British owners.

"Fortunately" the political corruption on the island was enormous, and those in power rivaled to push through very dubious contracts for the construction of a railroad, for purely personal gain. Within the shortest time span, the island was virtually bankrupt...

The future federal government, consisting of politicians that were knowledgeable in such situations, therefore presented them an irresistible proposal. They would take over the heavily indebted railroad and provide a loan to the island to purchase all British land. Problem solved, no one responable, and no one lost any money...

In 1873 Prince Edward Island became the seventh province to join the Canadian Union.

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