Smallest province of Canada, situated in the Gulf of St Lawrence, separated from Nova Scotia (to the south and east) and New Brunswick (to the west) by the Northumberland Strait; area 5,700 sq km/2,200 sq mi; population (2001 est) 138,500. The capital is Charlottetown. Industries include fishing, food processing, and information technology. Potatoes are cultivated and there is also dairying.
History Prince Edward Island was originally inhabited by native Mi'kmaq peoples. Though chiefly living on the mainland, they spent summer on the island, which they called Abegweit, meaning ‘cradled on the waves’. The Italian navigator John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) may have sighted the island in 1497, but the first recorded visit by a European was in 1534, when the French explorer Jacques Cartier landed there, and called it ‘Île St-Jean’. It became part of the French province of Acadia in 1603, with the arrival of the explorer Samuel de Champlain, and several attempts were made to establish settlements and fisheries. In the early 18th century, the island changed hands several times between France and Britain, who disputed possession of the region. Some French refugees arrived here from the main part of Acadia (Nova Scotia) when it was seized by Britain in the 1750s, but Prince Edward Island itself then fell to British forces in 1758, during the Seven Years' War, and most of the French settlers were rounded up and deported. Under the Treaty of Paris (1763), the island was annexed to British Nova Scotia as ‘St John's Island’, and in 1767 it was divided into 67 landholdings, the farmers becoming tenants of absentee landlords. The island was separated from Nova Scotia in 1769, and set up as an independent administration. In 1798, it was renamed after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (and father of Queen Victoria), who was commander-in-chief of British forces in North America at the time. Rapid immigration ensued in the early 19th century, particularly from Scotland and Ireland. The potato was established as the major crop around this time, and the island developed as a farming, lumbering, shipbuilding, and fishing colony. Representative government was set up in 1851.
The conference that paved the way for a Canadian Confederation met in Charlottetown in 1864, but Prince Edward Island did not join the Dominion of Canada until compelled by bankruptcy in 1873, following an attempt to build a railway. In 1878, the compulsory Land Purchase Act enabled the island's tenant farmers to become freeholders, after rural protests by the Tenants' League.
Features Extending over an area 225 km/140 mi long and 6–55 km/4–34 mi wide, Prince Edward Island (French Île du Prince-Edouard) is divided by deep bays into three peninsulas, roughly corresponding to its three counties: Prince, Queens, and Kings. On the south coast, Hillsborough Bay is the site of Charlottetown and home to most of the province's population and commercial activity. Most rivers are tidal, including the Hillsborough River, which almost divides the island. In 1990, forests covered 49% of the land. The province contains Prince Edward Island National Park. Towns include Montague, Summerside, Georgetown, and Kensington.
Economic activities Much of the native forest on Prince Edward Island has been felled, and the land turned over to agriculture; about 3,885 sq km/1,494 sq km of the island is farmland. Small woodlots are attached to the farms, but most of the remaining natural woodland is unsuitable for lumbering. Potatoes, which flourish in the rich, red sandy soils and mild climate, are the principal crop; more than 90% of Canada's table and seed potatoes are produced in the province, and seed is exported to around 20 countries. Grass also thrives, accounting for the importance of livestock and dairy farming. Bacon, poultry, butter, and cheese are exported to the Maritime Provinces. Oats, barley, vegetables, root crops, pulses, tobacco, and soft fruits are also produced. In the second half of the 20th century, agriculture went through a period of modernization, and farms increased in size while decreasing in number.
Fishing is also an important occupation, with lobster and oyster forming the bulk of its value; Malpeque Bay in the north of the island is the main oyster bed. Crab, redfish, tuna, and cod contribute to the catch, and mussel-farming has become a significant industry. Irish moss, used in food-processing as an emulsifier, is gathered along the coast; almost half the world's supply comes from here.
Large-scale manufacturing has never developed, as the island lacks fuel, metal, and market resources. Industry is mostly limited to small food-processing concerns based in Charlottetown and Summerside, the second-largest community. These are involved in the preparation, preservation, or packing of agricultural produce and fish. Agricultural activities include butter and cheese production, slaughtering, and fruit- and vegetable-canning. In the 1990s, a number of larger food-processing concerns were established, particularly at Kensington. Sand and gravel are the only commercial minerals extracted on the island. Summerside has developed an avionics industry on a former Canadian airforce base.
Geology Geologically, Prince Edward Island is part of the Maritime Plain, a basin of Pennsylvanian rocks that forms the chief plain of New Brunswick, and opens out eastwards across the shallow Northumberland Strait; its Carboniferous–Permian beds surface as the island. The soft red sandstones form gently rolling lowlands that rise to a maximum height of 150 m/492 ft near the town of Hunter River. Glacial activity has moulded the terrain, and a series of wave-cut terraces ring the coastline. The soft rocks have been broken down into fairly deep and stone-free sandy soils, which can be made richly fertile with the addition of humus and fertilizers.
Climate Prince Edward Island has an equable climate, with an average annual temperature range that seldom exceeds 10°C/50°F. Winter temperatures vary between −9°C/16°F and −7°C/19°F, reflecting the warming influence of the sea early in the season, and the chilling caused by the sea-ice which later surrounds the island. The cooling effect of the sea moderates summer temperatures to about 17–19°C/63–66°F. On average the island has an annual precipitation of between 760 mm/30 in and 1,010 mm/40 in, distributed evenly throughout the year, and has a frost-free season of 145 days.
Transport and tourism Tourism has been an important industry on Prince Edward Island since the mid-1960s. The settlement of Cavendish on the island was the setting for Lucy Maude Montgomery's well-known children's novel Anne of Green Gables (1908), and this connection has proved a strong tourist attraction; the author's birthplace at New London can be visited. Other sites of interest include Fort Amherst/Port-La-Joye, with the ruins of French and English 18th-century fortifications, and historic reconstructions, such as a Mi'kmaq Village (replica of an 18th-century American Indian settlement), the Cultural Pioneer Village (an early 19th-century Acadian community), and Orwell Corner Historic Village (a farmstead dating from 1890). Recreational interests are served by the Prince Edward Island National Park, golf courses, fishing, harness- and ice-racing, and cross-country skiing. Festivals include the July Lobster Carnival in Summerside, and an Oyster Carnival in early July.
In 1997 communications to the island were revolutionized by the opening of Confederation Bridge from Borden, Prince Edward Island, to Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick. This replaced a ferry service that used to follow a similar route. In the summer, a ferry service runs between Wood Island and Caribou, Nova Scotia. Airlines operate from Charlottetown and Summerside, with connections to Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The island's former railway line has been converted into a hiking and seasonal snowmobile trail.
People and culture Prince Edward Island is the most densely populated Canadian province. The population is 94% English-speaking; there are 1,100 American Indians (2001 est). Charlottetown is home to the University of Prince Edward, and the Confederation Centre of Arts 1964, which contains galleries, a museum, a library, and a theatre. Notable museums are the Basin Head Fisheries Museum; the Acadian Museum at Miscouche; and the International Fox Museum, devoted to the island's former silver-fox fur-farming industry.
Prince Edward Island – flag
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