WELCOME TO PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Written by Wendy Williams (a.k.a. Mom)
Prince Edward Island was known by the Mi’kmaq as Abegwei, which means cradle in the waves. Jacques Cartier described it as “ the fairest land that may possibly be seen”. The capitol city is Charlottetown.
Before the melting of the glaciers, PEI was connected to the mainland by a low plain where the water now covers Northumberland Strait. As the glaciers melted, water levels rose and PEI was surrounded by water.
The land has a reddish-brown hue due to the concentration of iron oxides in the rock and soil. The shore facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence has extensive sand dune formations due to the tidal waves. Larger vessels are able to navigate the deeper harbours of: Summerside, Charlottetown, Georgetown and Souris. The Island climate is moderate with relatively mild long winters and late cool springs. Ice breakers are required to keep winter shipping lanes open. Average mean temperatures in summer are around 23* C. Drift ice is often found in coastal waters as late as May.
Once, PEI was forested with: beech, yellow oak, maple, oak and white pine. Clearing of land and ship building have almost eliminated those species. Remaining forests consist of spruce, balsam fir and red maple. Over-cropping, chemical use and mechanization have led to erosion problems in agricultural soils. The PEI Nature Trust attempts to control misuse of the land. However, non-resident tourists have bought up many tracts of land and environmental control is not always possible.
The first residents of Prince Edward Island were the Mi’kmaq who have inhabited PEI for at least the last 2000 years. Jacques Cartier landed at several spots in 1534. The harbours and bays were known to French and Basque fishermen. French settlement began in the 1720’s. A number of Acadians expelled from Nova Scotia settled in PEI by 1758. The British expelled all but a few Acadians from the island even before the Treaty of Paris ceded the colony to them in 1763. Several Loyalists moved to the Island after the American Revolution and most other cultures were from Ireland and the British Isles.
Due to debt incurred from railroad building and much pressure from the rest of Canada, Prince Edward Island was pushed into Confederation in 1873. The post Confederation years brought severe hardship to the Island economy and people. The National Policy and other mitigating factors reduced the Island’s wealth, some due to restrictions and export difficulties. The Great Depression brought a reduction of population due to people looking West for employment. PEI has been more stable since the boom in PEI’s resource industries.
Charlottetown is the location of most government offices. Wages and per capita income are the lowest in Canada. The economy is a constant struggle. One positive industry the island developed is lucrative silver fox farming. Potato crops are the most common form of agriculture. The major industries today are tourism, construction and resource-based manufacturing services. Fisheries handling lobster, scallops, oysters, arctic char and cod are an important source of revenue. Mineral resources are: coal, uranium and vanadium. Natural gas has been located off shore but credible amounts for development have not been assessed.
As most inhabitants are British (with a few Acadian heritages), the culture of Prince Edward Island is quite homogeneous. Tourist attractions are: heritage sites developed by The Prince Edward National Park and Heritage Museum and the warm sandy beaches. Popular sports can be accessed: golf, deep sea fishing and horse racing.
Besides ferries, transportation is facilitated with the Confederation Bridge (opened 1997). It links PEI to mainland New Brunswick. Health and Education are adequate. Post secondary education is served by The University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College. Communications are well developed with radio, television and newspapers.
There are several private and public galleries to browse. Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) was a famous writer who draws many people to see her settings of Island life in Cavendish. Older architecture can be appreciated with a stroll down the streets of Charlottetown or Summerside. Province House is a well-known heritage site.
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