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British North America
Prince Edward Island

By Professor J. P. SHELDON, J.P.

Lying in the form of a crescent in the lap of the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, and separated by the Strait of Northumberland from the shores of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island occupies to all appearance a snug position on the map of Eastern Canada. Lying, too, between 45° 58' and 47° 7' north latitude, and 62° and 64° 27' west longitude, its geographical location is favourable for the well-being of man and beast, of trees and flowers and cultivated crops, all of which are found to flourish on that little gem in Canada’s inland ocean. The form of the crescent, however, is altogether wanting in evenness of outline, for the coast has numerous bays and estuaries, some of them forming trusty landlocked harbours, the one particularly noticeable being that in which Charlottetown, the capital of the Island, is situated. This harbour, indeed, is spacious, placid, and picturesque to a degree not easily excelled elsewhere on the eastern side of North America, but it suffers from the disadvantage of being ice-bound in the winter, in common with the mighty river St. Lawrence itself, and communication with the mainland for the time being is accomplished on foot or in sleighs, the shortest distance across the Strait being less than ten miles. The inconvenience of transit, unchangeable as it is save by the construction of a tunnel under the Strait or by the employment of powerful ice-breaking steam-boats, is not very serious except when the ice is forming in November and breaking up again in March, and the people get along for the most part fairly well, on the ice, in respect to intercommunication with their fellow-countrymen in the adjacent maritime Provinces of Canada. The time occupied in the closing of the Strait by frost in the fall of the year and in its reopening in the spring is anticipated by means which readily span the process in either case, and indeed winter in Prince Edward Island, as in Eastern Canada generally, is looked forward to as affording opportunities for rest and enjoyment seasoned with the ordinary cares of the period.

Its Discovery

To whom the earliest discovery of Prince Edward Island must be ascribed, is not by any means satisfactorily known; and this uncertainty promises to remain for the future, as for the present, a problem unsolved. One would naturally be inclined to believe that a record exists amongst the archives of France or of England—or perhaps of both, but almost certainly of one, and that one probably England, though possibly France—that would clear up once for all a doubt whose removal would be welcomed alike in Canada and in England. So far, however, no such record has been disinterred from the documentary limbo of either country, or if disinterred has not been restored to life. The. tradition that Sebastian Cabot, sailing under a royal commission issued by Henry VII. of England, sighted the Island on June 24, 1497, is not sufficiently well authenticated at present to be accepted as history. The dates are precise enough, no doubt, if only precision of dates were proof of achievements. Circumstantial evidence is not in their favour, however, in this case, inasmuch as England neglected to claim the Island at the time, by taking possession of it, or by any other method ; and we may venture to assume, indeed, that our ancestors of four hundred years ago, or of any subsequent period, would hardly be likely to let slip so good an opportunity of acquiring a fair possession on such easy terms. Jacques Cartier is said to have discovered it—mark the month and the day—on June 24, 1534, and he is admitted to have named it the Isle of St. Jean, the day being that of St. John. This midsummer-day discovery, occurring in both cases, is, to say the least, a remarkable coincidence, and it throws a doubt—unequally, of course, but still a doubt —on the strict authenticity of both ; but the probability is clearly in favour of Cartier, inasmuch as he gave a name to the Island. It has also been said that the French took possession and claimed sovereignty over it in virtue of its discovery by an Italian named Verazzini, who was sent out by Francis I. of France in 1523 or 1524. Yet again there is no authentic evidence at hand that Verazzini ever saw the Island. In any case, however, the name, Isle St. Jean, was that by which the Island was known for more than two and a half centuries, during which time various stirring incidents occurred. Up to the seventeenth century, early in which Champlain took possession of it on behalf of France, the Island does not seem to have been thought worth special annexation by either France or England, and statements made about it differ very considerably so far as the sixteenth century is concerned. Eventually, however, France took it in hand. In the year 1663 a grant of the Island was made to Captain Doublet, who, failing to establish the stipulated settlements in the Colony, forfeited his interest in it. In 1719 it was granted to the Count of St. Pierre, who, at considerable expense, strove to establish fisheries and a trading company; his efforts, too, were unsuccessful, and his grant was annulled. The Island was captured by the British in 1745, but was restored to France by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, and was again taken by the British in 1758, since which time it has continued to form a part of the British Empire. For several years the Island was under the administration of Nova Scotia, but in 1770 the dignity of a separate government was accorded. Three years later the first Parliament was convened, and in 1798 the name of the Island was changed to that of Prince Edward Island, in compliment to the Duke of Kent, the father of our greatly revered Queen Victoria, who was then commander-in-chief of the forces in British North America. The Act of the local legislature changing the name of the Island was confirmed in the following year by the king in Council, and the new name has just now entered into its second century.

Its Settlement

After the peace of 1763 the British Government decided on having a survey made, and a plan was agreed upon under which the Island was laid out in townships of some 20,000 acres each. These lands were granted extensively to certain individuals who were understood to have claims on the Government for military or other public services, but granted with reservations as to quitrents and such portions of territory as might afterwards be found necessary for fortifications or public purposes, for churches and glebe lands, for schools and endowments thereof ; while 500 feet from high-water mark were reserved for free fishery purposes; and all deposits of gold, silver, and coal, if any, were reserved to the Crown. It was also stipulated that the grantee of each township should settle the same within ten years from date, in the proportion of one person for each 200 acres, such settlers to be either European Protestants or persons who had already lived two years in British North America.

In this fashion the whole of the Island was, in 1767, as is said by one writer on the subject, “disposed of in one day" with the exception of one lot reserved for the king, and two lots which had been promised to two firms who had established fisheries and made improvements, and three further reservations intended for county towns. The grantees, however, were in many eases more mercenaries, who had no inclination to pass their days in colonising a new country, in clearing land of the incubus of rocks and primeval forest, and in bringing a virgin soil under cultivation. Many of them consequently disposed of their lots without loss of time, and much of the land fell into the hands of non-resident owners, who made the best they could of the bargain, and performed as few as possible of the stipulated conditions. Here then we have, for the New World, the anomaly of a great system of absentee landlordism, which, irksome and unsatisfactory in old countries, could hardly become a success on Prince Edward Island. The result was what, in the light of recent experience, we might correctly expect, viz. dissatisfaction on the part of the tenants, and agitation for reform and readjustment. A Commission that was appointed to make inquiry recommended the Provincial Government to build the lands and then sell them to the tenantry. The Imperial authorities disallowed the first Bill that was passed, but a second one met with a better reception; the occupiers eagerly availed themselves of the opportunity thus presented of buying the lands they held, and the agitation came to an end in that direction.

These sales of land excited considerable indignation on the part of some of those ’whose property was thus disposed of, and it appears that not entirely unreasonable ground existed for the expression of feeling which took place. Not only were occupied lands sold to the tenants, but unoccupied lands were disposed of on account of arrears of quitrents, and at prices in many cases but little more than the amount of such arrears, and—worse still—the owners received no warning that their lands would be sold, though the Act directed such warning to be given. For all that, however, it appears that at all events public notices were sent out, and the sales were postponed time after time, in order to give absentee proprietors an opportunity of preventing the escheat of their lands through failure of duties stipulated for when the grants were made to the original grantees. These proprietors, in point of fact, had bought lands in a period of war and of depressed land values from the grantees, and now that peace and prosperity had returned to the Island, and real property had risen in value, they clamoured for the appreciation that had occurred during the interval, though no such rise in value had occurred when notices were sent out that the lands would be sold on account of arrears, or for any other reason. For a time there was a good deal of troubled water to be dealt with diplomatically, but finally matters were allowed to settle down as best they could, and no disallowance of sales took place. The great body of the absentee proprietors, in fact, had failed to maintain their engagements, and had technically forfeited their lands; feeling that their position was insecure, owing to their own delinquencies, they gradually settled down to acquiesce in accomplished facts. Among the emigrants from “ the old country,” as the British Islands arc affectionately termed in Canada, a large number of Highlanders were brought out from Scotland by the Earl of Selkirk, many of whom became, as they were expected to be, successful colonists on the Island. Absentee landlordism is now a thing of the past on Prince Edward Island, at all events as a system.

Geological Features

The primary geological formations in Prince Edward Island are represented by sandstones, brown, red, and grey, and by shale with strata of coarse concretionary limestone, enclosing fossil plants. An eminent geologist, Sir William Dawson, has named the latter the Pernio-carboniferous series, inasmuch as they appertain to the Newer Carboniferous, or, in part, to the Lower Permian period. They appear in various parts; for instance, in Pownal, Hillsborough, and Orwell Bays, and on the coast between the Wrest and North Capes. But the prevailing rocks are bright red sandstones, with calcareous cement, alternating with beds of red and mottled clay, and occasionally with layers of limestones and conglomerate, which find a counterpart in the Trias or New Red Sandstone of adjacent Nova Scotia. The geologic formation may be divided into an upper and a lower section, the latter representing, says Dawson, “ the Bunter Sandstein of Europe ” in its hard, concretionary, calcareous sandstones, and obscure fossil plants; while the former, perhaps representing the keuper marl of Europe, “has softer and more regularly bedded sandstones and clays.” No deposits of coal, gypsum, or auriferous metal have been met with, but there are beds of peat, sand dunes, alluvial clays, and — most remarkable of all — deposits of “mussel-mud ” occur in creeks and bays. The agricultural soil of the Island has been derived from disintegrated red sandstone, and partakes of its peculiar colour. As in other countries whose soils have come from sand rocks, Prince Edward Island is well adapted for arable cultivation. The mussel-mud, which is found in beds along the coast, and which, consisting of the remains of countless generations of marine bivalves, chiefly mussels, but also oysters and clams, is procured through openings made in the ice in winter time, forms an excellent fertiliser, supplying the phosphates in which sandstone soils are commonly deficient. This mussel-mud constitutes the harvest that is gathered in winter, and it stimulates the growth of the harvests of summer. Holes through the thick ice are made in many places, and various " mussel-mud” diggers, consisting of a framework of timber, with bucket and rope and horse-power pulleys, may be seen dotting the surface of the frozen sea in the depth of winter. This valuable fertiliser is obtained at a cost which is represented by the labour expended in recovering it from the bed of the creek or bay, and the supply of it is abundant, almost inexhaustible.


For the early settlers, the pioneers who did the roughest of the work in the primeval forests, clearing off the timber and brushwood that covered the best of the land, the burden and the heat of the day were no light load to bear. Trees were felled by thousands and disposed of where possible, the stumps being left in position to rot until such time—seven or eight years later—they could be got rid of with the least expenditure of toil. Now, indeed, the Island has for the most part been brought under cultivation, fenced, roaded, equipped with farmsteads here, there, and everywhere. It is generally pretty, sylvan, picturesque, in many places reminding the visitor of bits of Old England. Such was the impression left on the writer’s mind after a very pleasant time spent on the Island. The resemblance is no doubt in part adventitious, owing to the early colonists from Old England and to the loyalists from New England, whose tastes led them to imitate old-country fences where they could, and clumps of trees as well as hedgerow timber. Be this as it may, the appearance which the Island presents, in its cultivated parts, might readily cause an Englishman to fancy he was in some unfamiliar district of his own country.

Soil and Fertilisers

The soil of the Island is, for the most part, of a friable character, easy to cultivate, responsive to the application of “ mussel-mud,” a manure essentially artificial as to source, but purely natural in its composition, and simple of preparation. This fertiliser consists of the remains of various shell-fish, and is valuable chiefly for its phosphatie elements. The shells, indeed, when recovered from the bed of the sea, are to a great extent still intact, though tender from long ages of deposition, and they gradually mellow down and become amalgamated with the soil, richly replenishing it with the most valuable of slowly soluble fertilising ingredients, viz. phosphate of lime, which indeed, in this ease, has been prepared for its new purpose by passing through the process which adapted it to its previous one, viz., decomposition. The farmers are alive to the value of the fertiliser which lies submerged so plentifully along their shores, and they use large quantities of it on land which, having been cropped for generations, begins to exhibit signs of fatigue if not of exhaustion. It may be applied with great advantage to any crop whatever, and to grass land as well as to that which is under the plough, but obviously it is more effectual in the latter case, its incorporation and amalgamation being so much sooner accomplished. This extremely useful natural deposit, artificial only in its application, will, it is confidently presumed, serve its present purpose for many long years to come, so that purely artificial manures, so-called, will for the most part be an expense which only future generations will have to meet. Be that as it may, the agricultural soil of Prince Edward Island is of a sort which responds quickly to generous treatment, and there can be no doubt that the commercial superphosphates, basic slag, crushed bones, and so on, which are so largely employed in the British Islands, would answer equally well on Prince Edward Island. Marsh-mud, sea-weed, and fish-refuse are also used as manures.

Crops and Live Stock

The two farm-crops which grow nearest to perfection on Prince Edward Island are oats and potatoes, followed more or less closely in point of quality by wheat, turnips, and barley. Wheat and oats will respectively yield 18 to 30, and 25 to 70 bushels per acre, whilst potatoes will not uncommonly yield 250, and swede turnips 750 bushels per acre, and sometimes up to 300 and 1000 bushels, respectively. The yield of crops depends on the cleanness of the land and on the application of fertilisers. The farmers of the Island understand their business, and it is long since they left behind its elementary stages. But there are differences among them, as among farmers in any other country, in respect to the application of brains, of hands, and of manures. The Provincial Government has, in connection with its well-appointed experimental farm, done much to promote a better understanding not only of the cultivation and fertilising of the soil, but also of the breeding of improved cattle, sheep, and pigs. In respect to the breeding of horses, of the sort chiefly required on the North American Continent, the Prince Edward Island farmers have long borne a high reputation. The Island, indeed, has long been known under a pet name of the Garden of Canada.” The soil of the Island is especially adapted to sheep, for it is light, dry, and sound, with sweet, nutritious herbage on well-farmed land, clover growing luxuriantly after a liberal application of mussel-mud. The quality and character of the cattle and sheep are being raised by importations of superior blood, and it is obvious that the land will carry good stock profitably, whilst bad stock are profitable nowhere in comparison. Co-operative dairying has made considerable progress of late years, and this in itself will be a powerful stimulus toward the breeding of improved dairy stock.

Administration, Courts, and Schools

The public affairs of the Province of Prince Edward Island are administered by a Lieutenant-Governor and an Executive Council of nine members, three with portfolios and six without, assisted by a Legislative Council of thirteen members, and a Legislative Assembly of thirty members, both elective. The Lieutenant-Governor is appointed by the Governor-General of Canada in council. The Island returns six members to the Dominion House of Commons, and four senators are appointed to the Dominion Senate by the Crown. The franchise for the House of Assembly is practically that of residential manhood suffrage. The Provincial Legislature sits at Charlottetown, in which, as the capital town of the Island, all the public offices are located. The Province is empowered to frame its own civil laws, in common with other Provinces of the Dominion, but in all criminal cases the form employed in the courts is the criminal law of the Dominion at large. The free school system, for which Canada has long been favourably known, has been established nearly half a century 011 the Island, and a comprehensive educational establishment, conducted at the cost of the community, is managed by a Department of Education formed under an ample and liberal Public Schools Act which was passed in 1877. The capital town is proud of its two colleges, Prince of "Wales’s and St. Dunstun’s; of its three large public schools, its two convent schools III lv for girls, its Clnircli of England (St. Peter’s) private schools for boys and girls. All the country districts are also well supplied with schools, and education of the young is very properly considered one of the first and most imperative duties of the State in all newly-settled as well as in older inhabited districts. The post-office and the school advance together into the prairies and backwoods of Canada.


Prince Edward Island is regarded, from a fisherman's point of view, as possessing around its coasts the best waters to be found in the whole of the great region of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. For all that, however, and owing perhaps to the profusion of piscatorial wealth at everybody’s door, these waters have not been utilised to anything near their possibilities. The tastes of the islanders have been all along chiefly in the direction of agriculture, the soil being eminently suitable for crops ancl live stock, for arable cultivation, and for grassland husbandry, for grain and roots, for horses, cattle, sheep, and swine, and for the production of cheese and butter. The denizens of the vasty deep which are most abundant are mackerel, herring, lobster, oysters, cod, hake, while salmon and trout are to be found in the rivers. These fishing grounds, and especially, perhaps, those appertaining to oysters, are said to be susceptible of great development. A glance at the map will disclose the fact that, relatively to the area of the Island, its coast-line is very extensive, the inlets, bays, and estuaries being unusually numerous. There is no room to doubt that, in her waters round the coast, Prince Edward Island possesses great potential wealth, which in course of time will command the attention it so richly merits.


The smallest of the Provinces of Canada, Prince Edward Island, is more thickl)' populated than any of the others; but there is still room upon it for a much larger number of people, to whom it confidently offers prosperity and happiness as tillers of a willing soil and breeders of superior live stock of the farm. Some explanation of its greater wealth of population may be found in the pleasing appellations it has won, viz., “The Garden of Canada,” and, in respect to its excellent horses, "The Arabia of America.” The population numbered 109,078 in the census of 1891, and this gives 54.5 persons, of all ages, per sq. m. of land. There were then 54,881 males and 54,197 females, and it does not therefore appear that female emigrants from Europe are as sorely needed as, for instance, they are in the Great North-West. There are now 100,000 more people on the Island than there were a century ago, and as it is a very pleasant land to live in, the coming century may be expected to add, in all probability, another 100,000 to the population. There are now fewer than 300 Indians, all of the Micmac tribe, and the number is slowly but inevitably diminishing on the Island, as indeed it is elsewhere in North America.

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