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Prince Edward Island

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Prince Edward Island History

Prince Edward Island (PEI) is often referred to as "the birthplace of Canada" as the capital city, Charlottetown, is where the idea of creating the nation was born.

PEI history traces back 10,000 years, when ancestors of the Mi'kmaq people were believed to have arrived. These natives foraged and hunted in the area, which was connected to the mainland. Approximately 5,000 years passed before the sea levels rose, removing the land bridge and transforming the region into an island.

Upon settling on the land, the Mi'kmaq named it Epekwitk, which translates to "resting on the waves."European arrivals eventually changed its prounounciation to Abegweit.

Although Europeans did not settle permanently on the island until the 18th century, Jacques Cartier became the first European to discover the area in 1534. It was not until 1720 that the first French settlement, Port La Joie, was established on what Cartier described as "the most beautiful stretch of land imaginable."

The colony at Port La Joie was followed by the fishing port of St. Peters, which represented the main settlement over the next 20 years. During these early times, the island's population ranged from about 300 to 450 people.

In 1755, the population skyrocketed to 5,000 after the British expelled the Acadian settlers from Nova Scotia, leaving many to relocate on PEI Three years later, the British seized the Fort at Louisbourg and drove out the French settlers.

PEI Provincehood

The island officially became British property in 1763, when only about 300 Acadians remained. The following year, British Captain Samuel Holland arrived to conduct a survey of PEI, and ultimately divided its land into 67 parcels.

Since Holland distributed these parcels mainly to absentee landlords, many problems arose as the population boomed and available land diminished. Land-ownership issues, like landlords refusing to sell their lands and tenants not paying inflated rental rates, plagued the island.

Although these problems persisted for years, change occurred in 1769 when the island was officially established as a British colony with its own government, separate from Nova Scotia, which previously possessed control. With this colonial status came the creation of Charlottetown as the island's capital.

Over the years, new settlers continued to arrive, and the first British census taken in 1798 reported a population of 4,372 people. In 1799, the island was given its current name of Prince Edward Island, in honor of England's Prince Edward.


The 1864 conference in Charlottetown marked the beginning of the island's recognition as "the birthplace of Canada," as this meeting represented the first of many that ultimately resulted in the Canadian Confederation. It was not until 1873 that PEI joined the Dominion of Canada.

Two years later, the island's government was granted the power to force landlords to sell their land, and land ownership finally became possible for tenants through lease purchase agreements.

Entering the 20th Century

Life on PEI continued to improve as the 20th century progressed with the growth of tourism, especially in the north shore region. Its first national park was established in the 1930s, and further developed in the 1950s and '60s.

Although the island experienced slow development, roadways were opened to cars in 1917; by the 1950s, additional roads had been paved and rural electrification had reached the area, facilitating the growth of tourism. By the end of the 20th century, tourism had established itself as a dominant industry on PEI.

Prince Edward Island Today

PEI is rich with history and culture, Canadian scenery and exciting attractions.

Cycling, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, parasailing and hiking the Confederation Trail remain popular outdoor activities. More relaxing endeavors include viewing the colorful scenery, from the island's various bays, coves and inlets to its uniquely lengthy coastline, which means a day at the beach is always possible.

PEI also offers a network of Provincial Parks, including 11 camping parks and 14 day use parks. These outdoor attractions serve as sites for swimming, sports, picnics and overnight camping. PEI is neighbored by fellow maritime provinces Nova Scotia to the south, New Brunswick to the west, and Newfoundland to the northeast.

There is just as much happening indoors on PEI. Visiting Province House and Founders' Hall is a must for reliving the historic 1864 Charlottetown Conference. Attending community concerts, viewing Acadian theater and crafting handmade island souvenirs represent just several ways to experience PEI's deep-rooted culture and traditions.


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