The Origins of Prince Edward Island

According to the indigenous Mi’kmaq people, Prince Edward Island was created by the Great Spirit when a crescent of red clay was placed on the pink Waters. When the French arrived, they settled at Port-la-Joye and Havre Saint-Pierre. Although other settlements were created, the largest French population remained at Havre Saint-Pierre.

During King George’s War, the island was captured by the New Englanders although Port-la-Joye was later reclaimed. Another event shaping the history of Prince Edward Island was the expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia after they refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the mother country of Britain. As they fled other areas of eastern Canada, the population of Acadians on the island swelled with refugees, growing to nearly 5,000 by the end of 1758.

Several years later during the American Revolutionary War, two armed pirates from Massachusetts took the attorney-general of Charlottetown prisoner. The island of St John became a retreat for wealthy British nobility and in 1798 Île Saint-Jean became Prince Edward Island.

confederation charlottetown peiPublic Archives and Records Office: PARO Acc. HF 70.2762.1

The first meeting about the Articles of Confederation – an act that would lead to the creation of Canada – was held in Charlottetown, but the residents of PEI did not favour the terms. For several years they remained part of Great Britain and entertained other options such as independence and joining the United States. As the United States continued to expand, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald made the decision that the best course for the island was to make a deal to join the new country to the west. PEI became part of Canada on July 1, 1873. Despite the late decision to join Confederation, PEI celebrates its part in the Articles of Confederation by naming many structures and buildings in honor of the Articles.

Historical Attractions & Landmarks

Much of the history of the island has been captured in the museums throughout PEI. Provincial and community museums detail the broad influence of outside cultures and the importance of island industries. Learn about the journey of the Acadians through exhibits and an interpretive video at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche.

orwell corner prince edward island©Tourism PEI / Emily O'Brien

In the Orwell Corner Historic Village, a small agricultural settlement from the 1890s is recreated, letting visitors view live demonstrations of blacksmithing, walk through a typical garden and learn to make candles and ice cream.

Elmira Station©Tourism PEI / John Sylvester

Once the end of the line for the island’s railway, Elmira Station now serves the community as a museum of the importance of the railway. A recreated station master’s office, maps, photographs and artifacts tell the story of railroading on PEI.

"To see an example of Victorian living, step into the Beaconsfield Historic House, once one of the most elegant homes in Charlottetown. Take a look at the modern conveniences of 1877 and the craftsmanship of the design to see how the upper class lived in the early years.

The sea plays a huge part in the lives of PE Islanders and several museums attest to this. The Green Park Shipbuilding Museum and Yeo House recounts the importance of shipbuilding to the island and lets visitors glimpse into the home of James Yeo Jr., a successful shipbuilder who became the richest and most influential man in the colony. The Basin Head Fisheries Museum tells of the fishing industry with exhibits and displays that take visitors back through time. A walk through the Cannery completes the story while a walk along the boardwalk shows what the town has become.

Guilds & Galleries

While walking through the past, be sure to take some time to visit the galleries that showcase the talent of PEI’s present. Many smaller towns have galleries that display local artists and bigger cities often have international exhibits as well. The Guild in Charlottetown presents live entertainment and one of the favourites is a musical based on the beloved Anne of Green Gables books, another treasure of PEI.

Gallery 18 in New London has a selection of collectible and antique maps, books, prints and art while the Art Gallery in Springbrook features scenic images of New London and the French River fishing village. Works are originals and reproductions of PEI.

The Studio Gallery in Victoria has batik, photographs, etchings and more for sale and the Pinette Studios of Eldon has stained glass and prints that feature natural scenes and wildlife.

Once you’ve chosen your art, be sure to head to the Colville Bay Frame Shop & Gallery to get your art piece framed and look at more works from local and Maritime artists.

Events Steeped in Culture
Confederation actors pei©Tourism PEI / John Sylvester

Cultural events on the island range from huge to local and have something to offer all visitors. The Charlottetown Festival lasts through the summer and features numerous shows at the Confederation Centre of the Arts including the dramatic Story of Confederation that takes place in a replica of the Confederation Chamber at Province House.

Watermark Theatre Summer Festival near Rustico has plays by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, in addition to nine short plays that were commissioned and tell the story of Canada. Each is only 10 minutes and presented in both English and French.

St Anne is the patron saint of the Mi’kmaq people and there is a St. Anne's Sunday Celebration held in her honour on the last Sunday of July. Visit Lennox Island to enjoy this festival and experience the great story-telling heritage of one of the island's indigenous First Nations.

Mi’kmaq pow wow prince edward islandTourism PEI / John Sylvester

The First Nations’ Pow Wows are another incredible cultural event organized by the Mi’kmaq and include drumming, singing, traditional ceremonies and much more. Events are held at Scotchford Reserve, Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown, Panmure Island and Lennox Island. This is a unique way to learn about the people that first settled the island and continue to play an important role in the community. The 17th annual Abegweit Pow Wow takes place August 15-16, 2015. Follow this link for more details

With the history of Scotch settlers on the island, the number of Ceilidhs ongoing is not surprising. The Belfast Kitchen Party and Ceilidh runs through the end of September and Stratford Lions Club Ceilidh ends only two weeks earlier. Souris Silver Thread Ceilidh can be attended until the end of the year and many smaller events are held for only a week or two during the summer.

There are few places in Canada where visitors can enjoy so much culture, heritage and diverse history without travelling for hours. Prince Edward Island is truly unique, and one of the best places in the country to spend a summer holiday.

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