Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) is variously and affectionately referred to as Canada’s “million-acre farm”, “the Garden of the Gulf”, and “Spud Island”. Its small area of 1.4 million acres (225 kilometers long and 65 kilometers wide) encompasses a colorful world of green hills, rolling farmland, multi-hued sandy beaches, red sandstone cliffs, and brilliant blue waters. Lovely and unspoiled, Canada's smallest province is also the most rural. PEI has long been distinguished by its “neat tidy farms”, rolling landscape, small towns, slow-paced life, and the sense of serenity and tranquility felt by its inhabitants.
The island is also famous for its potatoes, and for being the home of the fictional Anne of Green Gables whose author, Maud Montgomery, describes the island as “compressed by the inviolate sea”, floating “on the waves of the blue gulf”, and “a green seclusion and haunt of ancient peace.” Surprisingly, or maybe not, this fictional novel and its red-haired main character, Anne Shelby, is responsible for attracting many international visitors to the island, especially Japanese tourists.
Geographically, Prince Edward Island is separated from the mainland of Canada by the Northumberland Strait. It is linked artificially today, however, by the Confederation Bridge.
As a tiny 225 kilometers-long crescent-shaped island, there is no point on Prince Edward Island that is more than 16 kilometers from the sea. The island also has a unique red soil, caused by the iron oxide trapped underneath. The color is so red in some places, it looks like red paint. The soil is best used for growing hay crops, cereal, and grain.
Amazingly, this little island produces a quarter of the potatoes grown in all of Canada, which happens to be the second largest country in the world. More than 800 farms contribute to this impressive stat and there are over 70 different potato varieties that are grown. The island also exports more potato seeds than any other place in North America. You’ll spot dozens of roadside stands in the summer selling new potatoes. The island even has a Potato Museum in the town of O’Leary. Residents have an astonishing number of different ways to cook potatoes, so don’t hesitate to ask for some recipes.
The other main industry is fishing. The province uses its abundance of fish to attract tourists, too. There are special events in the summer at parks and campgrounds that celebrate seafood. Cooks often exhibit their seafood cooking skills at these events. The island is also famous for its lobster suppers, which are usually served cold and informally.
Before Jacques Cartier arrived in 1534, the Micmac Indians were the only inhabitants on the island. Cartier claimed PEI for France, but the French did not really settle the island in significant numbers until the early 18th century. The settlement grew particularly in 1755 when Acadians arrived after being expelled from Nova Scotia by the British. More French colonists arrived in 1758 after the fortress of Louisbourg was captured by the British. Later that same year, the British forces moved into PEI and conquered the island. They deported the French-speaking colonists and annexed PEI to Nova Scotia. In 1764, Charlottetown was named to honor Queen Charlotte, who was the wife of George III. The town was made the capital of the island, which by 1769 had become a colony of its own.
During the years after the American Revolution, the colony’s population became more Anglophone, as it was boosted by the arrival of British Loyalists fleeing the newly-formed United States. In 1851, the colony was given self-governing status. In 1864, it hosted the historic conference that led to the birth of Canada as a nation in 1867. Prince Edward Island itself, however, did not join the Confederation until 1873.
Today, the island province has only 139,000 people, but it remains the most densely populated province in Canada. In fact, it gets pretty crowded in the summer when half a million visitors come to soak in the idyllic scenery and enjoy the island’s sandy beaches. Agriculture and tourism are the island’s two main industries.
How to Get There
Whereas once the island could only be reached by flight or by ferry, the Confederation Bridge completed in 1997 now connects the island at Borden-Carleton with Cape Jourimain of New Brunswick via the Trans-Canada Highway.
Prince Edward Island can also be reached by flying into the Charlottetown Airport. Air Canada and its subsidiary, Air Canada Jazz, have flights coming in from Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax. WestJet has seasonal flights from Toronto and Montreal as well. From the U.S., Delta Airlines operates a flight from Boston, and Northwest Airlines flies from to and from Detroit.
Carroll, Donald. Insider’s Guide Canada. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc, 1996. ISBN: 1556507100.
“Prince Edward Island.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Edward_Island>
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
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