Smallest province of Canada, situated in the Gulf of St Lawrence, separated from Nova Scotia (to the south and east) and New Brunswick (to the west) by the Northumberland Strait; area 5,700 sq km/2,200 sq mi; population (2001 est) 138,500. The capital is Charlottetown
. Industries include fishing, food processing, and information technology. Potatoes are cultivated and there is also dairying.
Prince Edward Island was originally inhabited by native Mi'kmaq peoples. Though chiefly living on the mainland, they spent summer on the island, which they called Abegweit, meaning cradled on the waves. The Italian navigator John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) may have sighted the island in 1497, but the first recorded visit by a European was in 1534, when the French explorer Jacques Cartier landed there, and called it Île St-Jean. It became part of the French province of Acadia in 1603, with the arrival of the explorer Samuel de Champlain, and several attempts were made to establish settlements and fisheries. In the early 18th century, the island changed hands several times between France and Britain, who disputed possession of the region. Some French refugees arrived here from the main part of Acadia (Nova Scotia) when it was seized by Britain in the 1750s, but Prince Edward Island itself then fell to British forces in 1758, during the Seven Years' War
, and most of the French settlers were rounded up and deported. Under the Treaty of Paris (1763), the island was annexed to British Nova Scotia as St John's Island, and in 1767 it was divided into 67 landholdings, the farmers becoming tenants of absentee landlords. The island was separated from Nova Scotia in 1769, and set up as an independent administration. In 1798, it was renamed after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (and father of Queen Victoria), who was commander-in-chief of British forces in North America at the time. Rapid immigration ensued in the early 19th century, particularly from Scotland and Ireland. The potato was established as the major crop around this time, and the island developed as a farming, lumbering, shipbuilding, and fishing colony. Representative government was set up in 1851.
The conference that paved the way for a Canadian Confederation met in Charlottetown in 1864, but Prince Edward Island did not join the Dominion of Canada until compelled by bankruptcy in 1873, following an attempt to build a railway. In 1878, the compulsory Land Purchase Act enabled the island's tenant farmers to become freeholders, after rural protests by the Tenants' League.
© RM 2013. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.