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Prince Edward Island: History and People


Abegweit, the aboriginal name for Prince Edward Island has been home to the Mi'kmaq for thousands of years. The name means "lying down flat," but is freely translated as "cradled by the waves." There is evidence that the ancestors of the Mi'Kmaqs lived on the island 10 000 years ago, presumably having migrated across the low plain now covered by Northumberland Strait. They fished along the coasts and rivers, hunted the interior and gathered berries and fish. Mi'kmaq continue to live on PEI preserving their crafts and culture.

The first European to discover the island was Jacques Cartier who landed in 1534. Cartier described it as "the most beautiful stretch of land imaginable." No permanent colony existed until the French established one in 1719. The British deported the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755 and claimed the Island, then known as the Island of Saint John. By the time the Fort at Louisbourg fell to the British in 1758 the island's population had risen to 5000.

In 1766, British Captain Holland divided the island into 67 parcels of land. He distributed these to a group of British landowners, mainly absentee aristocratic landlords. This colonial giveaway gave rise to numerous problems as the population grew and the landbase dwindled. The absentee landlords most often refused to sell their lands to their tenants, or demanded exorbitant purchase or rental prices. In 1769 the Island of Saint John became a separate British colony, and in 1799 it was given its present name, in honour of Prince Edward of England.

Prince Edward Island is known as "the cradle of Confederation" since Charlottetown, was the site of the 1864 conference that set Canadian Confederation in motion. The island, however, waited until 1873 to join the Dominion of Canada.

In the twentieth century Prince Edward Island developed slowly with agriculture as its base and the tourism industry becoming a predominant part of PEI culture and business by the end of the century


Approximately 80 percent of the people are of British (mainly Scottish and Irish) origin. About 15 percent are of French origin, and five percent speak French. Of this number, 62 percent live in the rural districts, including 8 percent on farms. The island population is quite young with about 38 percent of the people under 25 years of age.

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