Our history comes alive

Photo Credit: Patricia Bourque

History and Culture


The history of Prince Edward Island is like a rope made of intertwined strands. Each of those strands can be traced back to its roots: First Nations, French, English, Irish, and Scottish. Archeologists have found evidence of early Mi'kmaq settlements that date back thousands of years. Be sure to visit the Lennox Island Mi'kmaq Cultural Centre, as well as the annual Abegweit Pow Wow in August, to learn more about PEI's aboriginal heritage. The earliest European settlers began arriving in the sixteenth century, and their influence is still evident in the names found on mailboxes, as well as the prevalence of Acadian and Celtic music and dance. A trip to The Acadian Museum in Miscouche will introduce you to the tumultuous history of the French pioneers. Then relive the birth of Canadian Confederation and all its drama by touring Province House National Historic Site, where you'll see and hear how the new nation began to take shape in Charlottetown in 1864.

Confederation Players
History at a Glance

Today most Islanders are descendants of Europeans; however, PEI's first residents were the Mi'kmaq. Both Mi'kmaq oral history and archaeological records agree that the ancestors of the Mi'kmaq arrived in Mi'kma’ki, including PEI, at least 12,000 years ago. The Mi'kmaq are the only people Indigenous to PEI. They called the Island 'Epekwitk', meaning "something lying on the water". European settlers pronounced the name as 'Abegweit' and then it was and then changed poetically to mean "cradled on the waves".

French explorers were the first Europeans to visit and settle the Island. Jacques Cartier described the Island as "...the fairest land 'tis possible to see!" The French called the Island "Île Saint-Jean.' To the British, who later occupied the area, the Island was known as 'St. John's Island.' The Island was renamed in 1799 as 'Prince Edward Island' in honour of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria.

In 1758, under British control, the Island was annexed to Nova Scotia, and Captain Samuel Holland was later commissioned to survey the land. He divided the Island into 67 townships of 20,000 acres each. In a great lottery held in London, England, English merchants and military figures were granted large parcels of property in the colony. The colony was separated from Nova Scotia in 1769, but land issues continued for over 100 years until after confederation when the Island Government was able to purchase the last of the large estate lots for resale to tenants.

Following the American War of Independence, many loyal to the British Crown moved north, some making the Island their home. The 18th and 19th centuries saw the arrival of many British settlers, including Scottish and Irish emigrants fleeing economic problems in their homeland. The Island prospered in the wood, wind and water economy of the mid 1800s and communities and colonial institutions expanded.

The Charlottetown Conference, one of the most significant political events in Canadian history, was held in 1864 to discuss the idea of Canadian union. The conference led to Canada officially becoming a nation in 1867. Prince Edward Island became a province of Canada in 1873 after negotiations that promised a continuous link to the mainland.

Prince Edward Island is proud to be Canada's smallest province!

Île Saint-Jean / Prince Edward Island - 1720-2020

The year 2020 marked the tricentennial of France’s founding of the Île Saint-Jean colony, the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the first French and Acadian settlers in Prince Edward Island and the beginning of colonization in PEI. A very large number of Islanders are descendants of these first inhabitants.

It is true and recognized that the French and the Acadians were not the first to settle on the Island. The Mi’kmaq lived there for thousands of years before the French colonized it. However, history tells us that the Mi’kmaq were allies of the French and that under the French Regime, the French, the Acadians and the Mi’kmaq got along well together. As we celebrate the 300th anniversary, it is a wonderful opportunity to remember the historical ties that bind the Mi’kmaq, the French and the Acadians.

Historic places of Prince Edward Island

The legacy which has been left for us all to learn from and appreciate. They show us the important relationship Aboriginal people had with this land, the patterns of settlement established by Europeans, the impact of centuries of farming and fishing, and the faith that sustained many in building our communities. Our historic places convey the sense of accomplishment and pride of generations of Islanders.

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