ShoreLINES: Heritage Notes from Parks Canada's Special Protected Places in PEI
Prince Edward Island National Park Commemorates 75 years in 2012
2012 marks the 75th anniversary for Prince Edward Island National Park
For 75 years, Prince Edward Island National Park has been welcoming visitors from around the world. From the dramatic red sandstone cliffs and spectacular beaches in Cavendish to the pristine parabolic dunes in Greenwich, this small coastal park has captivated the hearts of all who experience its serene and tranquil beauty.
Stretching for about 40 kilometres along the north shore of Prince Edward Island between New London and Tracadie bays and taking in the tip of the Greenwich peninsula in St. Peters Bay, the Park’s dynamic coastal landscape is constantly changing as it is shaped by wind and waves.
Creation of PEI National Park
Prince Edward Island National Park was established on April 24, 1937. Originally, PEI National Park was created to bolster the Island economy during the Depression. The idea for the national park was to establish a “typical seaside resort” at Dalvay-by-the-Sea, as it was thought that a national park in PEI would not compare with the grandeur of the national parks established in western Canada (MacEachern, 2001).
It was no surprise that the exquisite Dalvay hotel was an early favourite, as it features architectural splendour that is representative of the Queen Anne revival style and was located near the popular beaches for which PEI was known. Built between 1896 and 1899 as a summer residence by Scottish-American oil tycoon Alexander McDonald, Dalvay was the scene of an extravagant and gracious lifestyle until McDonald’s death in 1910. Between 1930 and 1937, Dalvay had a number of owners, with the most infamous being rum-runner Captain Edward Dicks who transformed the summer home into a hotel in 1931 to hide his smuggling activities.
After a visit to PEI to view potential sites for the national park, the beauty of the coastline on PEI’s north shore inspired the Parks Branch to submit a proposal for a national park that included a strip of coastline 25 miles long extending from Dalvay-by-the-Sea to Cavendish. With Cavendish in the plans for the national park, Green Gables house and the surrounding property also included, as visitors were already flocking to the area to see the setting that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables (Lothian, 1976).
Originally, Green Gables house was the home of David Jr. and Margaret Macneill, who were cousins of Montgomery's grandfather. Although L.M. Mongomery never lived at Green Gables, she grew up nearby with her grandparents. She came to know her cousins' farm through her explorations of the surrounding woodlands and places she discovered and named such as Lover's Lane and the Haunted Wood. Most of what Montgomery describes in her novel Anne of Green Gables was the product of her own creativity, sometimes complemented by the inspiration of a real-life setting. Soon after Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, people began coming to Cavendish in search of Green Gables, along with the other places and people of Avonlea in the novel.
When it came to naming the new national park, a number of names were considered, including Silversands National Park (MacEachern, 2001). In the end the name that was easiest to remember was chosen: Prince Edward Island National Park.
Prince Edward Island National Park – a focal point for the tourism industry
With the establishment of PEI National Park came the infrastructure necessary for public enjoyment: the Gulf Shore Road, the campgrounds, boardwalks, beach facilities and picnic areas.
Milestones include the construction of the Green Gables Golf Course, designed by well-known landscape architect Stanley Thompson. The first nine holes opened in 1939 and the remaining nine opened in 1940. The lifeguard service was established in 1948 in Cavendish and grew to include Dalvay in 1949. For a detailed list of other PEI National Park milestones, please refer to the timeline.
The popularity of PEI National Park quickly grew: from 2500 visitors in 1937 to 10,000 in 1938. Five years after being established, PEI National Park was the fifth most visited national park in Canada.
Today, despite its small size, PEI National Park remains one of the most highly visited National Parks in Canada and plays an important role in representing the natural and cultural history of PEI in our nation’s network of national parks: places that define Canada.
Protected for all time… for all Canadians
PEI National Park features 42 kilometres of breathtaking coastline on the island’s north shore. In 1998, the tip of the Greenwich peninsula that features large mobile parabolic dunes with their associated counter ridges or Gegenwälle was added to the park. The sand dunes and beaches, wetlands and forests are home to over 400 species of plants and 300 species of birds and other wildlife. Great Blue Herons grace the ponds and marshes and shorebirds feed along the water’s edge. The beaches are a sanctuary for the endangered Piping Plover that returns every spring for its breeding season; the coastal ponds are home to the American eel, a threatened species in Canada. The dunes offer habitat for a variety of plant and wildlife species, including two plant species at risk: Gulf of St. Lawrence aster and beach pinweed.
Over time, the park has been shaped by the people, the sea and the ever-changing landscape. People have been part of this coastal landscape for thousands of years. From the earliest Aboriginal people to live on Prince Edward Island to the Mi’kmaq and the European settlers that followed, including the French, Acadian, Scottish, Irish and English, a close relationship with the land and sea was essential for survival. Archaeological digs throughout PEI National Park have shown traces of all major cultures that occupied the island, including aboriginal artefacts dating back 10,000 years.
Since its creation in 1937, PEI National Park has played an important role in PEI and in Canada by connecting visitors with this special landscape and the stories of our land and our people. The creation of PEI National Park 75 years ago has ensured the protection of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage – for all Canadians... for all time.
Prince Edward Island National Park is celebrating 75 years of summer in 2012
After 75 years of operation, many of the activities that were popular in the early days of the park are still popular today: Green Gables Heritage Place is now famous around the world and continues to draw readers of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables. In addition, many visitors continue to enjoy golf, the scenic drives, camping, day-use areas and the supervised beaches.
Prince Edward Island National Park offers a variety of opportunities that allow visitors of all ages and with diverse interests to connect with nature and to discover the stories of this special place. Parks Canada has a goal of helping people have great experiences and learn while having fun in a way that does not impact the natural and cultural resources within the park.
A number of special events will be held at the park this summer to commemorate the 75th anniversary milestone. Highlights of the events in July and August include a Beach Birthday Party at Brackley Beach on Parks Day, July 21, and Preserve the Past, Relish the Future (Part II) at Green Gables Heritage Place in August. For a complete list of our special events, please check out our website at: www.parkscanada.gc.ca/pei.
Lothian, W.F. 1976. A History of Canada’s National Parks. (Vol I.) Ottawa: Parks Canada. [QS-7034-010-EE-A1]
MacEachern, A. 2001. Natural Selections. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.