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Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada

Cultural Heritage


Echoes From the Past

Prince Edward Island National Park is steeped with a rich and diverse human history. The park's central theme of "The Sea, People and the Changing Landscape" represents the earliest Aboriginal people to live on Prince Edward Island to the French, Acadian, Scottish, Irish and English settlers who followed, who have all had an inseparable relationship with the land and the sea.

Mi'kmaq in traditional clothing
Mi'kmaq in traditional clothing
© Parks Canada

Early Aboriginal people represent the first cultural group to inhabit Prince Edward Island. They relied entirely upon the riches of the land and sea for their survival and prosperity. When Europeans first began to visit and later settle on Prince Edward Island, they were greeted by the Mi'kmaq, who lived in harmony with the land and sea and continue to live on Prince Edward Island to this very day. Archaeological digs in the park have found traces left by the major cultures that have existed on Prince Edward Island over the past
10 000 years.

The first Europeans to settle Prince Edward Island came from France in 1720 and were quickly joined by a small group of Acadians from Nova Scotia. They were warmly received by the Mi'kmaq, who helped them considerably. The Acadians endured great hardships including crop failure, infestations of mice and the ongoing conflict between the French and British in North America. The British deported all but a small group of approximately 300 Acadians from the island in 1758. The Acadians who remained and those who returned to the island in later years established numerous fishing and farming communities along the coast during the 18th and 19th centuries. Within the park area settlements were established at Tracadie Harbour, Long Pond, Rustico Harbour and Havre Saint Pierre (St. Peter's Harbour). These settlers quickly established themselves, living off the sea, land and forests.

Acadians harvesting hay.
Acadians harvesting hay.
© Parks Canada

Within the park, the first British settlers seeking land were primarily of Scottish and later, Irish descent. In the late 18th century they cleared most of the land in the Cavendish, Robinson's Island, Stanhope and Greenwich areas. Evidence of these early pioneers can be viewed in the faint traces of an old wagon road through Stanhope; and the old cemetery adjacent reminds one of the history of these determined people.

L.M. Montgomery circa 1908
L.M. Montgomery around the time Anne of Green Gables was published (1908)
© Parks Canada

Two of the more enduring and most frequently visited historical sites in the park are Green Gables and Dalvay-by-the-Sea National Historic Site. Green Gables, which once belonged to cousins of L.M. Montgomery's grandfather, is the farm that inspired the setting of Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. Montgomery was recognized as a person of national historic significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada shortly after her death in 1942. Green Gables also portrays the lifestyle of many island families in the late 19th century. The Green Gables property was acquired for inclusion in the national park in 1937.

Constructed in 1896 by an American oil industrialist, Dalvay-by-the-Sea was a large Victorian summer home and is now a hotel and dining room leased to a private business by Parks Canada. It was commemorated as a national historic site in 1994 because of its architectural significance.

© Parks Canada

Archaeological Resources and Human History

In Prince Edward Island National Park, known archaeological and historical resources include Palaeo-Indian, Mi’kmaq and Acadian sites as well as a range of European settlers' sites which date from the late 18th century.

During the 1960s, Prince Edward Island amateur archaeologist Rollie Jones discovered numerous artifacts along the shoreline at Greenwich. His discovery led to excavations by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1983, 1985 and 2000. Stone tools and other objects uncovered at this site represent 10,000 years of human history.

In February 2000, scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada (Atlantic) in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, drilled into the sediments of St. Peters Bay. The core they extracted has revealed new information on the area's past. Here, at the bottom of the sediments, the scientists hit a piece of wood from a coniferous tree. Radio carbon dated at 4,430 years old, the wood is proof that St. Peters Bay was dry land around that time.

The Robinson's Island shell midden site was first located and excavated during the summer of 1894 by a vacationing artifact collector from the southwestern United States. A midden is a heap of discarded materials. The collector made some notes about his excavations, the contents and significance of the test pits. The site was subsequently investigated over a 75-year period by several professional archaeologists until the remaining sections of the site were completely excavated by Parks Canada in 1987-88.

Another important Mi’kmaq site in the park is on Blooming Point, which is a long sand spit forming the north side of Tracadie Bay. An aboriginal burial ground was found on the north side of the point in 1959.

Historical and archaeological evidence indicate that there were up to eight houses along the Greenwich peninsula during the French period.

French and Acadian Sites

Although known to French and Basque explorers and fishermen from at least the 16th century, Prince Edward Island remained largely undisturbed by European settlement until the beginning of the 18th century. From that point, the French began farming it to provide food for the Fortress of Louisbourg after the loss of Acadia (mainland Nova Scotia) in 1713.

With the establishment of Port-la-Joye in 1720, several Acadian families joined 300 French colonists and fishermen in the first major immigration of Europeans to the island. By 1735, census records indicate an Acadian population of 162 out of 432 colonists, including some at Tracadie. Over the next two decades immigration increased, reaching 4400 inhabitants by 1756, largely as a result of Acadians seeking refuge from Nova Scotia during the period of English deportation.

French and Acadian settlers began to farm in the Havre Saint Pierre area in the 1720s. As it was sheltered from prevailing winds and was very close to the rich cod-fishing grounds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Havre Saint Pierre was considered one of the best “bar harbours” for small boats on the Island's north shore. Havre Saint Pierre was first established as a fishing community but farming gradually became more important. The ample supply of fresh water, good soil, wood for fuel and construction and suitable grazing made it a good area for farming. At first the French just grew enough food for their own needs but later they began to grow more in an effort to supply Louisbourg.

Havre Saint Pierre was once the most heavily populated centre on the Island. Most of the settlers were from France but a small number also came from the nearby French colony of Acadia. In the early 1750s, Acadian settlers began to arrive in larger numbers. The community gradually became more established with an ever-improving standard of living linked to both the land and the sea.

The loss of Louisbourg to the English in 1758 resulted in the forfeit of Île Saint Jean , as Prince Edward Island was then known, to the English and the deportation to France of 3100 residents. Over 700 Acadians perished at sea while being transported to Europe by the British. Some avoided capture by fleeing elsewhere or by hiding on the Island.

Following the Deportation there were fewer than 400 people Mi'kmaq, French, and Acadian left of the former residents. In 1764, the British granted the Acadians permission to return to what is now Prince Edward Island. The descendants of the remaining Acadians, along with others who returned in later years, are the ancestors of the present-day Acadians living on Prince Edward Island.

A site significant to many Acadians is located at Port-la-Joye - Fort Amherst National Historic Site. Michel Haché dit Gallant came to Port-la-Joye in 1720 from Beaubassin in Acadie. Archaeological digs in the late 1980's at the site of the Haché-Gallant home yielded a variety of objects which have provided much insight into the early years of the Acadian presence in Île Saint Jean /Prince Edward Island. Michel Haché dit Gallant is considered to be the common ancestor of the many thousands of Haché and Gallants throughout North America. The 1758 deportation of the Acadians from Île Saint Jean by the British was centred around the settlement at Port-la-Joye .

British and Loyalist Settler Sites

Many of the cultural resources in Prince Edward Island National Park are 19th and 20th century agricultural sites. Of the known sites within the park boundaries, many are old farm sites. This predominance results, in part from the relatively young age of the sites compared to Acadian and aboriginal sites, but it also reflects the importance and prevalence of agriculture during the period as well as the permanent nature of residences associated with an agrarian way of life.

During the first half of the 19th century, a period of rapid immigration filled most of the vacant land and saw the island's basic patterns of population and land use established. The population grew from 7 000 in 1805 to 47 000 in 1841, more than 60 000 in 1860 to a peak of 108 000 in 1891. The initial settlers were overwhelmingly employed in agricultural occupations, but soon took advantage of the opportunities offered by the fishery, lumber, milling, trade and community needs such as blacksmithing.

Most of the early settlers arrived well equipped for clearing and cultivating the land or providing for their families. Although converting forest to farmland occupied most of the early settler's time, the fertile soil soon provided crops for subsistence and a surplus for sale, trade and payment of rent. Lumbering was also an important activity for farmers and, together with fishing, moulded land-use patterns for the next century.

Most of the farm sites on land acquired for the park now contain little more than a cellar, a well, perhaps a few cut sandstone blocks which mark the remains of a barn and some vegetation delineating former gardens. In some cases exotic vegetation is also present. During a 1990 survey, a well was found several metres below the high water mark in New London Bay, indicating the substantial loss of land to erosion.

The area selected for the establishment of Prince Edward Island National Park in 1937 was primarily agricultural land owned by direct descendants of pioneer settlers, most of whom came from highland and lowland Scotland as early as 1770 and from Loyalist areas of the United States.

The Stanhope Cemetery, situated on the west side of Long Pond, is one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries on the island. British settlers buried in Stanhope cemetery date back to the late 18th-century. It is possible that some of the late 18th century Acadian settlers are buried there as well. Several American sailors from the 1851 Yankee Gale are also buried in the cemetery.

Home distilling of alcohol was probably practiced from the earliest settler days. An inventory of the contents of a farm in Stanhope in 1788 included distilling equipment. Rum running became an important activity during the first half of the 20th century. The Prohibition Act was in force from 1906-45 and resulted in the smuggling of contraband liquor, especially along the north shore.

Our other heritage places

There is no better way to get in touch with Prince Edward Island's rich and diverse cultural heritage than to visit any of the historical sites located within Prince Edward Island National Park, or administered by Parks Canada in Prince Edward Island.

The contribution of these sites to the history of Canada becomes evident when you visit and explore places like Port-la-Joye - Fort Amherst National Historic Site, which commemorates the first permanent European settlement on Prince Edward Island. It is located at Rocky Point, near the mouth of Charlottetown harbour.

Province House National Historic Site, located in historic downtown Charlottetown, brings to life the enthusiasm that surrounded the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, when the Fathers of Confederation met for the first time to discuss the possibility of uniting British North America. This magnificent building has housed the provincial legislature of Prince Edward Island since its construction in 1847.

Also located in Charlottetown, Ardgowan National Historic Site was once the home of William Henry Pope, one of the Fathers of Confederation. The exterior of the house has been restored to its former splendour, and the grounds are typical of a Victorian garden of the nineteenth century. Today the building serves as the administrative offices for Parks Canada.

These special places, along with the approximately 50 other plaques and monuments located around Prince Edward Island, celebrate the legacy of the people, places and events that have shaped our culture.