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Island Information

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Historical Milestones

c11,000 BP (Before Present) -- Glaciers retreat from Gulf of St Lawrence area. Evidence of first people living on Prince Edward Island. The Island is connected to mainland by a land bridge stretching roughly from West Cape to Point Prim.

c7500 BP (give or take a millennium or so) -- Rising sea levels submerge land bridge. Northumberland Strait appears. PEI becomes an island.

1534 -- Island is "discovered" by Jacques Cartier. He describes it "The finest land 'tis possible to see. Full of fine meadows and trees." Later named Isle St. Jean, it is claimed by France, which generally ignores it for the next two centuries.

1720 -- After losing control of Acadia to the British, the French decide it is high time they settle Isle St. Jean. They establish a capital at Port La Joye, just across the harbour from present-day Charlottetown. Other major settlements include St. Pierre (near Morell), Trois Rivières (Brudenell) and Malpec (eastern Prince county).

1745 -- A force of British and New England troops capture Isle St. Jean, destroying Port La Joye and Trois Rivières.

1748 -- Britain trades Isle St. Jean back to France for a city in India.

1758 -- British troops capture the colony again and deport the population of French and Acadian settlers -- close to 5000 people. A small number, fewer than 300, escape deportation.

1763 -- The Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years War between France and Great Britain.. France cedes Quebec, Isle St. Jean and Isle Royale (Cape Breton) to Britain. For book keeping purposes, the latter two are annexed to Nova Scotia.

1767 -- Having been surveyed and divided into 67 lots of approximately 20,000 acres, the Island is granted to a handful of private proprietors. In return for their land grants, the proprietors promise to bring out settlers and pay "quit rents" to support the government of the colony. Despite this promise most, as a rule, don't.

1769 -- After intense lobbying by its proprietors, the Island is detached from the administration of Nova Scotia and given its own Governor and civil administration.

1773 -- Lacking a suitable chamber, the Legislature meets for the first time at the Crossed Keys Tavern in Charlottetown. The tavern's doorkeeper is supposed to have quipped "This is a damned queer parliament." Queer or not, it is the second-oldest Legislature in Canada -- only Nova Scotia's is older.

1775 -- Two American privateers raid the tiny settlement of Charlotte Town. Finding little of value worth stealing (other than the colony's official seal, which is made of silver) they content themselves with kidnapping two government officials. The latter are returned, but the seal is never seen again.

1799 -- There are too many "St. Johns" (cities, rivers, colonies, etc) in the maritimes. So the Island decides to rename itself "Prince Edward," in honour of one of King George III's sons: Edward, Duke of Kent (and father of Queen Victoria). Ironically, the only time Prince Edward seems to have mentioned the Island was when he recommended it be re-annexed to Nova Scotia.

1803 -- In the largest single colonization in Island history, 800 settlers from the Scottish highlands land at Belfast. They are sponsored by Thomas Douglas, Lord Selkirk, who later founds the Red River settlement in Manitoba. By the mid-1800s, Scots will represent over half of our population, making us the most "Scottish" province or state in North America.

1816 -- Islanders face their third hungry winter in a row. Between 1813 and 1815, plagues of mice attacked numerous settlements. This year will be nick-named "The Year Without Summer" as dust from an enormous volcanic eruption in the Pacific lowers temperatures -- and harvest yields -- around the world.

1830 -- The Island's electorate doubles in size as full civil rights are extended to Roman Catholics. Catholicism was technically illegal in Great Britain and its Empire until 1829.

1838 -- The "Escheat" Party, led by William Cooper, wins control of the Legislature. ("Escheat" was the legal process where the Crown could repossess a land grant.) Escheaters demand Great Britain revoke the land grants of 1767 and redistribute the land to tenant farmers. Authorities in London refuse to even meet with Cooper, and his Party collapses within a few years.

1846 -- Inventor Abraham Gesner unveils a new lamp fuel he calls "kerosene" at a Mechanics' Institute meeting in Charlottetown. It's the first public demonstration of kerosene in the world.

1847 -- Province House opens.

1851 -- Great Britain grants "Responsible Government." The Island will now be semi-independent -- responsible for everything but foreign trade and defense.

1852 -- The first submarine telegraph cable in North America (only the second in the world) connects Cape Traverse to Cape Tormentine.

1854 -- A "Reciprocity Treaty" comes into effect between the United States and Britain's North American colonies. It's essentially a free trade treaty, and on the Island it fuels an economic boom.

1855 -- Charlottetown is incorporated as the Island's first city.

1864 -- Delegates arrive in Charlottetown to discuss the possibility of a political union of British North American colonies. After an initial burst of enthusiasm for the concept, Islanders decide not to participate.

1866 -- The Reciprocity Treaty lapses. Busy with rebuilding its country and economy after a Civil War, the United States isn't interested in free trade. The Island economy booms on regardless.

1868 -- The best year ever for shipbuilding as 120 vessels are launched from Island shipyards. Between 1800 and 1880 we build close to 4000 vessels. Prince Edward Island is one of the most active shipbuilding centres outside Great Britain. Shipbuilding is the engine driving the economy.

1871 -- We decide we cannot face the future without a railroad, so we mortgage the province to build one. Costs quickly rise beyond what we can afford.

1873 -- Faced with a mounting railway debt, an unfinished railroad and the effects of a world-wide trade depression, the Island negotiates a deal to enter Confederation. We get: 6 seats in the House of Commons, 4 seats in the Senate, relief from the railway debt and cash ($800,000) to buy out the remaining large private estates. We give up: our independence.

c1880 -- The shipbuilding industry in Atlantic Canada collapses. What had amounted to half the Island economy disappears in the course of a few years. Thousands of Islanders migrate to the "Boston States" to get work in factories and domestic service. Over the next 50 years, the population will drop from 120,000 to 80,000.

1885 -- Dismayed that they still have to rely on iceboats for winter mail and passenger transportation, Islanders demand a fixed link to the mainland in the form of a railway tunnel.

c1895 -- Robert Oulton and Charles Dalton become the first to successfully breed silver foxes in captivity. They share their secrets and breeding stock with a small circle of associates and within ten years are all very wealthy. At the peak of the fox boom in 1912, individual pelts are fetching as much as $2,000. For almost 20 years the Island is the only source in the world for farm-bred silver foxes.

1908 -- Anne of Green Gables is published.

1917 -- The Island's first ice-breaking car ferry, Prince Edward Island, begins service between the new ports of Borden and Cape Tormentine. The vessel stays in service until 1968.

1919 -- Though there were a few loopholes in the law, automobiles were effectively banned from Island roads in 1908. Since 1917 communities had the right to vote whether to lift the ban on their particular stretch of road. This year the last closed road -- Tracadie to Mount Stewart -- is voted open.

1922 -- Prince Edward Island becomes the second-last province in Canada to extend the vote to women. Only Quebec, which waits until 1940, takes longer.

1924 -- With more automobiles coming over from the mainland, where they drive on the right hand side of the road, PEI decides to join the rest of the continent. Newspapers are full of warnings that we are no longer to drive on the left.

1925 -- The Island's first radio station, CFCY, is licensed for broadcasting.

1941 -- Charlottetown native Carl Burke founds Maritime Central Airways. By the mid-1950s, MCA will be the 3rd largest passenger airline and the biggest air freight carrier in the country. In 1963 he sells the airline to Eastern Provincial Airlines, which in the 1980s becomes part of Canadian Airlines.

1947 -- MV Abegweit, the Island's most-beloved-ever car ferry is launched. A school holiday is declared and almost half the population of the province turns out to tour the boat.

1964 -- To celebrate the centennial of the Charlottetown Conference, the Fathers of Confederation Memorial Building is opened. In 1973 the complex is renamed Confederation Centre.

1965 -- The musical Anne of Green Gables opens.

1969 -- A Comprehensive Development Plan, designed to slingshot the Island economy and its society into the modern age, is signed between Ottawa and Charlottetown. The effects of the Plan, good and bad, are still being felt.

1988 -- Islanders vote by a margin of Yes: 59.4%, No: 40.6% in favour of exploring the possibilities of building a fixed link to the mainland. Half of those in favour, though, think that a tunnel is the only way to go and say later they would have voted against a bridge.

1997 -- The Confederation Bridge opens for traffic.

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