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Introducing Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island (PEI) is Canada’s well-tended and inviting back garden. The weeds and wilderness have been tamed to create a pastoral green patchwork of rolling potato fields, tidy gabled farmhouses and seaside villages. The whole of it is rimmed with miles of vivid red cliffs, sand dunes and fabulous beaches.

As you wind along country roads, there is little chance that your eyes will alight on any ugliness or mess. Every turn brings a fresh and soothingly bucolic vista of bays, rivers and fields running down to the water’s edge. Just as you’re thinking ‘wouldn’t some beer and fish-and-chips be nice about now, ’ – oh, look! There is a quaint café with an open door. The people are friendly, life is slowed to a civilized pace and the down-home hospitality and country charm are genuine. About the only thing lacking authenticity are the orange nylon braids of the current Anne of Green Gables.

Look at a map of the island when you’re hungry and you’ll see a croissant cut into three equal parts. Central PEI is where the Confederation Bridge comes ashore, binding the island to the mainland. This is the most visited part of the province, holding both the capital city Charlottetown and the major tourist areas along the seashore around Prince Edward Island National Park. Eastern PEI boasts secluded beaches and fishing villages; its wealth of stunning routes has earned it an international reputation as a cycling destination. Western PEI offers the opportunity to explore the cultures and history of the French Acadians and Mi’kmaq Aboriginal peoples.

The peak tourism season is short, with most services shut between mid-September and mid-June. The margins of this season are great times to visit, when the weather is still warm and the crowds of July and August are missing.

History

Its Aboriginal inhabitants, the Mi’kmaq, knew the island as ‘Abegeit’ – Land Cradled on the Waves.

Although Jacques Cartier of France first recorded PEI’s existence in 1534, settlement didn’t begin until 1603. Initially small, the French colony grew only after Britain’s expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 1750s. In 1758 the British took the island, known then as Île St Jean, and expelled the 3000 Acadians. Britain was officially granted the island in the Treaty of Paris of 1763.

To encourage settlement, the British divided the island into 67 lots and held a lottery to give away the land. Unfortunately most of the ‘Great Giveaway’ winners were speculators and did nothing to settle or develop the island. The questionable actions of these absentee landlords hindered population growth and caused incredible unrest among islanders.

One of the major reasons PEI did not become part of Canada in 1867 was because union did not offer a solution to the land problem. In 1873 the Compulsory Land Purchase Act forced the sale of absentee landlords’ land and cleared the way for PEI to join Canada later that year. But foreign land ownership is still a sensitive issue in the province. The population has remained stable, at around 140, 000, since the 1930s.

In 1997, after much debate, PEI was linked to New Brunswick and the mainland by the Confederation Bridge – at almost 13km, it’s the world’s longest artificial bridge over ice-covered waters.

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