The best books on the history of Prince Edward Island

Who am I?

This marks the second time Jesse Francis and I have collaborated to explore an aspect of Prince Edward Island history. Our first book—Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island (2013)—won three prizes. We hope this new work, which presents aspects of the history of the Mi’kmaq along with those of French, Acadian, and British colonists, will be welcomed. We think it important to bring together—rather than separate—the many strands of our shared past.


I wrote...

Ancient Land, New Land: Skamaqn - Port-La-Joye - Fort Amherst

By A.J.B. Johnston, Jesse Francis,

Book cover of Ancient Land, New Land: Skamaqn - Port-La-Joye - Fort Amherst

What is my book about?

Our book about this single, triple-named historic site across the harbor from Charlottetown, PEI, presents multiple stories. As Skmaqn, the location was long known to the Mi’kmaq, Prince Edward Island’s Indigenous people. As Port-la-Joye, it became the first permanent European settlement on Île Saint-Jean (PEI) in 1720. French and Mi’kmaq leaders met there to renew their friendship and military alliance. Then, in 1758, the British proceeded to erect Fort Amherst and begin a mass removal of the French and Acadian population.

Nearly half of the Acadians shipped to France perished due to onboard illnesses and shipwrecks. Finally, this area was the headquarters for the Island-changing survey led by British engineer, Samuel Holland. Richly illustrated, including art specially created for this publication, Ancient Land, New Land presents PEI’s early history in a fresh new way.

This book is available here.

The Books I Picked & Why

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If You’re Stronghearted: Prince Edward Island in the Twentieth Century

By Edward MacDonald,

Book cover of If You’re Stronghearted: Prince Edward Island in the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

If all you know about Prince Edward Island is that it’s a pretty tourist destination, you will be surprised by this book. The author tells the story of PEI in the 20th century with great flair. Along the way, readers learn about the people, events, and influential forces that shaped Island life over that era. We find out not just about seed potatoes, fox farming, ferry boats, and fixed links, but also about the troubles brought by economic depression, outmigration, and regional disparity. Two world wars also figure into the story. In a nutshell, If You're Stronghearted describes both changes and continuity within the distinctive Canadian province. The book features a wonderful selection of images.  


Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island

By Earle Lockerby, Douglas Sobey,

Book cover of Samuel Holland: His Work and Legacy on Prince Edward Island

Why this book?

The two authors combine their historical and geographical talents in this book. It offers a wealth of information on a wide range of themes relating to the famous Holland survey of the nascent British colony of St. John’s Island (later renamed Prince Edward Island). That survey, carried out on orders from the British Crown in 1764-65, generated the first fully accurate map of Prince Edward Island, dividing it into counties, townships, royalties, and individual lots that are still in place today. While the Holland survey was an exceptional technical achievement, it—and the subsequent lottery that allocated many of the lots to absentee owners—led to many long-term complications on PEI. The well-illustrated study explains much about how and why the Island’s subsequent history followed the course it did.


Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island

By Georges Arsenault,

Book cover of Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island

Why this book?

In both English and French, Georges Arsenault has written many books on different aspects of the Acadian history of PEI. This 2019 book is the author’s most recent (French title: Histoire illustrée de l’Acadie de l’Ile-du-Prince-Édouard). It’s aimed at general interest readers and provides an overview of the three centuries of French and Acadian presence on the Island since 1720. Topics addressed include the early settlement period, the mass deportation in 1758, and the subsequent resettlement by Acadians. The author also looks at the role of the Catholic Church, French-language education, the economic changes across time, and the struggles to ensure a vibrant French-speaking Acadian culture on the Island.


Three Centuries and the Island: A Historical Geography of Settlement and Agriculture in Prince Edward Island, Canada

By Andrew Hill Clark,

Book cover of Three Centuries and the Island: A Historical Geography of Settlement and Agriculture in Prince Edward Island, Canada

Why this book?

Though published more than 60 years ago—and therefore a little dated—this study remains highly useful. Clark opens with the Island’s natural geography and then looks at how its resources were used by the Mi’kmaq and subsequent settlers of Acadian, Scottish, Irish, Loyalist, and English backgrounds. The book’s 155 maps and 16 tables illustrate the distribution of the population by area and origin over time and the evolution in crops and livestock from the early 18th to the mid-20th centuries. Readers wanting more recent historical and geographical essays should check out Time and a Place, An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island (2016), with articles by a dozen scholars. As for PEI’s geology, check out John Calder, Island at the Centre of the World.


Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Service of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War

By Kathleen Dewar,

Book cover of Those Splendid Girls: The Heroic Service of Prince Edward Island Nurses in the Great War

Why this book?

More than 115 PEI women served as nurses in the First World War, and this book provides rich details about their individual and collective experiences. The author carried out meticulous research to gather the nurses’ stories from a wide range of sources and she writes about that service with admiration. Helping to convey the nurses’ varied experiences are a large number of photos and several maps which locate the overseas hospitals and other facilities where they served. Despite all they accomplished, the PEI nurses—like nurses from other parts of North America—were largely greeted by a “great silence” when they returned from overseas. Those Splendid Girls makes an important contribution to the history of women and nursing during the First World War. 


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