Learning Guides

As residents of a small place with naturally defined borders, Prince Edward Islanders have a strong attachment to the land. The land we inhabit and its usage are, of course, universal human concerns, but they have a special hold on the Island imagination: in no other Canadian province could the most significant and enduring historical theme be identified simply as "the Land Question". Though the notorious land lottery giveaway of virtually the entire Island in the late 1700s was finally remedied with the buyout of the last of the absentee landlords following the Island's 1873 entry into Confederation, preoccupation with land ownership and usage is not a relic of centuries past on PEI: the postwar years have seen a book-length historical geography -- 1959's Three centuries and the Island -- by A.H. Clark (hailed as "a founder of Canadian historical geography" in The Canadian Encyclopedia), two provincial royal commissions on the land (1972-1973 and 1989-1990), and 1982 legislation -- unique in Canada -- controlling the amount of land held by "non-resident persons and corporations." More recently, there has been a provincial "Round Table on Land Resource Use and Stewardship" (1997) and a 2005 symposium -- partially funded by the province -- on "Land Use Issues in Prince Edward Island". Even as this application was being finalized, the issue of land ownership was once again hitting the headlines on PEI (see, for example, "Regulatory agency overruled every time on land purchases" -- http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/regulatory-agency-overruled-every-time-on-land-purchases-1.822494).

Nor has concern with the land manifested itself solely in the realms of scholarly research and public policy. It has profoundly influenced Island culture in ways too numerous to even begin discussing here, though the case of the Island's two best-known writers, L.M. Montgomery and Milton Acorn, is instructive. The Island landscape is such a pervasive and powerful theme in Montgomery's novels that it is practically a character in its own right, and while Acorn's relationship with PEI was less effusive, it is he who penned what is now an iconic statement on Islanders' connectedness with the land in his ca. 1955 poem, "The Island":

"Since I'm Island-born home's as precise as if a mumbly old carpenter, shoulder-straps crossed wrong, laid it out, refigured to the last three-eighths of shingle. Nowhere . . . is there a spot not measured by hands; no direction I couldn't walk to the wave-lined edge of home."

The control of land and its use are powerful themes, then, that lie at the root of much of Island history and that remain relevant today. As a visual representation of land and its use, cartographic material is uniquely suited to exploring the Island's development.