Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island

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The Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, colloquially known as Meacham’s Atlas of 1880, was one of the first attempts to map PEI in its entirety. A whole host of information can be found within the atlas; from detailed maps of each of the lots on the island – down to the individual houses, to realistic drawings of prominent citizens and their properties. It is a dream resource for any Island historian!

The Meacham’s Atlas maps before mosaicing.

For us at the GeoREACH lab, the atlas represents yet another opportunity to compile data on energy usage on the island during this period. We can see in the atlas the individual lots that compose our island even to today, each with personalized property information. The cartographers went so far as to outline the individual houses, barns, other infrastructure and property owners for each lot.

The Meacham’s Atlas maps after being mosaiced.

An important step in gathering the data from Meacham’s Atlas was to centralize all the available rasters (individual images) to a single resource. As all the lots were created independently, they would have to be stitched together into a single, geographically accurate map in a process formally known as mosaicing. This is why we have made, using GIS, a comprehensive mosaic of all the lots to easier represent this information.

The building points displayed over the entirety of Prince Edward Island.

Beyond that, we also entered data points for the over 16,000 buildings indicated on the map. Though it is still a work in progress, it is now available to be explored. You can adjust the different layers through the content window to look at churches, houses, mills, or schools, or can zoom in to a region you know well to see what it looked like in 1880!

Click here to explore the map.

Welcome to the GeoREACH Lab Website

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Land Use in Wheatley River, PEI (1935)

Welcome! The GeoREACH Lab supports Geospatial Research in Atlantic Canadian History and other projects of the Applied, Communications, Leadership & Culture program in the Faculty of Arts at University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). The lab is directed by Dr. Josh MacFadyen, an environmental historian and Canada Research Chair in Geospatial Humanities at UPEI.

The Lab’s current projects focus on the history of food and agriculture in Canada, and we study the ways that the modern food system has shaped our relationships with animals and the land. Prince Edward Island was a relative late adapter of modern industrial agriculture, and in many ways it is still going through this profound social-ecological transition. This presents an opportunity to interview, map, and otherwise study the causes and impacts of agro-ecosystem transformation in one place over time.

We hope you will check out the About page keep watching this site for ongoing information on the research we are doing at UPEI.

October 18, 1956

“‘You’d think some Superman had been here’ one of the children chuckled this evening reporting on today’s first endeavour of the farm. ‘Big trees uprooted, great stones moved, stumps and bushes taken out… What a mess. They’re powerful machines, those bulldozers.’

“This was today’s great interest of these farms. A great machine moved in to clear away certain hedgerows and woodsy knolls for the sake of neatness and to make more open and arable the area about. 

“All day the work continued in this and that location until in the upheaval left in its wake one might well suppose that some Superman had passed by. 

“‘When we stop to consider how laborious it was to clear land back in the years- with axe and a hoe and a pry, or later, with the help of a stumper, hand- or horse-powered, it’s amazing to watch a bulldozer at work,’ James said this afternoon.

“‘It’s incredible what one can do- and so quickly. For example today, well years ago, it couldn’t have been attempted at all. No, couldn’t even have been considered.’

“It is likely some gallant old trees perished in the endeavour, wide-spreading maples, and birches, ringed with time, sturdy spruces, gay little firs.

“‘Remember that clump of birches, Ellen, out in the open field?” James queried, ‘That’s cleared away now, and the great stone too about which they grew.”

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February 20, 1956

Blue jay in the winter.

“Today was a wash spread to fitful sun and cloud; a mild wind of February, and a sheltered hillside baring; a lone wild duck on wing and a blue jay’s shrill call. It was children off bright and eager to school-by sleigh, and the farmers busy about at the choring and hauling. We saw a grist being taken to the mill, one which will vanish smartly in tins and handfuls to the mangers of the stables about.

“‘Next thing we know there’ll be lambs’ Mack, little fellow of the place came in with the news today. ‘Yes, shortly. Do you know we’re not too far from spring now? There’ll be more calves and kittens too!’ he remembered. ‘I hope’ he added soberly ‘we’ll have good luck with those.’

Sugar maple sap collection.

“And through the branches of the maples in the yard, the little breeze played, bringing us tales of a sap-time of young years we knew… of honey-combed March snow in an old woodland where odd sugar maples grew. Not far from the sweetest brook rippled its thawing tunes as between woodsy banks it emerged in a meadow and ran at length to the river and Strait. And the trees tapped and tended by the farmlands thus providing nectar for themselves and any wayfaring maids could not know how far apart the band would one day wander to visit and dwell in separate climes and places.”

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PEI in Winter. Image Source.

Oyster Shell-Mud

“Many of the early settlers in our province gathered oyster shells at low tide from some of the many extensive deposits that occur in the bays and rivers throughout ‘The Island.’ They burned these shells to secure quick lime, required in making the mortar, which they used in building their chimneys and fire places ,and for plastering their houses. They also observed that where these shells were burned the vegetation in the years following, was much more vigorous, this was particularly true of clover, cereals, and some of the vegetables.

Mussel shells

“The top layers of many of these deposits, particularly those that were exposed at low tide, were composed largely of blue mussel shells in various stages of decomposition. Ingenious farmers invented and constructed mud-diggers of different types, but quite efficient for the lifting of these deposits. Some of the first ones were mounted on scows, but it soon became a general practice to lift mud through the ice in winter. Most of the surface deposits of mussel mud were quickly exhausted.

“Underneath these there were usually deep deposits of oyster shells, sometimes almost pure oyster shell mud was located that extended to a depth of more than twenty feet. These muds were all referred to as “mussel-mud” the name carried from the surface deposits that were first used on land. It was a common sight, early in this century, to see dozens of mud diggers on many of our rivers and bays in winter. We have seen maps prepared for the Provincial Government, showing oyster beds in Malpeque Bay that extended over a hundred acres each. On some of these beds there are deposits of oyster shells over ten, fifteen and twenty feet. 

VALUE OF SHELL-MUD

“The first application of shell mud to land not previously mudded was very beneficial. It invariably produced luxuriant crops of clover, (we remember fields that did not need to be raked, as large coils were not more than twenty feet apart), followed by increased crops of roots and grain. These muds were essentially lime, most of them contained eighty-five per cent and over of carbonate of lime with traces of nitrogen and phosphoric acid. They were good soil amendments. The farms near some of these deposits received very heavy dressings in the early days, but second applications proved of little value. The growing of certified seed potatoes was partly responsible for the decline in the use of oyster shell mud, which tended to increase potato scab. 

Loading sleighs with Mussel Mud. David Weale. Source

“The mud was either piled on the shore or near a highway where it could be hauled away later or piled in small heaps on the fields and exposed to frost, which broke down many of the shells before being spread on the land. We recall buying good shell mud at the diggers at four to six cents per scoopful of from 400 to 500 pounds. 

“The railway ran a spur line to a pier on St. Peters Bay near large shell deposits. The price charged for a 12 1/2 ton car (enough for an acre) of mud was $3.50 for many years. In 1920 this had been raised to $14.00 F.O.B. point of shipping. The value of lime for Island soils being established as a valuable soil amendment, ground limestone from the mainland has been imported in increasing quantities.” 


Painting by George Ackerman circa 1880.
Community Museums Association of Prince Edward Island. Source.

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The Kestrel

“The Kestrel or Sparrow Hawk is about the size of a Robin, and is the only small hawk which has a shade of chestnut-red in its tail feathers. Reed truly says that it has ‘bright colors and odd markings.’ It is so handsome and at the same time so evidently harmless, that it has escaped much of the destruction aimed at its larger companions. Another point in its favor is its ability to adapt itself to its environment: it is equally at home in the pasture lands of the east and the forests of other regions.

“The Kestrel feeds principally on mice, large insects, frogs, and snakes. At times it attacks birds and may kill jays, quail, and other birds as large as itself. It may visit towns where sparrows abound, whence the name ‘Sparrow-hawk.’ Dr. Taverner, however, thinks that a more appropriate name would be “Grasshopper Hawk.” (And he notes that when taken from the nest young, this little falcon is easily tamed.) Scientists have examined 291 stomachs and found that birds were killed and eaten only in the winter when insects are not available. “It is obvious that the Sparrow Hawk is beneficial and should be protected.” 

“Kestrel or Sparrow Hawk. AOU 360. Summer Resident- List, 1916. One observed at Alberton, 1937.

“Adult Male: Head slaty blue, crown rufous; face pattern black and white. Black rufous with or without black spots or bars. Wings blue gray; tail rufous-red with a wide sub-terminal black band and a narrow white tip. Underparts creamy white to buff, a few black spots or none. 

“Female: Head and face like male; black wings and tail rufous, barred black; underparts more or less dark brown and streakedImmature birds resemble adults. Length of adult 10.5 inches.”

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