Welcome to the GeoREACH Lab Website


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.

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.”


“Controversy over Fertilizers”

The following is an excerpt from the Newsy Notes column by Agricola. The article, titled “Controversy over Fertilizers” was published in The Charlottetown Guardian newspaper on January 19th, 1946.

“Agriculture in Britain, given new life under the pressure of war, is engrossing the attention of the public as never before. One evidence of this is the interest taken in the wide-spread controversy between those farmers who favor the use of “artificial” fertilizers, and those who pin their faith on the old standby “muck”, which being translated is manure or dung.

“On the one hand, then, are those connected with “big business”- we have them in Canada too- who maintain that natural manures are not economic, that all farms should be run as factories, and that fences and horses should be scrapped in favor of prairies and tractors. On the other hand there are those who believe with Lord Lymington that “mineral and dung in solution, fused by human sweat,  remain the food of civilized man.” They are also convinced that the use of artificial fertilizers is slowly poisoning the whole population, and have named sulphate of ammonia “Devil’s Dust.”

As far as we know, the 1940s were prior to the real industrialization of farming on Prince Edward Island and through much of Canada. Evidently, though, the debate on the development of large-scale operations was a heated one from the beginning.
Ammonium sulphate is still a fairly widely used fertilizer across Canada today, despite its clearly long history of controversy and early nickname of “Devil’s Dust.” According to The Government of Canada (2020), 11 000 metric tonnes of Ammonium sulphate were in inventory in the September count in Atlantic Canada alone; this is a number that in actuality has increased since 2015.

“The last statement is a serious charge, and can only be proved or disproved by a series of experiments which must necessarily be lengthy. Something of the sort has been done in New Zealand, and the results were published in 1939.The locale of the experiment was the Mount Albert Grammar School hostel, which housed sixty boys and the teaching staff. The dietary of the hostel was far above the customary standard for boarding schools, yet the boys suffered- as was the case in other N.Z. institutions- from colds, catarrh, septic tonsils, influenza, dental caries, and other ailments. (It must be stated here that all New Zealand’s food supplies are grown by means of chemical fertilizers).

Picture of humus

“In 1936 Dr. G. B. Chapman of the Physical and Mental Welfare Society of N.Z. advised that the hostel’s fruit and vegetables be grown on properly prepared humus instead of chemically treated soil: and an acre of black volcanic soil was put under cultivation. No chemicals were used. The report of the matron of the hostel in 1939, said “The first thing to be noted, during the twelve months following the change-over to garden produce grown from our humus-treated soil, was the declining catarrhal condition among the boys. There was also a very marked decline in colds and influenza. Colds are now rare and any cases of influenza very mild. In the 1938 measles epidemic, which was universal in New Zealand, the new boys suffered the more acute form of attack: the boys who had been at the hostel for a year or more sustained milder attacks with a much more rapid convalescence.”

This influential study by Dr. Chapman was presented to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Use of Chemicals in Food Products in the United States Congress in 1951.

“There is much more to the same effect but we pass on to the Royal Commercial Travellers’ Schools near London, England. In 1939, Dr. E. Brodie Carpenter of that institution, took over the dental care of two or three hundred children whose condition he found “to be (dentally) deplorable.” In Sept. 1941,  he again classified his charges and found the percentages of caries was about the same. In 1943 and 1944 there was some improvement, but the Dr. got a great surprise in Sept. 1945: his A class- the best- had increased to 97 per cent (from 50 p.c.); the B class once 32 p.c. was now only 3 per cent; and the C’s- worst of all, and once 18 p.c.- were entirely eliminated.

“Dr. Carpenter set out to find the reason for the improvement, and discovered that a 5 ½ acre field had been taken over in 1939, and a gardener appointed who believed in manure but not in fertilizer. He brought the field up gradually till the school was self-supporting so far as roots and green vegetables were concerned: and he claimed that the humus-grown stuff was responsible for the great improvement cited.

It is important to recognize that Dr. E. Brodie Carpenter was a dental scientist, but he was an active soil conservationist in the Soil Association’s group in Middlesex, England.

“At the College of St. Columba in Northern Ireland they even produce their own wheat and bread! Chemical fertilizers are rigidly excluded, and to this is attributed the very high standard of dental health enjoyed by the students.

“Now these conclusions are certainly plausible and seem to point the way to a change in farming, but it will, I venture to predict, take a long time to convince the farmer that he must farm without chemicals. Overwhelming proof that they are dangerous must be produced, and such proof will be hard to furnish: two or three examples are not enough.

“Chemical fertilizers certainly give the crops, and within certain limits the more fertilizer, the bigger the crop- which is all that the farmer looks for. But there are many chemicals in the soil in very small amounts, which are necessary to the good health of the crop and its consumer as well. The bigger the crop the more the soil is depleted of these necessary elements. We have already got to the stage where we must supply the turnips with boron and the potatoes with magnesia, while there may be other deficiencies not so apparent, or not yet discovered.

“A year or two ago P.E.I. was in the spot-light on account of the longevity of its people. Was the cause of the long life in the naturally raised food which the old-timers ate? Will the next generation live as long?”

The life expectancy in Canada has been steadily increasing over the course of the last century, according to the Government of Canada. So, while perhaps Agricola was a little too enthusiastic on suggesting artificial fertilizers as the cause of the early demise of Canadians, there is still value to noting that there were advocates for organic and sustainable farming in the 1940s, even though the concepts were not yet fully understood.

Read more of this Newsy Notes here.

To read more on the ninth Earl of Portsmouth and the political origins of his Soil Association, see here.

To read the full hearings on the Investigation of Chemicals in Food Products, see here.

To read more on Dr. Carpenter, and British agricultural history, see here.

To see the Statistics Canada data on fertilizer, see here.

To see the Statistics Canada data on life expectancy in Canada, see here.

AGRiPP Workshop

Dr. Josh MacFadyen, CRC, presenting some of the UPEI GeoREACH Lab’s findings during a breakout session

The UPEI GeoREACH Lab, alongside the ACLC program, was happy to host a conference on Applied Geospatial Research in Public Policy (AGRiPP) on October 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 2019, sponsored by Canada Research Chair Dr. Josh MacFadyen.

The conference kicked off on Thursday night at the beautiful Beaconsfield Historic House by Dr. Ed MacDonald of UPEI’s History department. His talk, entitled “Designing Change: A Semicentennial Review of the Comprehensive Development Plan on Prince Edward Island,” analyzed 50 years of the CDP on PEI and its broader implications for the region and beyond.

Dr. Jim Clifford presenting his talk to a full room on Friday, October 4th, 2019.

Dr. Jim Clifford of the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of History and hGIS lab opened up our Friday morning with a keynote about London’s 19th-century ghost acres. He explained the complex and expanding the global market of the nineteenth century, where large and rapidly industrializing cities could no longer be supported by the local environment and had to turn to overseas “ghost acres” for resources.

As the day progressed, we heard from Deputy Minister Paul Ledwell, as well as other researchers and professionals. In the afternoon, we held a breakout session to discuss topics addressed by the conference so far. Open and accessible research and incorporating research into policy were among the discussion topics brought up.

Dr. Tina Loo presenting “Moved by the State.”

The afternoon closed off with a talk from Dr. Tina Loo of the University of British Columbia, based on her book “Moved by the State: Forced Relocation and ‘a Good Life’ in Postwar Canada.” Dr. Loo examined the case studies of Newfoundland, the central Arctic, and Eastern Quebec, looking at spatial justice through state intervention and forced relocation to bring the people to the services.

The conference continued with academic discussions on Saturday morning. Overall, it went exceptionally well, and the GeoREACH Lab would like to thank Dr. Ed MacDonald, Dr. Jim Clifford, DM Paul Ledwell, and Dr. Tina Loo for their keynote presentations, as well as all other contributors and participants in the 2019 AGRiPP Workshop.

Notes from the Garden

Near-ripe tomatoes.

“The tomatoes which were remarkably free from “Blossom-end-rot” till about Sept. 7th, were immediately and seriously affected with it after the rain on Sept. 8th. This is in line with the belief that this malady is caused by a surcharge of water in the fruit, rupturing them and enabling mold spores to get in their dirty work.

The small white “navy beans” cast their leaves too early because of the drought, consequently the pods were not well-filled. On threshing them I had 10 1-2 lbs. of beans whereas I should have had 15, a loss of about 30 per cent. 

Soy beans.

The soybeans enjoyed the heat and the pods filled out well. They are just casting their leaves (Sept. 12). and can be cut and made into sheaves at any time now. The strain is quite acclimatized but the trouble is to fit the crop into the rotation. 

The rock-garden which has been under eclipse for good part of the summer has revived since the rains came and several plants are making a second show. The Cheddar Pink, the Harebell, the Perennial Candytuft, the beautiful scarlet Clove Carnation, and a spray of Phlox subulata, all lend a touch of color.”



With the recent weather events in the Atlantic region, some of our student assistants got curious… We dug into Robertson Library, UPEI‘s website, www.islandnewspapers.ca , and found this gem. This piece on hurricanes was published September 12th, 1958 in the Charlottetown Guardian newspaper.


National Geographic News

“In a single second, a typical hurricane releases more energy than several atomic bombs. In less than an hour, it expends more energy than 50 years’ production of electric power in the United States. 

In a day, a hurricane can lift two billion tons of water from the ocean and hurl them back on land and sea as torrential rains. Packing a force of a half-trillion horsepower, it can scythe a path of death and destruction 580 miles broad. 

For all its terrible strength, a hurricane is born of little but warm, moist air caught in a calm in the tropics and given a twist to set it spinning. Gradually it becomes a large revolving storm, accompanied by violent winds, heavy rains, and high waves and tides. 


The same type of storm is called a “typhoon” in the China Sea, a “baguio” in the Philippines, and a “cyclone” in the Bay of Bengal, the National Geographic Society says. 

Hurricanes may form at any time of year, but most come in August, September, and October. In an average year, two tropical storms bring hurricane force winds to the Atlantic Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. 

The United States Weather Bureau can predict with increasing precision the areas likely to be hardest hit by a hurricane.

The value of warning was pointed up by two hurricanes that passed over Lake Okeechobee in Southern Florida. The first struck in 1928 before the Joint Hurricane Warning System had been set up. Deaths totaled 1,836. The second- with equal winds- followed virtually the same path, but killed only two persons. The chief difference was a warning that gave people time to evacuate. 

Scientists have not yet devised a way to stop or divert a hurricane, but researchers have learned how to manufacture miniature cyclonic storms in the laboratory. By studying these pint-sized hurricanes, scientists hope to learn more about how a hurricane develops and behaves. Knowledge gained in this and other researches- such as radar tracking and flying into the actual storms- should lead to even more accurate predictions and perhaps, some day, to control. 


Weathermen already know that hurricanes usually move from low to higher latitudes with increasing speed, size, and intensity. Winds of a hurricane topple trees, bowl over houses, and even blow trains off their tracks. But the storm takes its greatest toll by drowning. As the hurricane moves forward, it may pile up enormous waves which cover low-lying beaches and islands.”