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.

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.”


August 8, 1956

#OnThisDay in 1956, the author of Ellen’s Diary talked about Prince Edward Island’s summer coming to a close, mechanization in farming, and how some Island farmers were still holding on to traditional methods.

PEI potato field

“Now the clouds we send our dreams sailing upon are August’s. They moved quietly today on a sunny sea of blue above the gleen-clad hilltops, great liners of smokey down, with a bit of austerity in their rigging an ominent edge of Autumn, it seemed. But not yet are we content to let Summer go. ‘Once the haying’s over’ one of the family said today noting the blackbirds in a flock gleaning tidbits of insects in a shorn hay hayland, ‘well, they days are noticeably shorter by then’ and her smile was wistful, ‘whether or not we like to acknowledge it, the heart of the summer is spent.’

‘Folks can commence then to store their fuel-wood’ another offered, thoughts evidently going on to envision the deserted lawns and verandahs, the closed doors, and hearthfires once more kept bright.

Today was still summer. We kept jealously every hour sunny and warm and breeze-fanned. It was pleasantly warm for the workers, for Rob in the field building the great loads of hay, for the younger farmer in the closeness of a mow at the storing. 

‘There’s no exceptional call for cooling drinks this haying.’ Jeanie said. Not a hot day- just warm, this one. And in the fields the hay making to a nicety for the farmers. And away in far places of the countryside, a dreamy haze of season veiling the hills.

…‘With machinery now to help, the haying is certainly much easier done than once,’ we commented remembering more toilsome days at it though nonetheless sweet. ‘The changes there have been!’

‘We still have an old mare in the lift- no change there.’ another chuckled. No, no change there. The hose still beats out a regular path along field or yard, retarding so far the march of progress at Alderlea it is true but keeping for our sake this nice item of old at the haying.”

July 25, 2019

Hay saving is an age old tradition that many farmers employ in the stocking of fodder for their livestock, as seen in this entry of Ellen’s Diary dated from July 25, 1958. The process of saving hay involves cutting long grasses, then drying them, and storing them until your other fodder stocks are depleted. In the 1950s, saving hay was still an arduous task. It took a great amount of time and injuries were commonplace. However, Ellen’s time period was significant for island farmers, as many started using more efficient and easier to use tractors instead of horses to aid in their harvest. This diary entry helps illustrate this important transition from horses to tractors.

“Gathering in the grain 1906” from Earles Picture Restoration Prince Edward Island.

“’And take your time!” James called after the help going on ahead in the truck to the field and the saving of hay this morning.

“He was harnessing the team for the rake at the time, buckling an end of the double reins to a bit, and adjusting the others in turn.

“’It’s the haste, Ellen”, he commented “that brings the accidents. There’s never a haying that there isn’t misfortune somewhere – falls and broken limbs, and other hurts. And there’s also those that come from poor gearing. I like to have everything in good shape, down to the smallest detail of it. They say ‘An ounce of prevention…”

“’!… is worth a pound of cure” we finished with a chuckle.

“’Well” he nodded, “there never were truer words than those when applied to the haying. A block half secured gives away, an old swing on the lift breaks or poor harness gives… and too late folks are in difficulties!”

“’You’ll ride?” we said watching him gather up the lines.

“‘Oh no, I’ll walk. The exercise will be good for me. I’ll be seated on the rake long enough!’

“Granddaughter, by choice, and with her assistance much appreciated, managed the horse in the lift this afternoon, enjoying it much.

“…Mack a steady little fellow, and with an adult close by, was allowed to drive the tractors on a level field, well pleased at this responsibility and his elders that he did it so well. So with all the help there was a great saving of hay, and by this evening first barns were full.”

Glen Property Visit, July 2019

An area of Bill Glen’s woodlot. The nut orchard is slightly visible in the background.

On Wednesday 18 July, some of the GeoREACH Lab team members took a trip into the field (literally) to visit Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s land in the Bonshaw area of Lot 30, Prince Edward Island. Bill and Elizabeth are well known in PEI genealogical and historical circles, and Bill was formerly a forester with the PEI Provincial Government. He now serves as a forest and woodland consultant, and he co-authored a chapter with Josh MacFadyen in the University of Calgary Press collection on Historical GIS Research in Canada. The Glens have been on their property since the early 1980s, and they were able to provide some real insight into how the land has changed over the last forty years, including how they managed the forest, fields, and hedgerows!

Bill Glen, GeoREACH Lab Director Dr. Josh MacFadyen, and research assistants Nolan Kressin and Abby Craswell.

The team has studied Lot 30 extensively using aerial photos and historical maps on GIS. We were excited to explore the real area that we have been examining from above for the last several months. It reminded us that our research is much bigger than just a computer screen! We could see the changes that have occurred in the land since the aerial photos that we are currently studying were taken in 1968, before the implementation of the Comprehensive Development Plan (for more on that see this post). Some of these changes include hedgerow planting, the appearance of new homes, and a new nut orchard on the property.

Research assistants Nolan Kressin, Nick Scott, and Abby Craswell (L-R) in the field.

While on this excursion, we learned about hedgerow and woodlot composition, as well as the importance of biodiversity and climate change adaptability in wooded areas. White spruce (what we use to plant most of our hedgerows) is incredibly vulnerable to slight shifts in climate! Bill also showed us a hydraulic pump that dates back to 1890, which he still uses to pump water to the tank for his nut orchard. The GeoREACH team would like to thank Bill and Elizabeth Glen for having us to their home and sharing their knowledge of land-use change on Prince Edward Island.