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.

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.”

Source

“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.

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.”