This summer’s visit to Prince Edward Island by Prince William and Kate Middleton isn’t the first to send Islanders into a royal tizzy. Dr. Ed MacDonald says PEI has had its fair share of royal visits, and “on each occasion, Islanders reacted with suitable awe and delight.”
MacDonald is an Associate Professor of History at UPEI. He says it’s no surprise Islanders are fans of the royals — we’re named after Queen Victoria’s father.
“The first official visit to PEI was by a royal. In 1860, Queen Victoria's eldest son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be Edward VII came to PEI as part of a visit to British North America,” says MacDonald. “We were so flattered we renamed the reorganized Central Academy as Prince of Wales College and, around the same time, the community variously known as Stumptown, Hill's Town, and Cascumpeque, renamed itself Alberton.”
The next official visit from a royal was when Canada's Governor-General, the Marquis of Lorne, came to PEI in 1879. His wife was HRM the Princess Louise, Victoria's daughter. MacDonald notes “she would later lose her ear in an unfortunate sleighing accident in Ottawa…”
After that, we didn't have an official royal visit again until George V's eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, made a brief visit during a cross-Canada tour in 1919.
“Film of this visit is among the earliest existing film footage of PEI,” says MacDonald. “Yes, he's the one who became Edward VIII, married Wallis-Simpson, and abdicated — and who comes across very badly in The King's Speech.”
MacDonald says George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured PEI in 1939 on a cross-country tour meant to stir up Canadians' patriotism as war approached. Tens of thousands of Islanders stood in pouring rain in order to catch a glimpse of their king.
“After that, royal visits became much more common and harder to document. Queen Elizabeth has been here on a number of occasions, including 1964, on the centenary of the Charlottetown Conference, and again in 1973, on our provincial centennial.”
Photo: an engraving from the Illustrated London News depicting the Prince of Wales visit to PEI in 1860, taken from The Island Magazine.