Bank Swallows

Below is an excerpt from a series on the birds of Prince Edward Island that “Agricola” wrote in 1950. This one was published on July 22. According to COSEWIC the number of bank swallows has continued to decrease nationwide. In 2018, they were upgraded to a threatened status, and according to Parks Canada, have decreased by approximately 98% in the last 40 years (Russell).

“The last, and least known of the group, is the Bank Swallow. It is also the smallest and least colourful. ‘The little Bank Swallow (Cotile reparia), is a lustreless courser of the air, draped only in dull, mouse-coloured feathers. It chooses, however, the grandest home of the tribe. Sometimes it makes its nest in a low bank but more frequently in the lofty summits of the towering red cliffs that loom over ocean’s surges, on the wild sea-coast. How airy and beautiful their ceaseless circling round the dark summit of the great sea battlement, while the billows surge, and lash, and thunder, and foam, below!

“_DSC5261r” by pshanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

“‘The birds dig their nest holes two or three feet into the face of the clay top of the cliffs. At the inner extremities the nests of grass and feathers are placed, having each four or five pure white eggs.’ This lengthy quotation is from Bain’s “Birds of P.E. Island,” and it leaves little room for further remarks.

“This swallow, common in Bain’s time, is now thought to be greatly decreased. It would help to settle this question if readers would send in their observations. There used to be a large colony of these birds on ‘Robinson’s Island’ in Rustico Bay (1934).

“Bank Swallow Riparia riparia” by Mark Peck Bird Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

“Bank Swallow. AOU 616. Summer resident. Becoming scarcer?

“Plumage: brownish-gray above; underparts white, with a brownish-gray band across the breast.

Length of adult: 5.20 inches.”


Agricola. “Newsy Notes.” The Guardian of the Gulf, July 22, 1950. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Falconer, Miles, and Debra Badzinski. “Annual Rate of Change for the Bank Swallow between 1970 and 2011.” Chart. Government of Canada. May 2013. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Russell, Nancy. “Threatened Bank Swallows Get Extra Protection in P.E.I. National Park.” CBC News. June 08, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2019.

Newsy Notes

Newsy Farm Notes (later just Newsy Notes) was a column written by Islander Blythe Hurst under the pen name “Agricola.” It was published by The Guardian PEI newspaper (then known as The Guardian of the Gulf or The Charlottetown Guardian) in the mid-20th century. This column covered a large variety of topics, including farm news, nature profiles, historical tidbits, tips and tricks, and some opinion pieces among other things. It was fairly popular, and ran for four decades, from the 1920s-1960s.

Hurst was a source of botanical knowledge for Islanders, and his column and other publications represent a valuable collection of local ecological knowledge from the early twentieth century. He immigrated to PEI in the 1910s, living in Brackley from 1930 until his death in 1951. Hurst, was the author of A New Flora of Prince Edward Island, published in 1941 by the Guardian and available in full text on Island Lives. In her history of Brackley Beach Women’s Institute, Ellen Cudmore writes that local residents “who had a rare or unidentified insect would travel from all across the Island to consult Mr. Hurst. He had insects and butterflies pinned, identified and mounted in green velvet show cases enclosed in glass. He also had an extensive library and would search his reference books until he found a satisfactory answer for each inquiry.”[1]

Keep checking back, as we will be uploading some excerpts from the column!

The text used for Newsy Notes excerpts comes from the Island Newspapers digital collection here.

[1] Ellen C. Cudmore, Brackley Beach Women’s Institute: Working together “for home and country” (Charlottetown: Brackley Beach Women’s Institute, 2002), p72.

Mapping Land Use on PEI in the 1960s

by Choyce Chappell, UPEI
29 May, 2019

The poster that I produced at the UPEI GeoREACH Lab in the 2019 winter semester offers a unique glimpse into PEI’s past. Nick Scott, another GeoREACH lab member, found and scanned a map detailing the approximate property boundaries of almost all of PEI in the 1960s. We called this map the Beaulieu Map, after Andrée Beaulieu, a federal researcher with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. The Beaulieu map was based on aerial photos from the early 1960s, so while the plot sizes were not exactly accurate, they were extremely close for a hand-drawn map. This was a fascinating find. The map was created to support the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), one of the central research subjects of Dr. MacFadyen’s GeoREACH Lab at UPEI.

A Geospatial Analysis of Land Use and Cover Change on PEI, 1968-2010. Click to see in new tab.

I began this part of the project began by exploring avenues to try and use processes that would automatically digitize the map into a format that would work with the GIS softwares that the lab uses. Unfortunately, due a number of factors, such as limitations with GIS tools, creases in the map from folding, and inaccuracies in the map, we were unable to do so. As a result, I switched over to sampling six  townships, and manually digitizing them. The result initially contained small errors in geometry, so we tried to minimize those using several GIS tools and by excluding slivers and small parcels from the analysis.

Getting the poster and preliminary analysis ready the Environmental Science Atlantic Conference was a real time crunch, and the first version of the poster had little quantitative data and little in the way of visual supplements. Over the following few weeks, the final poster (see above) was refined and presented to members of the GeoREACH Lab and other members of the UPEI community. I added added and rearranged new information, I completed additional quantitative analysis, and I added and edited more images to accurately reflect the research process and the story we uncovered.

Choyce Chappell presenting the first draft of the poster at the Environmental Science Atlantic Conference. Source: SciAtlantic on Flickr.

To perform the quantitative analysis, we categorized properties by the size of the parcel (a smallest size, three mid-sizes, and a largest size), and analysed land use by five dominant categories (cleared land, forested land, harvested clear-cuts; harvested partial cuts; and reverting land). Using this data, we were able to make some generalizations about ongoing trends among farms according to their property size, location, and land use. This is a unique glimpse into the lives of Prince Edward Islanders in the 1960s, finding many stories that could not have been told with other forms of historical analysis.

The true success of this work is knowing how much further it can go, and what it means for the future. This work is preliminary to digitizing the whole map, and can be used as a template for such a project. Additionally, the work can be used to see how much the CDP affected the land use and cover change, and the soil quality, of PEI over time, or to analyse the land use of properties by water shed, county, topographic features, and more. Even though I am no longer with them, I’m excited to see what the GeoREACH lab does with this work!

Choyce Chappell presenting the poster to the GeoREACH team and others at UPEI.

May 23rd, 1955

Ellen’s Diary on May 23rd, 1955 talked about letting animals out for the spring, but, more crucially, the love that some Island farmers maintained for horses, even though more efficient options (i.e. tractors) were available to help complete farm tasks.

“After months of confinement, some of the cattle-kind were let today to a spell of pasturing. And Sara, youngest mare of all, friend but not playmate of the children also saw blue sky above and felt again barnyard clay under-foot. It was a new experience for her, after long stabling, this spell in the open and the Family came to watch while in a fine play of spirits she tried out her paces.

‘Watch out! She may go over that fence,’ we called to the children in their door-yard. 

‘Isn’t she pretty!’ Granddaughter replied, quite lost in admiration for the moment.

“Elmer Gauthier 1950” from the personal collection of Marie Howatt

She has plenty of action’ James, nearer us, offered. ‘And I wouldn’t doubt,’ he nooded [sic] ‘a fair-good bit of speed!… There was a time in my life, Ellen, when to own the like of her, in the shape she’s in and idle, would be in the nature of a dream. But now, a driver on a farm is little more than a toy- there isn’t even time to break them! I’m sure ‘his thrift was coming uppermost now’ I don’t see why we keep so many. Still,’ he smiled, ‘I wouldn’t consider we were farming at all without them.’

Ellen’s Diary, May 23, 1955.