We have been blessed with some fine weather here in PEI. Even if it is overcast, it is warm and often the haze burns off. The last two days have been very sunny and warm. Average summer temperature here is 23-24 Celsius. The last two days have been 26-28. They are beginning to need rain for the crops.
PEI is comprised of farmland (acres and acres of it), woodlots, harbours and beaches or shore cliffs. It is 244 km (139 miles) from tip to tip and from 6 km (4 miles) to 64 km (40 miles) wide. The population of the ENTIRE island is 145,866 people. The two largest centers are Charlottetown (the Capital) at 32,500 and Summerside (55 km to the northwest) at 15,600. Land costs $10,000 per acre and the average house costs $150,000. There are 8 paid fire department personnel on the whole island. Everyone knows about everyone very quickly. They have hundreds of roads that often turn from pavement to gravel and back to pavement in a couple of kilometers. Every place that has a collection of 5-8 houses – no grocery, post office or gas station – has a name. It is like being in Scotland, only they have distinct villages every 2 or 3 miles.
We took a horse-drawn carriage ride in Charlottetown yesterday to pass some time until the power came on again and we could check into our hotel (power outages are common, especially in winter). Lucas, the carriage driver, pointed out the building that housed the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court and then said, “But it’s pretty quiet there. We don’t have much crime on the island.”
We have very much enjoyed our time here. We spent 8 nights and days touring around. We have put over 1000 km on Poppy and have driven the coast of the entire province, plus quite a few of the inland roads.
Yesterday we left Summerside, drove the remainder of Green Gables Shore and returned to Charlottetown. We drove up to Rustico, where we had left our drive the day before and toured the Farmer’s Bank Museum. What a great story that was! And lucky you…. I am going to tell it!
A priest named Father Belcourt came to Rustico in 1859 and stayed 10 years. He was very disturbed by the poverty, illiteracy and alchoholism of the Acadian farmers and fishermen of the area. He was also very concerned that French was slowly being lost in the schools because most of the teachers were English speaking.
In his 10 years in Rustico he started a model school that taught Acadian’s to be teachers and by the time he left 70% of the schools had French-speaking teachers. He started an “Adult Study Group” which helped adult literacy; but you were not allowed to attend if you had been drinking – a forerunner of an AA meeting. He began a school band that became sought after for local and further-out community parades and celebrations. He became a correspondent of a member of Emperor Napoleon III’s court and recieved the emperor’s patronage for community projects; one of which was a library that grew to 1,000 volumes. And he began the Farmer’s Bank.
There were only two banks on PEI at the time so there was no opposition in the Provincial Legislature to start another bank. And even though Queen Victoria’s advisors were astonished at the small scale of the to-be-bank in Rustico, they were impressed with how well the Act was put together and Royal assent was given April 7, 1864.
Local families, at an average of $10 each, set aside $4,000 to start the bank. They gave loans to farmers and fishermen as low as $5 with 7-8% interest, due at the end of the term. This type of loan was of no interest to the banks – they considered the people to be too high a risk, the amount was too small and they charged 18 -20% interest as set out by the bank’s head offices in Montreal or Toronto – but they were immensely valuable to the locals as it helped pay for seed or necessary items between harvests. They printed their own currency (one-sided bills in denominations of $1, $2, or $5. No coins). The currency was accepted province-wide. This little bank started in 1864 and operated for 30 years and it was the forerunner of credit unions in North America!
The priest asked his parishioners who attended church by wagon or ice sled to bring a red island sandstone block with them to services. In that way, by December, they acquired the blocks needed to build the bank. The building housed the Catholic Institute and had two waiting rooms, one for men and one for women – and a room for the bank.
By the time he left after 10 years the Acadians in Rustico had learned to read, learned new techniques for farming, sobered up, had children in school and ran a sucessful a bank (which never had more than $10,000 on the books). They were better off in all areas of their lives. Now… isn’t that a cool story???
Locally made woven baby bed.
There were two other buildings beside the bank (which I can’t believe that neither of us photographed). One was Doucet house, probably the oldest building in PEI, built in 1764; home to Mr. & Mrs. Doucet and their nine children. This house was lived in until 1987 when the owners wanted to make a bigger house and the Friends of Farmer’s Bank brought it to the site and spent 5 years restoring it. All of the darker wood in the floors and walls is original to 1764
The other was St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church that was built in 1838 and is still used today.
After that we drove along the coast through PEI National Park, past a 3 km long beach and inland to Charlottetown. We arrived in town at 1:30 just as all the power went out. We couldn’t check into the hotel so we wandered around town, took a 1/2 hour horse-drawn carriage ride and (when the power was on again) went to Founder’s Hall, an audio-visual presentation of Canada’s Confederation from the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, to the creation of Nunavat in 1999, our third territory.
We spent until mid-afternoon relaxing in our room and I read my travel books and made notes of the places we may want to see in Nova Scotia. John then makes our hotel reservations a few days out at a time.
We left our room about 2 and toured the two remaining buildings we wanted to see, Government House (the home of the PEI Lieutenant Governor) and Beaconsfield, a Victorian-era house (1877) that had running hot water, electric lights and central heating.
This is a Victorian lady’s pastime. At night when they combed their hair they would keep the hairs in the brush (and sometimes cut a lock from a guest as a keepsake) and the hair would be woven and fashioned into wreaths like this.
Zion Presbyterian Church
And that concludes our visit to Prince Edward Island.