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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - April/May 2004
Electric Scotland Speaks

The Scots living on Prince Edward Island


I’ve had the good fortune to be able to stay for three weeks in Prince Edward Island on the east cost of Canada. According to the 2001 Canadian census 38% of the islands population is of Scots descent.


I was interesting in coming here as I’d just added the Earl of Selkirk’s book to the site where he included an account of what is now known as the “Selkirk Settlement”. Spending time in the library at Summerside the librarian kindly found me a book “Past and Present” by MacKinnon which is an excellent account of the history of P.E.I. In that book it said:-

This year 1803 is a notable one in the history of Prince Edward Island, for that was the year when the "Polly," the ship so famed in this province, cast anchor in these waters, having brought a large number of passengers from Scotland, to settle on Lord Selkirk's estate. About this time he brought in all some eight hundred people to Prince Edward Island. They were of the finest class of emigrants that ever left the shores of Great Britain. They settled in what is known by the general name of The Belfast District. The descendants still occupy the land and homes which their forefathers occupied and made. They were an enterprising and energetic people, and transmitted their vigorous dispositions to their children and their children's children. Descendants of the "Polly's" passengers have been distinguished in almost every walk of life. They are to be found in every part of Canada and the United States upholding the good name they inherited, and making their island home known and respected where ever they may be. They have produced many men who have distinguished themselves in every profession, trade and walk of life. In the days when Prince Edward Island boasted of her fleet of sailing ships, the men of Point Prom and the other sections peopled by the descendants of these immigrants, were found commanding ships in every sea. There was scarcely a house that had not sent out one or more master mariners, and they were of the best. Lord Selkirk did well for this island when he brought these immigrants to her shores.

In another book I picked up, “The Founding of Cavernish” by Harold Simpson, is an absolutely marvelous account of the founding and progress of this area of P.E.I.  In it I found:-

Writing in the Montreal Gazette of December 26, 1972 Cecily E. Lein, an elementary History and Geography teacher says in part:

"History teaches us that, in the beginning, it was the land that conditioned the people who stayed here. It was only the tough, brave, gutsy people, who could learn to live in harmony with the land, who could survive here; people who learned to love Canada not only for what it could give them but for what it was".

The spirit of these pioneers is shown by the comments of a Scotch wife who, having left her cosy croft in Scotland, saw for the first time the log cabin that was to be her home for some years:

"Ah me! When I saw the wee hoose just made of logs my heart went to my mouth, and then I just thought ‘if I cannot make my hoose to my mind, I can make my mind to my hoose. Anyway I could live in a hollow log with William’".

It was May 1790. Presumably a log shelter had been built, probably with a stone fireplace at one end for heat and for cooking, similar to the croft fireplaces of Scotland. The cooking crane had been hung with the iron cooking cauldron suspended. The meager furnishings had been put in place and the food stored away.

Outside, except for the little clearing around the cabin, was unbroken forest where ground must be cleared for planting crops to provide a living.

Ahead were days of unbroken toil from daylight till dark, felling and trimming the trees and breaking the land among the stumps to plant potatoes and to sow grain.

History is everywhere on P.E.I. and while there I was kindly welcomed to the meeting of the Stanhope Historical Society. Stanhope is the first Scottish settlement on the island and they recently commemorated it by building a cairn on which it says:-

1770 – 1970 Erected to commemorate the arrival of the ship Falmouth from Greenock, Scotland, June 8th 1770 and the two hundredth anniversary of the settlement of Stanhope, Covehead and Brackley. Original settlers: Auld, Brown, Dewar, Drummond, Gregor, Jamieson, Lawson, Leitch, MacCallum, MacEwan, MacGregor, MacLauchlan, MacNeill, Marshall, Miller, Shaw and Taylor.

When you consider the whole process of settlement it must have been brutally hard work but those early Scots settlers were strong people with a belief in the future. It is difficult these days for us to imagine just what they went through but just one description gives us an idea:-

Shelter had been provided by means of log cabins, crude and cramped, but still shelter and still "home”. Fuel was abundant for the stone fireplace and water was procured from a nearby brook. To ensure a winter supply of water it is probable that a well was dug during the summer. The digging of a well was always a high priority.

The digging of a round hole five to six feet in diameter proceeded downward until an underground stream was reached which would provide a sufficient flow of water to meet the requirements of the home and the farm. Having "struck water" at whatever depth, the next step was to build a circular stone lining leaving a core some three to four feet in diameter, from the bottom to the surface. Next they would build the working mechanism for raising the water, a windlass, a round log about five or six inches in diameter with a handle at one end, mounted on two upright posts. To the windlass was attached a rope with a bucket which was lowered by the windlass, filled with water and raised to the surface. The final step in construction was the safety factor, a wall built around the well from hewn logs to a height of two and a half to three feet, often with a hinged cover. Children must be prevented from falling in.

When you come to a place like P.E.I. this history is still important to the people and there are a great number of historical and genealogical societies on the island and many local publications about the founding of many communities. One person I spoke with was “Dutch” Thompson who does a regular radio broadcast on CBC. He spends all his spare time recording conversations with the old folk on the island getting them to talk of the old days. This is a major historical archive in its own right.

I was struck by the enormous number of Scottish names on mail boxes at the side of the road as well as road names. The Island Register at  is your "Number 1" on-line source for P.E.I. Genealogy, with over 701 P.E.I. lineages, and 4500+ documents online.

P.E.I. has a population of just 133,385 persons according to the 2001 Canadian census. It’s just remarkable how well they have maintained records on their history and heritage.  It’s an example to us all on what can be done and I believe all this history has given the people of Prince Edward Island a real pride in their heritage and with that background a great belief in their future.

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