CHAPTER III. Popular ignorance - The garden island - Summer and winter contrasted - A wooden capital - Island politics, and their consequences - Gossip - "Blowin- time" - Religion and the clergy - The servant nuisance - Colonial society - An evening party
I was showing a collection of autographs to a gentleman at a party in a well-known Canadian city, when the volume opened upon the majestic signature of Cromwell. I paused as I pointed to it, expecting a burst of enthusiasm. "Who is Cromwell?" he asked; an ignorance which I should have believed counterfeit had it not been too painfully and obviously genuine.
A yeoman friend in England, on being told that I had arrived safely at Boston, after encountering great danger in a gale, "reckoned that it was somewhere down in Lincolnshire."
With these instances of ignorance, and many more which I could name, fresh in my recollection, I am not at all surprised that few persons should be acquainted with the locality of a spot of earth so comparatively obscure as Prince Edward Island. When I named my destination to my friends prior to my departure from England, it was supposed by some that I was going to the Pacific, and by others that I was going to the north-west coast of America, while one or two, on consulting their maps, found no such island indicated in the part of the ocean where I described it to be placed.
Now, Prince Edward Island is the abode of seventy thousand human beings. It had a garrison, though now the loyalty of its inhabitants is considered a sufficient protection. It has a Governor, a House of Assembly, a Legislative Council, and a Constitution. It has a wooden Government House, and a stone Province Building. It has a town of six thousand people, and an extensive shipbuilding trade, and, lastly, it has a prime minister. As it has not been tourist-ridden, like Canada or the States, and is a terra incognita to many who are tolerably familiar with the rest of our North American possessions, I must briefly describe it, though I am neither writing a guide-book nor an emigrant's directory.
This island was discovered by Sebastian Cabot in 1497, and more than two centuries afterwards received the name of St. John, by which it is still designated in old maps. It received the name of Prince Edward Island in compliment to the illustrious father of our Queen, who bestowed great attention upon it. It has been the arena of numerous conflicts during the endless wars between the French and English. Its aboriginal inhabitants have here, as in other places, melted away before the whites. About three hundred remain, earning a scanty living by shooting and fishing, and profess the Romish faith.
This island is 140 miles in length, and at its widest part 34 in breadth. It is intersected by creeks; every part of its coast is indented by the fierce flood of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and no part of it is more than nine miles distant from some arm of the sea. It bears the name throughout the British provinces of the "Garden of British America." That this title has been justly bestowed, none who have ever visited it in summer will deny.
While Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the banks of the St. Lawrence are brown, even where most fertile, this island is clothed in brilliant green. I suppose that the most elevated land in it is less than 400 feet above the level of the sea; there is not a rock in any part of it, and the stones which may be very occasionally picked up in the recesses of the forest cause much speculation in the minds of the curious and scientific. The features of this country are as soft as the soil. The land is everywhere gently undulating, and, while anything like a hill is unknown, it has been difficult to find a piece of ground sufficiently level for a cricket-field. The north shore is extremely pretty; it has small villages, green clearings, fine harbours, with the trees growing down to the water's edge, and shady streams.
The land is very suitable for agricultural purposes, as also for the rearing of sheep; but the island is totally destitute of mineral wealth. It is highly favoured in climate. The intense heat of a North American summer is here tempered by a cool sea-breeze; fogs are almost unknown, and the air is dry and bracing. Instances of longevity are very common; fever and consumption are seldom met with, and the cholera has never visited its shores. Wages are high, and employment abundant; land is cheap and tolerably productive; but though a competence may always be obtained, I never heard of any one becoming rich through agricultural pursuits. Shipbuilding is the great trade of the island, and the most profitable one. Everywhere, even twenty miles inland, and up among the woods, ships may be seen in course of construction. These vessels are sold in England and in the neighbouring colonies; but year by year, as its trade increases, the island requires a greater number for its own use.
In summer, the island is a very agreeable residence; the sandy roads are passable, and it has a bi-weekly communication with the neighbouring continent. Shooting and fishing may be enjoyed in abundance, and the Indians are always ready to lend assistance in these sports. Bears, which used to be a great attraction to the more adventurous class of sportsmen, are, however, rapidly disappearing.