The first great atlas
Atlases have been a vital tool of the civilised world since the Sixteenth Century when in 1570 Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer and geographer published a huge book of woodcut maps called Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, or Theater of the World.
Courtesy of Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc.
It was at a time when in Europe the word theatre had an extraordinarily wide and varied meaning from the anatomical theatres in places like Padua where the human body was explored in detail for the first time and published, with great engravings that looked like maps by the Dutchman Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564)
The human spirit was not neglected and in 1580-85 Andrea Palladio designed his strange and wonderful Teatro Olimpico or Olympic Theatre in Vicenza, in northern Italy. It was inspired by Greek and Roman theatres in Antiquity where every range of human passion was acted out austerely by a trio of actors, speaking through masks that defined the confines of human behaviour. Shakespeare expanded the conventions of classical drama, and in the round Globe Theatre, built in 1599, brought in a much-expanded cast of characters, the essential drives, and passions of human behaviour. His plays, printed as scripts, were the atlases of humanity that would be acted out in the round playhouse to this day.
The word “atlas” has a complicated symbolic origin, typical of Renaissance thinking. It was first used in 1595 by the German-Flemish geographer Geradus Mercator in the title of a work of meditations on the creation of the universe. Atlas was the name of a mythological Titan king of Mauretania whom Mercator revered as the first geographer of note because ancient writers recorded that he had invented the celestial globe. Thus, subsequent collections of world maps bound together as books or portfolios were given that name, which has survived into our own time.
This was the birth of the concept of the atlas full of human drama that continued to evolve and be refined throughout the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. When Canada and America were emerging as places of colonial settlement in boundless spaces, maps – real and imaginary – were bound together in atlases and eagerly bought by governments and scholars interested in the exploitation of the New World. With greatly improved surveying instrumentation and techniques, by the 1870s atlases of territories defined with geometric perfection began to be produced in large numbers. James Hubbard Meacham’s atlas that left no portion, however minuscule unaccounted for, was the crowning point of the Canadian atlas craze because it bravely mapped and illustrated not just another county, or portion of the continental interior, but turned an entire province into a human artefact contained in a large folio album.
Atlases, through the centuries, were conservative things, beginning with a map of the world, which was followed by every reputable map of every nation or territory that had been produced by cartographers to date. In their modern time, Meacham and Allen ignored the world map and introduced two brightly coloured maps of the Maritimes and Lower Canada (Quebec) followed by another bright map showing more of Quebec joining the extent to which Ontario had been exploited by settlement.
These two maps, not signed by any cartographer, appear in the other two Canadian atlases published by Meacham. We don’t know their origin, but one suspects that they were provided for just such a purpose by the Canadian Government which, at that time, was well embarked on the project of mapping and pulling together and image – a dramatic scene – of what would one day be the Canada we know.
There was another map – a surprise and a shock – bound in with the national maps, and that was of the surveyed portion of the Province of Manitoba, where indigenous people had lived in harmony within a very varied landscape for thousands of years. It is found inserted at the end of the atlas, among the list of subscribers. Its presence is very important as it concerns the indigenous people and I want to discuss its significance later in this post.
The Island Map appears
Clement Allen produced an extraordinary map of Prince Edward Island that, even though it was based on the accomplishments of previous mapmakers – Bayfield, Cundall, Wright and Lake – nevertheless had it own particular voice, a voice that described a wealth of tightly-packed essential data about the province.
The map was carefully coloured by hand to immediately distinguish one lot from another, and in the process gave the whole a vibrancy that added excitement to the geometric arrangement of the Holland’s 1765 Township outlines, all aligned to the Magnetic North of 1764.
The map is also packed with symbols that identify everything from the natural environment – even buried quarries! – to every kind of building that fed the spiritual lives of the colonists, mills that fed their bodies and provided wood for their houses, courthouses that dispensed justice and symbols that indicated the instruments of postal and telegraphic communication. It is incredible that so much information was legibly crammed into such a small space. Roads of every kind are also indicated as well as the new railway that revolutionised transportation and opened up the interior of the province to the most rapid transit known in that day.
This detail of the map from the east end of the island gives you an idea of the quantity and quality of the information Meacham provided.
The map has a fine, very clear table of explanation where every symbol for every feature is clearly listed.
The format of the pages
This double folio page spread of the extent of Lot Seventeen gives you a clear idea of the surveyor’s approach to fitting in as much information as possible into the space available. Along with the lot itself there are two community maps that have been inserted to fill up blank space left by the outline of the lot map. To some people, myself included this intrusion of important but extraneous data into the perfection of the lot outline itself is distracting, out of scale and aesthetically unpleasant. That being said, the atlas was a commercial venture, and the fewer pages necessary to include all the required maps and views, the greater the profit margin. This kind of page setup was common to all the atlases, both in Canada and the United States, produced during this period.
It is important to try and understand the extremely complex process by which these lot maps were produced. Every part of the land and water had to be accounted for, drawn to correct proportion, and then accurately labelled. This had to be done for all 67 townships on the Island. One never ceases to be to overcome by the enormity and complexity of the task, and marvel at how endless scribblings and corrections could ever be converted into the clean, ordered design of the individual maps.
I include here this working copy (PARO 0937), probably from a few years after the atlas was published, that tries to settle the names and acreage of various proprietors in lot 28. That is how all of Allen’s finished sketches, that would be sent to the lithographers in Philadelphia, must have started life.
Meacham’s surveyor appears
Looking at the atlas, we desire intimate contact with the fine surveyor and cartographer was oversaw the production of all the master drawings for the lithographer and printer. We know very little about Clement Allen except that he was an American and Meacham’s brother-in-law. Most fortunately the Public Archives has an autograph copy of Allen’s finished drawing for Lot 48. It is not of the final printed version of the lot map but may have been a late stage drawing or even a presentation copy that has survived. Above the windrose is scribbled “proofed” in red pencil. In the bottom margin is a caricatured head.
The closest we can come to Allen today is to look at his neat signature at the bottom of the cartouche on this draft. In the published version of the map his name will be removed.
The lot map draft is full of intimate detail in pen and ink and brush, that delineate and elaborate on the details that make up this lot.
This detail of the Lake Verde area is full of delicate pen and brush work that shows, in a pale blue wash, the extent of the wetlands in the area.
The final printed version of this map, with the Charlottetown East Royalty sketched in across the Hillsborough River, is crisp and clean, free of community maps except for an enlarged inset of the Southport area – the city’s link to Eastern Queen’s County, and the eventual site of a bridge to replace the good-weather ferry, inoperative in winter. It is as fine a lot map design as you could hope for.
A look at some of the other lot maps
Beginning with Lot 1 is logical in two ways: it is the first lot, and it is the one closest to some part of me, my home lot, where my mother’s Acadian ancestors lived since the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.
To my eternal chagrin, Allen chose to fill the huge empty space in the left diagonal with maps of communities that are in no way related to Lot 1. It spoils the impact of that dramatic point of land for me. He would have been advised to insert his Tignish map there – yes, there is one! – where it belongs as the principal community of the lot. But then as now, Lot 1 does not mean much to anybody except those who live successful lives there, focussed on the fisheries.
What fascinates me about Lot 1 is that, by 1880, we can see that the bulk of the land has been settled first, by the 1799+ Acadians and then the 1811+ Irish, so that they almost completely occupy the space. I doubt that if one had the time to ethnically colour other lots in a similar fashion, that one would get such a dramatic effect.
(I apologise for the poor quality of the coloured graphic. It began life in the late 1990s as a hastily created illustration done with markers on a photocopy, which was then turned into a colour slide for a lecture. With all best intentions, it was never redone digitally.)
It is worth noticing two other things in this graphic. First, note the very large area in yellow that was owned and controlled by the Catholic Church. That reflects the real estate ambitions of the great parish priest and 3rd Bishop of Charlottetown, Peter McIntyre, who, more than anybody else, chose and bought the property with the hill, inland from the shore, where he saw a glorious Neo-Gothic brick church and a future village that would be the terminus of the planned railway. Secondly, in red, you see, especially at the Tignish Harbour mouth, the land leased by New England businessmen, the Myricks, to build their great fishing enterprise made possible by the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, and which permitted them to enslave almost the entire population in the credit ledger system both in Tignish and Alberton for 100 years.
Lot 13 goes across the island, from Egmont Bay to Malpeque to Richmond Bay. The east side of the lot is of the greatest importance because it is here, perhaps as early as the late Middle Ages, that Basque fishermen set up their seasonal fishing stations, and it is most likely the Basque landing places that the Acadians settled on when they gradually began to colonise the favourable shorelines of Ile Saint Jean.
Years later, after the Deportation of 1758, a whole new breed of settlers occupied these shores, and according to British plans for the feudal colony of the Island of Saint John, began to move inland to establish the upland farming of their home country. These British settlers were boatbuilders from Devon and their descendants even today are still living and cultivating ancestral lands, even though the boat industry is long gone. Their story is told is a most readable book by Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard called Westcountrymen in Prince Edward Island.
In this map of Lot 13, the maps of Port Hill and Tyne Valley, which belong to the lot, were included here to take up the space on the folio pages left by the long narrow lot, placed at the bottom of the page on its side as a space-saving device. The village maps on their sides are a bit grotesque, but there was no other way to keep the large scale that make them valuable resources for the study of those settlements. Its not very nice, but it all belongs.
To illustrate the spirit of the community of Port Hill in Lot 13, the kingdom of James Yeo, I give you a preview of my next and last post on Meacham – his topographical views of the Island – with this exceptionally fine representation of Yeo’s 1866 centre gable house, still standing today and a provincial museum site you can visit. In the vignette is Yeo’s shipbuilding yard, the quintessential picture of the kind of shipyard that was to be seen in those days in many parts of the Island.
Lot 67, an isolated L-shaped township with no access to any significant waterway, was an inevitable result of Holland’s master plan for his survey. The Island was surveyed by several crews that relentlessly approached each other from different directions, starting at the edge of the sea and penetrating inland. All the surrounding lots, consisting of 20,000 acres, would have been transferred to the master plan at headquarters in Observation Cove. Only then would the shape of Lot 67 become apparent. The lot did not need to be surveyed as it was created by the sides and back end boundaries of the surrounding lots. Holland knew there would be a full landlocked township in the middle of the island. To avoid this Holland would have had to engage in complicated calculations to make the surrounding lots narrower and thus deeper in order to penetrate until the inland ends met. This would never have been an option. There is no doubt that the person who won this lot in the great lottery would have received a disappointing shock.
Despite its land-locked position, as you can see, a century later the lot was settled and joined to the rest of the colony by roads and the railway. The lower portion of the lot was settled by Irish immigrants who exploited the uplands in their farming endeavours. Streams and brooks were dammed providing the necessary power for saw and grist mills. Geologically the lot is placed in an area often called the Central Highlands, and never far from the surface are strata of good quality sandstone.
Lot 28, which we saw at the beginning of this post all scribbled over with red corrections and amendments is of interest for several reasons beyond the efforts of the settlers who cleared and exploited often quite large fields and properties, indicating that the original settlers had more resources to obtain fine large farms.
This is also the lot that Samuel Holland won in the great lottery and where he settled his family and even lived for a time. It is known as the Holland lot.
The lot had a long history of settlement before Holland as can be seen in the very extensive traces of dykes constructed by the original Acadian settlers to drain the marshes and produce agricultural land of the highest quality.
The lot is also notable as being the place where the ice boats set out for the mainland, to be replaced in time with the first ice-breaking steamships, followed by the car ferries in the age of the automobile and finally as the site of the great world marvel causeway that now joins us to the mainland. What a transition it all was!!!
As well, the Cape Traverse area is where the first underwater communication cable came ashore, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Gisborne of Warblington House.
Lots 35 and 36
The maps of Lots 35 and 36 are presented together and form a very fine vertical composition. In the centre if Tracadie Bay, protected by its huge sand barrier dune and below the bay, to the east, is the great estate of Glenaladale, settled in the Eighteenth Century near the shore, and now the site of a major excavation by the provincial archaeological service.
The owner of the property in the mid Nineteenth Century was Sir William MacDonald, the millionaire tobacco magnate who had his head office in Montreal. For his summer home he would build a fine brick mansion and perhaps the largest barns ever built on the island.
A long drive slopes down to the house, which is now in the hands of an historical trust. Halfway down the long slope is a deep well, deep enough to supply the house and the barns with an unending supply of water delivered, with the accumulated pressure of the slope, in a large lead pipe.
Below all this is the great Hillsborough River heading east where it will eventually (off the map) reach its source and the site of a major unexcavated Acadian settlement.
In many of the lots in Meacham’s atlas are the inevitable sites of French and Acadian occupation. There would be no indications that they ever existed. However, this rather elegant map of Lot 65 contains at its eastern tip the site of Port la Joye, the French capital of the colony of Ile Saint Jean, which lasted from 1720-1758 when deportation of most of the island population brought the French dream to a most tragic and unforgettable end.
Allen the surveyor carefully delineates the limits of the old French and English forts and clearly marks out Observation Cove, the place where Holland and his assistants drew the great manuscript map of the Island, dividing it into sixty-seven townships of equal size, and in the process, creating a human artefact, where no piece of land lay untouched by the surveyor’s pen. Here is the well-known watercolour of the French dream, still buried under Parks Canada land.
1734 Verrier, View of the Proposed Capital of Port la Joye, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.
This lot also contains the site of what today is called the Rocky Point Indian Reserve No. 3, now officially located in Warren Cove below the site of Port la Joye. It was not defined and acknowledged in Meacham’s time but nevertheless was a touristic destination where the better classes of Charlottetown society went to look at the natives in their picturesque wigwams, buy baskets and trinkets, and increasingly, as in the 1895 photographs of A. W. Mitchell, photograph them. These early photographs provide us with our first accurate images, ethnologically accurate, of the Mi’kmaq nation.
Lot Forty is another well-composed map showing how the limits of the lot cross the Western part of Saint Peter’s Bay to include, at the north, the early settlement of Greenwich.
This harbour, of all possible places to establish the major French fishery in the new colony of Ile Saint Jean, was the one chosen for its predictable yet highly protected narrow entrance and the nature of the land, on the west side, where a village could be established, and high on a hill of course, a church built. The fish factories could be located at the water’s edge and cross the Bay to build even more establishments for processing and drying the fish.
Greenwich, now a long sandy outcrop, was once a desirable place of settlement for both the French and the English. The first English settlements are documented in a manuscript map in my collection. It is possible that the Basque were there in earlier centuries. Today, as then, it is a most beautiful place, now protected as a National Park and maintained and interpreted by Parks Canada.
Greenwich is the only known site where, without any ambiguity, the earliest indigenous settlers of the island after the retreat of the Glaciers, the Palaeo Indians, had a settlement, as indeed did all the other indigenous people who came after them through the millennia until the arrival of the Europeans. This fluted point, discovered by the author in the water of the bay at Greenwich, illustrates the rich promise of reward should the area ever be archaeologically explored.
Lot Forty Seven in Kings County marks the easternmost extension of the Island. Although thinly populated with a forested core, its fringes are deeply incised with useful harbours – often very tiny – and with the beautiful North Lake with its splendid small harbour. Here is an aerial view from the internet (no credit available at the moment) that shows the drama opening before you in a theatrical fashion.
On the south side of East Point there is a massive dune system well known to early settlers, French and English, as a place of nautical danger but also as a place where boats could be heaved ashore for maintenance and where large numbers of sea mammals could gather to bask in the sun and mate.
Going down in a westerly direction is Basin Head, a very fine harbour, and the site of a major prehistoric archaeological site which has never been explored, let alone excavated. A former Director of the Basin head Fisheries Museum collected a great many points, still uncatalogued, that tell of the series of prehistoric occupations of the area.
Lots 63 and 64
The final map I want to look at is the very handsome one of Lots 63 and 64, at the very bottom of the Island – its southeast end. It is exceptionally beautiful countryside with miles of rustic landscape in Lot 64, and the home of the early settlement of Guernsey Cove where in 1806, 73 members of eight families from the island of Guernsey, with their very original architectural style, settled in complete isolation.
The upper lot on this map, number 63, is separated from the other by the Murray River, in indescribable beauty, which meanders through the town of Murray River to the glorious Murray Harbour, where vistas of islands and the sea overwhelm your senses.
Beck House, Guernsey Cove. Photo R. Porter
This area is still notable for its early architecture, some of it dating from the first years of the Nineteenth Century, which follows building patterns found elsewhere in British settlements on the Island but here, with special details of classical trim found nowhere else.
Lennox Island and Manitoba
There was another map – a surprise and a shock – bound in with the national maps, and that was of the surveyed portion of the Province of Manitoba, where indigenous people had lived in harmony within a very varied landscape for thousands of years.
By the early Seventeenth Century British and French fur traders had penetrated deeply into the endless northwestern territories and established settlements. In 1673 Britain gained control of vast tracts of land south of Hudson’s Bay, including all of what is now Manitoba. They called it Rupert’s Land, after a German prince who became very famous as a cavalry officer, winning many battles for the British throne, until he was defeated at the Battle of Marston Moore by Oliver Cromwell in 1644. He retired in disgrace for a while and became involved in experimental printmaking that eventually produced the mezzotint. He was an extremely handsome and dashing cavalier and by 1770, fully reinstated and compensated, he became the first Director of the Hudson’s Bay Company, thus spreading his glorious name across what would become Western Canada.
Rupert’s Land evolved from 1673 until 1869 with very significant settlements of Métis people in the Red River Valley. The Métis are a people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry and have become one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. From the beginning, because of the heavy French presence in their mixed communities, the Catholic Church was in evidence everywhere. Priests, in large numbers, converted the Indigenous people, requiring that they reject completely their deities, racial stories, social conventions and community customs and language to take on a Europeanised adaptation of their new status as Christians married by the Church to Catholic Europeans. The threat of Hell, never known to them before, now hovered over their every thought and action.
In 1869 the Government of Canada decided to create the Province of Manitoba and negotiations did not go well. The Métis revolted against the Government of Canada in a very ugly conflict known as the Red River Rebellion, an event whose repercussions, then and now, will never leave the Canadian and ethnic political and moral consciousness. At the end of it all Manitoba did join the Canadian Confederation as the fifth province when the Parliament of Canada passed the Manitoba Act in 1870.
You may wonder why I have digressed so extensively in this fashion but remember that Meacham and Allen were living through the aftermath of the Red River Rebellion and the extremely traumatic addition of Manitoba as the nation’s fifth province. They were also provided with a map of Manitoba, more of a legal document than a map, which they were probably seriously encouraged to insert in their atlas to demonstrate the expansion of the country. That map would have struck them with its severe geometry, exactly like an ancient Roman survey, that stopped at nothing and designated settlement and activity where it fitted best. Thus, we find – and I will pick up on this in a later post on Mi’kmaq settlement – that Indian Reserves crawling with Catholic churches, and squared off sections for half-breeds, are created for geometrical convenience in the master plan. The map also was based on the same geometrical principals that underlay the Holland Survey of 1765 where perfect colonial spaces were based on geometry and the compass.
I want to finish this section on the Lot or Township maps by looking at Lennox Island, not a lot, but a territory given to the Mi’kmaq as their home, and of which they were the landlords.
It was not until 1873, the year the Island joined Confederation, that the Aboriginal Protection Society of London, an organisation pledged to improve the lot of the indigenous peoples in any way they could, purchased Lennox Island for the Mi’kmaq. Lennox Island was the first reserve in Canada to be owned by its own people.
Looking back at the Lake representation of Lennox Island just 17 years before Allen’s 1880 map we see an enormous difference. First, there was no map of the island in Lake because it was still disputed territory. Although several houses were indicated with square spots no names were attached to them. It is rather sad. In Meacham however, the topographical features of the island are indicated, roads are present, and names are attached to the various properties. It is most significant to notice that the surveyor carefully distinguished between those living in houses as opposed to those living in wigwams, as the symbols in this detail from the western part of the island shows.
The Catholic Church has also established itself with a mission chapel, a parochial house, a cemetery, and a school, all prominently placed near the landing place, so that upon arrival to Lennox Island you had to pass through the arms of the Church. (Later, to build a causeway to the island the main road would begin on a marshy point to the east.)
Protestant missionaries did not make any significant inroads in the conversion of the Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island because, long before, in the early Eighteenth Century, the process of conversion to Catholicism had begun during the French Regime. It is necessary at this time to bring to your attention Protestant efforts to convert – and document – the indigenous people of the region.
Silas Tertius Rand (1810 –1889) was a Baptist clergyman born in Nova Scotia. His interest centered on the Maritime Mi’kmaq and, as an early ethnologist, studied their ways and wrote about them. He is best remembered for being the first to record the legend of Glooscap. He learned some of the Mi’kmaq dialects and translated some of their oral literature or legends into English. In 1850 he wrote an extremely important forty-page work called, A Short History of Facts relating to the History, Manners, Customs, Language and Literature of the Micmac Tribe of Indians in Nova-Scotia and P. E. Island. The accounts of early French missionaries are valuable in the study of the Mi’kmaq, but Rand’s work, more organised, and with material classified along the emerging principles of ethnological studies, is vital in the study of these people. You can read the original at this link:
There is a brief but good Wikipedia entry on Rand with a good selection of basic references on his life and work.
Lennox Island has come to signify the presence of the Mi’kmaq culture on Prince Edward Island. It is a culture, severely damaged by the missionary activities of the Catholic Church, that has its origins millennia ago, in the mists of time. Today the Mi’kmaq are trying to recover their beautiful and ancient heritage which evolved through conversations with Nature, while they plan for a meaningful and productive existence in the unstable world of the present.
The Community Maps
Meacham included in his atlas, not only the 67 Lots but also plans of 48 communities across the Island.
Sometimes they are jammed sideways on a double page – not at all successfully from a design point of view – but in some instances on single and horizontal pages, producing maps of great beauty and usefulness. As is only appropriate, the most beautiful and most successful map of them all is of the city of Charlottetown.
The map has been carefully planned to include the original Eighteenth Century city as it had survived into the mid-Nineteenth Century. This city, laid out in its first form by Charles Morris in 1768, is inspired by the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius (First Century BC), whose ideas reflected the practices of the Roman military in placing a camp exactly where it was wanted, regardless of the underlying topography. Such was the case with Charlottetown, where its perfection as a human artefact involved the drainage of extensive swamps, reaching even into the city’s central square.
In the map, Fanningbank, the vice-regal estate with Isaac Smith’s Government House, is now reduced to half its size, having been divided a few years before to create Victoria Park for the citizens of Charlottetown.
In this detail of the plan, we can see that the city had embarked on the creation a design that would be the formal soul and focus of the park, as in other North American cities of importance, set amid its lovely natural landscape. Details of this unfinished project are only partly known (Porter p. 20). A plan was produced, from which these details may have been taken, but the project was never completed. Victoria Park has not become a special place with monuments and formal elements dissolving into playing fields bounded by deeply shaded nature paths; it is a car ride by the sea with a stop for ice cream. And in the northeast corner there is baseball.
Acadian remnants in Meacham
The only village map in Meacham’s collection that harkens back to the French Regime is the map of the modern village of Saint Peters, at the head of the bay where the Saint Peters River, now covered over drains to the west. It is a tidy, well set out map that focusses on modern settlement, and shows no awareness of the French past. It is highly likely that there were French and Acadian settlers in this area before the deportation because the bank is never high and there was good agricultural land that did not have to be drained. Of course, maintaining fertility in natural soil was much more labour intensive than drained marsh because it had to be manured regularly. French Saintonge Eighteenth Century pottery sherds can be found in most fields the length of the bay.
This area is noted as being the richest source of evidence for prehistoric occupation from all three major periods, starting after the ice age. There are quite a few prehistoric sites already known, with no doubt many more to be discovered along the north and south shores of Saint Peters Bay. The most famous, the Jones site, located in Greenwich at the mouth of the bay, has produced evidence, in the form of surface finds, of regular, if not continuous, occupation for 12,000 years.
A village in Lot 67
Tucked away deep in the centre of Queen’s County is the village of Breadalbane, named after a town in Perthshire by Scottish settlers. It is not a complete map but a vignette taken from the Lot 24 map that features the Rustico area and the early tourist beauty spot of Robinson’s Island. The lot itself is squeezed into the top part of the folio page while Wheatley River – which is in that lot – and Breadalbane, with enlarged detail, occupy the bottom halves.
As a modern village in a remote spot, Breadalbane has the benefit of the railway passing through it and has a storage depot connected with the line. The main Princetown Road cuts through the village and the nearby stream, dammed in two places supports a sawmill and shingle mill on the south side, and another sawmill on the north end.
Rural Crossroads – Orwell Corner
All across the island are rural crossroads that once were places of beauty and community intimacy. Nearly all have been destroyed by the modernising of the island road system that began after World War II. Ancient trees were bulldozed away, houses moved back a regulated distance from the centre of the road or simply demolished. One village on the border of Lots 50 and 57, was spared this indignity. It was Orwell, that got its name from the adjacent extraordinarily beautiful bay that Holland named after the Lord Commissioner of Trade and Plantations.
The village at the crossroads evolved as an ideal country focus of activity that had it all – a church, cemetery, school, two stores and a blacksmith shop. When time came to build the Trans Canada Highway from Charlottetown to Wood Islands, Orwell was very much in the way and, if plans had been pushed through, it would have been largely demolished.
Fortunately it was decided to bypass the village entirely and swing a big curved road to the south, thereby sparing this rural delight. In the early 1970s, when the Province established a decentralised provincial museum system under the direction of the Heritage Foundation, three quarters of the corner was purchased and restored as a rural crossroads. From a touristic point of view it was the Foundation’s most successful endeavour in all 48 years of its existence.
Prince County, which had been isolated for many years, began to open up in the early Nineteenth Century when shipbuilding families moved to the Port Hill area. On the road to the west was the village of Saint Eleanors. A progressive and busy town, and on the road to the west, it had become the county seat in 1833, thus depriving Princetown, also know as modern-day Malpeque, of its original destiny to be the county capital.
Today the chief relic of the past is the 1838-42 Saint John’s Anglican church, built in the Greek Revival style popular at that time.
Isaac Smith had a hand in some of the work but his major contribution to the town’s architecture, the courthouse, inspired by John Plaw’s design for the Charlottetown courthouse in 1811, is long gone. In the Lake map we see it, properly labelled as the courthouse, but by Meacham’s time it had been converted into the village school.
Another nearby village from the 1830s, but entirely Acadian in its origins, is the village of Miscouche, which around 1824 had been optimistically called La Belle Alliance by the Island’s first Acadian priest, Father Sylvain-Ėphrem Poirier, or Perrey as he signed it, who had been born in Tignish. Miscouche also was on the road to Prince County. The railroad passed to the south of it and there was a station house by the time Meacham’s map was produced.
The church of Saint John the Baptist, a small 1823 neoclassical building, had a splendid carved gilt-decorated altar that has been removed from the Acadian Museum in Miscouche and placed in the present church. The altar is a very precious reminder of what altars in early Catholic churches on the Island would have looked like. It was probably bought from one of the great Quebec woodworking shops or was given as a gift to the mission of Miscouche when the first church was built.
Miscouche was a very religiously vibrant town and there is a dramatic account of the great processions, around the perimeter of the town that were held on the great summer Catholic Feast Days.
Miscouche became a very important centre of Catholic education when the Sisters of Notre Dame from Montreal came and set up a large school in their convent built next to the church. Previously those wishing to obtain a bilingual Catholic education had to go and board at a similar convent built in Tignish in 1868 at the instigation of Bishop peter McIntyre who, in 1860, had built the present brick Gothic Revival church.
Miscouche will be forever remembered as the site of the Acadian National Convention held there in 1884. Although not the first of these nationalistic conventions it was the one where the Acadian flag, now seen everywhere, was adopted.
As the Prince Edward Island Railway snaked its way excruciatingly across the province, it altered older villages to the degree that the railway station became the central focus of the town. Such a one was Ellerslie.
The town, according to Rayburn, was named incredibly by a settler after one of the manors of his Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace – remember Burns? Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled, Scots, wham Bruce has aften led; Welcome to your gory bed, Or to victory!
Ellerslie was a very small town but with the coming of the railway was completely dominated by that presence, with its huge station grounds next to a large sawmill, now driven by steam, not water! A sleepy village becomes an industrial town!
The origins of Kensington are still a murky thing for me, it having been settled in the early Nineteenth Century as a perfect distribution point for roads to other parts of the island in several compass directions and with a variety of names. By circa 1863 the school district was named Kensington, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the result of the Prince of Wales visit in 1860 and his association with the palace of that name in London. It was the birthplace of Queen Victoria and home to her family, and their children for many years.
The rustic nature of this hub village was changed forever into a railway paradise when the PEI Railway cut a large, curved swath through the centre of the town, cutting through four of its roads and creating in the process a huge railways yard and commercial district. Allen’s map of Kensington illustrates these changes clearly and with brutal truth in a well-framed composition.
The railway plays a very dramatic role in the evolution of the village of Tignish, established architecturally when the church was consecrated in 1860, and a large brick parochial house was built in 1864 and a huge Georgian style convent, also of local-made brick, completed a trio of imposing structures that are still standing, as you can see in my 1971 aerial photograph.
The railroad entered the town from the west and advanced, expanding all the while, to the main street of the new village, called appropriately Church Street. In its ugly filth, there coal cars disgorged heating coal directly on the tracks for villagers with their horses and sleighs, or carts, came to take home this great advance in producing heat from the Nova Scotia mines. As you approached the village from the north you had to walk through a mess of powdered coal, blowing in the air, and turning to black sticky mud on the ground.
The village, dominated by the commercial centre, grew to the four points of the compass on secondary roads that spread out from the centre of town. I have always thought that a very great error was made in using the railroad to separate the village from its church, thus destroying forever the sense of community. When the railroad was removed the Cooperative Store and Credit Union, moving over slightly, further destroyed the pattern of rural community by building huge stores and creating a vast dusty parking space in the heart of the village, thus killing any hope for unity of plan and consistency of topography.
Belle Creek/Belle River
I finish my brief survey of the village plans found in Meacham by looking, for a moment, at the plan of the village where I am spending my last years. Today it is called Belle River, probably deriving from the Eighteenth-Century French Belle Rivière. There are several French names that have survived in this area.
You would expect that I could take you for a walk and point out all the picturesque features that are drawn on this map – a post office, a tailor shop, a forge, a school, and a store – but you would be disappointed. Every building shown on this map has disappeared to be replaced by structures all built after 1880, the time of the Atlas. Where have they gone? I have no idea. My house was built early in the new era, as were those of my nearest neighbours. They provide mysteries in architectural history, but none so great as what we might now call the fate of the ghost village.
The next, and last, Meacham post.
In my look at Lot 64 (above), I concluded with a picture of a typical house of the style of Georgian vernacular built by the settlers from Guernsey. In that Lot, the community along the shore to the east is called White Sands and shares many of the architectural variations found at Guernsey Cove. My last Meacham post will focus on some of the 163 views that are spread out all over the atlas. They are mostly of urban houses and wonderful views of farms in the landscape. There are also a number of commercial properties, such as lobster factories near the shore. One of them belonged to John Cairnes and I give it to you below as a teaser. It is a tiny picture, but full of artistic conventions and details of composition that go back five hundred years to the Renaissance. The artist who drew this view had an extraordinary command of perspective and composition employing three vanishing points. I will begin the post with an examination of this view and go on to look at special instances of the various categories I have chosen to focus upon.
I am grateful to Harry Holman of Charlottetown, who, again and again, passes on hints and references that assist me greatly in my work on Meacham and his atlas.
The maps illustrated in this essay are from my collection.
[Beck, Boyde], “Meacham’s 1880 Atlas – A Brief History,” The Island Magazine, Number 74, Fall/Winter 2013, PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation, 2013.
Greenhill, Basil, and Giffard, Ann, Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, and University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1967.
Holman, H. T. “Panorama for Sale: The Bird’s Eye Views of Prince Edward Island”, The Island Magazine, No. 21 Fall/Winter 1988.
Meacham, J. H., Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Province of Prince Edward Island, J. H. Meacham & Co., Philadelphia, 1880.
Murray, Jeffrey S., “The County Map Hustlers”, Canadian Geographic, December 1990/January 1991.
Porter, Reginald, Government House and the Fanningbank Estate: a Guidebook, The Friends of the Gatehouse Cooperative, Charlottetown, 2015.
Rand, S. T., A Short History of Facts relating to the History, Manners, Customs, Language and Literature of the Micmac Tribe of Indians in Nova-Scotia and P. E. Island, James Bowes and Son, Halifax, 1850.
Rayburn, Alan, Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island, Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, Ottawa, 1973.
Reps, John W., Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1984.
Ruell, David, “The Bird’s Eye Views of New Hampshire 1875-1899”. New Hampshire Historical Society, 1983.
Tuck, Robert C., “Guernsey Cove: Community of Homesteads,” The Island Magazine, No. 8 Fall/Winter, Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation, 1980.
University of Prince Edward Island – http://www.islandimagined.ca/meachams_atlas