We have lived on this Island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence for 41 months. Prince Edward Island is the smallest province geographically and population wise. Prior to 1769 it was part of the Colony of Nova Scotia (Now Province of ), in 1769 the Island of St-John became an independent colony of British North America and in 1799 the name of the Island was changed to Prince Edward Island to celebrate one of the many sons of King George III and Queen Charlotte. It turns out that Edward would be the father of Victoria, later Queen. He died in 1820, the year after her birth, so Victoria never knew her father.
The French known as Acadians settled on the Island from 1720 coming mostly from Isle Royale (Cape Breton) and the peninsula we know today as Nova Scotia. Most lived in the Eastern part of the Island until 1750 when they were deported in an act of genocide by British troops, when some later returned after 1770, they settle in the Western part of the Island without any compensation since their farms and houses had been confiscated to be given the English settlers.
So in the developing history of this Island province land ownership became an important topic from the beginning. To this day Island families identify by Lot number and everyone knows where each Lot is located around the Island, indicating ownership but also belonging to the first English, Irish, Scottish settlers after the French. Renting is seen as suitable only for people who are poor and marginal or persons coming to the Island for a short time i.e. 6 months or less.
We rented, in Ontario and Quebec total population 22 million compared to 150,000 in Pei, 75% of the population rent, owning a house is not seen as a priority and is becoming more and more unaffordable.
However in conversation with people we know, the topic of ownership of home comes back all the time. Some people we know own dozens of houses and buildings, including large tracts of land. This in PEI is seen as a sign of great success, of gravitas. People know we rent and will ask; so when are you buying a house or a condo? Why don’t you buy a house since you live here permanently now. Gently being nudge into the real estate market. I always wonder if we would look more acceptable, respectable, more solid kind of folk, if we bought a house. We have owned properties in the past. Currently being renters and living in a house which has stood on this site for 180 years, people know who the original owner was and who is the owner now. Who rented before us, with accompanying stories about them. The rental situation here now is dire with zero vacancy in Charlottetown. As for the housing market it is limited and prices have risen dramatically in the last 3 years. So the question, inflated value for money spent, comes into play.
So the underlying question of these round about conversations is; Why are you not buying? An indirect way of saying, do you have money? Are you worth my talking to you.
The population of the Island is divided along the lines of people whose families have lived here for the last 200 years and those who came here recently, most of whom are Canadians from other Provinces and now some immigrants, though they do not stay in PEI, the Island province has by far the worst retention of newcomers (immigrant) of any Province in Canada. The reasons for this are multiple, lack of housing, lack of jobs or well paid jobs with benefit, lack of quality schools, lack of international airport, the closest one is in Moncton some 2 hours away by road across the Strait and difficulty for anyone who comes here to integrate. It is especially difficult for foreigners and simply difficult for Canadians who come to work or retire in PEI. The Government of the Province does not appear concerned, though it is loosing millions annually in lost investments and opportunity.
So socially speaking the Island divides itself into segments, those who are from away and those who are Islanders. It remains a very white Island and diversity is not really a thing though politicians talk a lot about it.
So all this to say we have been here 41 months and though we have been active socially, I often wonder if we have not reached a plateau now. If you come to live here and think it will be like the rest of Canada, no it won’t in many ways this small Island is a world of its own cut off from the rest of the country, a microcosm you simply have to accept that but you do not have to buy into the myths about this place. I see how other Canadians who came here and invested are treated, polite indifference.
I don’t think we fully realized this when we came here 41 months ago. To be continued…
The bridge across the Northumberland Strait.