Early Charlottetown History
The Island was among the early discoveries of the explorer and navigator John Cabot, who named it Saint John, from the day of its discovery. Since Britain failed to lay a claim to it, the French included it in its colonies in 1523. In 1663, the Company of New France granted various islands in the St Lawrence to Sieur Doublet, a captain in the French navy, who established a few fishing stations but no permanent settlements.
The first Acadian and French colonists settled in 1720, at the settlement of Port la Joie across the harbor to the south of modern Charlottetown, and over the next 35 years, the Acadian population grew and developed. Over the next 40 years the area moved several times between English & French control but in 1758 after Louisbourg fell, Wolfe seized the Island of St John before capturing Quebec and removing North America from French control.
Under British Control
The new British governors expelled the Acadians from the Atlantic colonies to what is now the State of Louisiana, deporting 6,000 in 1755 and 3,000 in 1758.
After the British took control of Prince Edward Island in 1763, Port la Joie became the site of Fort Amherst, protecting the harbor for Captain Samuel Holland’s new Charlottetown settlement, just across the harbor from Port la Joie. Holland named it Charlotte Town, after Charlotte, wife of King George III, and in 1768 it became the capital of the colony. In 1768 Charles Morris, the chief surveyor for the colony of Nova Scotia laid out a detailed plan with 500 building lots on 270 acres (all between the waterfront and Euston Street) and 565 acres of common pasture area.
Following the American Revolution, many Loyalists fled north from the former colonies to settle here. The colony took on the name of Prince Edward Island, and had had its first assembly in 1803. The Colonial Building (now called “Province House”), was completed in 1847, and hosted its first session of the Prince Edward Island legislature that year. During the session of 1863, an act to extend the elective franchise was passed, which made that privilege almost universal. In 1864, the Fathers of Confederation met in this building to discuss the union of the colonies.
In 1855, Charlottetown was incorporated, as well and in 1861, a commission settled all of the land claims on the island, which were poorly recorded until that time, The 1861 census counted 80,856 residents, including 356 Indians.
Confederation Era Charlottetown
On July 16, 1866, the city experienced “The Great Fire”, its worst of several fires, which broke out in an old building near the waterfront and destroyed nearly four city blocks with one hundred buildings, leaving 30 families homeless. The fire prompted the city government to promote brick construction, causing the many brick buildings of the downtown area to be built.
The question of a union of the North American Provinces originally considered just Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The 1864 Charlottetown Conference expanded this plan included the colonies of Upper Canada (now Ontario) & Lower Canada (now Quebec), Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island under one government.
This led to the formation of Canada on July 1st, 1867, though ironically PEI didn’t consider the terms fair enough to join Canada itself. The province’s sandy soils made roads difficult to maintain and the cost & debt of building the Island’s railway helped convince them to join Canada in 1873.
In the late 1800s, four industries became major income sources for Islanders: potatoes from the rich, sandy soil, fox-breeding in the western part of the island, lobster (once just used just as fertilizer) become loved by gourmets, and oysters particularly those from Malpeque Bay.
Ships, and in the winter nimble ice boats, were the prime method of getting shipments to and from the island, and in 1905, PEI had asked the federal government for a tunnel, but was turned down. In 1916 regular ferry service to the island was started. By 1921 Charlottetown’s population had grown to 10,814.