Being a historian, one of my favourite games to play when I travel anywhere is to suss out historical connections between the places I visit, and Prince Edward Island. Because as I have come to realize, it is basically possible to connect Island history to just about anything, no matter where you are in the world, either directly or in more of a roundabout fashion. And to prove that fact (and also because I ran short on both time and ideas), this week I’m taking the game to my site in a new feature I’m calling Five Degrees. Basically, the goal is to start with something, someone, or somewhere, and in five degrees (or less) connect that thing, person, or place to Island history. And since I’ve been living in the Isle of Skye for the past two months, I thought that would be a perfect place to start.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – no really, I do. You’re thinking: “But isn’t it easy to connect the Island in nothing short of million ways to the Isle of Skye, of all places?” Well, you ain’t wrong about that. There are many people on the Island who can claim ancestral ties with Skye, present company included. So yes, in that regard you could say the game is dead easy.
That’s why I decided to make it challenging for myself.
As you may know, I’ve been residing in the village of Broadford, the second largest settlement on Skye and the closest to the Scottish mainland. It’s a nice little place, something like a Montague, or one of the Murrays (Harbour or River), and sprawls along the bay of the same name. It’s also one of those places where everyone knows each other, and you really can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone, or more than one someone, very much like the Island (yes, a trip to the grocery store could take you much longer than anticipated). The community is serviced by one main thoroughfare, and it’s with that thoroughfare that the game begins.
Here we go!
1) Colloquially known as the “Shore Road”, but for official purposes referred to as the A87, Broadford’s present “high street” dates back to 1812, the year that saw the construction of a road from Portree south to Kyleakin. The project proved a leading factor in the development of Broadford from a small cattle market into one of Skye’s main centres. Part of a larger network then being built throughout Scotland, it was the brainchild of a man by the name of Thomas Telford.
2) Thomas Telford is (was?) an interesting chap, and highly influential in his day. He was born in August 1757 in Scotland, and gained wide renown as a civil engineer, architect, and stonemason. In addition, he was a widely sought after expert in the construction of roads, bridges, and canals. With regard to the first, his contributions to the improvement – and in some instances the outright creation – of road networks in Britain earned him the punny name ‘The Colossus of Roads’ (get it?). But it was his work with canals that would bring his knowledge and guidance across The Pond to Atlantic Canada, and the construction of a famous waterway in Nova Scotia.
3) The Shubenacadie Canal was an ambitious dream of a water link between Halifax Harbour and the Bay of Fundy, by way of the Shubenacadie River and Shubenacadie Grand Lake. Spearheaded by the aptly named Shubenacadie Canal Company, the venture began in 1826, yet struggled to get off the ground due in large part to limited financial resources, which brought the whole thing to a halt by 1831 (it would eventually be completed, but not until three decades later by another company, and remained in use for only another ten years beyond that). During the initial phase of construction, the canal company sought out the expertise of Thomas Telford who, in 2008, would have a footbridge over the canal named in his honour. And forming the Shubenacadie Canal Company? A goodly number of bigwig Haligonian merchants like beer baron Alexander Keith, and the Steam Lion himself, Sir Samuel Cunard.
4) Sir Samuel Cunard is rarely an individual who needs a great deal in the way of introduction. You can click on his name to read a lengthy bio, but basically what you need to know is that he was a merchant and shipping magnate of positively titanic proportion. A largely self-made man, he was given his start alongside his father in the West Indian and timber trades, the beginning of a stupendous career in which he would amass a veritable fortune. As men of his stature are wont to do, Cunard involved himself in a wide range of projects, both at home (like the Shubenacadie Canal) and abroad. And yes, even on the Island (I’m on #4, so you had to see that coming).
5) Cunard’s connections to the Island are numerous. When he wasn’t winning government contracts for mail delivery between the mainland and the Island, he was busying himself with lighthouse construction (eg. Point Prim Lighthouse in 1845) and scooping up vast amounts of land. In 1838, he went in on the formation of the Prince Edward Island Land Company, and by 1860 had basically taken it over and become the colony’s largest land proprietor. In fact, he became so influential in that regard that the British government tapped him as eyes and ears to the 1861 Land Commission, struck for the purpose of resolving mounting tensions between the Island’s landlords and its tenants, tensions that harked back to the days of Quit Rents and Walter Patterson in the 18th century. On the personal side of things, one of his daughters married prominent politician and land agent, James Horsfield Peters, the father of not one, but two future Liberal premiers on the Island. (I could go on, but I’ll stop here because I think you get the idea.)
So there you have it: In precisely five degrees, Broadford’s A87 historically linked to Prince Edward Island. And with that, I will see you next week – same time, same place!
PEI History Guy
P.S. – This week’s post was brought to you by Jameson Irish Whiskey. Because change is good every now and then. And because I can’t believe I’ve only ever consumed this by way of Irish coffee.
P.P.S. – I am in no way endorsed by Jameson Irish Whiskey.