Souris (PEI) | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Souris (PEI)

Souris, Prince Edward Island, incorporated as a town in 1910, population 1,079 (2021 census), 1,053 (2016 census). Located in Kings County in the northeastern portion of PEI, the town is situated along Colville Bay at the mouth of the Souris River. Due to the orientation of its port, there is minimal fast ice (ice anchored to the shore) in the harbour. Additionally, it is strategically close to major shipping routes, and it is PEI’s nearest practical port with the shortest sea voyage to both sides of the Atlantic. Souris has been the location of the interprovincial ferry terminal for the service to Quebec’s Magdalen Islands since 1971.

Indigenous Peoples

Souris, and all of PEI, is located in the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq People, who, in 1725, signed the Peace and Friendship Treaties with the British Crown. The traditional Mi’kmaq place name for Souris is Sqoliwe’katik, which means “Frogs’ place.”


Souris, which is the French name for mouse, was given its name due to plagues of mice in 1724, 1728, 1738 and 1749 that devastated the crops of early settlers. A 1757 map by Jacques Nicolas Bellin shows present-day Colville Bay identified as Havre ala Souris, which translates from French to “Mouse Haven.”

During the French period of occupation on Ile St. Jean (present-day PEI), the first three settlements on Île Saint-Jean were Port La Joie (Charlottetown), Havre Saint Pierre (St. Peters Harbour), and Pointe de l’ Est (East Point). In the 1752 census of the colony, the significant Acadian and French populations in the Souris vicinity were in nearby Rivière à la Fortune (Fortune River) and Pointe de l’Est (East Point).


King George III appointed Samuel Holland as Surveyor General for the Northern District of North America (which included PEI). With Holland’s division of the Island into 67 lots from 1764 to 1765, Souris developed within the boundaries of Lot 45. In Holland’s survey report in 1765, he described the land around Souris River in lots 44 and 45 as burned woods, indifferent land, not having been cleared, and generally not as suitable for fishing and agriculture as Lot 43.

By 1798, no settlement had taken place, as the census return that year documented nobody living in Lots 44 and 45. By the turn of the century, however, settlers began arriving, with Michel Cheverie (in 1805), Jean and Toussaint Longaphie (1810), Fidele and Cyprian Paquet (1813), John MacPhee (1814), François Cheverie (1819), and François Lavie and Paul Boucher (1820) being among the first. In 1824, William Johnson of Charlottetown purchased 500 acres at a tax sale at Colville Bay.

In 1835, John Knight moved to Souris from Halifax, Nova Scotia, shortly after which he became the wharf owner at Colville Bay. He extended the wharf into a breakwater, creating a large, sheltered harbour. Knight built a store at the head of the wharf where he had a large business in ship chandlery.

Due to the orientation of its port, Souris's harbour has minimal fast ice (ice anchored to the shore).
The Souris Town Hall was initially built to operate as a post office.
Located in Kings County in the northeastern portion of PEI, Souris is situated along Colville Bay at the mouth of the Souris River.

Economy and Labour Force

Like other Island communities with a port, Souris was a locale for shipbuilding during the golden age of sailing on PEI. Colville Bay was suitable for shipbuilding because it had a water depth sufficient to accommodate large vessels. Between 1787 and 1920, 173 ships were registered as built in Souris. Although the first vessel constructed at Souris was the shallop Peggy in 1816, shipbuilding did not become a consistent activity until 1824.

Few references to the prices paid for PEI-built ships exist for the most prolific shipbuilding period, during the 1840s and 1850s. However, the brigantine Melbourne Trader, constructed by Donald Beaton of Souris, was sold on 24 October 1854, for £7.18 per ton, which was seen as an excellent return. As the industry declined in the 1870s and 1880s, Souris was one of 10 locations on the Island where the majority of shipbuilding was still taking place, with 29 vessels constructed between 1869 and 1880.

Did you know?
The Elsie, weighing 316 tons, launched at Souris in 1881 by Lemuel C. Owen, was the last brigantine ship built on PEI.

In 1869, Uriah Matthew and John McLean opened a store in Souris. Over the next century, “Matthew and McLean,” as the store came to be known, became adept at diversifying their operation, becoming the chief source of hardware and dry goods in the area until 1982.

American C.J. Haley built a lobster factory under the lighthouse in Souris in 1877. He was joined by Uriah Matthew and John McLean in the 1880s when they also operated several lobster canning factories.

In 1910, brothers William and Reginald Dingwell were among the first New England Institute of Anatomy, Sanitary Science, and Embalming graduates. They opened Dingwell Funeral Home in Souris in 1912, which is still in business today.

From 1940 to 1993, deepwater trawlers hauled groundfish, including cod, hake, haddock, pollack and redfish, from the Gulf of St Lawrence, and the fish was processed in several plants in Souris, including Eastern Fisheries Ltd. and Usen Fisheries. The industry was a huge economic generator for the Town of Souris as these processing plants hired locals and residents from nearby towns. In 1958, the O’Donnell-Usen fish company leased a fish processing plant from Albert Griffin. The Usen plant became the largest employer in the town until it was destroyed by fire in 1993. This fire and the 1992 moratorium on the cod fishery weakened the trawler fishery.

Presently, the Port of Souris is somewhat unique in that it is both a fishing and shipping port.

American C.J. Haley built a lobster factory under the lighthouse in Souris in 1877.

Government and Politics

The town of Souris is administered by a mayor, a deputy mayor who serves as a councillor, as well as five additional councillors. All positions are elected for two-year terms, for which they receive honorariums. The town also employs six full-time staff and eight part-time staff.

The town’s administration operates out of the Souris Town Hall. Constructed in 1905 in the Romanesque Revival architectural style, the town hall, which originally served as the town’s post office and customs office, is valued for its rare sandstone construction. Local builder Bernard Creamer was the contractor, and Edward J. Duffy was the masonry foreman.

Did you know?
Dr. Augustine A. MacDonald (1874–1970) was known locally as “Dr. Gus.” He moved to Souris and set up his practice in 1904.

Dr. Gus travelled by horse and carriage but eventually bought an automobile, and as there was no hospital until the 1940s, Dr. Gus would use kitchen tables to perform surgeries. It was rare for country doctors to receive payment for their services. Residents would attempt to pay him from time to time with what they could, but just before his death, he instructed his accountant to write “paid” beside every name in his book.

In 1968, Governor General Roland Michener made a special trip to Souris to invest Dr. Gus with the Order of Canada.

Cultural life

Established in 2008 and held in Souris since 2011, the annual Mermaid Tears Sea Glass Festival is Canada's first and largest sea glass festival.

The Silver Threads Seniors Club was established on 23 March 1973, and remains an active social group for the town’s seniors.

The Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival in nearby Rollo Bay is an annual celebration of PEI’s traditional music that has been held for over 40 years.

Located at nearby Basin Head, the Basin Head Fisheries Museum tells the story of PEI’s historic inshore fishery. The museum is a provincial site administered by the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation.

Further Reading

External Links