St. Peters Bay | The Canadian Encyclopedia


St. Peters Bay

St. Peters Bay, Prince Edward Island, Rural Municipality, incorporated in 1953, population 231 (2021 census), 237 (2016 census). St. Peters Bay the community is located at the eastern end of St. Peters Bay the body of water, along PEI’s northeastern shore. The village is known for its annual Blueberry Festival and the nearby PEI National Park in Greenwich.

Indigenous Peoples

St. Peters Bay lies within the traditional, unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. Poogoosumkek Boktaba, the Mi’kmaq name for St. Peters Bay, means “the place of clam digging.” Today, St. Peters Bay is a 15–20 minute drive northeast of the Morell reserve, held by the Abegweit First Nation (see also Reserves on Prince Edward Island).

In 1913, William John Wintemberg, an archaeologist with the National Museum of Canada, conducted digs near St. Peters Bay, along Prince Edward Island’s north coast. Wintemberg found shell middens — large quantities of shell debris indicating the presence of humans — at various sites. In the 1960s, PEI amateur archaeologists Rollie and Jeanette Jones undertook digs near St. Peters Bay, which subsequently became known as the “Jones Site.” The Jones’ discovered artifacts such as projectile points — tools used for hunting. These artifacts are now in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. Excavations of the site in 1983 and 1985 by Dr. David Keenlyside, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, unearthed further artifacts documenting existence on the Greenwich Peninsula of Mi'kmaq communities, French and Acadian settlers, and British immigrants.

Settlement and Development

During the French period of settlement on Prince Edward Island (then known as Île St-Jean), the French population settled in Havre-Saint-Pierre, present-day St. Peters Harbour. Some families also lived in nearby Greenwich (known as Dunes a l’est du dit Havre, or “dunes to the east of the harbour”). Beginning in 1719, fisherman François Douville was the first settler to live in the area.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ceded much of the French colony of Acadia to Great Britain. The French and British disputed whether or not this cession included Île St-Jean; however, as the British began to assert their control many Acadians were reluctant to sign an oath of allegiance to Britain. (See also Politics on Prince Edward Island.) Wanting to eliminate any future military threat, Britain removed the Acadians and other members of the French population from Île Saint-Jean in the deportation of 1758. Some of those deported went to Louisiana, which was under France’s rule at that time.

The earliest documented British settlers in St. Peters Bay arrived in 1772 from Scotland aboard the Alexander. In 1791, Scottish-Catholic settlers arrived on the Queen from Greenock, including the families of Angus McIntyre, Hugh McKinnon, Neil McCormack, John McDonald, John MacKenzie, Angus McIsaac and Dougald O’Hanley. Today, the majority of the population in St. Peters Bay is descended from these early Scottish immigrants.

In the early 1800s, Jonathan Worrell, a wealthy Barbados planter, began establishing a family estate for his son Charles. By 1814, the Worrell family owned most of the land in the St. Peters Bay area. In 1854, William Henry Pope, a prominent PEI resident, purchased the Worrell family’s land for £14,000. Within the year, Pope resold the land to the colonial government for £24,100

Dr. Roddie MacDonald

The most prominent resident of St. Peters Bay was Dr. Roddie MacDonald. Dr. MacDonald practised medicine for 65 years, during which time he delivered over 4,000 babies. He continued to take office calls and perform consultations until he was 98 years old. Dr. MacDonald also met Princess Elizabeth in 1951 and was granted a Papal Knighthood of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Pius XII in 1954. In 1958, the Canadian Medical Association gave him the titles “Doctor of the Century” and “Dean of Canada’s Physicians.” He lived to be 103 years of age.

Dr. Roddie MacDonald

Economy and Labour Force

Shipbuilding was the first major industry in St. Peters Bay. Throughout the 1830s, the production of schooners dominated, and St. Peters Bay became an important shipbuilding location on the Island. Many of the completed vessels from St. Peters were outfitted for the coastal trade and seal fishery in Newfoundland. By 1846, a market had opened to provide vessels to transport lumber to Great Britain and the industry flourished until the 1870s.

Hilary McIsaac

Did you know?
Constructed by Hilary McIsaac in St. Peters Bay, the Isabel was a brigantine weighing about 160 tonnes. Under the command of Edward Augustus Inglefield, the Isabel sailed from London, England to the Arctic in 1852 in search of Sir John Franklin and his missing expedition.

Like the rest of Prince Edward Island, from 1830 to 1880 the economy in St. Peters Bay was based around small family farms. The Royal Agricultural Society established a branch in St. Peters Bay in 1850, which helped turn the extraction of mussel mud into an industry in the 1860s. “Mussel mud” is an agricultural fertilizer made up of decomposing matter such as oyster and mussel shells and is extracted from estuaries. St. Peters Bay was a popular site for digging mussel mud.

Other early agricultural organizations established in the St. Peters Bay area included the St. Peter's Farmers’ Institute (1901), Banner Calf Club (1936), and Junior Farming (1948). During the same period, small industry in St. Peters Bay included a starch factory (1880), cheese factory (1893), lobster factories (circa 1900) and fox farming (1914).

For the majority of the last century, many residents were employed within either the fishing or farming industries. Today, many residents commute to larger centres such as Charlottetown or Montague for employment.

Did you know?
St. Peters Bay had the highest enlistment and casualty rate per capita in Canada during the First and Second World Wars.

Government and Politics

St. Peters Bay is administered by a mayor and six councillors, all of whom are elected for a four-year term and operate in a volunteer capacity. One chief administrative officer works in a paid, part-time position.

The Community Council oversees all major infrastructure in the village, from sewers to a local campground. The Council works closely with the St. Peters Area Development Corporation to champion development projects within the community.

Cultural Life

Housed within the Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation, the University of Prince Edward Island’s School of Climate Change and Adaptation officially opened a satellite campus in May of 2022 in St. Peters Bay. It features a residence for students and visiting faculty, and space to store and repair a large fleet of drones.

The St. Peters Bay Blueberry Festival has been held annually the first week of August since 1982.

One of the most picturesque sections of Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Trail runs through the community of St. Peters Bay.

Built in 1874, the St. Peter's Courthouse is a provincially recognized historic building. It is now home to the St. Peter's Courthouse Theatre at Quigley Memorial Hall, featuring local storytelling, plays and live music during the summer. The theater also holds the Frank Ledwell Festival annually, which celebrates storytelling through the written word, song, comedy and oral storytelling.

The shops at St. Peters Landing, established in the heart of the community and overlooking picturesque St. Peters Bay, feature seven seasonal businesses that have included an ice cream parlour, fish market cafe and retail outlets.

The Prince Edward Island National Park at Greenwich features an interpretive centre and panelling, beaches, supervised swimming, hiking and cycling trails, a wheelchair accessible loop and floating boardwalk. The Park also contains parabolic dunes, a rare phenomenon in North America.

Further Reading

External Links