The Bog was Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island’s historically Black neighbourhood. For over 200 years, Black residents have lived on the island in small communities, but from about 1810 to 1900, Black people were concentrated in this small district. The Bog was located in the town’s west end on marshy, undesirable land. It ran from Government Pond and Black Sam’s Bridge in the northwest to Richmond and Rochford streets in the southeast. Black, white and mixed-race people lived there. At its peak, approximately 100 Black Islanders called it home. Today, there is no trace of the neighbourhood as modern government buildings stand where the historic neighbourhood once stood. However, descendants of the Bog still live on the island and many people are pushing for the neighbourhood’s history to be officially commemorated.
The Bog’s population began in the 1780s with the arrival of Loyalists and a small group of enslaved Black people. Unlike Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — provinces that were home to Black Loyalists, free Blacks, as well as enslaved Black people — Prince Edward Island’s Black population grew almost entirely from the arrival of enslaved people.
Did you know?
Saint John’s Island (changed to Prince Edward Island in 1799) was the only jurisdiction in British North America that passed a law regulating enslaved people. An Act, declaring that Baptism of Slaves shall not exempt them from Bondage became law in 1781. It stated that Black people “who now are on this Island, or may hereafter be imported or brought therein (being Slaves) shall continue such, unless freed by his, her, or their respective Owners.” This legislation was introduced to protect the personal property of existing and future settlers. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)
Their descendants started the Bog under the leadership of a formerly enslaved man named Samuel Martin, or “Black Sam” (for whom Black Sam’s Bridge was named). On 11 August 1812, Martin petitioned the island’s Executive Council for “a Piece of Vacant Land near Governor’s Creek.” The Executive Council did not respond, instead enquiring whether there were others interested in the land. Martin requested the land again on 23 August 1813. He told the council that he had “erected a House thereon and cultivated and improved the said ground.” However, it took one more request, on 19 October 1813, for Martin to receive an answer. Unfortunately, he lost to a white man named James Bagnall who put forth a competing offer. Despite not owning the land, Martin continued to live there for the rest of his life. At the time of his death on 16 November 1863, Martin was one of the oldest inhabitants of Charlottetown and a celebrated community member. Newspapers reported that he lived to 108 or 110 years old.
Most of the Bog’s Black residents lived on Fitzroy, Kent, Rochford and West streets, and were generally of low socio-economic status. The community’s earliest members lived near Government Pond in “huts,” and the area’s back alleys developed a reputation for illicit activity. However, in 1887, Bog residents set up the Victoria Jubilee Club, bringing the community together for self-improvement, picnics and events. There was also a West End Brass band and various sporting meets.
George Godfrey and George Byers were two of the most famous athletes to come from the Bog. They became successful boxers in Boston during the early era of American boxing. Godfrey was the first heavyweight champion among Black boxers in the United States, while Byers fought in a range of weight classes. Hockey was also a popular sport in the community as residents frequented Government Pond for skating, shinny (a precursor to hockey) and hockey competitions. Tommy Mills lived by the pond and organized the Rangers Hockey Club. Their first game was on New Years Day in 1900. This was the start of the West End Rangers hockey team, which became part of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. The Rangers were known for their “lightning rushes” and the league as a whole for pioneering such techniques as the slapshot. While this athletic style of play lives on in modern-day hockey, the West End Rangers ceased to exist once the Bog was redeveloped.
The Bog School was built in 1848 on Rochford Street. It was one of the most progressive schools in the area. Unlike segregated schools in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the Bog School was integrated with both Black and white students due to the composition of the neighbourhood. In Prince Edward Island, segregated schools were not legislated if the area’s Black population was small. The Bog School was also free to attend as it was set up for the poor residents of Charlottetown. (The Free Education Act, passed in 1852, made education free across the island.) The school was well-attended, and in 1868 plans were drawn to create a new, larger school that could accommodate more students. The expanded facility was renamed the West End School, and operated until 1903.
Despite the integrated nature of the community and the school, racism was pervasive during the 19th century. In 1840, for example, a fire was intentionally set at two homes on Rochford Street that were primarily inhabited by Black women. It is speculated that these homes were used as brothels. One of them was destroyed.
Another incident occurred in August 1878, when George Kelley, a mixed-race 16-year-old, was accused of throwing two stones at a horse-drawn wagon led by two white men. One of the drivers fired three bullets at Kelley, one of which landed in his chest. Kelley died within 20 minutes and the two drivers were charged. During the trial, the court learned that Kelley likely never threw the stones. Witness testimony also revealed that the two men used inflammatory, racist language as they pulled away from the scene. In addition, the barrister contrasted the Bog witnesses, whom he called “the poor, miserable and illiterate creatures from the Bog” with the “honest, decent, respectable” citizens of Charlottetown. The Daily Examiner newspaper even described the victim as a member of “a strange, alien, weak and degraded race.” Eventually, the accused murderers were acquitted and freed.
The island’s 1881 census lists 84 Black residents in the Bog, indication that the neighbourhood’s Black population may have started to decline. Most were labourers such as chimney sweeps, servants, tinsmiths, fishermen, carpenters, laundresses and blacksmiths. Outside of the Bog, there were 87 Black people living in rural Prince Edward Island, primarily in Kings County. However, like the Bog, the area experienced a wave of emigration to the United States in the late 19th century.
Along with population decline, the Bog underwent major redevelopments just before the turn of the 20th century. After the area was redeveloped, there was no longer a Black district in Charlottetown and Government Pond was largely covered over. Today, the site consists of provincial government administrative buildings and a parking lot built in the 1960s, as well as residential homes built between 1900 and 1910.