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PEI National Park: a story told in photos

Robinsons Island, Photo courtesy of Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island, A20358-137
Posted on Thursday, 14 June 2012
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 “Because Prince Edward Island is relatively small, we’re lucky to have an excellent aerial photographic record of the entire Island,” says Dr. Josh MacFadyen, Research Associate of UPEI’s Institute for Island Studies. “We’re able to look at these photos and see how the land has changed because of both human use and natural occurrences. Nowhere are these changes more apparent than in PEI National Park.”

The air force made the first comprehensive tip-to-tip aerial photographic survey of the province in 1935.

“PEI National Park came into being just a year later in 1936,” says Dr. MacFadyen, “and the next set of aerial photos reveal a very different landscape from the string of farms and cottages that dotted the North Shore. What’s amazing is, at the time of the first survey, landowners in the area which would become the park had no idea their property would soon be expropriated for this project.”

The most dramatic changes, says Dr. MacFadyen, occurred on Robinsons Island.

Dr. Josh MacFadyen stands beside a series of aerial photos illustrating the changes to Robinsons Island over time: submitted photoDr. Josh MacFadyen stands beside a series of aerial photos illustrating the changes to Robinsons Island over time: submitted photo

“Here’s a five-kilometre-long island at what is essentially the centre of the park,” he says. “In the 1950s, the park administrators had this idea that a highway could be built across it, bridging the tourist strongholds of Cavendish in the west and Dalvay in the east. Unfortunately for the administration, nature had other ideas.”

The closure of Little Harbour to the east changed the tides of the area, and began a process of erosion that continues today. The highway was abandoned, but other attempts to bring visitors to Robinsons Island included a campsite in the 1970s, and all of these processes are visible by comparing the photos over time.

“Similar changes are visible in Greenwich, a much more recent addition to the park, although here the most dramatic changes occurred naturally as forests and large sand dunes reclaimed farm fields over time."

Dr. MacFadyen and Dr. Alan MacEachern have curated an exhibit of aerial photographs entitled “Aerial Photography, Landscape Change, and PEI National Park” for the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. The gala opening is Saturday, June 16 from 7-9 pm.

For more information, contact the gallery at 628-6111, or visit the exhibit website.