From the Mi'kmaq lands of Epekwitk to the Île St-Jean settlement by the Acadians to the British possession and later Canadian province of Prince Edward Island., the history of "The Harbour" (as locals call it) and its landmark lighthouse reflects the history of "The Island" as a whole,
The local coastline and human interventions also provide a harbinger of the environmental changes affecting the coast of Prince Edward Island, as described in my July 2022 post on the Network in Canadian History and the Environment (NiCHE) Otter Blog, and Frank Ledwell's poem, originally published in Gone to the Bay (Juanita Rossiter, 2000).
Time, it seems, has always inched its way up St. Peters Bay.
the setting sun, however lovely, being but a measure of another
The gateway to the watershed,
St. Peters Harbour was a point of landing
for Cartier in 1534; what he saw said to be
“the fairest land 'tis possible to see”:
this bay of clams, Puku’samkek
to the Mi’kmaq
encamping on its shores.
plying the waterways
to the pluck of the oar—unthreatening
to diving ducks and suspicious crows
and the still, gawky herons in the shallows
against the verdant backdrop--
two natures in blent balance.
The waters wrinkle forward to the head of the bay:
European incomers settling in to make a second day.
The first coming, in the early 1700s,
of Acadian settlers to the salt marsh and forest shore
to fish and clear some land
from harbour mouth to bay head,
host modest trade in pelts and timber
and boast this to be the most populous
and prosperous part of the Island,
given its name, in 1721 by de la Ronde,
Havre Saint-Pierre, after a Comte and
to honour the keeper of the eternal portals.
Then, too soon,
their expulsion in 1758.
Their burial ground there
overlooking the sea. Unmarked.
The third day, tall ships come in on the spring tide
from places far away as the River Clyde.
The coming on of the English, Irish
and Scots settlers, to fell more trees
and open up the virgin soil
to grow potatoes, turnips, and grain,
and to winter on flakes of salt cod from gulf shoals
pickled pork and corned beef.
In those early days, fertilizing
with retrieved mussel mud and eroded soil,
the bay always giving back what it took from the land.
Steward-ecologists. The building of roads
around the natural curvature of the bay
and the meandering lanes of its rivers,
never out of sight of the ebb and flow of tides
and the inspiring beauty of the setting sun
on the evening waters. The slow.
deliberate development of community
where people and nature collaborate in unity.
Yet a fourth day, the building of a new tradition:
dependence upon nature and on self-reliance its admonition.
The garden. a cornucopia of natural resources,
yields its fruits to an industrious community:
the building of ships and shops,
of saw mills and grist mills,
of tanneries and canneries,
of wharves for commerce,
of tall-spired churches and of primer schools,
of lobster factories and a potato-starch factory,
of a railway line and the Island's first indoor rink,
of plays, tea parties, and jamborees,
of some young people going away but always coming back,
of presence and identity.
Squalls can be sudden, storms slow to subside; it is the nature of bays. And so, true to form is this one on its fifth day.
The coming on of two world wars
interjected by the Great Depression
remind of the fragility and transience
of even this small world:
the wars playing on that commitment and willingness
which are part of the local idealism
to lead dozens of sons and daughters to enlist,
many to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice;
the depression, challenging
to their strength under adversity,
initiating a state of economic debility
from which the community has had difficulty recovering.
The outfall, the loss of its greatest resource,
its young people continuing to leave,
and its gradual overdependence
on subsistence living and government handouts.
The fields lay fallow in flyaway,
the sun went down in a bank at the harbour mouth.
On the sixth day. new ideas come to quell the storms
and calm the economic waters, with elixirs in a variety of forms.
Many ideas promise to reinvigorate
an economy new as delicate as a finick’s stomach.
The Cooperative Movement. putting consumer stores,
Credit Unions, a cheese and butter factory
into the area, built on a spirit right for the people.
but slow to show results and always
threatened by the conglomerates.
The grandiose PEl Development Plan,
coming to help us fix the garden,
with experts and consultants galore
in the end neither developing nor planning.
The Greenwich development, promising economically
but so precarious ecologically.
Too controversial. Resisted by irresolvable
disagreement between pragmatists and idealists.
The growing mussel industry
and the developing recreational salmon fishery
marrying new technologies
with a safe and appropriate environment.
The annual Blueberry Festival
playing to the community’s strength,
its people, their friendliness and hospitality.
A new golf course at Crowbush,
a metaphor for modernity.
Signs of an upturn recognized
by the community and encouraged
by the visiting Countryside Institute
and the Institute of Island Studies--
each reminding themselves of what
they knew from the beginning:
that communities develop from the bottom up,
never from the top down (the heresy
of modern governments), respecting
the potential of people, countryside and watershed.
The root of beauty is audacity.
The seventh day, the normal time to rest,
is a call to carry on with remembered zest.
Our forebears knew instinctively
that the secret of vitality
lay in the bay and its estuaries,
that, whatever the condition.
water was always strong enough to cleanse it.
The community will continue
to find its future in that resource
where nature and persons live
in mutual respect along the watershed.
using with care the gifts which are there:
The Greenwich zone, a haven of world renown
for endangered species. a bay-state group
of communities where people can come
to walk or bike or hike in safety,
a summer haven for artists and writers,
a respite from urban tensions,
a place for all who wish to sit and stare,
where the scale of life is familiar,
where people farm and fish and cater.
where, in the evening, the homes and buildings
along the reflective bay are washed
in a light of peerless clarity.
- Frank Ledwell, 1996
Lightly updated by daughter Jane Ledwell, 2023 for emerging
historical information, new spellings and conventions while
maintaining the spirit of the original poem.
Used with permission.
Frank Ledwell (1930-2008) was born and raised in St. Peters Bay, continuing to visit with his wife, Carolyn, and six children throughout his career as teacher and professor. PEI's Poet Laureate from 2005-2008, he returned to the area in his poetry, including books The North Shore of Home, Crowbush, Island Sketchbook, and The Taste of Water.