The Great Under the Protection of the Small

Prince Edward Island’s motto, since 1769, has been Parva sub ingenti, Latin for “the small under the protection of the great.”

Former Premier J. Walter Jones described the origin of the motto, in a speech to the Empire Club in 1952, like this:

When King George III proclaimed a seal for “The Island of St. John in America” in the year 1769, he decreed a motto taken from Virgil’s Georgics, Verse 19, namely, “Parva Sub Ingenti”. The Island of St. John became in 1799 “Prince Edward Island”—named after the father of Queen Victoria and “Parva Sub Ingenti” was pictured as three saplings growing under a large tree, and was symbolic of the three counties of Prince Edward Island under the great British Empire. Later, when Prince Edward Island became part of Canada in 1873, the symbolism was taken as of the three counties of Prince Edward Island under Canada.

Jones went on to put the “small” in a not-entirely-positive light, but he did admit that smallness has its virtues:

I should not like to leave the impression that to be small in a federation of large states is always a bad condition. The small size makes for a government close to the people and public opinion easily influences every part of the administration. The goodness or the badness of politicians, clergy, civil servants, teachers—can be easily transmitted. Government “of the people—by the people” gets a better chance than in a larger area.

On Prince Edward Island there are concentrations of effort impossible of accomplishment in any large area. At the Royal Winter Fair—before our people got into the hog-growing game—I have seen Ontario running off for a number of years with all the prizes. We got into it, and of the ten first prizes in hogs, nine of them went to Prince Edward Island this year.

I don’t believe I’ve ever met an Island politician or activist who has not, at some point, used what former Premier Wade MacLauchlan refers to as the “gift of jurisdiction” to make an argument. Many times a year one hears “we’re so small that we can test things here that can then be scaled up to the rest of the world.”

I have long been suspicious of this approach. I don’t doubt that our small size and interconnectedness makes it easier to grow prize hogs; I’ve wondered, though, whether something that’s achieved at small scale necessarily upscales as easily as everyone thinks it will.

A crack appeared in my suspicious nature this week, however, when it was announced by Sobeys, Canada’s second-largest food retailer, that it is spreading its sensory-friendly shopping hours program, which started at a single store in Summerside, Prince Edward Island to all of its stores across the country.

What a great example of how people with autism and their carers, along with organizations like Autism Society of PEI, can work together to dramatically improve the lives of thousands of autistic people. And, indeed, to all of us who benefit from less stimulation while shopping. Sobeys too deserves credit for being a company with a nature that affords viral spreading of good ideas; it’s not every company that has the capacity to do this.

And it all started on Prince Edward Island.

Maybe there’s something to this after all.

Ingenti sub parva!


Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on December 6, 2019 - 05:16 Permalink

That sounds like a great theme to invoke in appealing for federal funding. I mean, the utility to the nation of trying something first in PEI...Canada’s microprovincial test bed.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on December 6, 2019 - 08:41 Permalink

Canada's first "of non-European descent" Premier, Canada's first Female Premier, Canada's first gay Premier. On and on...

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 6, 2019 - 10:31 Permalink


Canada’s first province to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

Canada’s first province to introduce 100% civic addressing coverage.