How many Islanders have there ever been?

I’d like to know how many Prince Edward Islanders there have been. We all know the current population of PEI (137,734), and there are readily available statistics about births and deaths). What I want to know, however, is, from the beginning of humanity, how many people have been born on Prince Edward Island. In other words, what is the size of the community of “native born Islanders” that Oliver joined when he was born, current and “alumni” both.

By the way, there’s a very interesting population backgrounder, prepared in 1999 for the Premier’s Population Strategy. Here’s something I didn’t know, for example:

Stereotypes, both past and present, have tended to portray Prince Edward Island as a settled, stable place, outside the mainstream of population change. The data outlined above give the lie to this assumption, demonstrating that the Island has experienced substantial inflows and outflows of population throughout its history.

Here’s another interesting trend:

Families of common-law couples are still less common throughout the Atlantic Provinces than in the rest of Canada, and are the lowest in the country in PEI, at 7.7% of all families. However, this category is catching up, with particularly sharp increases in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, followed by PEI. While in most Canadian provinces, the number of common-law families with children is growing more strongly than those without children, PEI and Newfoundland are bucking the trend, with faster growth among common-law couples without children than among those with children.

The companion question to this one is “are there more people or cows on Prince Edward Island.” I was going to do a radio piece on this several years ago, but I never got around to it. Presumably this question is much easier to answer.


John Boylan's picture
John Boylan on May 19, 2005 - 18:39 Permalink

In reference to the population backgrounder, I’m not convinced that the majority of people on the Island have ever believed that our population is unaffected by in and out migration. Surely most people appreciate that at one time much of the population growth on the Island was due to immigration. Equally, Islanders have been very conscious of out migration. Whether it’s the out migration taking place today, or the emigration that led tens of thousands of Islanders to leave the Province in the late 19th-early 20th century

Simon's picture
Simon on May 20, 2005 - 19:04 Permalink

Hello Peter:

According to the 2001 Census of Agriculture (they’re gearing up for the 2006 Census now), table 19, “Cattle and calves, by province”, there were 84,791 cattle and calves on PEI (those on t-shirts were not counted, apparently).

URL is:…

The question about all-time total of Islanders will be tough, for obvious reasons: vital stats records are non-existent for the First Nations’ era, and pretty patchy for the first couple of centuries of European settlement. In addition to the backgrounder you’ve already noted, Table 1 in “Prince Edward Island Statistics: Past and Present” might be a good place to look, too, as it gives the PEI population count for selected years back to 1723 (there’s a copy at Confed. Centre Library — call # 317.17 PRL).

Love the ‘blog.

Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on May 23, 2005 - 17:10 Permalink

While I can’t say how many Islanders there ever were, I think a reasonable estimate can be done by:

1) determining the current birth rate
2) doing same (1) for as many years previous as there are data
3) arriving at best guesses for birth rates in similar cultures for periods before there are data as in (2)
4) gather as much archeological data as may be available for native culture(s)*

(*but keep in mind that some believe PEI was not a home base for First Nations, that they traveled here in Summer, and that PEI was not an island 5000 years ago, which could be argued to be supportive or contradictory to the beliefs about where natives lived. Also it may be relevant to keep in mind that most of what is now PEI was formed from sediments washed from what is now the Appalacian Mountains a couple of million years ago and so that time, whatever it actually is, would be a starting point for history)

From there the bullwork begins but a fair approximation ought to be possible. Also, the margin of error should result from reasonable and balanced assessment of the inputs. If I were to do this calculation and arrived at an error margin of perhaps +/- 15% or less, I’d consider it a useable figure.

Anyone know a simpler calculation?

Janna's picture
Janna on May 26, 2005 - 15:00 Permalink

An extremely challenging task.

If you look at the archaeologic evidence of human settlement patterns in the western hemisphere during and after the Wisconsin glaciation (a theory some aboriginals/idigenous peoples reject), you’ll see that migration occurred east and south from the Bering land bridge. Northeastern North America didn’t begin until the Early Period 10,000-6,000 years ago, and progressed through the Middle Period (Maritime Arhaic Indians) and the Late Period (establishment of most of today’s First Nations socities).

The geological history of northeastern North America shows that the continental shelf was much larger than it is today, with possible human settlements on extensive islands on the parts of the Grand Banks and Scotian Shelf which are now underwater. The Northumberland Strait was a grassy and forested plain (there are still tree trunks in places underwater) and the north shore of PEI extended several dozen kilometres offshore.

Sea level rise as a result of naturally-induced warming led to the present formation of Prince Edward Island — whose soils are a result of ancient sedimentary run-offs from the Appalachian Province. Wave-induced erosion has led to further shaping of the coastline in recent centuries.

The Mi’kmaq Nation likely lived year-round on Epekwit’k/Minegoo when there were large land mammals (bear, woodland caribou, moose, etc.), but Kevin’s correct in that there is some evidence Mi’kmaq settlement was concentrated on the mainland, but not exclusively. You also have to take into account anthropologic research into birthrates and deathrates of the Maritime Archaic and Mi’kmaq peoples for the pre-European contact periods, then post-European contact, followed by the combined European and Mi’kmaq population throughout the 16th-21st centuries.

You should also not discount the possibility of extensive sea travel by other mainland Mi’kmaq to and from the island, as well as the possibility of the Montagnais and Innu of the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Beothuk of Newfoundland. Then there’s the possibility of vikings/norse exploring and possibly settling in this area ca. 1000 AD around the time of L’Anse aux Meadows.