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Past

A City That Survives

Summerside is a city that epitomizes resilience. Over the years, Summerside suffered many setbacks that could have ended in catastrophe, yet she’s always come back.

Acadian Expulsion

Summerside’s documented struggles start with the deportation of the Acadians in the mid eighteenth century. In the late 1800s, however, many Acadian families came to settle in Summerside, seeking better work opportunities. These families survived and eventually prospered in the area, enriching our region with their culture. One third of the population of Summerside claims Acadian ancestry. The influence the Acadians have had on the community in terms of the spirit, livelihood, and culture has had a tremendous impact on the city.

The Great Fire of 1906

In 1906, a great fire destroyed much of the City. 150 buildings—most of them residential—needed to be rebuilt. Hundreds of families were displaced. The rebuilding took until approximately 1915 to complete.

More Flames

In 1916, another fire roared through the City. This time, it destroyed the business district. Losses were higher in monetary value than they were in the residential fire of 1906.

Shipbuilding

Shipbuilding was the reason that the City came into being in the first place. It made sense with our wonderful harbour. In the earliest days of Summerside’s past, we switched from being a 500-acre farm to a port, and the building of wooden vessels became a major industry. Technology was most strongly felt in the shipbuilding industry when wooden sailing ships were replaced by steam vessels made of iron and steel. We didn’t have the raw materials or the capital to survive such a shift, and, by the late 1800s, our shipbuilding industry had died.

Transportation Port

With the coming of the railway, Summerside became a link by steamer ship to the mainland. The trip from Summerside to New Brunswick opened up travel to North America. We enjoyed success as a transportation town until 1918, when a ferry was put in at Borden Carleton.

Silver Black Fox

The prosperity of the silver black fox industry helped to bring Summerside back on its feet. The City became the international headquarters for the silver black fox industry in the years 1910-1940. Buyers came here from London, Paris, NY, and Montreal for fur. We were the main source of silver black fox. But, then, after the War, the fur industry never really returned to its full glory and the demand for fox fur ended.

Service Centre

Summerside has always been a shipping centre for agricultural and fishery products, and so it makes sense the City would also become a service centre for fishers and farmers needing supplies.

Manufacturing Centre

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Summerside became a small manufacturing centre of items needed to serve the farmers and the fishermen who used the City’s port. This was in the day when local blacksmiths and machinists were set up to make things the primary producers couldn’t make themselves.

Stratified

Summerside has always been a socially stratified town. Some say it’s more clearly stratified than any other town in PEI. Summerside has always been clearly controlled by successful entrepreneurial families and has working class, middle class, and upper class residents. This is probably because of the many Imperial Loyalist families that settled here and set up the first businesses. Scottish, Irish and other immigrants would come and settle and they generally made up the working class.

Can-do

Summerside will always be known as a “can-do” City. One example of this is the City’s ownership of Summerside Electric. The City brought in its own electric utility in the 1920s. It has been a tremendous advantage for Summerside to be able to generate its own energy, and we’ve even taken the initiative to go green with wind powered electricity.

Military Roots

Summerside has a strong military history. It was home to the Canadian Forces Base for fifty years. When the Base closed, residents were worried about what such a loss may do to the City. And it was a difficult challenge for the municipality, not having a federally funded centre like that in the community. However, the City persevered and eventually Slemon Park became one of the most successful transformations of a military base in all of Canada.

Summersiders have always pulled together. We are a fiercely proud people and know the value of cooperation. We take pride in standing on our own feet and no matter what challenges come about, we not only face them, we become an even greater City.

For more information about Summerside’s past, contact:

Fred Horne - City Archivist
fred.horne@city.summerside.pe.ca
902-432-1295
Lefurgey Cultural Centre, 205 Prince Street, Summerside, PE C1N 2Z5

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