Music of Prince Edward Island

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One of the Maritime provinces of Canada, Prince Edward Island is known as a home for traditional Celtic music. The island has produced ECMA-award-winning fiddlers Richard Wood and J. J. Chaisson as well as the award-winning singer-songwriter, Lennie Gallant. The celebrated Stompin' Tom Connors also lived in Skinners Pond.

Indie rock band Two Hours Traffic plays a local pub in 2007

Other prominent musicians include Albert and Chuck Arsenault of the Acadian band Barachois, Allan Rankin, Perry Williams, Brad Fremlin, Timothy Chaisson, Koady Chaisson, Trinity Bradshaw, Ward MacDonald, Gordon Belsher, Elmer Deagle, Jon Matthews, Dr. Ellen MacPhee, James MacHattie, Cynthia MacLeod, the Acadian band Vishten, the Celtic bands Boys in the Kitchen and Fiddler's Sons and songwriter Gene MacLellan. On February 23, 2003, Angèle Arsenault received the Order of Canada for her music and contribution to PEI culture.[citation needed]

The epitome of PEI musical culture is the fiddle, piano and step dancer. The Ceilidh (Scot's Gaelic for gathering essentially) has long been the most common place for this type of music to be found. This music was imported straight from the Highlands of Scotland and remained unchanged for centuries. On the island it mixed with Irish and Acadian musical tradition, but Scottish style still dominates. Today musicians on the island are expanding beyond the fiddle in many cases, incorporating other Celtic instruments. Traditional Celtic Music on the island also takes the form of popular Maritime or East Coast Music, which is what some have described as an amalgam of Celtic Music and Sea Shanties. This type of music is also heavily influenced by the traditions of Newfoundland and is very commonly found in Pubs all over Atlantic Canada.

Today, such bands as Two Hours Traffic, Boxer the Horse, Coyote, Haunted Hearts, The Danks, English Words, Racoon Bandit, The North Lakes, Milks & Rectangles and Paper Lions are successful on the PEI rock/pop music scene. PEI also has an active blues scene with such bands as The Blueprints, Plain Dirty Blues Band, and the blues-rock band Bad Habits. The indie rock culture is quite strong in Charlottetown for its size and can be heard at several venues throughout the city. There is also a small but growing Bluegrass music scene on the island, as demonstrated by such bands as the Saddle River String Band and Nudie and the Turks.

The musical culture is changing rapidly in Prince Edward Island at this time as traditional Celtic musicians, while in some ways more prominent than ever, are not as common in small rural communities as they once were. Celtic music is still very much around and can be heard at festivals, ceilidhs and pubs throughout the island, especially in the summer. That being said traditional Scottish ceilidhs are rarely frequented by young people and the younger generation has been diverging along an urban rural divide, in that young people in rural parts of the island now tend to follow Country and Western music, almost assuming it is an extension of local tradition, due to the similarities, when it is in fact an American import. Before the introduction of radio to the island, Country and Western music was unheard of and in most places traditional Celtic or Acadian music dominated. Due to the rural farming traditions of the Island and the similarities between Country Music and Celtic Music, Country Music quickly became popular in the 1930s. It was an easy adoption, considering that the Bluegrass/Mountain Music which spawned Country and Western Music, is closely related to the Celtic and Maritime musical tradition. Even the Ceilidh itself is suffering. With fewer young people attending them, they are becoming more of a tourist attraction than an actual living form of culture. While Celtic music on the island may appear to some to be stronger than ever due to the promotion of many world class island musicians, its place in the rural, local culture has been somewhat diminished.

That being said, there is a strong effort to revive Celtic culture on the island, from the PEI Fiddle Camp held every July, to the availability of Gaelic classes at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown. Other festivities, events and locations promoting local traditional music culture include: Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival which was created to preserve Prince Edward Island’s tradition of music, Close to the Ground concert series hosted by Fiddler's Sons, The International PEI Shellfish Festival hosted by Liam Dolan, The Festival of Small Halls, the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts concert series (Highland Storm), The Benevolent Irish Society Ceilis, The Orwell Corner ceilidhs, the Summerside Highland Gathering, the Belfast (PEI) Highland Games, the Indian River Festival and more. The summer time is the best time of the year to experience PEI traditional music and despite the concerns noted above, if you were to tour the island in the Summer, you would leave with the impression that the traditional Celtic and Acadian cultures brought the island over 300 years ago were remarkably intact.


Charlottetown is the capital and largest city on the island. Its documented music history begins in the 19th century, with religious music, some written by local pump and block maker, and organ-importer, Watson Duchemin. Several big bands including the Sons of Temperance Band and the Charlottetown Brass Band, were active.

By the end of the century, Charlottetown had its own opera house, performing comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Prince Edward Island Music Festival was first held in 1946, inaugurated by the Women's Institute of Prince Edward Island. Fiddler Don Messer moved to Charlottetown in 1939 where he joined CFCY as music director. He formed the "Islanders" and by 1944 the group was airing a show nationally on CBC Radio, becoming established as the most popular on Canadian radio from the 1940s to the 1960s and later on television. In 2015 Charlottetown became home to the island's most controversial record label Act Of War Records, Who focus on a more hardcore controversial truth style rap music. Founders Havo Killer (formally II DIE IV 2011-2015) and Sadiztik Have both released albums and demos under the label. They have been known to offend many in the community for there willingness to let the past die and focus on new styles of music for the island, Act Of War Records mainly plays hardcore rap and death metal. The Prince Edward Island Symphony Orchestra is also well-known. Other well-known famous performers from Charlottetown have included Haywire, Teresa Doyle, Tara MacLean, Nancy White, Walter MacNutt, UIGG, William Keith Rogers and ECMA winners The Saddle River Stringband.