Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island

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Wood Islands is a Canadian rural farming and fishing community located in southeastern Queens County, Prince Edward Island on the Northumberland Strait. It takes its name from several small forested islands located several hundred metres offshore in the Northumberland Strait.[1][2] The population of the community is unavailable as a result of its small size; Wood Islands falls under the larger township Lot 62, which had a population in 2011 of 470 residents, a 13% decrease from the 2006 census count of 540.[3] While the named islands are located on maps by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin: Karte Bellin, 1744: ‘I a Bova’ and Louis Franquet: Cartes Franquet, 1751: ‘Isle a Bois’, it is Samuel Johannes Holland, who corrected surveys the islands, and their basin. The settlement of Wood Islands, started in 1803, but saw its largest arrivals in 1807 with the arrival, after wintering in Belfast, of a large party of Scottish settlers from The "SPENCER".[4][5][6]

Wood Islands lighthouses seen from ferry

Wood Islands Harbour. Previously Victoria Harbour - c1868, depicted on Franquet, 1751, as it appears on Jeffreys, 1775; their works denoting a harbour that has long played an important role in the island’s history. Of the then three islands, they are permanently linked by sand bars to form the Harbour. A winter mail run between Wood Islands and Nova Scotia, initiated in 1777, was the island’s winter seasonal connection to the mainland until 1827.[7] Today, it is a sheltered harbour hosting the ferry service to Caribou, Nova Scotia, operated by Northumberland Ferries Limited, as well as small craft fishing. The southwestern shore of the lagoon forming Wood Islands Harbour is also the southernmost point in Prince Edward Island with coordinates 45º65'54"N, 62º45'18"W.[8][9] Wood Islands Harbour in Prince Edward Island is at: Latitude 45.953 and Longitude -62.7478. It is designated a ‘Core Fishing Harbour’ – noted as critical to fishing and aquaculture industries, and it is now being managed by Harbour Authority of Wood Islands.[10][11]

Wood Islands Lighthouse. During its session of 1874, the Canadian Parliament appropriated $6,000 for a lighthouse at Wood Islands, as an aid of marine traffic in the Strait and for fishers in and around Wood Island harbour. A contract for $3,000 was entered into with Archibald McKay of Moncton, NB, who abandoned the project after having received $900 for his work. The Department of Marine hired Donald MacMillian to complete the work, the then eight-room structure was finished during the autumn of 1876 and put into operation on 1 November 1876. Allen, 1880 and Cummins, 1927 show the light on the south bank of an island, in the Wood Islands basin, adjacent to the then harbour entrance breakwaters. Light-keepers at Wood Islands had a significant challenges in access, as it could only be approached by a long road through woods and along the beach west of the lighthouse.[12][13] The light was initially accessed from a track running down from now Pioneer Cemetery Road, to the land spit reaching south from ‘Wood Island’, over a sand bar, to its southeast corner site. With time, the track from Pioneer Cemetery Road was lost and a new access gained south from now McLeod Road. The southeast island came to be attached to shore with changes in the harbour usage, and with the construction of the Wood Islands ferry terminal and berthing docks. It is the second oldest lighthouse, with an attached dwelling and tower of this style, on the Island. The difficult approach meant that the keepers had few visitors before the present road was built in the late 1930s.[14][15]

Wood Islands Provincial Park, a picnic area, is located southeast of the ferry terminal on the largest of the islands and adjacent to the Wood Islands Lighthouse, an automated light station operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. The Wood Islands Lighthouse is now a museum operated by a local community group and can be toured daily from mid July to mid September.[16]

The Prince Edward Island Railroad and The Confederation Trail[edit]

The Prince Edward Island Railway (c1871 - 1989) initially ran from Tignish in the west to Elmira in the east, with later major spurs serving the Borden-Carleton train ferry dock and the original eastern station terminus at Souris. In 1905, the federal government funded the PEIR, its Crown corporation, the Prince Edward Island Railway, to build a (branch) line between Southport (today, Stratford) and Murray Harbour: The Murray Harbour Subdivision, 47.8 miles, to bring service to southeastern corner of the island.[17][18]

With the Wood Islands Station, in Lot 62, there were three PEIR stations: first one at Belle River (on the Alex Stewart acreage, on the Douses Road), and the third in Iris / Pleasant Valley (on the Hurd acreage, on the Murray Road). Crossing a large two-chamber stone culvert, passing over the Belle River, the Wood Islands Station was actually located in then ‘Wood Island North’, on the Robert Emery acreage, at the junction of the Pleasant Valley / Wood Island and Montague Roads.[19]

From the early 1970s, rail traffic volumes slowly declined due to increased truck competition, particularly in the movement of potatoes, the major outbound commodity. In 1978, provincial policy allowed increased gross vehicle weights and the use of tri-axle trucks thereby permitting second morning delivery of potatoes, whereas rail movements took five to six days. Trains stopped running through to Wood Islands in the mid-1980s, when CN Rail abandoned the line east of Kinross and then totally when 'deregulation’ in the Canadian railway industry enabled CN to successfully abandon a money-losing island service in 1989.[20]

The Confederation Trail. In 1989, when the trains stopped running it opened up an opportunity for a recreational trail that was to cross the island: The Confederation Trail. In Wood Islands, from just east of the ‘old’ Wood Island North Station - south to Wood Islands runs a 4.1 km nature trail spur. Built by a dedicated of community volunteers, the spur ends at a replica railway station, much like the one that sat beside Wood Island and Montague Road, with a freight shed that is an original from the old PEIR Belle River Station.[21]

The Northumberland Ferries Limited and The Wood Island Service[edit]

Ever since the federal government established a subsidized ferry service in 1917 between Borden, PEI and Cape Tormentine, NB under Crown corporation Canadian National Railways, residents of eastern Prince Edward Island had lobbied their elected representatives for an alternative service to Pictou, Nova Scotia; the Borden - Cape Tormentine ferry having replaced a government steamship service between Georgetown and Pictou.

In 1935, Prime Minister MacKenzie King brought Saskatchewan politician Charles A. Dunning back into federal politics to economically resurrect the nation from the Great Depression and appointed him Minister of Finance. Dunning was elected by acclamation as a parachute candidate in the dual riding of Queen's (it had 2 MPs at the time). Residents seized upon this opportunity and elicited a promise from the King government to establish a ferry service from southeastern PEI to Caribou, NS, near the town of Pictou.

The location of the PEI terminal was a source of controversy as the deepest water on the PEI shore suitable for a ferry dock was located just east of the Kings County boundary in Little Sands, several kilometres east of Wood Islands. However, given that Dunning represented the riding of Queen's, the Little Sands location was rejected in favour of a terminal located at Wood Islands, to better help the residents of his electoral district, despite its inferior water depth.

The federal government set about building a ferry port in the community's small harbour, dredging sand from the harbour bottom and constructing wharves. A new privately owned company, Northumberland Ferries Limited, was established to manage and operate the seasonal ferry service under license for the federal government, which retained ownership of the terminals, real property and vessels.

Dunning left politics in 1939 but the ferry service was instituted nevertheless in 1941 and has continued uninterrupted under the NFL banner to the present day, using several used and new vessels over the decades. Today it remains the only ferry service to the mainland after Confederation Bridge opened in 1997. A major redevelopment of the Wood Islands terminal took place in the early 1990s before the new high capacity M/V Confederation entered service in 1993. The federal government continues providing financial assistance to NFL under the terms of a contribution agreement, while the company leases two ferry terminals and vessels from the federal government. Today, though seasonal, it remains the only ferry service to the mainland.[22]

The Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation and The Wood Islands Welcome Centre[edit]

In 2002 Premier Binns, opened a new Visitor Information Centre at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 4, located one-half kilometre from the Wood Islands ferry terminal, replacing an older facility on the ferry terminal property. Then with a seasonal, corporate Liquor Control Commission retail outlet, the new centre, also incorporated, a community room, two rental shops and a seasonal museum, which became the responsibility of the Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation. Today, the corporation now manages the highly popular Wood Islands Lighthouse (c1876) and a commercial interest in a seasonal PEI LCC Agency Store.[23] An emerging vision sees the property becoming: The PEI Gateway East - Welcome Centre, strengthening its community engagement and enhancing its capacity to welcome seasonal visitors. More than 350,000 ferry passengers travel through Wood Islands each year and the renewed Welcome Centre will allow all visitors the opportunity to spend more time in the area, and to learn more about the history and the opportunities in eastern PEI.[24] The Wood Islands - Welcome Centre and Eastern PEI are home to the 70-Mile Coastal Yard Sale held in September each year.[25]

Some Wood Islands History[edit]

  • Wood Islands Women's Institute Hall. The Women’s Institute is located in the former Wood Islands West School, which dates from the early 1840s. The wooden shingled structure includes the original footprint of the building. The Wood Islands Women's Institute Hall is valued as an example of one of the few surviving former rural school buildings in Prince Edward Island. It has undergone several renovations in its history, but it continues to be the site of local meetings, community socials, and political rallies in Wood Islands.[26]
  • The Wood Island Rifles c1864. The Queen's County (Administrative) Regiment of PEI Volunteers had its headquarters in Charlottetown and included Twenty ‘Independent Rifle’ Companies, of which one – The Wood Island Rifles was led by Captain James McMillan, and his deputy Lieutenant C. McNeill.[27][28]
  • Wood Island West School. The first teacher at Wood Islands was John MacNeil, listed in the Government Warrant Book as paid on March 5, 1828, for teaching at Wood Islands. He continued teaching at Wood Islands until 1831, when Neil Arbuckle replaced him. The position of schoolmaster appears to have been vacant until 1835 when John B. McMillan was hired. Schoolmaster McMillan taught from 1835 to 1843, from 1848 to 1849 and from 1853 to 1866, for a total of twenty-two years. Forming School District Number 135, it was listed with the Board of Education on August 10, 1882. The original small building was enlarged by 1945, and continued to serve as a school until consolidation in 1968. The former school building has then operated as a community centre in 1969 when it became home to the local branch of the Women's Institute.[29][30]
  • Wood Islands Loyal Orange Institution Hall. The Grand Lodge of Prince Edward Island received its warrant on February 24, 1862, authorizing the formation of provincial grand lodges. The Association was first planted on PEI in the year 1849 under the authority of the grand master of Nova Scotia. The first Scarlet warrant was granted under date of July 24, 1859, at which time there were four primary lodges in the province. Sword Lodge: Number 1007, at Woodville, for Belfast District had Hector C. McMillan as its Master c1863 to c1891, and Malcom Munn as Master in c1905. The Lodge was located at the junction of then ‘Upper Wood Island Road’ – now Stewart Road and Wood Island Road. The lodge building survives and has been moved to a local farm acreage.[31][32][33]
  • Wood Islands Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery on Pioneer Cemetery Road stands in a forested area between, the Trans-Canada Highway and the Northumberland Strait. The cemetery is a historical footprint of early Selkirk settlers; it is believed the cemetery dates from 1807. An 1834 land conveyance refers to the site as "the old burial ground" the site ceased to be used in 1910, and was restored in 1972. Today, a Celtic cross inscribed with the badge of ‘Clan McMillan’ is located near the entrance. A Murdoch McMillan was interred in 1810, but the oldest remaining headstone is that of Hector McMillan, who passed away in 1819. Approximately 33 headstones survive; however, several of these are illegible. Other families interred here include members of the Bell, McNeill, McRae, Munn, Smith, Currie, McDonald, and McKay families, names familiar to arrivals on The SPENCER, in 1806. The McMillan’s were part of the migration of Scottish Highlanders sponsored by Lord Selkirk, coming originally from Colonsay in Argyle in 1806. They thought to settle in Little Sands, however, they decided to set fishing nets in Wood Islands just off shore, from where the cemetery is now located, and were rewarded with a bountiful catch. They then decided to make their home in Wood Islands.[34][35][36]
  • Wood Island East School. Wood Islands East School opened in 1856 with Duncan Crawford as its first teacher, with forty-one pupils registered (x23 boys and x18 girls). The School Inspector noted that the “new district formed, and school-house built, since last visit to this party of the Country; opened in weeks before being visited.” In 1864, there was thought to close the school for reasons of under use, with so few attending, and to merge its students with those in the Upper Belle Creek District. Forming School District Number 137, it was registered with the Board of Education on August 10, 1882 and remained open until consolidation in 1968.[37][38]
  • Wood Islands Presbyterian Church. In the 1860s a small pioneer church came to be replaced by a new church in the centre of the Belle Creek / Wood Islands community, on land from the original Dougal Munn acreage. This, the ‘new’ church burned to the ground on 28 November 1943 and was then replaced an edifice designed by J.E. Harris. The dedication service of the now current church took place on 10 May 1946. Dr. MacGregor of Pictou County, NS, first ministered to the Presbyterian congregation of Woodville (Wood Islands) between 1806 and 1819. The Rev. John MacLennan served from 1825 to 1843 when most of the congregation became Free Church of Scotland. The congregation continued to receive services from itinerant ministers, and students from the Free Church Presbytery in Pictou, until The Rev. Donald MacNeil was installed as minister in 1857. For many years the charge was called the ‘Woodville and Little Sands Presbyterian Congregation’ until the PEI Presbytery separated off Little Sands and amalgamated it with Murray Harbour South in 1891. Financial difficulties in the 1930s and 1940s eventually led to the sharing of a minister by Wood Islands, Culloden, and Murray Harbour South. The Wood Islands Presbyterian Church draws its congregation from Flat River, Wood Islands, Culloden, Belle River, Iris, and Melville.[39][40]


  1. ^ Douglas M.A., R. (1925). Place Names of Prince Edward Island: With Meanings. Geographical Board of Canada. Ottawa: Dominion of Canada: F. A. Acland. p. 55. 
  2. ^ Rayburn, Alan (1973). Geographical names of Prince Edward Island. Toponymy Study No1 (Department of Energy Mines and Resources ed.). Ottawa: Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names. p. 129. ISBN 0-660-01740-7. 
  3. ^ "Lot 62 Census Profile". Census Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  4. ^ http://www.linneberg.com/skye/polly.html List Compiled: Karen Linneberg
  5. ^ http://www540.pair.com/buchanan/genes/docs/polly.htm List Compiled: 1903 Malcolm A. Macqueen
  6. ^ See Sheets: 2001 at http://www.islandregister.com/colonsay_selkirk.html
  7. ^ Rayburn, Alan (1973). Geographical names of Prince Edward Island. Toponymy Study No1 (Department of Energy Mines and Resources ed.). Ottawa: Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names. p. 129. ISBN 0-660-01740-7. 
  8. ^ See: http://hacker.vre.upei.ca/islandora/object/islandora%3A452
  9. ^ See: http://www.islandregister.com/placenames/vwxyz.html
  10. ^ See: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/sch-ppb/list-liste/harb-port-eng.asp?c=a#2083
  11. ^ See: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/sch-ppb/maps/maps-home-accueil-eng.htm
  12. ^ Plan of Lot Sixty & Sixty Two: Queens Co. PEI, C. R Allen: 1880, UPEI Library Identifier: 214552, See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208429
  13. ^ UPEI’s Island Imagined: Lots Sixty and Sixty-Two: Cummins Map Co. c1927 See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208787
  14. ^ See: http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=958
  15. ^ See: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/phares-lighthouses/English/04_Wood_Islands/wikeepers01.html
  16. ^ http://www.woodislandslighthouse.com
  17. ^ Canada Rail: Reporting Mark PEIR See: http://www.canada-rail.com/maritimes/railways/PEIR.html#.VQioy-GQDzA
  18. ^ Iona to Murray Harbour: Trail Features, See: http://www.tourismpei.com/confederation-trail/iona-murray-harbour
  19. ^ UPEI’s Island Imagined: Lots Sixty and Sixty-Two: Cummins Map Co. c1927 See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208787
  20. ^ See: https://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/ruling/348-r-1989
  21. ^ Iona to Murray Harbour: Trail Features, See: http://www.tourismpei.com/confederation-trail/iona-murray-harbour
  22. ^ See: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/policy/anre-menu-3043.htm
  23. ^ Plough The Waves Centre Officially Opened In Wood Islands, July 15, 2002. See: http://www.gov.pe.ca/newsroom/index.php?number=news&dept=&newsnumber=2659
  24. ^ Wood Islands, PEI To Caribou, N.S. Ferry Service 2006-2012: Table 91. See: http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/fema_asr2012.pdf
  25. ^ http://www.woodislands.ca/yard.html
  26. ^ See: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=3356
  27. ^ See: http://www.islandregister.com/hutchapp3.html
  28. ^ See: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/Documents/RG9-58_EN-final.pdf
  29. ^ See: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=3356
  30. ^ A Brief History of Wood Islands West (Woodville) School: Linda Jean Nicholson See: Gillis, Eliza (2004). Leap Over Time: History and Recollections of One-Room Schools in the Belfast Area, 1803-1968. PEI: Belfast Historical Society. pp. 183–184. ISBN 0-9685586-2-3. 
  31. ^ See: http://www.islandregister.com/hutchapp3.html
  32. ^ See: http://canadianorangehistoricalsite.com/PEIOrangeism.php
  33. ^ Plan of Lot Sixty & Sixty Two: Queens Co. PEI, C. R Allen: 1880, UPEI Library Identifier: 214552, See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208429
  34. ^ See: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=12872&pid=0
  35. ^ Wood Islands Pioneer Cemetery 1807—1910: Ann Bonnell See: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~pictou/wdislan.htm
  36. ^ Government of PEI: Island Information See: http://www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=2654&lang=E
  37. ^ A Brief History of Wood Islands East (Woodville East) School, Linda Jean Nicholson See: Gillis, Eliza (2004). Leap Over Time: History and Recollections of One-Room Schools in the Belfast Area, 1803-1968. PEI: Belfast Historical Society. pp. 174–175. ISBN 0-9685586-2-3. 
  38. ^ Plan of Lot Sixty & Sixty Two: Queens Co. PEI, C. R Allen: 1880, UPEI Library Identifier: 214552, See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208429
  39. ^ Archives Council of Prince Edward Island: Fonds Acc4596, See: http://www.archives.pe.ca/peiain/fondsdetail.php3?number=1030124&lang=E&fonds=Acc4596
  40. ^ Plan of Lot Sixty & Sixty Two: Queens Co. PEI, C. R Allen: 1880, UPEI Library Identifier: 214552, See: http://www.islandimagined.ca/fedora/repository/imagined%3A208429

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°57′57.9″N 62°45′3.7″W / 45.966083°N 62.751028°W / 45.966083; -62.751028