The Heart of West Prince


Alberton is the principal town among the fishing and farming communities situated along the western shore of Prince Edward Island. This area also forms part of the traditional lands of the Mi’kmaq people. The first European to visit the area was Jacques Cartier who made land fall in 1534 and noted the great potential for fishing, farming and lumbering.

In 1767, Prince Edward Island, which was then the British colony of Saint John’s Island, (it was officially renamed Prince Edward Island in 1799), was divided into 67 lots. Certain British noblemen were chosen as the landlords for these lots by means of a lottery. Alberton was located in the area that was known as Lot 5 which was under the ownership of Edward Lewis. Lewis had major development plans for Lot 5 which included the building of a small trading town.

In 1788, the first European settlers arrived, brought from Devonshire, England by ship builder and lumber merchant John Hill.

Through the nineteenth century, the lumber and the shipbuilding industries brought prosperity to the area. The lumber industry of the early days resulted in many trees around the Cascumpec area (located just outside of present day Alberton) being cut down. All this cleared land made it possible for agricultural operations to develop. In 1833, some roads were being opened and eventually trade began in the Cascumpec area.

As time elapsed, the town of Alberton made a lot of progress. On the economic front, numerous stores were opened offering various services. Also, churches were being built, and a physician established a practice in town.

By 1862, the first settlement had become a major trade centre in Prince County and was named in honour of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) who had visited the Island in 1860. The community of Alberton was given this name on June 27, 1862.

A major advancement was made in fire protection for Alberton with the establishment of the Alberton Volunteer Fire Department in 1876.

In 1878, Alberton officially became a village. The first village wardens were Alexander MacLeod, Benjamin Champion, David Hunter, Benjamin Rogers, and Peter Gavin. The newly founded village was doing quite well. To improve the lives of residents, a fire prevention plan was put in place and the side walks were levelled off. This year also saw the establishment of the first court house in Alberton, on Church Street, which now serves as the Alberton Museum. However, in the late 1870’s, the village went through a hard time as a result of a smallpox epidemic. In spite of this, the village would quickly recover and continue to prosper.

In 1893, the Black Silver Fox industry, which Alberton is famous for, was founded by Sir Charles Dalton and Robert Oulton. This industry brought much prosperity to the town and some of its residents. This prosperity is still evident. Some of the attractive “fox houses” which were built and owned by fox breeders are still standing today. Once such house is pictured left. This fox house was built by a wealthy fox breeder in 1911 and now serves as Briarwood Inn, located just outside of Alberton.

The Silver fox industry greatly enhanced the growth and economy of Alberton. The impact the Silver fox industry made on Alberton is evident by the depiction of a Silver Fox on the town logo, pictured below.

In December 1895, a major fire would raze a portion of the town. The cause of this fire seems to have been an overheated stove pipe in James Skerry’s grocery store. To keep the fire in check, men quickly formed a bucket brigade from the brook which was about two hundred yards away from the fire. The buckets of water were passed along the line from one man to another and the man at the end of the line threw the water where it was required. Burned besides the Skerry building were an unoccupied house and two barns belonging to Edmund Wallace.

As the town advanced through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, a major construction boom occurred. A school house, beautiful homes, churches, and public buildings were built. As well, the economy continued to grow as the residents of the surrounding farming and fishing communities came to the village to sell their products and buy others in the newly established stores.

In May of 1913, a major milestone was reached when Alberton was officially incorporated as a town.

In the ensuing brief period, many positive changes took place. A pound for run away animals was built, and kerosene street lamps were put up. A newly formed police force consisting of one officer and a number of special constables was also established. Alberton would be protected by its own police constable until town policing duties were taken over by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1967.

In 1914, there were improvements made to Main Street to better the quality of life. An electric lighting system was established and concrete sidewalks were put in. In the fall of that year, an exciting event occurred in the town when an exhibition was held.

In March 1919, the town would once again suffer the effects of a major fire. It was the greatest disaster to hit Alberton’s business district. The fire was reported to have started in Ed McRae’s hall at 3:30 in the morning. Soon bucket brigades were formed between the fire and nearby pumps. The attempts of the brigade were unfortunately futile. The fire soon spread northward, southward and across the street consuming large parts of the business district. The fire would have spread further had a quick thinking and acting crew not have torn down a building in the fire’s path to create a fire break. By the time the fire was out, $87,000 in damage had been done and there was only one large business still standing.

Unfortunately, this would not be the last time Alberton suffered the wrath of a major fire. In 1927, two major fires would devastate the downtown of Alberton on March 11 and the other on August 5. The March 11 fire originated in a blacksmith shop on Main Street located south of the Poplar Street intersection. The fire spread north to consume a meeting hall and southward to consume a private residence. The August 5 fire started in a garage located behind a store. A bucket brigade was quickly formed but the fire quickly spread south to the adjacent Bank of Nova Scotia and northward to a building containing several small businesses. The fire also spread to the St. Peter’s Anglican Church, completely destroying it. Though a strong effort was made to save it, the fire had caught in the spire and the church soon became heavily involved. Because of this fire, and the other major fires of the preceding years, a decision was made by the Town Council to order better fire protection equipment for the Town. Luckily, because of continuing major improvements made to the Town’s firefighting equipment, Alberton has not suffered the effects of a massive fire to date.

The quality of life in Alberton would be greatly improved as the years progressed. In 1938, the first paved road was laid. The Western Hospital would open its doors in 1945 (with renovations fifteen years later, more over the years as required, and very extensive ones in the late twentieth century). There were also major advancements made in the number of services available to Alberton with the building of the Alberton Public Library in 1951, a sewage system which was completed in 1960, a new building for Federal services, and a motel in 1962, and Jacques Cartier Memorial Arena and the Alberton Museum in 1964. At first, the museum consisted of the private collection of Mrs. W. R. Oulton who housed the collection in her barn. The Alberton Museum would develop and would eventually be moved to its present location in the old town courthouse in 1980.

A nursing home, Maplewood Manor, would also be established in 1967, and lastly, in 1973, the old railway station, which was built in 1904, was transformed into a tourist information centre and a craft shop. Since that time, it has served several purposes, including the Town Hall, and is currently the Public Library. Also, during this time period, there was the creation of several businesses in Alberton.

Alberton has experienced steady growth in population. From the few families who landed in the area many years ago, to 1951, when it was only 674 residents, to the present number of approximately 1,100 people. Alberton, as a commercial centre for the surrounding rural areas, currently serves in excess of five thousand individuals.

Alberton has blossomed into a prime tourist destination providing many accommodations, attractions, and restaurants for visitors. Alberton has developed into a modern town but we still keep many parts of our past alive. There is an excellent museum/genealogy centre, well maintained Victorian buildings, and several murals depicting memorable occasions and people in Alberton’s history.

For more information on the history of the Town of Alberton, or to view artifacts from Alberton’s early days, you can visit the Alberton Museum, located on Church Street. Also, you can visit a web page created by the Alberton Museum to view photographs depicting parts of Alberton’s History.

If you would like information on former Mayors and Councils of Alberton, it can be found on the past Mayors and Town Councils page.

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