Georgetown Walking Tour
Go on your very own walking tour of Georgetown. Experience the history and culture at your own pace with a little help from our printable online guide!
What does the crest symbolize?
- The “Crown” represents that Georgetown was named after royalty, and that it is the Capital of Kings County.
- The “Eagle” represents the proud spirit of the Town’s people, along with reflecting a heritage of sport teams called “The Eagles.”
- The “Arts and Entertainment Masks” represent the Kings Playhouse, the center for the performing arts in eastern P.E.I.
- The “Lobster” represent the fishing industry, which plays an integral part of the Georgetown economy.
- The “Sailing Schooner” represents our proud shipbuilding heritage, which continues to this day. It also represents trade and commerce.
- The “Scales of Justice” represent the Kings County Courthouse which was built in 1886.
- The dates “1732 and 1912” are the years in which the Georgetown area first became known by the Europeans, and the year of Incorporation, respectively.
Georgetown is a collection of venerable and beautiful old buildings rubbing shoulders with more recent structures, all laid out in a broad street system in the fashion of centuries past. Much of the old survives. It is this characteristic which lends to the gentle charm of Georgetown.
The Town of Georgetown is the Capital of Kings County and is centrally situated on the coastline of the Kings county. The location was originally designed to serve as the capital centre for the region. This was a natural consequence of the water-based transportation and industry of previous centuries. Yet Georgetown was not always as it is seen today. Looking back in the past helps provide a sense of community identity, an understanding of how Georgetown became the place that it is, and direction about future development.
Before European settlement, the area was inhabited by the Mik’Maq peoples. They called themselves “Epegoitnag” and for them, Georgetown was a pine forest wilderness with an abundance of wild game, as well as fruit, berries and wild nuts for the gathering. They called their land SAMKOOK: ‘the land of the SANDY SHORE’ and the river systems were their highways and their source of a variety of fish.
Things changed on the Island with the arrival of the first French explorers in 1534. Calling Abegweit, “the finest land t’is possible to see,” Cartier paved the way for another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who claimed Glooscap’s land for the king of France in 1603. He renamed the Island ‘Isle Saint Jean’. The French began European settlement on the Island, and settlement history of the Georgetown area commences.
In 1731, King Louis XV of France granted approximately 35,000 acres to the ‘Compagnie d’Est de l’Ile Saint Jean,’ in the Trois Rivieres (Three Rivers) area – which today is the general area bounded by the Cardigan, Brudenell and Montague Rivers, and near present day Georgetown. The main player in this new company was the determined, proud, and sometimes abrasive Jean Pierre Roma. After receiving the grant, Roma made his headquarters at Brudenell Point. He built a substantial settlement and constructed roads leading to present day Cardigan, Sturgeon Creek, Souris and St. Peters. In case of war with the English, he additionally had a road built to the French garrison at Port La Joye.
In 1745, Roma’s settlement was devastated by a British warship from New England. De Roma, his family, and his band fled on the trail he had made to St. Peters, and thus was able to get on a ship to Quebec. Despite his personal desires to rebuild yet again, De Roma was unable to again secure the funding necessary for him to return to the Island.
In 1751 Colonel Franquet, a French military engineer, visited the Island to give his advice and recommendations for the Island colony’s defence. Upon entering the harbor at the Roma site, he exclaimed that the harbor could “afford good anchorage to the entire navy of the nation.” In order to entice settlers to the area, he suggested that land grants given to the Roma Company be discontinued in favour of enabling settlers to obtain the land. His recommendation was never acted upon.
Due to the British expulsion of the Acadians in Nova Scotia, a number of French settlers eventually came to the Island, with some settling in the Three Rivers Area. In 1755, it was reported that 101 people had settled in the Georgetown-Three Rivers vicinity, and more were arriving.
In 1758, the Fortress at Louisbourg finally fell to the British, and as a result of the Treaty of Paris, l’ Isle Saint Jean was taken out of French control and put into English hands. This ended to French control of the Isle of St. Jean. The Acadian deportation resulted in the Three Rivers area being controlled by the British, and along with this came the emergence of a new and important centre – Georgetown.
In 1764, Samuel Holland was commissioned by the British to survey the Island, and to divide it into lots, parishes, counties and capitals. He explained that his reasons for citing Georgetown as the Capital of Kings County were based primarily on the excellence of its harbor:
In 1768 Charles Morris, chief surveyor for Holland’s group, laid out the Town in a grid pattern following the plan for Charlottetown (where the streets meet at 90 degrees), and allowed sizeable back-up lands to be designated as the Royalty. Many of the existing lots in Georgetown have 84 ft. frontage, with 120 ft. depth -which can be traced back to this Morris Survey.
In 1770, Governor Walter Patterson engaged crews to build roads to the Georgetown site. Nevertheless, population growth was slow to materialize. In 1818, a report found that the state of the County Capital could be compared to a wilderness, with no houses built save the ruins of a small log cabin. By 1828, Georgetown could boast only two houses!
In 1803, twenty-two people including James McLaren, his son-in-law, Donald Gordon, and their families settled on the north side of Brudenell River, in what was then nothing more than a wilderness. It was not until the 1830’s however that the carefully laid out town site of Georgetown began to grow.
Andrew MacDonald settled on Pamure Island in 1805 and conducted a mercantile business. He built the first brick house on the Island. His sons Hugh and Angus, settled on Brudenell Point in 1825, and later moved to Georgetown. Hugh became the father of Andrew, Austin, and Archibald. Andrew and Austin were later appointed Lieutenant Governors. Andrew became one of the Fathers of Confederation. Joseph Wightman established an extensive shipbuilding enterprise on St. Andrews Point in1823. It later became an important centre.
In May 1831, 63 passengers from Greenrock, Scotland, landed in Georgetown on the ship “Stoffa” and a few days later 39 others followed from Plymouth, England, on the ship “Resolution.” That year the post office was transferred from John Norton’s farm in Brudenell to Georgetown. Mail was delivered weekly from Charlottetown on horseback.
Between 1830 and 1900, Georgetown flourished in both population and commercial activity – its growth based on wood, wind, and water. Until Summerside grew in prominence, the Georgetown port remained second only to Charlottetown.
In the 1830’s, the postal service, the first courthouse, and a ferry paquet from Georgetown to Pictou were established, followed by a marketplace in 1841. By 1847, a sewerage system was installed. During this same time period, as county capital, Georgetown enjoyed having two members in the P.E.I. Legislature. By 1864, there were over 75 different business operations in the Town – which included 7 hotels, 14 general stores, 5 tailors, 3 blacksmiths, 1 doctor and 1 brewer. By 1871, Georgetown’s population reached its zenith – 1250 persons.
By the latter part of the 19th century, one could find various legal, medical, and financial services being offered. Additionally, Georgetown craftsmen were busily engaged at both the Vulcan Foundry and the Parker Foundry, or at the Vatcher Steam Factory which produced household furnishings. Other businesses included footwear manufacturing, harness making (for both horses and cattle), and the production of the well-known “Batchilder Chair.” Train service was established in 1872, providing a vital link in the transport of goods and services to and from Georgetown.
Shipbuilding was carried out on several of Georgetown’s nine wharfs, and during the middle of the 19th century, it was at an all time high. Some famous ships built at Georgetown include the “Victoria” (1841); “North Star” (1853); “Alma” (1870); “Aquila” (1888); and the “Lady Napier” (1902). They were built at local shipyards operated by Daniel Gordon, Joseph Fairchild, and the Macdonald-Westaway Company.
In 1839, the Georgetown-Pictou ferry service was established and operated by the Steam Navigation Company out of Charlottetown. In 1868, passengers could cross on the steamer “Heather Belle” for nine shillings. Prince Edward Island joined the Confederation of Canada in 1873, with part of the agreement for entry being that it have continuous steamship service with the mainland. The Canadian government had to recognize that in order to fulfill its mandate, it would have to provide ships that could cope with the heavy ice on the Northumberland Strait during winter. By this time, the development of ice breaking ships was in its infancy. The first such ship on the Charlottetown-Georgetown-Pictou run was the wooden metal-plated steamer, “CGS Northern Light.” However, with her poor engine power of 120 ihp, she was often unable to cope with the heavy ice conditions and often got stuck. It was not unusual for the ship to make the trek stern first rather than bow first – finding it easier to cross the Northumberland Strait that way. The “CGS Northern Light” started her service in 1876, but following numerous complaints, she was replaced by the “CGS Stanley.”
The “Stanley,” built in Glasgow, Scotland, had sufficient strength in 2300 ihp horsepower to break through the ice, thus fulfilling the Federal Government’s commitment to provide a continuous link from P.E.I. to the mainland. The “CGS Earl Grey,” built in 1909 in Barrow-in-Furness, followed the “Stanley.” The “Grey”functioned as both icebreaker and vice-regal yacht, and together with the “CGS Minto,” served on the Northumberland Strait every winter until 1914. When the Borden-Cape Tormentine run was established in 1917, the former ferry service was discontinued. In those days, two locally-based smaller ferry services were also in operation, allowing merchants in the area an easy access to transport their goods. One ferry ran from Georgetown to Lower Montague, and the other from Newport to Georgetown Royalty.
To aid in spiritual development, “temples of divine worship” were established, starting in 1837 when the Roman Catholic chapel on Panmure Island was moved to Georgetown. In 1837 and 1839 respectively, Saint David’s Church and Holy Trinity Church were built. The Baptist Church was added in 1904. To keep up with the news, Peter McCourt published the paper “The Kings County Advertiser” on Richmond Street. Advertising rates were 50 cents per column inch.
Other early organizations included a Temperance Society, a Women’s Institute, a Masonic Lodge, a badminton club, the Trinity Orange Lodge, the Holy Name Society, a detachment of the Royal Canadian Legion, and various sports groups. In the early years, the Kings Theater was the site for municipal council meetings, dances, school graduations, live entertainment, and the famous Saint Patrick’s Day Play.
By 1871 the population had risen to an all time high (not equaled to this day) of 1,250 persons. The Town was administered first by a board of six assessors, a chairman, and a clerk. In 1912 it was finally incorporated with mayor and six councillors.
Between 1850-1870 the shipyards were at their peak. The remains of these shipyards and wharves can still be seen along the waterfront. Along with the ship building industry, several small industries were established. The Vulcan foundries were established. This Foundry, owned by J.A. Rutherford and founded in 1873, produced stoves, windlass units and machine castings. In 1878, a second Foundry was built by J.W. Culton and A.H. Parker. It produced plough shares, Coulter sockets and heads. Angus MacVail operated a steam block factory, Paul Henessey manufactured broad axes, hay and manure forks, iron plough and hardwood harrows.
In 1880, a steam factory was established by Richards and Vatcher. It produced decorative mouldings of wood for door frames, window frames, and fireplaces, dining room suites, bureaus, sinks, bedsteads, chairs and lounges. William MacLeod produced five and ten gallon oak casks. MacConnell was a cobbler and Forbes manufactured winter boots, garters and ladies boots. MacLean manufactured harnesses. His very handsome silver-mounted harness sets were in great demand. In later years, William Batchilder manufactured chairs which became known as the “Batchilder” chairs. Herman Lavandier opened a factory in 1923 for the manufacture of stepladders throughout the Maritimes.
The turn of the 20th century saw a decreased demand in shipbuilding, which affected the whole Maritime area. The resulting negative economic forces caused Georgetown to undergo a turnabout in fortunes. Prince Edward Island in general, and Georgetown in particular, experienced an emigration of people to other provinces and to the “Boston States.”
A vicious circle ensued. A lower population meant less money being spent in the local economy -businesses could not remain viable, nor employ as many people. As more and more people left, fewer and fewer businesses were able to survive. By 1931, the Town’s population dropped almost in half from its zenith 1871 high of 1250 persons – to only 679 people.
By the 1950’s, in light of the continued economic decline of the Town, the provincial government finally realized that if something was not done soon at the County Capital, this vital area of the province would eventually falter. Infrastructure in the 1950’s saw the construction of the elementary school, replacing one near the present site. In the 1960’s, with cash infused by the Province and land made available by the Town, the Shipyards and the Seafoods plant were built. The Town installed a “modern” sewerage treatment system. The provincial government installed a water supply system which, until the amalgamations in both the Charlottetown and Summerside areas occurred, had the greatest water pumping capacity on P.E.I.
In the late 1960’s, the first of three senior citizen complexes was built. In 1974, the Roman Catholic Community moved into its new church building. By 1978, Georgetown had a new rink -the Three Rivers Sportsplex.
Fire destroyed both the historic Kings Theater and the marine terminal in the 1980’s. However, in short order both sites were replaced with larger and more modern structures.
In the 1990’s, the Town formed its own ‘Georgetown and Area Development Corporation’ (GADC). This group, with the aid of the federal government, purchased the former Seafood’s site. This location is now the home of both Seafood 2000.
Also, in the 1990’s Department of Transportation, and Public Works Eastern Division was established in the Town.
The Irving Group of Companies took over the Georgetown Shipyards and the Georgetown Timber Pulp Mill. After the $3.5 million dollar expansion to modernize and enlarge its capacity, the East Isle Shipyard now supports a workforce of over 150 people.
In 1993, the “A.A. Macdonald Memorial Gardens” were established in the heart of the Town, commemorating “Georgetown’s Father of Confederation”.
The summer of 1998 saw Holland College construct a new vocational school specializing in welding, plumbing, and related trades. The Atlantic Welding and Fabrication Center opened its doors to 50 students in the fall of that same year.
The Georgetown Elementary School received a major face-lift during the summer of 1999. The installation of new windows and exterior siding gave the building a fresh new look, and the colors chosen to paint the school were in keeping with the many heritage buildings in the Town.
Early in 2000, the Baptist Church was torn down and replaced with a new structure built on the original site. The new building, designed by a local contractor, was constructed mainly by volunteers from the community and visiting missionary groups from North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Michigan.
The Town is currently revamping the Official Town plan that will guide it in many areas of municipal concern. Georgetown was first incorporated in 1912. As an incorporated municipality today, the Town functions according to the seat in the local government. Georgetown also serves as the county seat of justice and receives a number of services from the Provincial and Federal governments.
As a municipality under the P.E.I. Municipalities Act, seven elected officials serve in the local government, as of November 19, 2012 they are: Lewis Lavandier, Mayor, Mike Gallant, Deputy Mayor, Allan Gallant, Councillor, Toby Murphy, Councillor, Ronald Gallant, Councillor, Faye McQuillan, Councillor and Mark Stephen, Councillor. The Town maintains an office and council chambers in connection with the Fire Hall. The office is staffed by the Chief Administration Officer, Tonya Perry and Administrative Assistant, Dorothy Anne Macdonald. Several organizations comprised of local residents serve the community ensuring the heritage of Georgetown is preserved and future needs are realized.