A Newcomer’s Guide to Charlottetown
Prince Edward Island’s historic capital city was the foundation upon which Canada was built.
Charlottetown, the quaint and charming capital city of Prince Edward Island, is world-renowned for its association with Anne of Green Gables and as the setting of 1864’s Charlottetown Conference, which officially catalysed the birth of the nation.
Visitors and residents alike love to wander around the city, taking in the old harbour quarter on Hillsborough Bay, Victorian houses, and historic sites. Those seeking a slower pace of life, an abundance of fresh seafood, and a robust sense of community should consider Charlottetown.
Without further ado, here is a guide to PEI’s capital for newcomers to Canada.
A Brief History of Charlottetown, PEI
Indigenous people have lived in and visited Charlottetown for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Mi’Kmaq peoples referred to PEI as Abegweit, meaning “Cradled on the Waves,” as well as Minegoo, which means “The Island.”
Explorer Jacques Cartier originally arrived in 1534 and French fishermen, drawn to the abundant coastal waters, followed at the end of the sixteenth century.
Samuel de Champlain named the island “Isle St. Jean” in 1603 as Acadian people began to populate the area, establishing settlements up and around the Hillsborough River.
The French colony came under British rule in 1763 after the Treaty of Paris was signed. Captain Samuel Holland surveyed the area in 1764 and recommended that Charlottetown be the capital of the colony, named to honour Queen Charlotte, the wife of then-king George III.
It officially became a city in 1855 and in 1864 hosted the Charlottetown Conference, where delegates from New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, and Upper and Lower Canada met to discuss confederation of a Maritime union. This union eventually became Canada in 1867.
The 2016 census showed that the city of Charlottetown was home to 36,094 people, which marked an increase of 4.4% over the 2011 census. The city is home to a population that is 84.6% white, 12.3% visible minorities and 3.1% First Nations.
According to the official 2011 census, Charlottetown is comprised of the following racial and ethnic groups:
- White – 84.6%
- Chinese – 5.2%
- South Asian – 1.9%
- Arab – 1.4%
- Black – 1.4%
The vast majority of locals speak English as their first language, but other common mother tongues include:
- Chinese – 4.6%
- French – 2.1%
- Arabic – 1.2%
Most people identify as culturally Christian, even though many do not practise regularly or attend church. As of the 2011 census, the religious break down is:
- Catholic – 39.6%
- No religious affiliation – 20.8%
- United Church – 11.3%
- Other Christian – 9.2%
- Presbyterian – 6.2%
- Anglican – 4.1%
- Baptist – 3.7%
- Muslim – 1.6%
- Buddhist – 1.2%
Charlottetown is home to a mild, maritime climate and is warmer than other neighbouring provinces because of the warm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
PEI boasts wide, white sand beaches and the warmest ocean waters north of the Carolinas, with residents flocking to the beach all summer long. Summer temperatures range between 20 and 34 degrees Celsius.
Autumn (or the Fall, as most Canadians say) gets quite a bit cooler, but warm, sunny days are common in September and early October. The leaves change to an awe-inspiring range of red, orange, and yellow that attracts tourists the world over. Temperatures range between 8 and 22 degrees.
PEI has cold winters and lots of snow (290 centimetres of annual snowfall to be exact!). Canadians look after each other in the heavy snowfall and shovel their sidewalks and driveways to minimize accidents. Temperatures range between -3 and -11 degrees Celsius, but the wind chill factor can make it feel much colder.
Islanders greet springtime with great delight, as they are ready to say goodbye to the snow and hello to the sun! The flowers begin to bloom and the weather warms up, with temperatures ranging from 8 to 22 degrees Celsius.
Charlottetown, PEI Public Transport
T3 Transit is Charlottetown’s Public Transit system and operates several routes designed to help travellers shop, socialize, or go to work or school. They operate Monday to Saturday in the Charlottetown area, and to Cornwall and Stratford Monday to Friday.
From Monday to Friday, the Maritime Bus offers service in Summerside and the County Line Express travels from Summerside to Charlottetown.
There is no service on statutory holidays including Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Islander Day, Good Friday, Canada Day, Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Remembrance Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.
Adult fare is $2 per ride, child fare (6-11) is $1 per ride, and children five and under ride for free. Discounts are available when buying books of tickets or passes.
The Top 5 Things to do in Charlottetown, PEI
The Confederation Centre of the Arts
The Confederation Centre of the Arts opened in 1964 to commemorate the centenary of the Charlottetown Conference. Covering an entire city block, it consists of an art gallery, a museum, the provincial library, a restaurant, and two theatres where the "Anne of Green Gables" musical is hosted every year during the Charlottetown Festival.
Making a Visit to Cavendish for Anne of Green Gables’ House
Green Gables, located in Cavendish in the PEI National Park, receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to witness the site that inspired beloved author L.M. Montgomery to write about the red headed orphan, Anne.
Province House National Historic Site
Province House, often referred to as the "Birthplace of Canada," is a three-story sandstone building where the seat of the colonial existed from 1843-47. Today, it consists of interesting historical displays to explore and enjoy.
St. Dunstan's Basilica
St. Dunstan's Basilica, the seat of PEI’s Roman Catholic diocese, is an ornate, neo-Gothic basilica with sweeping rose windows and stunning Italian carvings. No photo of Charlottetown is complete without the spires of St. Dunstan’s on the skyline.
Beaconsfield Historic House and Museum
Beaconsfield Historic House is an emblematic piece of the city’s architectural heritage, with its iconic mustard yellow façade, domed mansard roof, and stunning interior decorations. Originally built in 1877, today it houses the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation and a bookshop.
Immigrant Services in Charlottetown, PEI
Newcomers to PEI can access a variety of services through public, private, and non-profit channels.
- PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada
The PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEIANC) offers short-term settlement services and long-term programs including language classes, community inclusion, refugee services, young person’s programming, and more. PEIANC should be your first point of contact before and when you arrive. Address: 49 Water Street, Charlottetown PEI, C1A 1A3
- Stanley Immigration Consulting
Stanley Immigration Consulting helps newcomers to PEI access education, career visas, and assistance with all kinds of immigration applications. Address: 138 Great George St, Charlottetown PEI, C1A 4K6
- Prince Edward Island Office of Immigration
PEI’s Office of Immigration provides official government paperwork, visas, and permissions, in addition to running the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) that nominates individuals capable of filling gaps in the labour market for permanent residency. Address: 94 Euston Street, 2nd Floor, PO Box 1176, Charlottetown PEI, C1A 7M8
Canadian public libraries offer a whole host of services designed to help newcomers, including one-on-one computer training, free WIFI, community clubs and meet-up groups, and children’s programming and story time.
The Prince Edward Island Public Library system operates 26 branches across the island where you can borrow books, DVDs, audiobooks, and other reference materials, all free of charge.
To and From
Many people arrive to PEI via the 13 km Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick, and many others ride on the ferry from Nova Scotia. Charlottetown is home to an international airport, though most scheduled flights are domestic. Air Canada operates to Charlottetown from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. WestJet offers direct flights to Toronto all year round.