PEI Literary Marketplace

There is more to a books than just authors. Vital to any literary scene are the publishers, writer’s groups, periodicals, and the role of self-publishing in the modern marketplace. As with any populated area that has a strong cultural industry, Prince Edward Island has its own book-related entrepreneurs, publishing houses, and literary zines.

PEI Publishers and Resources

This entry is especially relevant due to recent news regarding the cutting of a government grant for publishers in PEI, which comes after years of related controversy.

Acorn Press

The Acorn Press – located in Charlottetown, PEI – was founded in 1994 by editor, poet, and publisher Laurie Brinklow (it has since changed hands to a new owner in 2010.) It has since become the leading publisher of Island books.  Acorn Press has the goal and mandate of publishing work by Islanders and for Islanders. This attitude applies not only to the writers, but artists as well; Acorn Press employs PEI visual artists for book covers and children’s books illustrations.

Since Acorn’s first book back in 1994 – An Island Christmas Reader by David Weale – Acorn has published over fifty titles, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. Acorn’s stable of authors includes Poets Laureate John Smith, Frank Ledwell, and Hugh MacDonald. It has a bit of a relaxed schedule for releasing books compared to some other publishers in the Maritime region, but it shows no signs of slowing down.

Island Studies Press

Island Studies Press is the publishing arm of the Institute of Island Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island. While Acorn Press published predominantly fiction, this is the premiere publisher of non-fiction in PEI, largely academic in nature. While the books are rigorously peer-reviewed, they are written for a popular audience and intended for the general marketplace.

Island Studies Press also produces research reports for the Institute of Island Studies, which focuses on the culture, environment and economy of small islands. The Institute of Island Studies is a research, education, and public policy institute based at the University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada.

Like the Acorn Press, Island Studies Press releases a limited amount of work throughout the year and updates the news section sparingly, but this is due to the specialized area of expertise and commitment to accuracy in the work.

PEI Poetry

There’s been a lot of talk on this blog about fiction, but we’ve never really mentioned poetry. If you’re talking poetry in PEI, sooner or later you’re going to come to the topic of the Poet Laureate: a program started by the government of PEI in 2002 for the purposes of electing a poet of stature to represent PEI, assist PEI poets, and be a general spokesperson for the entire PEI poetry scene, both locally and abroad.  The first Poet Laureate was St Peters Bay native Frank Ledwell. Poet Laureates only hold the position for a few years, with the list of representatives including Diane Hicks Morrow  , Hugh MacDonald,  and David Helwig.

A large number of poetry from and relating to PEI is funneled through a website run by the Poet Laureate, Poetry PEI.  This really is your best place to start if you’re looking to get into the PEI poetry scene, especially since it includes podcasts, event listings, and important poems from the history of PEI.

PEI Independent Publishing Scene

Island writers are following a much larger trend when it comes to self-publishing. With the limited amount of literary agents in Canada that accept unsolicited manuscripts, people across the country have been turning to self-publishing and independent zines. Small publishing houses can accomplish this for independent writers, or people can turn to sites like for a print-on-demand option. The more technologically-oriented authors master programs like Adobe InDesign.

In a recent article by the CBC, Laurie Brinklow points out how this growing trend is uniquely affecting PEI, and how it’s set up to accommodate independent authors:

“Laurie Brinklow of Charlottetown’s Acorn Press said while it is getting easier to self-publish, it is getting harder to find a publisher willing to take on new authors, partly due to funding restrictions. Brinklow said the Canada Council for the Arts, which funds publishers like Acorn Press, is looking for very specific content.[…] As in any business, marketing is key to success. Finding a space on bookstore shelves is not a challenge in Charlottetown — two large stores dedicate space to local offerings — but selling means doing more than just making the book available.”

Movements like this always intersect with community groups and other organizations, like the Prince Edward Island Writers’ Guild. Founded in 1989 by a group of writers from different literary programs, it is an organization dedicated to promoting the growth and quality of literary arts on PEI, designed to create a formal intersection for discussion and action, and to speak periodically as one voice for the Island’s literary community.

These days, the “next big thing” is might come from a renowned publisher that has been at it for decades, or it can be from someone selling books out of the trunk of their car. As long as they have the support from retailers and the curiosity of the people, movements like self-publishing are bound to grow.

PEI Maritime Stories

Whenever you’re talking islands, you’re going to end up hearing about ships. Sea shanties, naval battles, pirates; the seas around North America are rich with tales of battles, disasters, and eccentricities. PEI is no exception, with a wealth of maritime history that is waiting to be explored.

Have a look at a few select stories on PEI Ships:

The Turret Bell

We’re kicking off this list with the namesake of this site. By all accounts, the Turret Bell – 2211 tonnes, 237 feet long – was not an attractive ship. It was not intended to be an attractive ship, but it was often remarked that it was a “freak of naval architecture.” Its classification was a “whaleback steamer,” which describes (if you can imagine) a hull that is continuously curved above the waterline from vertical to horizontal. The idea is that when the ship is fully loaded, only the rounded portion of the hull (the “whaleback”) could be seen above the waterline, giving it an appearance that, by today’s standards, would be regarded as “unique.”

At the time, was claimed that this hull design would save forty per cent in fuel costs, but it didn’t take long for the design to prove to be a failure on both the deep seas and the Great Lakes.

As the Turret Bell entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence on November 2, 1906, it just so happened to sail into one of the worst storms in Prince Edward Island history. The ship was carried far off its course, landing her bow into the rocks offshore at Cable  Head, just outside St Peters Bay. It was the whaleback design, oddly enough, that kept the ship upright while in the shallow waters. It was one of many ships that saw disaster during that storm, including the Orpheus, Olga, and Sovinto.  Captain Murcassen of the Turret Bell and Captain Wiglund of the Sovinto would testify at the inquiries into the wreck of their ships that the barometer gave no indication of a coming storm, which lasted for days.

The full crew of the Turret Bell were rescued, and the ship stayed sitting in the shallow water of Cable Head for two years, defying a number of salvage attemps.  The ship became a local tourist attraction, attracting media attention all across the Maritimes and beyond.  The salvage effort required a new road be build to the site of the wreck, and The Turret Bell road still exists today.

Finally, after two years of attemps, The Turret Bell was finally refloated, the boilers were powered up, and she sailed away under her own steam.

Yankee Gale

We’re going to play through with the “storm” theme, because what’s a good ship story without some form of violence?

The Yankee Gale was a major storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Prince Edward Island, Canada, that began on the night of October 3, 1851 and continued for two days, according to one captain’s log. It is sometimes regarded as the worst natural disaster in the history of the Maritimes.

The storm had a minimal effect inland, while being devastating to those trapped out on the water. Those that tried to sail past the island were blocked by Northeast gales, and those that attempted to hold their position had their sails torn away by the wind. While some ships were dragged towards the island and run aground, others (like those that dropped anchor) were capsized, or destroyed by other ships being driven into them.

The storm laid waste to local PEI ships, but the storm is most notable for wrecking a large portion of a New England fishing fleet that was in the area at the time (which gave the storm its name). In total, at least 74 ships were destroyed, and 150 crew were killed; the majority of which were the American fleet.

The Battle at Port-la-Joye

We’re going back a bit further in time for this one. The Battle at Port-la-Joye (AKA the Port-la-Joye Massacre) was a battle that took place on Prince Edward Island in 1776. The British were leading a company of men from Massachusetts, and the French were leading the Canadiens and Mi’kmaq.

The Míkmaq are a First Nations people indigenous to Canada’s Maritime Provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. At other times during conflicts that would envelope the region the Mi’kmaq assisted the Acadians in resisting the British during the Expulsion (mentioned in an earlier article.)

This battle was a part of King George’s War which was the North American front during the much larger War of Austrian Succession, and the third of the four French and Indian Wars. Along with this battle on Prince Edward Island, battles were fought in New York, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia. Overall, the war took a heavy toll, especially in the northern British colonies. The losses of Massachusetts men alone in 1745–46 have been estimated as 8% of that colony’s adult male population.

During the Battle at Port-la-Joye, French officer Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Roch de Ramezay sent French and Mi’kmaq forces to Port-la-Joye where they surprised and defeated a company of 200 Massachusetts militia in two British naval vessels.

The fall of Port-la-Joye saw Île Saint-Jean return to control by France. This is part of a long and ugly conflict between the British and French, which involved resistance from the Mi’kmaq and the eventual expulsion of the Acadians from the region.


Music of Prince Edward Island

The music scenes in the Maritimes are very diverse and unique, with each province offering up a different collection of roots and modern interpretations. From the East Coast Hip Hop and Battle Rap scene birthed in Nova Scotia and the unique music from Cape Breton Island to New Brunswick’s Roch Voisine and Prince Edward Island’s own Stompin’ Tom Connors, there’s a wide selection of sounds coming from a relatively isolated location. Prince Edward Music is the marriage of the modern and traditional, buoyed by organizations like Music PEI and the Prince Edward Island Council for the Arts.

There’s a variety of music festivals held each year, including the PEI Jazz Blues Festival, the more traditional Festival of Small Halls, and the more adventurous Island Fusion. But by far, the festival with the widest recognition is the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

The following entry will detail some popular musical acts with a strong regional following, and some that have made a mark outside of The Island.

Acts Focusing on PEI

Gordon Belsher is as good a place as any to start due to his work with more traditional styles of PEI music. As a vocalist, he has done numerous shows with fiddlers Richard Wood and Stephanie Cadman and done solo work with guitar, banjo, and other stringed instruments. Gordon has toured extensively across Canada, in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Japan and Australia, and was recently awarded the 2013 MUSIC PEI Roots Traditional Recording of the Year.

Check out one of Gordon Belsher’s tracks.

Jon Matthews is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has been cultivating his fan base onstage in pubs, theatres and festivals all over the country since moving to PEI in 2002. Along with his exhaustive touring on The Island, he has made national and regional television appearances on CTV’s Canada AM and Breakfast Television. Jon also does lots of production work in his own studio, Big Grey Sound Studio, winner of the prestigious Music PEI Studio of the Year.

Check out one of Jon Matthews’ tracks.

Fiddlers’ Sons can be found performing all over PEI, particularly in the summer when this group seems to pop up at every festival and benefit.  Their own concert series – Close to the Ground – brings in featured performers every week during the summer, and usually sells out.  Their music defines the modern Island sound, influenced by Celtic and country sounds, with lyrics telling the story of life on PEI.

Listen to All the Way to Cardigan by Fiddlers’ Sons.

Acts Reaching Outside of PEI

Tim Chaisson has deep musical roots on PEI, with multiple members of the renowned Chaisson Family having entertained and developed Island music for many years.  Recently, Tim has broken out of the Island scene, hitting #1 on the Much More Music countdown, in the process developing a world-wide following.  He had toured across Canada and as far as Australia, and has also performed with popular artists such as Serena Ryder and sharing the stage with Johnny Reid, and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Click here to listen to Tim Chaisson’s Beat This Heart featuring Serena Ryder.

Boxer the Horse is an indie-rock band that has had great success breaking into the mainstream, having been named the best new band in Canada by CBC Radio 3 at the annual Bucky Awards in 2010, and Music PEI’s 2011 Rock Recording of the Year.

Click here to listen to “Rattle Your Cage” by Boxer the Horse.

Paper Lions (formerly the Chucky Danger Band) is a Canadian indie rock band, formed in Belfast, Prince Edward Island in 2004.

Paper Lions have been featured on CBC Radio, having their video for their single “Lost the War” nominated for a 2010 CBC Radio 3 Bucky Award, and “Best Pop EP” at the Independent Music Awards in 2013. This commercial interest has paved the way for television interest including performing on September 29, 2010 on MTV Live and having the track “Lost the War” featured in several episodes of the ABC show “Greek.” (

 Click here for the video for “My Friend” by Paper Lions.

 Brief History of Traditional PEI Music

Some of the most popular music in PEI still has Celtic or folk overtones, so it only make sense that we dedicate a little bit of time on this aspect. As you could imagine, this isn’t a new development.

The roots of PEI music lie in Celtic music, which today highlights the fiddle, piano and step dancer (examples of which can be found above, under Gordon Belsher.) Celtic music can also be found in one form or another across the rest of North America with bands like Flogging Molly ( and the Dropkick Murphys. (

The musical culture of PEI 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, pubs, and ceilidhs. A ceilidh – meaning “gathering” – has long been the most common place for this type of music to be found. Examples of ceilidhs can be found here.( These places are the best places to find authentic step dancing other traditional PEI music.

Broadly, Celtic music was imported straight from the Highlands of Scotland and remained unchanged in its birthplace for centuries. On Prince Edward Island, however, it mixed with Irish and Acadian musical tradition, as well. It is this collision of cultures that defines and influences much of the Island’s music landscape.

The Prince Edward Island Food Scene

Welcome to 2014.  Let’s get your mouth watering for the new year.

When you think of Prince Edward Island food, you’re probably thinking of two things: potatoes and seafood. Pei is famous the world over for its potatoes, lobster, and mussels. You can find many websites and resources out there that push the economic and cultural importance of these icons. If you’re ever in PEI, you’ll notice how “freshness” is a common buzzword: on an island where the primary industries are farming and fishing, coupled with the relative isolation from the mainland, you can find a lot of powerful local flavours no matter where you go. There’s a reason the Island is nicknamed the “Garden of the Gulf.”

On the national level, Chef Michael Smith has raised awareness of PEI as a destination for food lovers, specifically profiling Island-produced goods, hands on culinary experiences and restaurants. He is widely regarded as PEI’s food ambassador, and he maintains his close ties to the Island, regularly appearing at local events.

Although best known for its traditional products, PEI has become a culinary hotspot, with an ever-expanding list of top notch restaurants gaining a great reputation.  The yearly Fall Flavours Culinary Festival celebrates the Island’s food scene.

Although the Island’s ever-expanding gourmet selections keep the most discerning palate happy while vising PEI, local products still dominate everyday menus.


Although Prince Edward Island’s food scene has moved well beyond simply potatoes, it is still the leading agricultural product on PEI, where farmers have been growing potatoes since the late 1700’s.  There are approximately 330 potato growers on PEI, primarily composed of multi-generational family farms. The industry itself is worth over a billion dollars to the Prince Edward Island economy every year. The province currently accounts for a third of Canada’s total potato production, producing approximately 1.3 billion kilograms annually.

The uniqueness of the potatoes is often credited to the unique soil on the island: red and rich in iron, it is perfectly suited for potatoes, as it retains just the right amount of moisture during the growing season but is then effectively cleansed over the winter.  It’s the right balance of heat, light, and water to maximize yields and quality.  Additionally, the surrounding ocean acts as a natural barrier against airborne or insect-borne diseases.

The communmity of O’Leary in western PEI is the home of the Canadian Potato Museum.  In this day and age, it takes a lot of work to get people excited about potatoes, but try some PEI potatoes with the right recipe and you won’t be disappointed. How about the ultimate comfort foods, such as rustic PEI potato, beef, and mushroom stew or scalloped potatoes. Or how about a twist on a breakfast favourite with potato pancakes.


Despite the economic reliance on potatoes and ebb-and-flow of lobster markets, lobster is still one of the biggest draws to Prince Edward Island.

While lobster can be found on PEI any time of year, there are two main lobster seasons: the first runs from May until the end of June, and the second from August until October, with different areas of the island having different seasons.  Restaurants all around the island can be found serving up lobster in all forms, or you can buy it yourself, either live or freshly cooked.

It’s such a popular delicacy that Prince Edward Island is host to an annual International Shellfish Festival. Started in 1996, this is an annual event every September where where competitive shuckers, celebrity chefs, music lovers and a host of shellfish fans gather in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island for four days of festivities.

If you’re looking for reasons to buy fresh lobster yourself, here are some easy recipes to make the most out of your purchase:

Prince Edward Island Style Lobster with Lemon Brown Butter

Lobster Abegweit

Lobster and Potato Risotto


PEI has earned its reputation for high quality standards in its mussel exports based on the diligence and pride of Island growers.  Top restaurants around the world now specifically include PEI mussels on their menu.

PEI blue mussels grow naturally in PEI’s nutrient-rich waters, and are self-sustained with no feed or additives. Mussels are loaded with nutrients while being light of calories, which makes them ideal for anyone planning a balanced meal. PEI is known for its blue-cultured mussels, which are grown without any special feed or additives and contained in a mesh sleeve that protects them from predators

The high concentration of natural plankton in the waters – their natural food source – puts makes PEI unique for producing mussels with cleaner shells and grit-free flesh. This type of suspended cultivation began on PEI in the 1970s and has been instrumental in building PEI’s reputation for producing mussels with exceptionally tender meat,

Mussels are easy to prepare and go great in pastas, or prepared with the right sauce. Here are some simple recipes for PEI mussels:

PanRoasted Mussels in Miso Broth

Curried Confederation Blues

Creamy “Island Gold” Blue Mussel Pasta

Acadian Dishes

The Acadians are the descendants of the 17th-century French colonists who settled in Acadia, a colony of New France. The colony was located in what is now Eastern Canada’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island), as well as part of Quebec.

The history of the Acadians in the region is long and storied, with the majority of them being expelled from the region in the mid-1700s by the British government, many immigrating to Louisiana and becoming known as Cajuns. Many Acadians returned to the Maritimes – most notably New Brunswick – with roughly 3000 descendants in PEI today. Acadian history is an integral component of Canadian history, so we find ways to bring attention to it whenever we can.  Chicken fricot is a popular Acadian dish that is still prepared today by many Acadian descendants.