The Protestant-Catholic divide on Prince Edward Island, Canada: its creation, growth and resolution

Beck, Callum Vere (2010). The Protestant-Catholic divide on Prince Edward Island, Canada: its creation, growth and resolution. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis traces the origin and growth of the sectarian divide between Protestants and Catholics on Prince Edward Island, situating it in the wider context of Canada's Atlantic Provinces, the north-eastern United States and Britain. All of these areas had relatively good relations between Protestants and Catholics from 1780 to the mid-1830s, then experienced a period of intense sectarian conflict into the late 1870s, but thereafter the
Atlantic provinces took a unique path in managing sectarian tensions.

The event which brought buried religious animosities to the surface on P.E.I. was the Belfast Riot of 1847. These negative feelings grew until a sectarian firestorm was ignited by the Bible Question of 1856. For the next two decades battles over religion and education kept the two groups so divided that for much of that time political affiliation was determined by religion.

The education wars were resolved by 1877, but the sectarian tensions that fuelled them were only sublimated through the use of elite accommodation and the implementation of a de facto separate school system These 'gentlemen's agreements' circumscribed relations between the two denominations on the Island for the next eighty years. They proved quite effective in keeping the peace but with the side effect of institutionalizing religious division in the society. A second round of education battles (1957-69) ended the separate school system and was the main factor in healing the divide on P.E.I.

This work's uniqueness lies primarily in its focus on the Belfast Riot as a seminal event in articulating sectarian division, and in its extensive use of oral history in the study of Protestant-Catholic relations. Its main contribution, in addition to enhancing understanding of P.E.I.'s history and Protestant-Catholic relations in general is in suggesting a frame of reference for similar oral research to be done in other religiously-divided communities.

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