Fur trading and fishing held so much sway early on in Canada's history, that they determined the pattern of European settlement for the region. Neither industry required a large population base. Fur trading was conducted by a small number of independent explorers and adventurers who did not need a large population of farmers to support them.
In the fisheries, most fishermen only came to North America for a season and then took their catch back to Europe. This did not support permanent settlement of the coast, which would have been a costly drain on profits from fishing. As a result, the population of Canada and Acadia grew more slowly than the farming population of the 13 British Colonies of America so that when the British conquered Canada in 1763, the French were outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.
The lobster fishery had a profound effect on settlement patterns on Prince Edward Island. When the lobster fishery began to boom in the 1870's and 1880's, it was necessary to can the lobster catch quickly, before the meat went bad. Every little cove and harbour had its own lobster canning factory to deal with the catch as quickly as possible right off the boats.1
By 1901, the number of lobster canneries had risen to 227. However, with the arrival of new technology such as fast engines and refrigeration storage, local canneries were less and less necessary, and the number of canneries soon dropped. Live lobsters could now make the journey to larger, more efficient canneries farther away.2
In his book The Fishery on Prince Edward Island, Kennedy Wells asks why Islanders responded with such enthusiasm to the lobster fishery when before they had been content to let the Americans dominate the lucrative cod and mackerel fisheries. One possible answer Wells provides is that lobster fishing simply suited the 'Island way of life,' economy, and community.
In the early years, it was possible to get into the lobster business for a relatively small investment Even a factory need only cost a few thousand dollars, and in the beginning all a fisherman needed to work was a dory. Years ago, even in the little factories a real family feeling existed. The 'boss' might well be a neighbor, and the person next to you at the shelling-table someone you sat next to in a one room schoolhouse. It was all a far cry from work in some huge and impersonal plant in a distant city where everyone was a stranger, and that was just what many Islanders liked about it.3
1. "Fishing: A Part of the Island Heritage." Charlottetown.
2.Wells, Kennedy. The Fishery of Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown: Ragweed Press, 1986. (149)