Then and now: P.E.I. in 1997 and 2017

Certainly the Island has changed a lot since Confederation Bridge opened 20 years ago — and not just because of the bridge.

By the numbers, P.E.I. has gotten bigger and smaller

There have been big changes on P.E.I. since Confederation Bridge first opened to traffic. (@acadieman/Instagram)

Certainly the Island has changed a lot since Confederation Bridge opened 20 years ago — and not just because of the bridge.

Some of these changes are likely related to bridge, for some the relationship is debatable, and for others there is clearly no connection at all.

But here, by the numbers, is a look at P.E.I. then and now.


There are more Islanders now — more than 12,000 more.

  • Population 1997: 138,095.
  • Population 2016: 148,649.

But the population has not grown evenly. The population of seniors has grown by almost two thirds.

  • 1997: 16,951.
  • 2016: 28,092.

But the number of students enrolled in Island schools is down by almost 20 per cent.

  • 1997: 24,613.
  • 2016: 20,043.

While the overall population has grown, the school population has shrunk. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

There are also fewer people living in Borden-Carleton.

  • 1997: 829.
  • 2016: 724.


The average weather year in 1997 had more snow, but less rain.

1997 2017
Snow 338.7 cm 290.4 cm
Rain 868.6 mm 887.1 mm

P.E.I. has seen some big snow years recently, but on average annual snowfall is down. (CBC)


One thing that has gotten a lot smaller is the unemployment rate.

  • May 1997: 16.4%.
  • April 2017: 10.3%.

Even given a 17.4 per cent increase in the working age population of the Island, the number of actual unemployed people on the Island has dropped dramatically.

  • May 1997: 11,300.
  • April 2017: 8,400.

Retail is the largest employment sector on the Island, and sales growth in retail has been dramatic.

There is more retail choice on the Island. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Both these numbers are reported in 2017 dollars.

  • May 1997: $123.3M.
  • March 2017: $201.9M.

The expansion of the industry is impressive even considering population growth. Here is spending per capita, in 2017 dollars.

  • May 1997: $893.48.
  • March 2017: $1,364.19.


The one inarguable change from Confederation Bridge is transportation options. You can now drive across the Northumberland Strait.

But that hasn't stopped people from flying.

Passengers at Charlottetown Airport:

  • 1997: 179,045.
  • 2016: 354,234.

Passenger numbers at Charlottetown Airport have almost doubled. (ACOA)

Some things haven't changed at all. They've just gotten older. The opening of the Confederation Bridge left just two ferries crossing Northumberland Strait.

P.E.I.'s ferries have not changed. They have just grown older. (CBC)

The same two ferries are crossing the strait today, and their average age has seen a corresponding increase.

  • 1997: 15.5 years.
  • 2017: 35.5 years.


Island potato fields are smaller 20 years later.

Potatoes planted:

  • 1997: 45,000 hectares.
  • 2016: 36,000 hectares.

There are fewer hectares of potatoes being planted on P.E.I., but the value of the crop continues to rise. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Potatoes represented a little under half of farm cash receipts in 1997, and a little more than half in 2016. The value of the potato crop has grown considerably, as has the value of other farm products.

Value of farm cash receipts (2017 dollars)
1997 2016
Potatoes $181.1M $253.2M
Total $390.9M $495.0M

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Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at