How the Confederation Bridge has affected the Island way of life

A UPEI masters student set out to examine how, 20 years later, the Confederation Bridge has impacted the Island way of life.

Many Islanders still associate the ferry with 'coming home'

Some Islanders believe the Confederation Bridge has helped facilitate P.E.I.'s economic growth. (John Robertson/CBC)

When Janice Pettit set out to examine how the Confederation Bridge has affected the Island way of life, she was struck by how nostalgic some P.E.I. residents still are about the ferry 20 years later.

While they said the bridge has generally been good for the Island, they were more sentimental about the ferry.

"If they talked about the ferry, then they talked about coming home — 'Oh you know, we'd take the ferry to get home and we'd stand on the deck and watch the Island coming toward us,'" Pettit said.

"But then when they talked about the bridge they talked about, 'Yes, I took the bridge to go here or I went there.' So it was quite interesting to hear the difference in the two — one was for coming home, the other was for leaving."

Many Islanders still speak fondly of the ferry, 20 years after it was replaced by the Confederation Bridge as the way to travel to and from the mainland. (CBC)

How the bridge, and the loss of the ferry, has affected the Island way of life was the topic of Pettit's thesis this year in the Master of Arts in Island Studies program at UPEI.

When people talked about the ferry, they were very nostalgic.— Janice Pettit

'It's a slower pace'

The answer, she said, depends largely on how people define the Island way of life. She interviewed 11 P.E.I. residents of different ages and backgrounds, and found it meant different things to different people.

"The words that they used were it's a safe place, it's peaceful, it's quiet, it's a slower place. It's part of our identity. It's different. The isolation. It's the border, it's the water, there were so many words they used.

"It's community. It's being vulnerable but also being strong. Being familiar with everyone around you and being comfortable."

Janice Pettit spoke with Islanders about their feelings toward the Confederation Bridge and the ferry for her masters thesis in UPEI's Island Studies program. (Submitted by Janice Pettit)

Many said the bridge has benefited the economy which, in turn, has affected the Island way of life in a positive way.

"I think if we did research at a different time, we'd have different answers, because right now they talked about the big box stores, but they also talked about how buying local is so important now," Pettit said.

"Perhaps a decade ago, that wasn't a thing that people talked about. It was all about the Walmarts and the Toys R Us and the bigger stores that were coming to the Island."

Easier for travel

One person Pettit interviewed said the bridge was a factor in her decision to move to P.E.I. five years ago to study.

"She said she would never have come here to go to university if we had had the ferry because she was able to travel back and forth quite often to family and friends because of the bridge."

Some said the Island way of life has changed in the last 20 years, but not necessarily because of the bridge.

"Particularly in the last decade or so with immigration, and the Internet, and globalization, the cruise industry," Pettit said. "And that they didn't really feel it was the bridge that had made that change."

The Confederation Bridge is quicker to cross, but unlike the ferry, it doesn't provide the opportunity to socialize. (Submitted: Central Coastal PEI)

Pettit said the bridge has absolutely changed the Island, but she's not sure if it has changed the Island way of life — partly because the Island way of life means different things to different people, and what it meant decades ago may not be what it means today.

'We've lost that social aspect of the ferry'

But if one aspect of the Island way of life is being friendly and sociable, the ferry was able to provide something the bridge cannot.

"When people talked about the ferry, they were very nostalgic. They didn't talk about racing for the boat, or sitting in the parking lot for hours on end, but if they did it was about, 'Oh there was such a party when [we] sat in the parking lot waiting. We'd run into friends and family and people you haven't seen in a long time.'

"You're going across the bridge, you have no idea who's behind you, who's in front of you, we've very much lost that social aspect of the ferry."

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About the Author

Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.