The Three Rivers

Location: Georgetown, Prince Edward Island
Region: Outside Ontario
Character: Heritage River
Length/Size: 73 km

The Three Rivers
By The Canadian Heritage Rivers System

Prince Edward Island: A Big River for a Small Island

Prince Edward Island may be most famous as the home of Anne of Green Gables, but rivers are an integral part of the island's heritage. The Three Rivers includes the Cardigan, Brudenell and Montague/Valleyfield rivers, flowing into Cardigan Bay on Northumberland Strait via three long, finger-like tidal estuaries.

The Three Rivers includes a variety of unspoiled habitats and shorelines, including salt marshes, sandy beaches, and mixed woods. Migrating waterfowl frequent the estuary, and trout and salmon live and breed throughout the watershed.

But it is the cultural values of the watershed that clearly make it outstanding in Canada. Scrapers and spear points found in the area show that it was long used by the Mi'kmaq before the arrival of Europeans. When the first Europeans did arrive, The Three Rivers was soon recognized as having one of the best harbours in North America. It quickly became a centre of settlement and commercial fishing. The Three Rivers was the site of one of the first French settlements on Prince Edward Island, the Jean Pierre Roma Settlement of 1732. It quickly grew into the most important node of European civilization on Prince Edward Island. All roads on PEI at that time led to The Three Rivers.

The Three Rivers are navigable by canoe for over 52 km, a long distance by PEI standards. There are several excellent sand beaches, trails, including the Confederation Trail, PEI's longest multi-use trail, and three Scenic Heritage Roads. Fishing for speckled trout, Atlantic salmon, and gasperaux, a common bait fish, are popular activities.

The Three Rivers is made up of three rivers on the eastern shore of Prince Edward Island (PEI): the Cardigan, Brudenell, and Montague/Valleyfield Rivers. Together, they are 73 km long.

The Cardigan is the northernmost of the Three Rivers and drains an area of 105 km2, while the Brudenell drains 55 km2. The largest of the three, Montague/Valleyfield, drains 197 km2 including the Caledonia Hills, one of only two hill-lands in the province.
The Three Rivers was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in May 2004 for its significant cultural heritage values.

The Three Rivers flow southeasterly into Cardigan Bay between Lanching Point and Panmure Island on the eastern shore of Kings County, PEI. The watershed includes all lands drained by the Three Rivers, as well as the river corridors from headwater to estuary, as well as Boughton Island in Cardigan Bay.

The Cardigan River freshwater courses include a small corridor from a major road crossing north of Pooles Corner, west to its headwaters. Two smaller tributaries - the 7km Mitchell and 10km Seal Rivers - flow into the tidal portion of the Cardigan River.

The Brudenell River drains from its headwaters north of the community of New Perth to its estuary at Georgetown. This river flows past several historically significant sites before reaching the important shipbuilding site of Georgetown Harbour.

The headwaters of the Valleyfield (at Caledonia and Lewes) represent the most southerly extent of the Three Rivers system. These rivers drain most of the Caledonia Hills of southern Kings and Queens Counties, one of only two significant hill-lands on PEI.

On each of the Three Rivers, the shore is a mixture of woodland with few banks or cliffs. A combination of farmland, sand pits, beaches, and shaled outcroppings rounds out the landscapes found along the shores. Red sandstone are found on Boughton Island, Red Point, Ferry Point, Brudenell Point, and Panmure Island.

Salt marches on this system are small and sporadic with the largest found at DeGros Marsh and Campbell Point. Sandy beaches in the estuary are frequent and vary from nearly white to red, depending on the amount of iron oxide on the sand grains.

The forested areas are predominantly of mixed woods, although there are good upland hardwood stands as well as areas of almost pure softwood. White and red pine are no longer common species in the province but are commonly found along this corridor.

Natural Heritage
Although the Three Rivers was not designated for its natural heritage values, some important environmental features to note are:
- Its rich evidence of post-glacial sea level change, with seven sites of drowned forests along its coastline;
- The bedrock of Three Rivers which is mainly sandstoneand dates from the Permo-Carboniferous to Triassic (300-200 million years ago). Because it is highly erodible, few fossils or other representations of major periods of geological time are found along the river corridors.
- Glaciation is at seven sites where drowned forests have been identified. This is a significant proportion of the 30 sites known to occur off Prince Edward Island's coast, and represents the greatest concentration of drowned forests around PEI.
- A mixture of geological features scattered throughout the area: sand or clay-sand phase till, meltwater pond deposits, ablation moraine, a small kame field, eskers, and minor peat bogs are, and there are a few sand beaches or bars.
- Great Blue Heron colony, migrating waterfowl, and salmonoids are common throughout the watershed.
- At least nine provincially rare vascular plant species known.
- The estuary and tidal area of the Brudenell River has a beautiful blend of gently sloping shorelines with mixed woods, banks, sandy beaches, small salt marshes and agricultural fields. And
- The Montague River drains the Caledonia Hills, among the highest elevations in the province.

Human Heritage
Some of the most significant values for which the Three Rivers was designated include:
- Prince Edward Island's earliest human travel corridors, with a long history of importance to Mi'Kmaq peoples, early French settlers, and later Scottish, Irish, and English settlers;
- The site of one of the first French settlements on Prince Edward Island, the Jean Pierre Roma settlement of 1732-1745;
- Prince Edward Island's first roads and an interior rivers ferry system were established here, making Three Rivers an early centre of transportation, commerce, and regional development;
- Where Lord Selkirk established his first settlement in Canada, paving the way for his later Red River settlements in Ontario and Manitoba;
- A predominant shipbuilding location in eastern Canada during the age of sail (1840-1889), producing at least 415 vessels;
- Its fine harbours and excellent commercial fishery, both of which were exploited by ships from throughout the Maritimes and the United States in the mid-1800s;
- The lives and work of famous Canadians and Islanders who contributed to Canada in the fields of politics, economics, and agriculture;
- Mill sites, portage routes, shipyards, and other physical remnants of a continued human presence; and
- Influence on settlement patterns both on Prince Edward Island and elsewhere in Canada.

The outstanding cultural values combine with ample opportunity for recreation and appreciation of the watershed's natural features to provide a quality visitor experience.

The Three Rivers offers outstanding opportunities for interpretive and recreational activities including:
- natural and human heritage appreciation;
- canoeing, kayaking, and boating;
- hiking, cycling;
- angling, hunting, trapping; and
- wildlife viewing.

The Three Rivers has many sandy beaches, several multi-purpose trails, three Scenic Heritage Roads, a large provincial park and several community parks.

Further Information
Jean Pierre Roma at Three Rivers National Historic Site