Dating was different in P.E.I.'s Bygone Days

Reginald (Dutch) Thompson's column The Bygone Days brings you the voices of Island seniors, many of whom are now long-departed. These tales of the way things used to be offer a fascinating glimpse into the past. Every second weekend CBC P.E.I. will bring you one of Dutch's columns. 

Love, romance, dating and marriage were somewhat different 100 years ago in P.E.I.'s bygone days.

Valentine's Day has its origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, to mark the coming of spring, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. That changed to a celebration of romance in the 1300s and by the 1700s, cards became commercially-printed to be exchanged. 

Three generations back, courting was usually done by horse and wagon or horse and sleigh.

In 1902, Nina Bernard was born in French River. When she was going to school, one of the young men she saw every now and then was a young, good-looking farmer named Stanley Brown from over the hills in New London.

Pat Martel/CBC

Nina said Stanley would pick her up in a horse and wagon for their dates — they both enjoyed going to dances and house parties, she said.

"He didn't have a car, there was very few that had in 1923," she said, adding, "We went to get married in a car." 

Since there were not many cars on P.E.I. back then, those who owned one sometimes made a few extra dollars renting out their cars, and themselves, for special events like weddings.

Dutch Thompson

Nina married Stanley on June 23, 1923. 

"And I lost my voice — when I went to say 'I do,' I couldn't say it!" she said with a laugh. 

When Dutch interviewed her, the couple was celebrating their 72nd wedding anniversary. Did she ever think she'd be married so long? 

"Well I never thought of divorcing him … that wasn't the style."

'No honeymoon for me!'

Nina told Dutch the wedding meal was usually held at the bride's home, but hers was held at her husband's family's home.

Submitted by Phil Culhane

And a honeymoon? They were much less common back then. 

"No honeymoon for me, I went to work!" laughed Nina. She doesn't remember what she did the day after their wedding, but she recalled what Stanley did.

"He walked two fat cattle to Kensington to sell. The buyer had set this date for the shipment of cattle, and there was a lot of the other men taking cattle … that was his honeymoon!"

'Too hard a life'

Many mothers warned their daughters not to marry farmers because of just such hazards.

Dutch Thompson

Dutch interviewed Muriel (Boulter) MacKay when she was 103 years old, and asked how her husband had courted her. 

"Horse and wagon, he had a lovely horse, a prize horse," she said. 

At that time on P.E.I., cars were only allowed on certain roads on certain days — the argument was they scared horses that were sharing the roads. Some farmers also claimed their cows' milk dried up and the hens were too upset to lay eggs because of the racket of cars on the road.

P.E.I. had just seven cars in 1908, but they caused such an uproar the legislature voted unanimously to ban them, historians say. That ban was repealed in 1913, but some roads remained closed to cars until 1919. 

"I know my parents weren't attracted to him, because he was going to be a farmer, or thought he was," Muriel recalled. "Mother said 'Don't marry a farmer! Marry somebody else!'

"She thought it was too hard a life and too much work and too little money."


In 1916 Muriel went out west to Saskatchewan to teach, and fell in love with George MacKay, a young man she'd gone out with a few times before back home on P.E.I. He was from Albany, where Muriel grew up. 

She did not take her mother's advice, marrying George in January 1918 in the Knox Presbyterian Church in Saskatoon. She told Dutch it was 30-below on their wedding day! 

They came back home to P.E.I. and George had to enlist in the army — the First World War was still on.

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