Plans to mark 250th anniversary of Samuel Holland’s survey of P.E.I.

Mary MacKay
Published on October 31, 2013

George Dalton, left, a sixth-generation descendant of Samuel Holland, and Jack Sorensen, president of the Tryon Area Historical Society, recently held a history circle-style meeting about the upcoming 250th anniversary of the making of Holland’s survey and map of Prince Edward Island. Although Holland’s wife, Marie Josephte Rolette, and numerous other family members are buried in the local cemetery in Tryon, the whereabouts of the remains of the first surveyor general of British North America on his former estate in Quebec City are still a mystery.


It’s a split celebration date for the 250th anniversary of the making of Samuel Holland’s survey and map of Prince Edward Island.

Starting in the summer of 2014 and continuing into 2015, there will be a series of commemorative activities pertaining to this first surveyor general of British North America who, as a warm up to beginning the enormous task of surveying all of the British territory north of the Potomac River, started by surveying what was then known as St. John’s Island over the winter of 1764-1765.

“The survey of British North America started in P.E.I.,” says Jack Sorensen, president of the Tryon Area Historical Society, which recently held a history circle-style meeting on the topic of this upcoming historic milestone.

A provincial committee, chaired by David Keenlyside, executive director of the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation, will co-ordinate the 250th anniversary celebration activities.

“The suggestion has gone out to all the different lots on Prince Edward Island —67 lots — that they should be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Holland survey. So, of course, since Samuel Holland’s (land) holding was in Lot 28, of which Tryon is a part, we’re representing Lot 28 . . . ,” Sorensen says of this area of the Island to which all P.E.I. Hollands can trace their lineage,

“What he did in terms of settlement wasn’t just bringing his family here. What he did first was place his disbanded soldiers on the lots; some of the people who fought with him on the Plains of Abraham and at (Fort) Louisburg. They came and settled, the founding families,” adds George Dalton, a sixth-generation descendant of Holland.

The recent history circle at the South Shore United Church in Tryon summarized the work of Holland, who is still recognized to this day for his pioneering accomplishments in the history of surveying and cartography.

As stated on the Parks Canada website, with the help of deputy surveyor Thomas Wright, engineers, volunteers and soldiers from Fort Amherst/Fort-la-Joye, Holland set out to complete the survey of P.E.I., enduring harsh conditions through the winter of 1764-65. He divided the Island into a system of counties, lots, parishes and town sites — much of which is still present today.

Some of the 250th anniversary activities being planned for Tryon area are a summer Islanders’ lecture series in 2014-15 that will focus on the Holland connection, as well as a memorial celebration at Tryon People’s Cemetery adjacent to the church grounds next summer.

A reunion for the summer of 2015 is being discussed, with the possibility of a picnic and a re-enactment, as are various historical presentations, an archeological survey and interpretation of the Old Tryon Dyke and the historic footpath along the Tryon River that was used by the early English settlers.

“We see the Tryon River as very important — going back to the aboriginal people. It gave them access to the interior. The later Acadians used the saltwater marshes,” Sorensen says.

“On his map of the survey (Holland) had done, he had actually located the Acadian dwellings and buildings so we know the exact locations where they are. So our trail that we’ve developed in the community goes very close to the original footpath of those early people.”

The strong connection between Holland and his surveying team and the Mi’kmaq and the Acadians will also be highlighted.

Another matter on the table for the Tryon Area Historical Society is positively identifying where Holland’s body is buried on his former estate in Quebec City. Most likely his remains, along with a number of other family members, are located in a small, unmarked burial plot located on the St. Foye property of what is now Ecole Samuel Holland.

“(Exactly who is there) is still a mystery. I think the story goes that there are five ‘slumbers’ that were under the famous Holland tree on his estate in Quebec City,” Dalton says.

Research conducted by P.E.I. historian Earle Lockerby has unearthed a 1967 land deed with provisions made to the purchasers at the time that, at their expense, a suitable inscribed marker was be placed on the Holland school building or located on the grounds in order to commemorate Holland.

In response to a recent letter from Lockerby, the Commission Scolaire Central Quebec acknowledges that there is no evidence that this was done.

Lockerby also found documentation of a 1960 excavation of the Holland burial ground, which was undertaken at the request of the city at that time. Portions of one skeleton were found within a coffin area, including a skull in damaged condition and various other bones thought to be that of a young adult.

“(That excavation) is incomplete. They didn’t do part of the tomb on the burial site because of the fact that the parcel of land encroached on the back of somebody else’s property. And it’s not like today. In 1960, you didn’t have the technology like today. They now have the equipment to scan and see where bodies are and whatever . . . ,” Dalton says.

“(But) we haven’t got to the point yet where we’ve organized an official effort to identify (where Holland’s remains are located).”