Description of Historic Place
Oulton's Island lies about 400 metres from the Northport wharf near Alberton. It is comprised of 211 acres (85.39 hectares) of mainly forested land. It has 2.5 miles (4.2 km) of sandy shoreline. The registration includes the entire island.
Oulton's Island is valued for its association with the history of fox farming in Prince Edward Island.
The earliest residents of the island were the Mi'kmaq people who travelled to the area in their canoes. When French explorer, Jacques Cartier, visited in 1534, he remarked in his diary that "we saw many savages and their canoes." This unenlightened description was a common Eurocentric judgement at the time. The name survived into the 1880s, appearing on maps such as the one in Meacham's Atlas as "Savage Island". Another name that was used for the place was "Cherry Island" - a description which may have hinted at its agricultural potential.
In 1880, the island was owned by Summerside merchant, shipbuilder, and later premier, James Colledge Pope. Around this time, Robert Trenholm Oulton (1835-1920) was renting land on the island. Oulton had come from New Brunswick and was a farmer as well as an avid hunter. He especially enjoyed hunting red foxes and the rarer black or silver foxes with his friend, Charles Dalton, a native of Tignish. Oulton began experimenting with breeding silver foxes in captivity around 1878. Dalton followed by attaining breeding stock in 1883.
In 1890, Oulton purchased Cherry Island from Pope. By 1894, both he and Dalton had decided to go into business breeding foxes for their lucrative pelts. They used the protective habitat offered by the island to allow the foxes an open range free from predators. Oulton worked behind the scenes managing the day to day operations of the fox ranch, while Dalton developed and expanded the markets for the Island's foxes. The first Silver Fox pelts were marketed by Dalton in 1896. The business proved very successful and soon became widespread. By 1913, there were 277 such ranches in the province. The industry made many families wealthy and brought millions of dollars to Prince Edward Island.
Meanwhile, the Oulton-Dalton partnership dissolved in 1911 with Oulton retiring back to Shimogue, New Brunswick. Dalton, later Sir Charles Dalton, sold his shares for close to $250,000. He would go on to be a lieutenant governor of PEI and a well known philanthropist.
The Silver Fox farming industry had been pioneered in PEI and in honour of his efforts, Cherry Island was officially renamed, Oulton's Island. In 1939, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated fox farming as a National Historic Event. A plaque was unveiled in 1940. In 2002, the official Prince Edward Island coat of arms was augmented by adding two silver foxes as supporters on either side of the shield as a reminder of this time in the province's history.
Source: Culture and Heritage Division, PEI Department of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
File #: 4310-20/A25
The following character-defining elements illustrate the heritage value of Oulton's Island:
- the geographic location of Oulton's Island, close to the community of Northport
- the mainly spruce forest cover of the island
- the sandy beaches encircling the island
- the evidence of former houses and farm buildings
- the isolation of the island which is accessible only by boat in summer or over ice in winter