Cask & Barrel

The Hungry Year



When the United Empire Loyalists settled this area, the British government agreed to provide them with supplies for the first three years, feeling that this was ample time for the settlers to become self-sufficient. Unfortunately, distribution of these supplies was uncertain or non-existent and the tools provided were in many cases of inferior quality. As well, many settlers had to wait until their land was surveyed before they were allowed to live on it. Many farms were only just starting to come into production when the area suffered an extremely cold and rainy growing season. Crops failed and the winter that followed was long and severe. The settlers appealed for aid to British authorities, but most of the available supplies were distributed in the garrison towns. The County was too isolated and remote to be a priority.

The year 1787 is known as “The Hungry Year” — seed crops were eaten, game was scarce, and the powder to shoot it with was even scarcer. Ice froze two to three feet thick in the lake, and ice fishing was impossible. Many people survived on buds and roots. In one part of the County a soup bone was passed from house to house and boiled over and over again for whatever sustenance could be obtained. Whole farms were traded for a few pounds of flour.

The hardship continued into the spring and many people starved, having eaten everything they could find and having nothing left to plant. Times were desperate, but many lives in the northeastern end of the County were saved that spring when Fish Lake was discovered to be teeming with fish that practically jumped out onto the shore. Conditions gradually improved for the settlers, although the effects of The Hungry Year were evident for a decade. And the marshy lake in Sophiasburgh has been known as Fish Lake ever since.


Source: Kellough, Janet. The Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County. Picton, Ont.: Kellough Productions, 1994.

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