Souris is a town in transition. In its history it has played numerous roles. The first inhabitants were the Mi’kmaq who settled at the head of the Souris River. The first French settlers on Prince Edward Island landed in 1720 and Souris was an Acadian settlement until 1758 with the expulsion of the Acadians by the new British owners of this part of the world. The town’s name was provided by these early settlers when a plague of mice invaded the area. Souris was comprised of what is now the Town of Souris (then Souris East) and Souris West.
In 1765, the British government divided Prince Edward Island into 67 lots. Souris was part of Lot 45. Initially this lot went to William Matthew Burt and John Callendar. Neither man paid much attention to their 20,000 acres and did not attempt to settle it which was part of the deal if they wanted to keep the land. When the land was surveyed for the division of the lots in 1764, this lot was described as containing burned woods (there had been a forest fire) and indifferent land. It remained unsettled at the time of the first census in 1798. When the government began land sales to deal with neglected and abandoned land. Also, many Acadians had returned and were living on the land now known as Souris. They claimed squatter’s rights and won their case.
The Souris River and the tall trees in the unburned areas were ideal for shipbuilding and as the 18th century progressed, shipbuilding emerged as the leading industry and for most of that century, Souris West was considered to be the part of the area that was the most likely to be developed into a settlement of size.
In 1835, Souris East was comprised of 10 farms. John Knight settled in the area on what is now Knight’s Lane and operated a shipbuilding business. Over the next few decades, commercial business began to develop in Souris East. Among one of the 19th century enterprises was Matthew and McLean (sometimes spelled MacLean). The store is now a Heritage Building. (See the Natural and Cultural Heritage section for more on this building.)
Souris was incorporated as a town on November 14, 1910.
Souris has been a shipbuilding centre. It has been a mercantile haven. It has been a port town. It has been a fishing village. It retains much of this history in its current state of change.
Prince Edward Island is part of the Appalachian Region which runs from southern Quebec and Gaspésie and includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. There are many physiographic units with a peneplain that slopes from the highest point in the northwest down in a southeastward manner towards the ocean. The Prince Edward Island physiographic region is part of the Maritime Plain. The Maritime Plain runs around the coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from the south shore of Chaleur Bay and includes Prince Edward Island and Îles-de-la-Madeleine.