The University of Prince Edward Island has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence dating back to the early 19th century, with roots in its founding institutions, Prince of Wales College (est. 1834) and Saint Dunstan’s University (est. 1855). UPEI values its heritage and proudly embodies historic symbols of SDU and PWC in positions of honour within the shield that anchors the University’s official coat of arms, and on its flag.
The Early Years
Commitment to education as a primary factor in PEI’s development can be traced to debates of the colony’s earliest legislative council.
A particular champion was Lieutenant-Governor Edmund Fanning (1786–1805). Fanning promoted the view that education was central to the colony’s progress, and that it should be seen as a priority, along with the enhancement of agriculture, fisheries, commerce, and population growth. In 1804, he donated land “for the purpose of laying the foundation of a College thereon for the education of youth in the learned languages, the arts and sciences, and all the branches of useful and polite literature.”
In 1836, Central Academy opened to provide Island youth with "educational qualification enabling them to take their place in the various professions and vocations of life with advantage to society and honour and credit to themselves." A teacher training institution called the Normal School opened in1856.
Central Academy was upgraded in 1860 and renamed Prince of Wales College, in honour of the visit of His Royal Highness Edward Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In 1879, the College became coeducational, and the Normal School became part of it. In 1965, Prince of Wales College was elevated to university status.
Saint Dunstan’s University was founded by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown to educate lay leaders for Catholic society and young men who wished to enter a seminary. St. Andrew’s College, which preceded SDU, was founded in 1831 under the leadership of Bishop Angus MacEachern. Saint Dunstan’s College was established in 1855 by Bishop Bernard MacDonald on the property that today serves as the UPEI campus. The College received a provincial degree-granting charter in 1917 but did not award its first bachelor degrees until the spring of 1941.
Starting in 1892, SDU was affiliated with Université Laval, awarding joint degrees, but following the decision to start granting its own degrees, SDU had severed its relationship with Laval by 1956. By the mid-20th century, the College had expanded into a small liberal arts university, having become coeducational in 1942.
In 1969, the Government of Prince Edward Island, under the leadership of Premier Alex B. Campbell, passed the University Act, which led to the creation of one university for the province. In September of that year, the University of Prince Edward Island welcomed its first students.
The Provincial University
The University’s campus is a reflection of the character of UPEI on many levels—a complementary blend of old and new, of tradition and innovation. Original SDU buildings have been renovated tastefully to retain integrity of design while meeting modern standards, and many buildings have been integrated into UPEI campus.
The depth of UPEI’s academic heritage is reflected not only in the buildings and scholarships named in honour of education pioneers and benefactors, but also in personal, day-to-day connections. Graduates of SDU and PWC taught at UPEI, children and grandchildren of former faculty and staff attended the University, and many families proudly continue to report multi-generational alumni connections to the institution.
The University has a long history of welcoming international students and many graduates remain actively engaged with UPEI as part of the local community or networked through professional and collegial world-wide relationships. Alumni of UPEI, SDU, and PWC—now numbering almost 30,000—whether in Prince Edward Island, elsewhere in Canada, or abroad—maintain a close sense of connection with their University.
UPEI invites alumni, friends, and prospective students to visit the campus! Everyone is welcome!
Fifty Years of UPEI
In 2019, UPEI celebrated its 50th anniversary, and showcased the many important developments in its academic and research programs over its five decades.
UPEI continues to grow its undergraduate and graduate programs. The University now has 10 faculties—Arts; Business; Education; Graduate Studies; Indigenous Knowledge, Education, Research, and Applied Studies; Medicine; Nursing; Science; Sustainable Design Engineering; and Veterinary Medicine—and two schools—Mathematical and Computational Sciences and Climate Change and Adaptation.
The University expanded beyond the Charlottetown campus for the first time in 2018 to the UPEI Cairo Campus and, then again in 2022 to St. Peter's Bay, PEI, when it opened the Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation.
Mission and Goals
Despite its tremendous growth since its establishment over 50 years ago, the University of Prince Edward Island remains steadfast in its mission.
The University of Prince Edward Island, founded on the tradition of liberal education, exists to encourage and assist people to acquire the skills, knowledge, and understanding necessary for critical and creative thinking, and thus prepare them to contribute to their own betterment and that of society through the development of their full potential.
To accomplish these ends, the University is a community of scholars whose primary tasks are to teach and to learn, to engage in scholarship and research, and to offer service for the benefit of our Island and beyond.