The Summerside Lobster Carnival was established in 1956 to celebrate the role of lobster in the Island’s economy and way of life. It was the 1870’s that the lobster fishery truly began to develop in Prince Edward Island. Large numbers of Islanders took up fishing lobster and working in the lobster factories. The Island lobster slowly went from being seen as poor man’s food to a healthy culinary delight sold in various world markets. It steadily added value to the Island economy, with the fishery becoming a major player in the Island way of life.
The lobster fishery is the primary fishery on Prince Edward Island. As of 2017 it was worth over four hundred million dollars to the economy and employed over 8500 people. There are currently 1280 independent fishers in the Island wild sustainable fishery, which has a spring and fall season.
With time, the delicious taste of Island lobster became one more attraction to bring visitors to the province. The early Summerside Lobster Carnival capitalized on lobster as a way to bring more visitors to the town. The first carnival was organized as a community celebration which would attract visitors who wanted to discover more about the Island way of relishing and appreciating lobster; 4,882 lobster meals were served over a period of four days.
Newspaper coverage of the original carnival had a strong emphasis on the lobster industry. There were articles about the varieties and habits of lobster, how lobsters are caught, how lobster is cooked and eaten, industry regulations, and a selection of recipes.
In that initial year of 1956, as in the years that followed, lobster was out of season along the Island’s south shore, a fact that was deemed to “add to their desirability.” With the assistance of J. Watson MacNaught, the local Member of Parliament and Assistant to the Minister of Fisheries, the lobsters served at the carnival were acquired in Cape Breton. In later years the lobsters were obtained from fishermen along the north shore of PEI and kept in tanks. It is now common practice for plenty of live lobster, fished during the spring season, to be kept in storage to meet the summer demand. The Summerside Lobster Carnival serves only the best of Island lobster.