Discovering Prince Edward Island

A Canadian island that's all about Anne....

                                           ....or is it?

Please join us crossing the long, long bridge to an island that the world could have forgotten.

One of Canada's three Maritime Provinces, Prince Edward Island (often fondly shortened to PEI) is the country's smallest province. Named for a prince, it is better known for Anne Shirley, the fictional princess that author LM Montgomery created, and has many faces

Here are TEN of them


Face #1: Food and drink 

Cross the almost 13 kilometre-long Confederation Bridge (above) over the Northumberland Strait, and PEI's capital, Charlottetown, is under 45 minutes away. I'd wanted to visit here since I was a teenager hooked on the 'Anne' books, but right now all we could think of was coffee.

We found it in Victoria Row, a quaintly-styled mall of restaurants and cafes in the centre of the city. 

Better still, Receiver Coffee Co's barista has painstakingly taught herself how to make a perfect flat white.

Not that Charlottetown, also named for royalty, and known as the Birthplace of Confederation, is short of good cafes. This is just one of the many we saw.

The day before, our route had taken us through New Brunswick where warning signs about moose had us trading 'moose jokes' as we travelled. Make no 'moose-take', we came up with many 'amoose-ing' ideas as we drove past endless pine plantations.

The signs are for real, though, as hitting a moose is no small matter. They are huge creatures and a crash can easily result in fatalities.

On this island, the only moose come in bottles and glasses, and are very welcome, thank you!

Apple cider is a popular tipple in this part of Canada too. OK, it was from across the bridge in Nova Scotia, but who's complaining?

These tacos with seafood and fries (yes, almost everything comes with the latter)...

.. . were served in John Brown Richmond Street Grille, a  pub-style 'speakeasy' serving tempting dishes....

... such as these sensational bacon-wrapped scallops cooked in a maple bourbon sauce.



Face #2: Fun

There's no surprise about which year we visited. It's a clever idea, too, as once the local administrators have 0-9, all they have to do each year is reassemble the new sequence and order another number or two. And it makes for great photo opportunities!

At the waterfront, there's entertainment of another sort, even if it is a bit off-key!

If you need something more romantic, then there's this - a place to show how much you care. Lock in your love for all to see.

Canadians love ice cream and they have a couple of really great ice cream makers on Prince Edward Island. This is Kiwanis Dairy Bar run. by a local service club and located on Charlottetown's waterfront boulevard, just at the point where you feel like sitting down with an icy treat.



The best known face, #3: Anne 

Canadian author LM Montgomery could never have thought how far-reaching her books about a shy, yet feisty, red-headed young girl would influence so many readers - and later tourists. Her many books were sold worldwide, translated into over 30 languages, and now she has become a celebrity in her own right.

The area around the settlement of Cavendish on the northern coast of PEI is 'Anne-central'- as this map shows. Of course we made this one of our first priorities, as I had read and loved every book during my teens.

LM Montgomery's books did much for redheads too. Anne's well-known copper braids appear on fridge magnets and on hats such as this one, nonchalantly perched on the head of a model seabird in a waterside cafe.

For true fans, or those with plenty of time, there is much to do.........

....and a full immersion could fill several days.

Of course there are the souvenirs too. Who could resist these?

Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908, was the first of LM Montgomery's books about the schoolgirl.

Anne's home was, of course, fictional but this house (above) has become known as 'Green Gables'. Once you could stroll to the gate and have your photo taken. Now a large building is at the entrance, and it is here that you can purchase tickets to visit the home, and buy souvenirs.

In addition to LM Montgomery's birthplace in Clifton, New London, this site is also of interest to fans.

Various places have areas that relate to parts near Green Gables that Anne loved. It is this, as much as anything, which underlines how deeply the Anne books affected readers and how 'real' she became to them. Over a century later, people still come to see these real places that celebrate a fictional young woman.

Even though Charlottetown is around half an hour's drive from Cavendish, the capital makes it easy for those with limited time, who still want to get in the Green Gables spirit at this gift store. 

If you are wondering what 'Gilbert' has to do with it all  (see above) - read the books or (spoiler alert: he was Anne's 'young man' when she grew older). It is worth scheduling a visit to coincide with Anne & Gilbert, a romantic musical performed in the Guild Theatre in Charlottetown six nights a week in tourist season.

Here in Victoria Row, it seems books are still a drawcard, continuing to feed the imaginations of Anne's readers' descendants.



Face #4: the beauty of the island

Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province, compensates for its size with lashings of wonderful views.

Secluded coves and fishing villages like this one at French River...

... or this one, edged with wildflowers, as we approach the small town of Victoria (yes, another royal inference) on the island's south coast, delivers postcard-lovely views.

But the thing that most people find most captivating is the unusual vibrant colour of the soil. Rich and red, like Anne's auburn braids, it is equally beautiful waterside as it is in a freshly tilled field.



Face #5: the seafood


If this sign is true, then there must be many on PEI who have locked lips with a mermaid.

The local Malpeque oysters are believed by many to be the best and sweetest in the world. PEI is the largest oyster producer in Canada, and these little beauties are farmed and harvested year-round. In addition the island's waters are ideal for oysters, mussels and scallops.

Prince Edward Island has around 1800 kilometres of coastline, and the local fisherfolk make great use of it. We found the many tiny brightly-painted fishing villages scattered around the island almost impossible to resist.

Always there were stacks of lobster pots and fish traps standing ready to be loaded aboard the next boat.

These fellows were freshly caught and probably headed for a plate nearby.

Some of the catch probably ended up at this restaurant in Cavendish Boardwalk, yet another reference to Anne's 'life' in the area. After a short time here, we found the boundaries between reality and fiction had already begun to blur somewhat.


WATCH this video to see much more...

Lobster suppers are a local special and if you see a sign for one, make sure you go. It would be a shame to miss out. 

In fact, on PEI you are never more than a few kilometres from a lobster. This one was discovered brightening a wall in Charlottetown.

More standard are the offerings from many local restaurants where lobster is on the daily menu.

Finally, in Victoria, we found out what a 'lobster roll' was - something we had been repeatedly urged to try. This was served to us at Beachcomber's on the Wharf with a stunning view of the town and the bay.



Face #6: There's a lot about boats

Everyone, it seems, has a boat. Even shed walls at the waterfront are decorated with the bits and bobs that go with boats.

Many are working vessels, going out into the sea at night and coming home laden with freshly harvested seafood - but some, like this one, are just for fun!

Fortunately for landlubbers like us, most of the bays have paths beside the waterfront.



Face #7: Quirky locals

Watch for the local humour. There seems to be something magical about living on an island. It's as though you can shrug off the stuffy expectations you might find on the mainland. This 'shop' was found way off the beaten track, and we loved its simple sales pitch.

Then there was this simple tongue-in-cheek threat.

And this one is quite serious. Canada has an unusual road rule that you may encounter, so you need to learn what to do. At a crossroad, this sign means that everyone has to stop. The driver who was first to stop goes ahead first, with the others following according to the order in which they have arrived.

We agreed that this would probably only ever be possible in hyper-courteous Canada!



Face #8: The history

Our 'home' for several nights in Charlottetown was Sonata Inn, an urban boutique hotel. With the style of the Victorian era in which it had been built in 1884, inside it had all the modern comforts we were looking for.

Within a few minutes walk, we could reach the waterfront with grand mansions like this one.... well as churches and city buildings in the centre of town. Known as the 'birthplace of Confederation'  it is no surprise that PEI takes its history seriously, and there are seven museums scattered across the island.

Find out more about these here.....

Of course the island has many lighthouses that were invaluable initially to safeguard boats using these waters before radar and GPS.

 Much larger boats now visit Charlottetown, as it is firmly on the itinerary of many cruise ships.

PEI's lighthouses are so distinctive and charming that (as you can see!) it is difficult to ignore them. There are 63 on the island. About 35 are still in use, more than 20 have been decommissioned, and seven are privately owned.

There's just something about whitewashed clapboard and red trim that makes my shutter fingertip itch! This one, is at Victoria.

It's impossible to travel in Eastern Canada and not notice that this is timber country. Almost every house has timber walls and you realise just how many forests there are when you drive through the countryside. It is difficult not be awed by the endless pine plantations that provide the building materials.

Occasionally, though, there is a fun reminder of beach-going rules in times gone by!

And colour. Everywhere on the island we found bright deckchairs; front doors just begging to be knocked on - and opened; and pots and baskets and beds of bright flowers.

You see, we were visiting in spring, on the cusp of summer, and the locals had explained to us what winter is like in these areas: -50F, and snow up to five metres deep!

Do you blame them for loving the sunshine and bright colours, and celebrating the warmer seasons?



Face #9: Even longer history

Every country has its more distant history, often with sad undertones. We visited one centre for the First Nation people that unfortunately was closed. In the grounds was this shelter, which some would call, a wigwam or tepee.

See that star on the wall? This is the one adopted by the Acadian people as their symbol.  

In the mid-18th century French settlers who had been in the area for generations were evicted by the British.

They were forced to flee to France and many other places and the sad story is told here in this museum at Miscouche on the southern coast. 

For more background....

Slowly, as the decades passed many Acadians finally did return, some even generations later. To distinguish themselves as Acadians they used the French flag adding a yellow five-pointed star. 

Once we realised the importance of the star it answered some other questions for us. For instance, why there were so many houses we'd passed along the way with a large five-pointed star on the front wall? Now we realised that these were homes of descendents of those original French settlers.

Allow a couple of hours to view this museum and learn the tragic history.



Face #10: Farmers of the red soil

I mentioned the red soil of PEI, and it is hard to realise just HOW red it is until you see it.

It is ideal for crops and also flavoursome potatoes, for which the island is well-known, growing a whopping quarter of Canada's annual crop. There is even local vodka made from these potatoes. For committed potato-lovers, there is a Potato Museum at O'Leary, on the far north-western tip of the island.

With such a short growing season (remember the lengthy and freezing winters) the brilliant summer sunshine and that iron-rich soil work together to provide a range of produce.

In the local markets and shops, look for PEI-grown fruit and vegetables, barley, mustard, soya beans  - and yes, of course, potatoes!



Time to leave the island - another way

Finally, sadly, we leave this a gem of an island, deciding to take the Northumberland Ferry from Woods Island in the island's south-east, a 75-minute voyage in the direction we were travelling on our trip. 

Interestingly, we had paid no toll coming onto the island using the Confederation Bridge, but if we had returned that way, we would have been charged. Leaving on the ferry is not a sneaky way to avoid paying. People still pay the fee, but here the 'exit toll' is incorporated in the fare.

Much to my delight the local ice cream (Cows of course) was served onboard

Unsurprisingly, Cows is justly proud of topping this list.

Shortly after leaving the port, a fog began to roll in...

..and it became damp and chilly, with only a few of us hardy souls outside. The rest of the passengers were enjoying the comfortable interior with its snack bar...oh, and that ice cream!

These people were there for the view, literally. While the ferry has all the modern navigation equipment, it doesn't hurt to have some sharp eyes on lookout as well.

Arriving early at Wood Islands, we had been the first car loaded.... of course we were the last car off, heading for more adventures in New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island.

But not without one backward look at the real - not fictional - island that had won our hearts.


Gordon and Sally Hammond travelled independently to Prince Edward Island, Canada

Words and photographs: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond


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