Prince Edward Island may be Canada’s smallest province, but it’s also its most densely populated, at a grand population of 150,000. It has a few claims to fame, namely, potatoes, Anne of Green Gables and the birthplace of Confederation. Prince Edward Island is named after King Edward VII and on its flag shows three red cedar trees under the protection of the oak tree, which represents the three parts of the province under the guidance of the Crown.
As we crossed the Confederation Bridge, it seemed to go on forever, climbing in the middle just as you thought it must be coming to an end. PEI’s capital, Charlottetown, sits on the water shrouded in beautiful scenery. It is here that the 1864 Charlottetown conference took place and the idea of a confederation of states, one day to be known as Canada, came into play. Encouraged by Britain to form a maritime union in the light of the American Civil war, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia met to discuss the idea. At the time it was overshadowed by a circus coming to town, however now it is celebrated as the birthplace of modern Canada. As you stroll the waterfront today it is a stunning spot, with signs exclaiming ‘Lobster!’ and “Ice Cream!” The city has a small and friendly feel to it, Anne of Green Gables making up the majority of the tourist memorabilia and cafes spilling onto pedestrianised streets. In the water, there seems almost as many Herons as there are seagulls. I love their regal posture and I’m sure to this day, I have never got a picture that satisfies how beautiful they are.
I was to be couch surfing for my few days on the island. Dale, my host picked me up from Prince Edward Battery, a cannon laden fort on the boardwalk where locals were enjoying the warm evening. It was a relaxing evening at my new home in the city and we enjoyed chatting and a movie until a big power outage blew the power for the whole east side of the island. An exciting welcome!
I was lucky enough to share my visit with Old Home Week, a festive atmosphere of parades, agricultural shows and horse racing. Friday morning, an unofficial holiday, the streets were lined with people watching the parade which seemed to stretch on forever. Marching bands were kilt clad and armed with bagpipes showing Scottish roots whilst the golden girls rode in the back of convertibles, each backing a different horse in Saturday nights final race. There was a potato ambassador, as well as tractors, petting zoos, mini cars, donkeys, you name it.
Outside of the city, Dale, his dog Lou and I set about exploring the island and immediately the place names were familiar. There was a tiny Suffolk, a York, and a Cavendish. The scenery was stunning. The red soil of PEI is what makes it so great for producing potatoes, and rows of crops span out over the rolling countryside interrupted by colourful houses, fishing villages, rivers and eventually dropping off into cliffs or sand dunes. The first beach we stopped at had sand dunes fringing the beach, however just along the north coast, the cliffs were soft red rock, eroding away in steep drops. Dale was trying to find me historic stops, but along the way there was quirky stops such as a revolving hotel, the only one of its kind in North America.
Cavendish, on the north of the island, demonstrated just how popular Anne of Green Gables was in drawing tourists. The house of her aunt and uncle is the perfect white and green cottage with Pickett fence, the area said to have inspired her writing and given her locations such as Lovers Lane. Now turned into a museum, I wandered through the floral rooms of 1900’s style and was more than tempted to don a straw hat with red pigtails throughout. Surrounding the site is every sort of entertainment you wouldn’t expect on such a sleepy, picturesque island. Escape rooms, theme parks and concerts, souvenir stores and eateries, like a Green Gables Hollywood.
Returning to our scenic tour we found more stunning beaches. The water was calm as a puddle and stretched off into the horizon, however erosion from stormier days left beautiful marks on the rocks.
That night in Charlottetown there was racing, building up to Saturday nights events. In the harness racing the horse is restrained so it can only achieve a trot, and the rider sits behind in a light contraption steering the horse in two laps of the field. Big crowds had gathered to bet and cheer. With music and fairground rides as well as betting and drinking, you could tell this was a big time to be in Charlottetown.
The next day the mission took us east in search of lighthouses and more surprises. Point Prim lighthouse, the oldest on the island stood proud looking out to sea. With many shipwrecks all around the coast it captures the imagination of the tumultuous journey seafarers took to visit. A series of lighthouses and range lights guided vessels through rocks and reefs into the city. The more traditional square lighthouse just along the coast was celebrating a special day. Within minutes of our arrival, the queens representative of PEI arrived with her numberplate marked only with a crown. This particular lighthouse is next to a shabby signal house, fondly remembered as the first place in Canada to pick up the Titanic’s mayday signal. Dale had warned me that on the island the six degrees of separation was shrunk down to a mere one degree. I got to witness firsthand that upon meeting new people that live on the island the common greeting is “who’s your father?”
We enjoyed PEI’s only waterfall, puzzled over ice cream flavours and stumbled upon a herd of Buffalo, gifted by Alberta and now looked after by a group of monks. There huge heads and stern faces were a beautiful demonstration of their might as they frolicked and fought.
By early evening we were at Greenwich National park. The walk took us through dragonfly paradise, purple flowers and over a boardwalk which spanned the marshy inland. Upon reaching the coast, ever moving parabolic dunes had built up to line the coast. With wind forming the dunes from both sides, it was never stagnant but always stunning.
I celebrated my birthday in this quaint spot. A Sunday morning marked by brunch, a farmers market and then heading out of the city to the Eastern Cape of the island. Endless coastline made way for more lighthouses. Each town boasted beautiful churches and the train line which used to connect the island is now a cycle path, each station renovated into cafes and information centres to welcome the flux of summer tourists.
A stop on the royal visit of 2011, we called in at Dalvey by the Sea. A historic hotel on the water with a fire burning year round. Here Will and Kate experienced Island hospitality and there were photos and news clipping proudly announcing their experiences. In celebration of my birthday we had pizza, cake and a glass of wine. A final evening on Canada’s outlaying island.