Prince Edward Island offers far more than just potatoes and Anne of Green Gables
A sight long awaited, Tina and I strain to see the 13-kilometre concrete centipede that spans the Northumberland Strait, linking mainland Canada to its smallest province. Built with curves to keep drivers attentive, the bridge’s graceful arches sweep left and right, then up 60 metres before the long descent onto Prince Edward Island’s rich, red soil. The sky is an aqua blue, reflecting in the sea far below, and soon we enter a land beyond compare. Like a good wine getting better with age, PEI has been waiting for me to drink in her magnificent vistas and breathe her clean, pure air. To me, it is not Confederation Bridge – it’s the bridge to the magical Land of Oz.
The ochre soil creates a brilliant, complementary contrast to the greenery covering the gently rolling vista. Over every hill is another unforgettable scene that embeds itself in my memory. Spruce trees frame fields of recently hilled potatoes, punctuated by rotating crops of grain. Occasionally, a tractor can be seen churning up rows of freshly cut hay and spewing out great round bales, making the landscape look like a tank battlefield.
June’s excessive rains, along with today’s 30-degree temperature, creates a greenhouse-like atmosphere, and I can almost hear the potato plants wriggling forth from the warm ground.
As we enter Charlottetown, we turn right on North River St., and soon the sign for the Elmwood Heritage Inn appears on our right. I climb the stairs and open the old screen door to this Victorian mansion, and ring the tiny brass bell beside the guest book. Owners Carol and Jay greet us, bubbling over with enthusiasm and immediately embarking on an informational tour of the inn and its rich history. The mansion was built in 1889 for the Honourable Arthur Peters, the ninth Premier of PEI, and also the grandson of Samuel Cunard of Cunard Steamship Lines. At one time, the Cunards owned over 3000 acres on the island. Later, displaying the caring attitude of islanders, Jay drives us downtown to our dinner reservation at Lot 30.
Well sated, we decide to walk home as the twilight fades. We stop under a street lamp at the corner of Grafton and Rochford, and while trying get our bearings from a town map, we hear quiet conversation on a nearby front porch. One does not have to talk loudly to be heard in this place, because there is little traffic and no trains or planes: the quiet is splendid. Suddenly, a voice calls out, “Can I help you find your way?” A lady steps down from her porch and asks where we are going. We tell her, and she insists on driving us back to our B&B. Unaccustomed to this kind of genuine friendly outreach, I am taken aback by her hospitality and do not know what to say. On this island, people actually stop their cars so they will not spoil the picture you are taking, and they insist that you cross the road while they wait. Maybe it’s because many islanders are fishermen and farmers who are dependent on each other, or maybe it is just the island mindset. Regardless, people here are refreshingly polite and friendly.
After a restful sleep and a delightful breakfast, we leave town on Hwy 223 on our way to Prince Edward Island National Park on the north shore. Near Oyster Bed Bridge, we turn right on Hwy 6, which offers glimpses of Rustico Bay across fields of wheat gently swaying in the morning breeze. Following Hwy 6, we cross Bell’s Creek, round Covehead Bay, and turn left onto Gulf Shore Parkway. Across Dalvay Lake on our left, we see beautiful Dalvay by the Sea. Built in 1895 by one-time president of Standard Oil Alexander MacDonald, he named his mansion Dalvay-by-the-Sea after his boyhood home in Scotland. In July 2011, newly married Prince William and Kate visited here. We are told that Prince William did some takeoffs and landings on the pond in a Canadian Forces Sea King helicopter as part of his military responsibilities.
Across the road, miles of beautiful beach spread before us, and as we ride along, we catch occasional glimpses of the beach between the windblown dunes. Right after passing the Covehead Harbour lighthouse, we turn left onto Wharf Road. On our left, a row of small eateries face a mountain of lobster traps sitting in the noonday sun. Kids play on the beach and jump from a bridge as the tide rolls out of Covehead Bay. At Richard’s Fresh Seafood, we settle in for lunch and, while waiting for our orders, we sit quietly feasting our eyes on the beautiful harbour. Daydreaming, I read the graffiti on a doorpost and spy the moniker “Will & Kate 2011,” so I ask Richard, the owner about it. “Yes, they had lunch here,” he says. Who knows, I may be sitting where Kate sat.
We follow the dunes a bit further, then turn left onto Brackley Point Rd., Hwy 6 to Portage Rd. again. Over the bridge at Hunter River, we roll through Rusticoville, then North Rustico on our way to Cavendish and the home of that well-known, fictional red-haired character, Anne of Green Gables, who made this island famous the world over. At a roadside overlook, we stop for another magnificent view. A field of whisker-like wheat waves in the breeze. It is the perfect foreground for the farm buildings and the sea beyond. I pick up a beer can lying on the ground, and as I deposit it in the nearby garbage, I wonder how some people can care so little about our beautiful environment.
Just down the road, the Cavendish Music Festival is in full swing, and the roads are packed as we park beside one of many luxury buses bringing tourists to Green Gables. Green Gables is a huge tourist attraction, and it takes me back to the one-room schoolhouse and my teacher reading this classic to us every day after lunch. In my mind’s eye as a child, it looked different, but nonetheless, Green Gables gives everyone an opportunity to see what life was like on the farm in bygone days. It is uncomfortably warm, so we head out of Cavendish for cooler climes in the fishing village of North Rustico. Founded in 1790, North Rustico is thought to be named after its first resident, a French fisherman named Rene Rassicot. We gradually climb Harbourview Drive’s gentle knoll and find the road is aptly named, as the maritime scene unfolds before us.
Ropes, nets in various stages of mending and repair, parts of lobster traps, and fish boxes lie askew in front of fishermen’s workshops lining the wharf. Lobster traps, stacked in neat rows as high as the eaves on the buildings, await the new season, and boat after boat, each with its own unique name, are all moored in a tidy line. With the sun low in the sky, we take Rustico Rd. south and turn right onto Hwy 258. Following the Hunter River, we soon arrive in the village of New Glasgow and pass by the New Glasgow Lobster Supper with its parking lot now empty. Originating from the “church supper,” the all-you-can-eat lobster supper evolved into what is now a third-generation family restaurant. Just around the corner and closed for the day, we pass the much-storied Prince Edward Island Preserve Company.
Hwy 13 takes us along the other side of the Hunter River to the village of Hunter River, and then Hwy 2 takes us back into Charlottetown to the Elmwood. Morning brings another of Carol’s unique and tasty breakfast creations, and we start our day with smiles as we ride downtown to the historic Confederation Landing Park, where the Fathers of Confederation stepped ashore in 1864. Top Notch, a lobster boat, made famous by the Regis and Kelly TV show a couple of years ago, is warmed up and ready as we step aboard. Cruising along Charlottetown’s waterfront, Captain Mark Jenkins and his brother Cody give us loads of information about lobster fishing. I had no idea that a licence to catch lobster could cost up to $500,000 for a single season, and the season is just May and June. They say that seeing a blue lobster is about 1 in 2,000,000, but an orange lobster is about 1 in 10,000,000. And what is in our trap? An orange lobster. A few minutes later we pull in another trap, which holds Larry the Lobster. He’s an 11-pound monster that you wouldn’t want to have clamping onto the end of your finger.
Ashore again and chock full of information, we mount up and ride east along Route 1. Halfway between Charlottetown and Summerside, we turn left onto Shore Rd. and arrive at Victoria by the Sea. Founded in 1819 by landowner and immigrant lawyer James Bardin Palmer, Victoria, with its excellent harbour, became a thriving village. Today, this historic village is home to galleries, studios and a live theatre, attracting visitors to its cozy streets and seaside wharfs. We have a wonderful lunch at the quaint Landmark Café just up the street from the wharf in what used to be the local post office. Taking the seashore for our return route, we turn right at DeSable onto Route 19, a fantastic loop ride that meanders along, but well back from, the seashore. Potato farms, dairy farms, and lovely homes overlook the rugged ochre cliffs and red beaches, and with hardly a car in the area, it is a picturesque ride off the beaten path.
At Rocky Point, we stop by the shore for a lovely perspective of Charlottetown across the bay. We are late, and we rush to get ready for dinner so we can be on time for the live musical Anne & Gilbert. Dressed inappropriately for biking, in sandals and shirtsleeves, we ride downtown for the show with dark threatening clouds above us. Just two blocks from our destination, the sky falls on us and we frantically find shelter, riding right past the barrier and into the nearby and well-placed Pownal Street Parkade. We wait out the storm, and slightly damp, we still enjoy a wonderful evening with PEI’s most famous couple at the Guild Live Theatre. The storm gone, we wander slowly back to the inn for our final night in Prince Edward Island. It has been a whirlwind visit, with much more to see, but that only encourages us to place PEI on our “Places to Visit Again” list. A magically peaceful island, filled with lovely scenery and polite people – what better place to spend a vacation? And who knows, we may begin scouring the real-estate section, looking for that perfect place for a vacation home. For more information, accommodation and things to do in PEI, check out: http://www.tourismpei.com