When Miles steered us over the 13 km Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick into Prince Edward Island, it was like stepping into a charming miniature world encircled by red sand! The map, which took up the same amount of page as any other provincial road map (except Ontario!) was difficult to get accustomed to at first because every inch was only 8km! When we expected to be driving on one road for a bit of time, we were suddenly at the intersection that we needed to turn at! And every turn produced amazing scenery.
Because of the shape of the island, it is easiest to explore it in three sections…The west cape, the centre, and the east cape. Tip to tip, the island is probably about a three hour drive but we spent a lot more time than that exploring!
All the straight roads provide views of small, tidy farms. The island is fairly self sufficient so you see all types of crops from potatoes to soya to wheat to corn and everything else in between. Dairy farms, cattle operations, sheep, goats, horses…everything is here…just in smaller scale than we see on the prairies.
All the curved roads provide views of water. The north side of the island is on the Gulf of St.Lawrence and the south side is on the Northumberland Strait. These two major bodies of water meet at North Cape, the most northwestern tip of the province, and at East Point, the most northeastern tip of the province. And all along the shores communities have been settled by fishermen around the various bays and coves.
We started out by exploring the west part of the island, loosely following the North Cape Coastal Drive as suggested by the tourist map. We had arrived on the island late in the day so we immediately checked into a campground close to the bridge we came over on. Situated in Sandy Cove on Bedeque Bay on the south shore of PEI, we were more than happy to accept an unserviced lot that overlooked the bay. We watched the sun set over the water and woke the next morning to songbirds in the thicket next to us. Large flocks of swallows swooped as though synchronized to the beach to feed off the insects along the waters edge, cormorants skimmed the water’s surface in search of breakfast and we cooked sausage and eggs with the hot summer sun on our backs!
Driving along the west coast which, like the east coast of New Brunswick, was settled in the 1700’s by the Acadians, we came across an old church and graveyard. The graveyard is the resting place for all the descendants of the first settlers to the area…the Gallants and the Arsenaults.
We stopped at Cap Egmont to have a look at a house made of all kinds of bottles. What started out as a retirement hobby for the late Edouard Arsenault turned into a labor of love as he cemented over 25000 bottles together to create three structures as well as planting trees and gardens that rival Butchart Gardens in BC.
We arrived at North Cape as the tide was coming in. Apparently, at low tide, you can walk a kilometre out on the longest natural rock reef in North America. The lighthouse there, one of about 40 on the island, was built in 1865 and is still operational. While we were there, a big black Hummer Limo pulled in with a wedding party to take photos…what a beautiful spot for that!
We passed the little fishing port of Seacow Pond where we saw lobster traps piled high. The lobster catch is done for now but many of the restaurants have lobster pounds so they can serve fresh lobster year round.
From there, we headed to the centre portion of PEI. En route, at Bideford on Malpeque Bay, we passed the beautiful historic residence of Lucy Maude Montgomery, the author of one of my favorite childhood book series, Anne of Green Gables.
Near there, we visited a ship building museum that highlighted the glory days of the ship building industry which had a major economic influence on the island in the early 1800’s. By 1860, more than 400 marine merchants were located on the island. With the advent of trains, and then trucks, ship building saw a steep decline for that industry.
We also toured the restored Victorian home of James Yeo, Jr., presumed to be one of the wealthiest and most influential ship builders in the colony. The house is magnificent, complete with maid and manservant quarters.
Kensington was our first stop in the centre of PEI. It was just a small village called Five Lanes End until the railroad announced it was planning to connect the Colony. Small businesses in outlying areas moved inland in anticipation of greater transportation opportunities if this became a major stop on the line. Due to the geography of the island with its odd shape and soft red sandstone, it was expensive to build a railroad. Rock had to be hauled from New Brunswick to lay the tracks and every mile of track had at least two curves, bringing the Colony to near bankruptcy by 1863. When the Fathers of Confederation met in 1867 in Charlottetown, the Colonists, who were not too enthused about joining the Dominion of Canada, changed their minds when the Government promised to finish the PEI Railway, becoming Canada’s 6th provincein 1873 and the railway was finished and operational in 1875. Today, the railway no longer exists in the province, shutting down completely when the Confederation Bridge was built in 1993.
Arriving at the centre of PEI, we were surrounded by lush farms. Cavendish Farms is a huge industry in the area. So is tourism. Large Fun Parks, water slides, mini golf, executive golf courses and plenty of traffic. The north shore is operated by Parks Canada but we were unable to get a campsite there with it being a long weekend.
We settled for one inland and asked the locals where to get a good lobster dinner. We were advised that the New Glasgow Suppers were worth every penny so off we headed to New Glasgow. It was easy to spot the restaurant…the long lineup of people waiting to get in gave it away! This place began operating in 1958 as a fundraiser offering a full lobster supper. By 1963 they were doing weekly fundraisers and by 1968 they were offering daily suppers from 4-8pm. The place was bought, expanded, houses a lobster pound holding 20,000 lobster and has lineups every day! The supper, which sold for $34.95, included unlimited fresh rolls, seafood chowder, mussels, salads, dessert and non-alcoholic beverages along with a one pound lobster, served with a bib! Amazing value for your dollar and soooo delicious! We were sure we would not have to eat again for a week!
We left the center and headed for the east cape stopping to see the Hillsborough River, the longest in the province, traversing 45 km until it reaches the bay in Charlottetown . With its combination of salt water bay and freshwater marshes, it is a World Heritage Site.
The white sand dunes and red sand beach of Crowbush Cove beckoned us! We walked the beach in the sunshine for close to 3 km and back, hunting for shells as the tide was going out. Imagine having a summer cottage along here…as many do!
After stopping for a cold one at St. Peter’s, a tiny little fishing village, we headed cross country to Souris. This is where you would board the ferry for the little Quebec island of Iles de la Madeleine, 134 km away.
We picked up a few supplies and started making our way along the coast again, this time heading for East Point. We stopped at Basin Head Beach, a very popular sandy beach lined with sharp red cliffs. Piers have been built so people can jump into the deep channel where the river meets the bay.
We were up early in the morning to be at North Lake Harbour by 8:30 to go deep see fishing. By 9 am the fishing charter and a crew of 22 left the harbour. We bounced along the waves about 20 km northeast. The wind was strong and the gulf was pretty rough, soaking us with it’s salty spray. Along the way we saw a colony of seals swimming and playing. We watched for porpoise and whales but saw neither. By the time we were in the area to fish, I wasn’t seeing anything but the bottom of a bucket which I hugged tightly in front of my face for the remaining hour or so! Jim, however, was feeling fine. He and most of the others on board eagerly cast their lines into the water, each hoping to bring home supper for the night. It would not be uncommon to catch some nice size fish in this area. It wasn’t long and he was pulling his line in. By the time we were ready to head back to shore, he was fortunate to catch three fish, all too small to keep but he was pretty happy with his catch! I would have got a picture of the fish but I couldn’t hang on to the camera and the bucket at the same time…the bucket won! I now know for sure I am a landlubber and will not try anything like that again!
Thanks to my queezy stomach, I was done for the day! We had planned to follow the coast to our campground at Seal Cove near Murrays Harbor on the east coast but I was in no position to deal with the curvy roads…so straight to the campground we went to relax the rest of the day. A nice cool breeze blowing off the lake was just what the doctor ordered! In the evening we found out why it is aptly named Seal Cove….there in the middle of a platform in the cove was Mr. Seal enjoying the late day sun. Jim was more than happy to share the binoculars with the children in the campground.
On to the historical city of Charlottetown, the birthplace of Confederation. The city is steeped in history and has a wonderful small town feel about it.
The busy waterfront offers all kinds of water activities…harbour tours, deep sea fishing (no thanks!), seal watching tours, cruises, canoe and kayak rentals…as well as the marina to moor your yacht and places to eat, drink and shop. Free musical entertainment is offered throughout the summer and city tours originate there. It is a bustling area for sure!
I loved this group of old buildings painted in lovely colours, each one of them named. The buildings were all built between 1812 and 1853, two of them served as hotels in the 1800’s and now the cluster of 15 buildings serve as The Great Geoge Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel in the center of the city. Definitely a lot more posh than our van!
1864 was the turning point for the Maritimes and Canada as we know it now. In that year, a group of delegates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were meeting in Charlottetown to discuss the possibility of a union of the three colonies. Unexpectedly, politicians from the Province of Canada arrived with the hopes of persuading these colonies to join them in forming one nation. Funnily enough, when they arrived in port they couldn’t find any hotel rooms because the circus was also in town and there was no vacancy in any of the hotels! They were forced to spend the night once again in their ship’s quarters!
That was the beginning of the confederation talks and in 1867 it was finalized. Had these men not met, we may not being doing this trip today! That also explains the reason for all the people wandering around the National Historic Site in period costumes, playing croquet, offering tours, etc. We had hoped to tour the Province House but it was closed for conservation purposes.
Our last stop in PEI was the National Historic site, Green Gables. This is the magical setting for the Lucy Maude Montgomery’s book series, Anne of Green Gables. So fun to see the house she grew up in and the whole farm that inspired the antics of that lovely red-head, freckle faced girl from PEI. We walked through the “Haunted Woods” and marvelled at the imagination she had to write such wonderful stories about seemingly everyday farm activities.
Unlike the other provinces we’ve visited, leaving PEI was sad, knowing there would not be another chance to see it on our way home. It is a beautiful province! By mid-day we were heading back over the Confederation Bridge. PEI to New Brunswick to Nova Scotia…three provinces today…heading to Antigonish to visit with the family of a dear friend from Claresholm as well as meeting again with Des and Vicki to spend a few days together as they are now on their way west.