Prince Edward Island

My next stop on this trip through Maritime Canada took me to the island province of Prince Edward Island. This is the smallest Canadian province in terms of both land area and population, with a mere 150,000 people inhabiting its shores. Prince Edward Island has no major cities and is instead known for its pastoral environment: this is an island made up of rolling green hills and small family farms. One of the informal nicknames of Prince Edward Island is the "Garden of the Gulf", a reference to its status as a breadbasket of sorts for the region. Imagine taking Iowa or Kansas and transforming them into a small island off the northeastern coast of Canada. That's Prince Edward Island in a nutshell. The province is also known as the "Birthplace of Confederation" for hosting the Charlottetown Conference in 1864 that led to Canadian confederation, as well as for providing the setting for the Anne of Green Gables novels by local resident author Lucy Maud Montgomery. I would be doing my best to check out everything that the island had to offer over the next two days.

Of course, with Prince Edward Island being, you know, an island, I had to get across the water to its shores somehow. Outside of flying to the island or taking your own boat, there are only two crossing points: the single highway known as Confederation Bridge or the ferry that runs between Caribou, Nova Scotia and Wood Islands, Price Edward Island. I had looked up the times for the ferry and made sure to leave Louisbourg in plenty of time to make one of the afternoon crossings on the ferry. The drive west across first Cape Breton and then mainland Nova Scotia resulted in a changing of the weather, and the skies were mostly clear by the time that I arrived at the ferry teriminal. I lined up my car with the other passengers waiting to cross and eventually drove it into the gaping mouth of the ferry boat. Once on board, I was treated to a dazzling spectacle of sun and surf as the ferry left its moorings and headed out into the Northumberland Strait. The sun was shining overhead and the waters surrounding the ferry were a deep, rich blue. It was a thoroughly pleasant day to be outside, and the calm surface of the waters led almost everyone on board to spend the passage on one of the outdoor benches. This was among the easiest ferry crossings that I can remember.

From the ferry landing at Wood Islands, I drove to the capital city of Charlottetown where I would be spending the night. I stayed in the local Hosteling International hostel, which was located in a pleasantly sleepy neighborhood not far from the downtown. It was flying the provincial flag of Prince Edward Island, which bore a reclining Plantagenet lion at the top above a green tree on white in the center. Definitely unique even amongst Canada's wild provincial flags. Nearby I came across several of the city's churches, first St. Paul's Anglican church with its large red bricks, and then the larger form of St. Dunstan's Basilica. The latter was a Catholic building constructed in Gothic Revival style and was the fourth church to be constructed on that site, with the first such version dating back to 1816. Neither of the churches was open on this evening, largely because there was a public festival taking place on this day.

I made sure to stop at the Greek Revival building pictured above. This was the blandly-named Province House, seat of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island and where the legislature has met since 1847. This was also the location where the Charlottetown Conference met in 1864, an assembly where representatives from across British Canada met to discuss Canadian confederation. In other words, this was roughly the Canadian equivalent of the Constitutional Convention that took place in Philadelphia, albeit with a lot more tea drinking. There's a note on the Wikipedia page for the Charlottetown Conference stating that a circus taking place in the city at the same time held much more public attention than the conference itself, which I find amusing on several different levels. No final decisions were made at this conference, but it did pave the way for the eventual unification of the separate Canadian colonies into a single governing body over the next decade. Located near Province House was the pedestrian byway known as Victoria Row, home to a series of shops and outdoor restaurants. Lots of people were eating outside, celebrating and enjoying the warm summer evening.

Why were so many people out celebrating? It was July 1st, 2010: Canada Day! I didn't even know at the time that the first day in July was Canada Day, the national independence day for the country, but I had lucked my way into spending Canada Day in the "Birthplace of Confederation" at Charlottetown. How fitting. The red and white maple leaf flags of Canada were flying everywhere, hung outside restaurants and atop boats in the harbor and even displayed on the harness of the horses pulling tourist carriages. I made my way down to the waterfront where the sun was in the process of setting out over the water and providing a perfect tableau for the evening's festivities. There were people everywhere walking around, eating food, and drinking beer. The city had a fireworks show planned for later that night, and an outdoor festival a little further up the waterfront. What an awesome way to be spending my single night in Charlottetown!

The outdoor festival was taking place in a park space known as Confederation Cove. (Get used to seeing stuff with the name "Confederation" somewhere in their title; it's kind of a thing on Prince Edward Island.) There was a huge inflatable pirate at the entrance, and another big octopus bouncy castle thing for the kinds to enjoy. Aside from food to purchase and lots of little Canadian flags on display, I also came across some kind of stunt bicycle competition and another demonstration of some kind involving chainsaws. Elsewhere, a large stage was set up and local musical groups were performing for the crowd. The one downer was the weather: after looking so clear earlier in the day, the clouds rolled back in and it started raining once again. This cut my time short at the festival and put a bit of a damper on the whole event. By the time that the fireworks went off later that night, it was too dark to capture them with this dinky little camera.

I was up again with the sunrise the next morning, eager to get an early start on the day's activities. I planned to do a healthy amount of driving again to see as much of the island as I could, crossing over to the other side of the harbor and heading east en route to the lighthouse at the extreme northeastern corner of the island. From East Point, I would then follow the northern coastline while stopping along the way in Prince Edward Island National Park and some of the small towns that I passed through. I would finish up in Cavendish, a tourist trap area designed to cater to fans of the Anne of Green Gables series of books. I had a lot of sleepy countryside to drive through before the day was finished.

As I mentioned at the outset of this page, most of Prince Edward Island is comprised of farmland, and that was what I saw on the morning drive east from Charlottetown. The landscape was much flatter here than it had been in Cape Breton, largely consisting of gently rolling hills covered with greenery. The sheltered nature of the island keeps it protected from the worst of the storms that rage in off of the Atlantic, and the overall climate is somewhat warmer due to the waters of the Gulf Stream. If Cape Breton had been reminiscent of Scotland, this was more like visiting the Cotswolds region of England, complete with the heavily Anglo-centric population that inhabits Prince Edward Island. There are very few French speakers on the island despite the relative closeness of Quebec, and not much in the way of diversity from other parts of the world due to the rural nature of the populace. It sure was pretty though, a bit like driving through an extended garden.

Eventually I reached the northeastern tip of the island, the location of East Point Lighthouse. On the website for the lighthouse, there are beautiful pictures of the historic building that dates back to 1867 and which has five floors that can be explored by visitors. The reality of my visit did not live up to those images, as I discovered that Eastern Point Lighthouse was under construction at the time and not open to the public. The structure itself looked to be in pretty bad shape too, with the white paint peeling off in many spots, and that combined with the construction vehicles made this an unpalatable stopping point. Well, that was a 90 minute drive well spent. At least the views looking out over the water were pretty, and it does appear that this historic lighthouse was property restored following my visit.

I drove from East Point along the northern edge of Prince Edward Island via local highway 16, also known as the Northside Road. There was nothing here aside from isolated farmsteads and tiny little villages. The most picturesque one was named St. Peters Bay, a miniscule hamlet of 250 people tucked in at the head of a little bay along the northern shore of the island. St. Peters Bay had a handful of small boutique stores and a couple of bed and breakfasts catering to tourists who came in the summer to enjoy a quiet getaway. Otherwise this was largely open country, continuing green hills with a single country road running through them. I was never too far away from the water on this drive either, which shifted between dozens of different hues depending on the depth and clarity of the underwater floor.

My next stop took place in Prince Edward Island National Park, a small protected area running along the northern seashore of the island. These particular images were taken near Dalvay Beach, where the small cliffs atop the parking lot appeared to be crumbling down onto the beach. The parking area had clearly been moved backwards from its original location due to the erosion taking place. I was surprised to find that the beaches in the park were actual beaches, with people legitimately swimming in the water. Some of the kids in particular didn't seem to have any problem hopping into the gentle waves along these shores. My understanding is that the sheltered location of Prince Edward Island causes the waters to be notably warmer here than they are along the Atlantic coast proper, and there was certainly a vast contrast between these tame beaches and the wild, rocky ones that I had encountered a few days earlier in Cape Breton. This looked much like the beaches where I had grown up swimming in Maryland's Ocean City, albeit without all of the high rise hotels.

These are more pictures from the beach areas in Prince Edward Island National Park, with these images taken a bit further to the west past Stanhope Bayshore. There was a tiny lighthouse at the entrance to Covehead Harbour visible in one of these pictures, and aside from one or two people that I encountered, the beaches here were otherwise deserted. Prince Edward Island technically has the densest population of any Canadian province, but that's rather deceptive since it's so small and provinces like Ontario and Quebec have those vast northern reaches that are completely empty. I never saw too much in the way of crowds in my two days on Prince Edward Island, even when I was in Charlottestown for the Canada Day celebrations. Most of the island looks much like this, lots of small towns with with farms and greenery running in between them.

This beach was a little bit different due to the huge amount of driftwood that had piled up on shore. Where was it all coming from? I suppose that it had to be something about the wind and the currents that pushed so many dead trees to this one particular spot near the mouth of Rustico Bay, but what? I'll probably never know.

And yes, Prince Edward Island does have plenty of cows, thank you very much! Those comparisons to Iowa were looking more and more accurate.

It was early afternoon by the time that I reached the town of Cavendish. This is a community that has been turned into a seasonal resort based around the Anne of Green Gables series of novels, to the point that author Lucy Maud Montgomery's name is plastered everywhere throughout the little town. There are only a few hundred residents that live in Cavendish year round, but the summer population swells to about 7500 people with the influx of the seasonal tourists. I was one of those tourists myself, of course, and I stopped first to visit Green Gables Heritage Place. This farm was the setting for the first Anne book, which was an entirely fictional story but based on the real Green Gables farm owned by the MacNeill family, who were cousins of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. The farmhouse has been designated as a national historic site and serves as a pilgrimmage of sorts for the most dedicated fans of the Anne books. I found the Green Gables farm to be an idealized version of early 20th century country life, with beautifully manicured landscaping and spotlessly clean farm outbuildings. While I doubt that an actual working farm from the period would have looked much like this, Green Gables Heritage Place was selling a pleasant fantasy that the visitors were eating up.

The interior of the Green Gables house had also been restored back to the way that it would have looked a century earlier. Since Lucy Maud Montgomery based her stories on a real place, fans of the Anne series are able to recognize specific rooms from their descriptions in the books (and of course the current decorating has also been designed to match the Anne series). I had not read any of the Anne of Green Gables books and therefore this largely went over my head. However, it was heartwarming to hear a little girl delightedly call out "That's Anne's room!" as they were passing through the upstairs bedroom, and I imagine that this is a great place to visit for fans of the series. Let's face it: Prince Edward Island isn't exactly the most famous setting for much in the way of literature or film. The Anne books are pretty much this province's one claim to fame (along with the whole "Confederation" shtick) and this island leans into the Green Gables thing pretty hard.

There are a number of other Anne-themed attractions scattered around Cavendish. The largest of these is Avonlea Village, a fake "town" of buildings designed to look like early 20th century houses in the fictitious town of Avonlea used in the Anne novels. I found Avonlea to be a little bit creepy with its complete artificiality, reminiscient of "Main Street USA" at Disney World. To be fair, Avonlea Village does contain the original schoolhouse where author Lucy Maud Montgomery taught and the 1872 Historic Long River Church, but most of the place is made up of small shops and restaurants designed to cater to visitors. This place is a bit of a tourist trap. Nearby was the post office where most of Anne of Green Gables was written, and the community church that Lucy Maud Montgomery and her husband attended. Finally, there's also the cemetery where the author is buried, complete with a huge archway sign advertising her final "resting place" that I found rather inconsiderate. Lucy Maud Montgomery was buried under a Macdonald tombstone; she achieved fame while writing under her maiden name, and her husband seems to have been a bit of a dunce. From Wikipedia: "The Reverend Macdonald was not especially intelligent nor was he interested in literature as Montgomery was." It was a pretty grave site even though I felt a bit bad for all of the other individuals buried in this cemetery.

Cavendish was the last location that I visited on Prince Edward Island. I was beginning the long journey back home, and the first step in that process involved getting off of the island. Whereas I had taken a ferry on the initial trip across the Northumberland Strait, I decided to drive back in the other direction by taking the highway across Confederation Bridge (yes, something else bearing the name "confederation"). This bridge was completed in 1997 and stretches for 8 miles / 13 kilometers across the Abegweit Passage, the narrowest part of the channel of water separating Prince Edward Island from the mainland. There was significant debate over whether or not to construct the bridge back in the early 1990s, with the vote to build it eventually winning out by a substantial 60-40 vote. There was a temporary surge in tourism when Confederation Bridge was first completed, only for the number of visitors afterwards to fall back to roughly the same level as before. The bridge itself is a marvel of engineering technology, with 43 total segments in all standing roughly 130 feet / 40 meters above the water. I also managed to capture the distinctly Canadian image of a sign promoting the Terry Fox Run coming up a few weeks later, which must cross the bridge in this local area.

I was staying for the night in the small city of Fredericton, another one of those overgrown towns in the mold of Portland or Saint John with roughly 60,000 people. Fredericton is the provincial capital of New Brunswick and by stopping here I had completed my unofficial quest to visit the capital of all three Maritime provinces. In addition to being the political center for New Brunswick, Fredericton also plays host to a number of different educational and artistic groups, including the University of New Brunswick and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. I arrived in Fredericton in the early evening, and after checking into my nearly-deserted hostel (this is not a terribly popular tourist destination), I walked around the compact downtown to get a sense of the place with the sun low in the sky overhead. Most of these pictures were taken along Queen Street, which seemed to be the heart of the downtown commercial district. I passed by Barracks Square, the Fredericton Courthouse, and the surprisingly fancy building holding the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. I would have gone inside if the place had still been open since I was genuinely curious who would be included. (Probably a lot of hockey players.)

Further to the west were the government buildings associated with the city. Fredericton City Hall was a stately brick building with a central clock tower that dated its construction back to the 1870s. It is apparently the oldest municipal hall still in use in Atlantic Canada, and also saw use as an indoor marketplace at times in its history. A longer walk took me to the building known as Old Government House, an older mansion constructed in the 1820s for the use of the lieutenant governor of New Brunswick. Note that this position was appointed by the British crown at that time, not elected locally by the people of the province. Old Government House fell out of use for nearly a century before being restored in 1999, and today it is once again the residency of the lieutenant governor of New Brunswick. There were no fences or guards to be seen when I visited, and I was able to walk around the building and take some pictures without anyone saying a word. Security is definitely more laid back in Canada as compared to the United States.

I walked back from the Old Government House along a slightly different route, this time following the walking trail that paralleled the St. John River flowing through the city. The sun had less than an hour of daylight remaining before it set, and it was a delightful evening to be outside taking in the cool summer breezes. I passed by several memorials along this Riverside Trail, including one dedicated to the fallen in World War II and an older memorial to the same veterans of the Great War. The largest structure that I encountered was the New Brunswick Legislative Building, home to the provincial legislative assembly. This building dates back to 1882 and replaced an older building that was destroyed by fire. Like seemingly everything else in Fredericton, it had closed for the night and everything was shut up tight.

The last place that I stopped to visit was Christ Church Cathedral on the eastern edge of the downtown. This was an Anglican church built in the 1850s in the Gothic Revival style that was popular at the time. It has survived repeated fires over the years as well as decades of heavy snowfall in the winter. With the construction largely consisting of heavy stone blocks, this was a church that looked older than it actually was; you could have dropped this into a small town in England and told me that it was 500 years old, and I would have believed it. Near to the cathedral was the Bill Thorpe Walking Bridge, the only pedestrian bridge over the St. John River in Fredericton. It was obvious from the construction that this was an old railroad bridge that had been repurposed into a walking trail, a wonderful use of old infrastructure. I walked out to the halfway point of the bridge and took a few final pictures of Fredericton from this vantage point looking out over the waters. I felt as though I had covered a lot of ground since waking up that morning in Charlottetown.

This brought my day in Prince Edward Island (and Fredericton) to a conclusion. I was highly pleased that I had been able to visit Charlottetown on Canada Day and take part in some of the festivities, and I felt that I'd also been able to see a decent cross section of the rest of the island in my brief stay there. Prince Edward Island remains a mostly rural garden of greenery, a gentle countryside of tiny towns and small farms nestled onto an out-of-the-way island. If your idea of a nice vacation is somewhere quiet and peaceful, this might be the place to visit. There's no shortage of little bed and breakfasts eager for visitors, and the people couldn't have been nicer. They were genuinely surprised to see a car with a Maryland license plate though - not too many of them driving around on the island!