Re-posting PIE IN THE OCEAN…ONE BITE AT A TIME This trip was in continuation of the Maritimes 2017 Road Trip. It was difficult to decide what was more sublimely gorgeous….the places left behind or the present as we drive along roads bordered by the deep red soil, potato fields, past lush sprawling Cavendish countryside, the grazing cattle, purple, pink, white lupines swaying in the crisp cool breeze under azure skies, so far removed from the polluted city scapes. This segment of the Road trip continues to haunt me for its tranquility, natural beauty and intrinsic simplicity.
‘This little Island packs a big punch. With adventure around every turn, beauty that’s hard to even believe and food that is out of this world, Prince Edward Island will charm you from tip-to-tip’.
A flattering way to appreciate the Maritime is to barge in (ships) like the Vikings, the Scots, the French and British and traverse the Acadian fantasies, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. We did it the modern way….four wheels… for exhilarating land ventures along Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, the coastal towns and villages with overnight stopovers before crossing over to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
There are 3 entry points to the Island.The first/last entry/exit point is from New Brunswick on the spectacular 12.9 km Confederation Bridge spanning the Abeqwelt Passage of Northumberland Straits. This is a quick, convenient, and riveting way to arrive or leave the Island from Borden –Carleton on the southwestern edge of PEI. For us this was exit point for New Brunswick (Bay Of Fundy).
The other two entry modes are flying into Charlottetown Airport from any airport in Canada and the third, what we did, was take the ferry from Caribou (Nova Scotia) to Wood Islands (southeastern region of PEI) via Northumberland Ferries, a comfortable crossover, similar to Vancouver ferries.
We had a couple of hours to spare in Pictou, a heritage seaside town of Scottish immigrants who arrived here in in 1773 in The HECTOR after an eleven-week ordeal across the Atlantic. Every year a Maritime festival is held to commemorate the arrival of the Scots in ‘New Scotland’, the most developed waterfront between Halifax and Sydney.
The Hector Heritage Quay is home to Hector, an authentic replica of the original ship that had bought the migrants all the way from Scotland. Visitors are encouraged to explore the ship and even go below deck to see what living conditions were like during the perilous sea voyage.
There is more to see from historic Scottish architecture, beaches, trails, museums, restaurants, shops. Another attraction is the Pictou County Pizza, said to be unique because of special ‘Brown Sauce’ and Halifax made pepperoni. Reading about it later I learn that in 1962 two Greek immigrant brothers, George and Demetre Kouyas, introduced the spicy brown tomato sauce, instead of the traditional red tomato sauce. Thereafter the brown sause pizzas became a culinary legend. The best place to savour the pizzas is supposedly at Acropole Pizza place. It was definitely worth doing the touristy walk arounds but for us it was Sharon’s Place Family Restaurant because of the ‘kid-on-board’.
Pictou’s Mi’kmaq name was Piktuk, meaning “explosive place”, in reference to river of pitch found in the region. The name could also be derived from the bubbling methane from the coal seams found below the harbour.
From Pictou we move on to Caribou, the boarding station for the ferry.
Ferry Ride: The 75-minute resting across the cold Northumberland Strait supplemented by on-board entertainment, food, wine, ice cream and photo ops of the coastline from the deck was what we needed. We were the last ones to exit the underbelly of the ferry to the road to Charlottetown, our first stop in PEI. By now it was pitch dark, no street lights except in small roadside towns and it was a long lonely journey with occasional headlights confirming that we were on the right track. It set my imagination ticking for apparitions of ‘settlers’ as they trudged or carted across the land in search of abodes.
The 52 km appeared never-ending till we faced the imposing RODD CHARLOTTETOWN. The hotel constructed in 1931, a throwback on the Canadian National Railway hotels throughout Canada, is said to have played host to Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during the Island’s centennial Confederation celebrations in 1973. History flapping its wings again and as we waited for the concierge in the ‘Victorian’ foyer, the marble floors and barrel-vaulted ceiling appeared the perfect setting for a Georgette Heyer novel of a ‘dour Lord stalking a timorous damsel. (https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Georgette_Heyer)
The advantage of the hotel is its site, heart of Downtown, with easy access to memorials, business and commercial centres, parks and walking trails. Some refreshing tea and we were ready for Downtown reconnoitre, walked towards Gahan House restaurant on Sydney Street famous for craft beer, seafood and a friendly decor.
Refreshed and hungry, it was 9 pm and still too early to call it a day, we set out for downtown to mingle with tourists and locals hidden in dark wooden interiors of ‘Gahan House’, the popular downtown restaurant on Sydney Street, relishing the in –house favorites, Nachos topped with Sangrias and ales. This leg of our journey, PEI, was turning into an indulgence peppered with Victorian sensibilities. I was glad to have included this remote land in our itinerary.History of any country is my weakness and if linked to Colonial times all the more interesting as I tend to draw parallels to British rule in India. Here to the British outsmarted the French who had been the first of the Europeans to claim the Maritime, including Prince Edward Island, in 1604. The French had established the colony of Acadia and renamed the Island Île Saint-Jean.
The fascination with history made me scroll through Google and learn the usual power struggle between the British and the French, displacing each other from their adoptive lands and renaming towns and villages. The original protaganists in this colonial power struggle, the Mi’kmaq, were mere spectators watching the division of their ‘Land cradled by the waves’. According to Mi’kmaq legend the Great Spirit placed some dark red crescent-shaped clay on the Blue Waters forming the island with red clayey soil, the distinctive feature of Prince Edward Island. This rich soil, a lure for immigrants across decades, explains the population density of PEI despite being the smallest Canadian Province.
The Mi’kmaq had accepted the French as trading partners and allies but did not recognize their claim to land. Ultimately it was the British who gained control over land that did not belong to them. Another name change and in November 1798 St. John’s Island was named Prince Edward Island in honour of Prince Edward Augustus, fourth son of King George and father of future Queen Victoria. PEI became a hub for the fashionable Victorian nobility looking for adventure.
Next day morning and by now, ‘Google’ familiar with local colonial history, we set out on a ‘vintage walk’ of city landmarks starting with Province House National Historic Site, the birthplace of the Confederation and provincial legislature, at corner of University Avenue and Grafton Street.
From here sauntered to Victoria Row, a street mall close to the Confederation Center of the Arts on Richmond Street between Queen and Great George Streets. During summer months this Victorian era cobblestone street is a pedestrian street flanked by boutiques, restaurants, art shops. The Confederation Centre of the Arts, a concrete gift to the ‘Fathers of Confederation’ by the governors of the ten provinces, is one of the 22 national sites of Canada in PEI.
At time of our visit (June 2017) the Centre was undergoing renovation. The Centre presents live theatre, including the Charlottetown Festival during summer months and is dominated by one of Canada’s or PEI’s longest running musical the Anne of Green Gables. The author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, a native of Cavendish, PEI, has showcased the magnetism of her land through the antics and life of an orphan, Anne. Green Gables was on our must visit lists after we had done with the city.
The other places of interest is the Island’s first Protestant Church St. Paul’s Anglican (1747); St. Duncan’s Basilica, seat of a Roman Catholic diocese and the Veterans Memorial on University Avenue in Queens Square Park. The Memorial is a tribute to the soldiers of the three Wars, 1st, 2ndWorld Wars and Korean War.
The PIE was turning into a sumptuous dessert of Colonial confectionary and after doing justice to the ‘Confederation’ era we splurged on ice creams and pies and went back to hotel to dream of sailing the oceans. Next day leaving the city we explored the Cavendish countryside as our target was Green Gables Cottage, the iconic setting for ‘ANNE OF GREEN GABLES’. This is a popular young fiction about the shenanigans of a “verbose, red-haired 11-year-old orphan, Anne Shirley, accidentally sent to a middle-aged brother and sister. They were looking forward to adapting a boy to help them on their farm but instead were saddled with Anne. Anne, starved for love and with a vibrant imagination, proved a welcome addition charming the people around her.
The author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, draws up on her own experiences of Cavendish where her grandparents had raised her after her mother’s death. She was a frequent visitor to Green Gables farm, the “wonder castle of my childhood”, constructed by her uncle John and aunt Annie Campbell in 1872.
The Museum and Avonlea Village recreate the 19thcentury old world flavor of Anne’s adapted home, the stables and the farm. There are permanent exhibitions and stores selling ‘Anne’ gifts, candy, dolls and dresses. Young and not so young girls take turns to be seated in the horse carriage, trying out the orange plaits (wig) to capture the “Anne’ selfie. We were witness to a mini Japanese invasion with Japanese tourists picking up mementoes to carry back home. The novel and its heroine was/is a literary or cultural phenomenon in Japan with teen girls colouring their hair red to emulate ‘Anne”.
Lucy’s books were a success and so was Prince Edward Island National Park (1937) with Cavendish Beach and Green Gables farm within the park perimeter. The increasing footfalls over the years led to tourist additions including the Green Gables Golf Course, Green Gables farm tours. motels, campgrounds, amusement parks, shops, restaurants, bars and other facilities, popularising the beauty of the area. We admired the leisurely Victorian lifestyle, the landscape of “ruby, and emerald, and sapphire”, the temple of woods, fields and shore where the sunset sky shines “like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.”
The writer would probably find today’s Cavendish unrecognizable, no longer the “haunt of ancient peace,” as she had described it. It is a different take for visitors discovering the enduring charm of PIE’s green seclusion, the famous spud farms (PEI potato is world-famous), rolling lupine fields, birch trees hiding 18th-century pioneer cemeteries with ‘gulf inlets reaching in like slender fingers”. In Anne Shirley’s signature phrase, so much “scope for imagination.”
We took a tour of the homestead and the surrounding woods, the stables and the green spaces around. The person who enjoyed the maximum was my granddaughter running around in the Gables cottage lawns, free-spirited and joyous. I could visualize the ebullient Anne in these picturesque settings. For us a Raspberry cordial, Anne’s favourite drink, rounded up the ‘Anne’ adventure.
The first thing I did, on return to Calgary, Alberta, was to watch the ‘Anne’ television series and agree with Mark Twain, that Anne was “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”
Back to Charlottetown and day-end stroll along the Promenade to watch the setting sun cavort amidst the sails of anchored boats and ships, a painter’s canvas, completes our city break.
From Charlottetown it was to Victoria-by-the-Sea a charming village by the sea (as the name suggests). The Village, accessible by road and by sea, was waking up from its winter slumber and the welcoming quietness of a handful of visitors and locals, the near empty art Galleries, studios, restaurants, the tempting chocolate factory flanking the cozy street…. makes us abandon our car in favour of slow-paced meandering on tree-lined avenues. The salty sea breeze urges us to Beachcombers On The Wharf managed by two sisters who personally help in food choice. Not much of Lobster eaters (PEI is famous) we enjoyed the sandwiches and shakes. Dessert was finger licking home-made chocolates in the tiny homely shop, Island Chocolates. The bouquet of flavours alone is enough to drive one into chocolaty raptures. Coffee, served on the café patio overlooking the Main Street is a refreshing antidote.
Other not-to-be-missed Village distractions: the pottery display at Michael Stanley Pottery, an artist run gallery specializing in handmade pottery inspired by PEI coastal areas and nature presentation; the Victoria Seaport Museum at Palmer’s Range Light House; the biggest tree in PEI, the American Elm tree, 108 ft. height and 21 foot circumference with 129 foot canopy or better still appreciate the lobster fishers’ exhibit their catch on the Wharfs. Summer is the time for Victoria Playhouse Festival and other activities.
The touristy Instagrammable pastoral opulence is visible in the sailing boats, the kayaks moored in the harbour, agile fishermen on the wharfs or the evening interplay of setting sun and the blue waters. The fishing village is well laid out thanks to the efforts of an immigrant lawyer’s, James Baldwin Palmer, son who designed the village on his father’s estate. The result, this storybook historic fishing village is an artistically revitalised abode of artists and creative people who call it home. I walked into gift shops cum studios interacting with owners, their work and products bearing the inimitable stamp of the ambiance.
Temptation was rearing ‘its ugly head’ to stay overnight. The best way to experience the charm and intimacy of PEI is to live like the locals in its myriad small towns and villages. But we had to move on to another wonder, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, as hotel reservations were already made.
Foot-scape: A PEI must is hiking and cycling on the various trails across rolling hills, charming welcoming villages and seascapes. One of the most popular hikes is the undulating Confederation Trail, an abandoned railway track converted into an exploring and cycling trail during summers and a snowmobile trail during winter. The main trail, 273 km, starts in Tignish and ends in Elmira. Extensions or branches extend from heart of Charlottetown towards the waterside communities of Souris, Georgetown, Montague, Wood Islands, Murray River and Murray Harbor including the link to the Confederation Bridge in Borden-Carleton.
For us it was a four-wheel adventure and from Victoria we headed towards PEI’s photogenic rolling terrain of Red Sands Shore dominating the region with a perfect rust dab on the pastoral landscape. Another pausing point is Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site, an ill-fated place of struggle of two European powers, France and Great Britain, and their control of the strategic harbor. This location has the double distinction of hosting one of the first Acadian settlements in present day Prince Edward Island. It was a military fortification under control of France and the first military fortification of the British when they took over. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1958. The present tranquility, as you stand atop the earthwork remains of Fort Amherst, negates the skirmishes of the past.
PIE is incomplete without lighthouses as nowhere was their presence more valued than on its jagged coastline stretches. Shipbuilding was a booming industry with hundreds of sailing vessels welcomed to the shores from different parts of the world. Fishing vessels from Europe and the United States trawled the rich waters surrounding the Island. It was but natural for many shipwrecks and these lighthouses, strategically located along sandy beaches or standing sentinel atop high red cliffs, were beacons of hope for early 19th century immigrants and merchants across the darkness.
There are about forty-five lighthouses still standing, guiding mariners away from dangerous reefs and into safe harbors. Of these 7 are open to public while four are house museums as the lighthouse in Victoria-by-the-Sea. Point Prim Lighthouse(1845) an 18.2 m (60 foot) round brick lighthouse, the first and one of the last of its kind in Canada. The smallest lighthouse is Covehead lighthouse on Cape Stanhope at entrance of Covehead Bay in Prince Edward Island National Park. The grounds are open but the lighthouse is locked. A plaque on the side explains the havoc wrecked by Yankee Gale in 1851 that had destroyed 74 ships and 150 lives. The red and white damaged tapered structure with decorative pediments on windows and doors stands a lonely vigil amidst rustic sandy surroundings. Chastened by the loneliness of the beach, the nothingness across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we move on.
Image from Google as we did not have time to visit the Museum.
There was still so much to see and experience… insignificant things and actions, like running on the red soil, hikes across the Island, craft and culinary workshops. We were confined to Queen’s county and would have loved to visit Tignish, for its name, north-west of Charlottetown in Prince County. A friend later told me that Islanders are called Spud Islander as PEI is Canada’s potato producing province. If you love spuds the place to visit is The Canadian Potato Museum at O’Leary, northwest to Summerside in Prince County. My list was expanding of must visit places that will have to wait for next trip to PEI.
We end our journey in Borden Carlton Village before getting on Confederation Bridge for entry into New Brunswick. The Marine Rail Park is an ideal place to take stunning pictures of the Bridge, the fluttering red PEI pennant and the old rail cars.
A final linger before exit….Gateway village for food, drinks and souvenirs supposedly reasonably priced than any where else on PEI. We purchased the famous PEI red mud-dyed tee shirts using age-old native dyeing formula. A year later my t-shirt is a shadow of its previous clayey-red colour.
Journey’s End: As we cross Confederation Bridge I glance back recalling the Mi’Maq legend about the creation of Prince Edward Island. The Great Spirit said, ‘I will shape this red clay into a crescent form and it will be the most beautiful place on Mother Earth. It will become the home of my Micmac people. “The Great Spirit named the Island “Minegoo”. Micmac Legends of PEI by John Joe Sark.