“Prince Edward Island (PEI) might not be the world’s leading manufacturer of relaxation and repose, but it’s certainly a major distribution center.” This is how the Frommer’s travel guide opens upon the subject of PEI. Indeed, but if they don’t manufacture it I want to know where it comes from! They do produce and distribute 1.3 billion potatoes every year, but your humble correspondent believes there is relaxation and repose in abundance, and like the potato PEI only distributes what they make. We found our time on the island to be perhaps the most relaxing trip we have taken thus far. Lucia and I walked the beaches everyday alone just the two of us, we cruised daily without traffic, ate in restaurants without lines, received the undivided attention of local park staff, entrepreneur’s, and residents. Just walk up to a local and ask a question, you’ll get your answer in detail and maybe an invitation to their house for dinner (we did). It is a safe, secure environment that caused me to flash back to growing up in the Midwest in the 60’s. We noticed only one police car and one other policeman, their visible presence isn’t necessary, no graffiti, no homeless, no litter, just hard working, God fearing, farmers, fishermen and families doing the business of daily living with grace. It is comfortable.
The history of PEI is interesting, there is an aboriginal people known as the Mi’kmaq, in 1534 Jacques Cartier of France first recorded the existence of PEI with actual settlements beginning in 1603. In the 1750’s Britain expelled French Acadians from Nova Scotia who then settled on PEI. The British took control of the Island in 1758 and booted the Acadians again. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 officially granted control to Britain, and in 1867 in Charlottetown, PEI the Canadian Confederation was held resulting in the birth of a new nation, Canada. Yep, PEI is the birthplace of Canada! We had no idea until we researched PEI before the trip. The Prince Edward the island is named after was Edward Augustus (1767 – 1820) son of George III of England. The population in 1891 was 109,000 and the population today is 140,000. It is the land time forgot, thankfully. We were told the end of June means an invasion of tourism that lasts until early September and then time and the tourists leave. We noticed only two places where crass tourista activity might occur and they are small and were unpopulated when we passed through!
The Island is 139 miles from tip to tip and has a maximum elevation of only 500 feet. I can only describe the terrain as a “rolling flat” transitioning from red to green and back. The soil has a very high iron content, which causes the exposed soil to be red, especially when wet. From our travel headquarters just outside of Charlottetown we divided the island into quarters with the idea of covering a quarter of the island each day. There are three counties on the island King, Queen and Prince, we spent five days overlapping our original “quarters” plan. Weather was a bit of a concern, but really, we live in Southern California where are we going to go that has better weather. It was chilly and did rain every day but we did not care, in fact the conditions were perfect relaxation and repose.
Breakfast at 11am after a leisurely drive from headquarters into the southwestern section of the PEI. Hugging the coast weaving in and out of very small communities we ran into the Chew Chew Café next to a visitor information center and a state liquor store. Wow what luck, in Canada you have to find the provincial controlled liquor stores to buy a simple bottle of wine, and me being a simple man and just wanting a simple bottle of wine at the end of the day this was perfect, information, food and wine, yabbadabbadoo. The Café is run by a chef who all by himself is the service staff, the cook, the cashier, and the bus boy. Showing us a book that featured his food as the executive chef in Jasper Alberta, he explained “I moved here to slow down, live simply and survive.” When the tourist season hits he explained, I will hire one full time person, my wife will come in to help as well. When the season is over I will go back to the old farmhouse we bought and continue the remodel, and if I need to get a job of some kind in Montague to make ends meet I will. The breakfast he prepared was very good, Lucia’s French toast was thick hand cut pieces from a fresh loaf of bread with a very thick maple syrup packed with flavor. My bacon and eggs was perfectly prepared (this guy can cook) and both of our breakfasts were served in a basket on waxed paper. “How did the paper work for you?” he asked, I tried Styrofoam he said, but it looks so cheap and to bring a commercial dish washing machine in here is way to expensive. The waxed paper worked fine for both of us, he was happy, we were satisfied and off to explore some more!
The town of Wood Island just minutes from the Chew Chew is the home of one of four ways to get on or off the island. You can fly in or out of Charlottetown, you can use the bridge (13 kilometers) to New Brunswick at Bordon-Carleton, you can take a ferry to the French Island of Iles-de-la-Madeleine (134 kilometers) or you can take a ferry to Nova Scotia (22 kilometers) from Wood Island. We drove out to the lighthouse at Wood Island found an empty campground where Lucia played in a miniature city waterfront in the rain (see photos) and watched the ferry come in from Nova Scotia full of cars motor homes, and commercial vehicles, the local economy in action. Lunch in Montague (big city, pop. 5134) chowder and wine in a harbor restaurant and criss crossed interior roads back to Charlottetown where we had dinner at “The Noodle House” the only place the Chew Chew chef would even consider as good Chinese food. As a rule Chinese food on the island was bad. If you see a Chinese restaurant that advertises Chinese and Canadian food run, it was the only real disappointment of the trip. The Noodle House would not rate well in LA, but we did find a nice little place that served a limited vegetarian menu called “The Formosa Teahouse.” Formosa – (Portuguese for beautiful island) was the name given to Taiwan during Dutch rule in the 1600’s so Lucia was very interested to go there. We found a small elegant teahouse owned and operated by a native-born Taiwanese immigrant. Serving authentic tea properly, with tasty vegetarian dishes, I had ham-fried rice (vegetarian ham of course) and Lucia a noodle bowl, we paired these up with Oolong tea served traditional and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Lucia talked with the cook in Mandarin for quite a while as he told his story about immigrating to Canada, another example of the open honest conversations to be cultivated here on PEI. There is a Japanese presence on the island and a couple of Sushi restaurants in Charlottetown but frankly, for us there was too much competition from traditional seafood establishments and we just didn’t try one.
As we roamed the Island I couldn’t help but notice an enormous change of scale. We live in the LA area, had just flew in from Toronto, cars, buildings, people, pavement, concrete, power lines, everything big city seems extinct here and the scale of life is smaller and chafes your expectation of normal. Relaxation and repose here has a different scale. While driving I would look at the map trying to locate us and note I had missed seeing towns that we had already passed through. I only noticed a couple of houses where the town was supposed to be. You might see a sign “New Farthingwart” maybe a cross road, maybe not, sometimes not even a house, and swish, your past the town. Most of the island is this rural. You can see commercial fishing boats on the hard next to a barn, or in a side yard of a house being repaired. Big and small plowed fields, or pastures full of Holsteins eating and farting. Occasionally a farmer working near the road or driving a tractor from one field to another on the road will notice you and acknowledge with a wave. If you read the Room Lobster page you already know about the nice man who directed to us the “magic lobster place.” There are oddly many abandoned homes, old farmhouses I guess beyond repair, derelict barns and farm equipment, old tired fishing boats. The ever-present red dirt contrasting with the green of spring and from a distance the landscape resembles a quilt lovingly made by your grandmother. This is PEI
A very special event occurred quite spontaneously while visiting the old lighthouse at East Point (the eastern most point of the island) I received my first senior discount, 20% bub, I saved an entire dollar off admission to the lighthouse. We may come back in five years so Lucia can have her first senior discount in the same place. Romantic – Yes!
L.M. Montgomery who grew up in Cavendish PEI and based her books on a neighbor’s farm and family life, wrote Anne of Green Gables, the much loved story of Anne Shirley a spirited 11 year old orphan with red pigtails and a creative wit. The old farmstead on which L.M. Montgomery used as inspiration has been preserved as a National Park. You can wonder through the same woods and listen to the gurgling stream and see the house where “Anne” grew up.
We enthusiastically recommend PEI as a vacation destination, especially if you go as we did in the beginning or middle of June. The official tourist season is from July through August and I don’t know if I would go then. The cost of everything magically goes up, we were told at times there are actually traffic jams near popular spots. Maybe we were just lucky but this trip was almost perfect, enjoy.