When it comes to Canada’s smallest province – once referred to by the resident Mi’kmaq population as Epekwitk (“cradle on the waves”) – most of us have a lot to learn.
We’ve been to Prince Edward Island before and we were absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the beautiful beaches and sunsets.
But – as Calgary writer John Gilchrist (known best as a restaurant critic for the CBC and The Calgary Herald) demonstrates – there’s more to this gorgeous Atlantic province than stunning geography.
1. The music – From folk singers in cafes and ceilidhs in community halls, there’s music of all kinds – everywhere. Charlottetown’s Richmond Street becomes concert central throughout the summer as patio loungers are serenaded nightly by local and international musicians. (Joel Plaskett, for example, performed one night while we were in town.) The Mack Theatre – kitty-corner to and operated by the Confederation Centre of the Arts – hosts productions such as Come-All-Ye, a musical comedy review of life on PEI and Late Night, where the super-talented performers of Anne of Green Gables let their hair hang down and perform personal favourites. (Don’t miss this!)
A month after our visit, the music was still clinging to our brains.
2. Confederation Centre of the Arts – This is the musical home of Anne and a community hub that features a fantastic art gallery, evening performances of shows such as A Tribute to Johnny Cash and a fine restaurant – Mavor’s. Staff here also handle historic tours and have a great youth group who perform free outdoor shows.
3. Charlottetown Farmer’s Market – Compact and friendly, the market is filled with wild blueberries, cured salmon and outstanding, lard-pastried butter tarts. (For a buck!) Don’t forget to try PEI’s yummy, trademark potatoes. They’re as good as they say they are.
4. The Great George Hotel – Strategically located on Great George Street between the wharf and historic Province House (where Canada was born) and just a block from the Confederation Centre, this is a boutique hotel cobbled together from 15 heritage buildings. We stayed in what once was an oyster bar two doors from the tavern where Sir John A. and his buddies used to drink. Great location. Great rooms. Great staff. Great George.
5. Anne – Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery pervade island culture – the highlight being a musical that’s run for 50 years. Buy a straw hat with dangling red braids and join the Anne crowd.
6. Shellfish – We ate more lobster in a week than we normally do in a year, and not because it’s cheaper in PEI. (It is, but not by much.) We also ordered mussels and sucked back oysters gladly because, when on PEI …. well, you know the drill. Learn more about shellfish on the aptly named Top Notch Lobster Tour with Captain Mark and Cody.
7. Beaches – Walk them. Sit on them. Pick shells and rocks off them. The sand – formed from soft sandstone and a red rusty colour due to high iron oxide content – is mesmerizing.
8. Restaurants – The Pearl, Lot 30, Inn at Bay Fortune, Sim’s, Gahan House, Trailside Café, The Dunes, Landmark Café – not a bad meal among’em. Two treats – a Fisherman’s Wharf lobster dinner at North Rustico and fish ‘n chips at Richard’s Fresh Seafood in Stanhope.
9. Lighthouses – Made mostly redundant these days by high-tech GPS navigation, many PEI lighthouses have been turned into interpretive centres and tourist attractions. I challenge you to find one and do your best Cap’n Highliner imitation from the top floor!
10. People – Dang, they’re nice. Helpful, charming, bend-over-backwards-to-help-you-out types. There may be some cranky people on the island, but we never saw them.
11. 2014 – This will be the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that gave birth to Canada as we know it. So go and celebrate. Meet Anne. Sip a cool one with Sir John A. And have a warm island holiday Canadian-style.
Editor’s note: Our writer was hosted by our partners in tourism, who did not review or edit this story before publication.