Landscapes and Literature
Prince Edward Island, PEI to the locals, is a sculpted, windswept chunk of land just offshore from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Tossed into the chilly waters of the Northumberland Strait, this island is a scone’s throw from the mainland. The northern shores are washed by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with seas pounding against the red sandstone cliffs. Inland is a rolling landscape of tiny farmhouses, hamlets dotted about, and fields of potatoes forming the agricultural backbone of this pastoral setting. Imagine that one-third of all potatoes grown in Canada come from these very fields.
Altogether, today’s descendents of European settlers number fewer than 150,000 for the entire island, and they’re clustered in a few cities or at home in the countryside of this 2,194-square-mile island. The entire package is so inviting, visitors arrive for a stint in summer happy to camp, explore the beaches, and attempt one of the many sports offered.
Also spelled “Micmacs,” these indigenous people believed this was the “most beautiful place on earth.” The elders of these original inhabitants will tell you about the Great Spirit and how their ancestors came to this island to fish as long ago as 2,000 years. It was they who called it “Epekwitk,” which the Europeans changed to “Abegweit.” But whichever way you spell it, the term translates to “land cradled on the waves.” Sadly, you’ll need to seek out one of the Micmacs for details as there are a mere 1% left on the island.
Jacques Cartier “discovered” this island in 1534, claiming it for the French government with the proclamation that it was the “fairest land ‘tis possible to see!” Even so, they were slow to establish a permanent settlement, as one was not in place until 1719.
The island became incorporated into the French Colony of Acadia. Things went along rather well for a time. Ultimately Great Britain obtained ownership of the island through the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Some 35 years later, they changed the name to Prince Edward Island in honor of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn who became the father of Queen Victoria.
In 1864, something called the Charlottetown Confederation occurred on this island in the very town you’ll soon visit.
Charlottetown is the idyllic backdrop where settlers first put down their roots, for two bountiful rivers flow past and everything is tucked into the protective arms of an embracing harbor. The town itself is named for the consort of King George III, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It was also the site of the historic conference, the Charlottetown Confederation that took place here in 1864 planting the seeds for an independent Dominion of Canada. The memory of this event is evident throughout the town. There’s the Confederation Centre of the Arts Gallery and Museum, the Confederation Court Mall, and the Province House National Historic Site. Just know you’ll have enough Canadian history to satisfy even the staunchest history buff.
And, there’s more. There’s an iconic literary figure yet to discover.
Anne of Green Gables
You best order up a pot of hot tea and open this Lucy Maud Montgomery book to drift off into all that is PEI-Past. Published in 1908, the story of this local, headstrong little orphan named Anne Shirley captured the hearts of millions since Ms. Montgomery wrote it while living in rural PEI. The book was an overnight success, which you may have read as a child as more than 50 million copies have been printed in 36 languages to date.
The farm, in fictional Avonlea, is where life unfolded for the book’s lead character. Today, fans travel to the heart of Anne of Green Gables country to hear again of the antics of this exuberant, clever, redheaded eleven-year-old. The recreation of Avonlea is, indeed, a look back to that long-ago, simpler time. You can even see the Belmont schoolhouse where the author served as a schoolteacher. The Haunted Woods and Balsam Hollow are also on most itineraries, as is the old farmhouse from the 1800s where Ms. Montgomery played as a child in the Green Gables Heritage Place in PEI National Park.
Now, no visit to PEI is complete without a plate of chilled, fresh oysters. This delicacy can be followed with sweet scallops, smoked salmon, steamed mussels, or hearty seafood chowder. If you’ve a mind, instead, for meat try maple-flavored pork, a juicy slice of venison, or a crisp duck breast. Oh, rest assured, there’ll be potatoes on the menu. Follow this all up with a fruit pie, homemade ice cream, and a chat with that local lad who’s only too happy to tell you about his forefathers who came here from Europe long ago to carve out a life in this challenging yet bountiful land. All the locals puff up with pride when you touch upon that subject.