We stepped off the Holland America Veendam into a fierce wind on Prince Edward Island. A short walk across the dock brought us to the shops at the pier. Security guards herded passengers away from the inviting doors under fancy dormers on the end of the building facing the ship and off to an otherwise unnoticed side door, reserving the prominent doors for exiting the building. The building resembled a long hallway. Booths containing all manner of products for sale lined the edges. A wide walkway ran the length of the building down the middle. A section of chairs and tables sat near the end where people could use the port’s free, but very slow wifi. Every port this trip had free wifi, something obviously appreciated by passengers and crew alike considering the number of people using it.
Though often it can feel windy right next to the ship when it’s not anywhere else, at this port the wind continued to rage on as we left the building. With the weather too cold to make walking around town pleasant, we were happy to find several vans waiting to take people for independent tours. Rather than a set tour at a set price as we often find on Caribbean islands, these tours were by the hour and tailored to suit the desires of the passengers in the van. These are independent drivers who have to buy permits to come into the secure area by the ship.
Though the tours are by the hour our driver, George Larter, quoted 2 – 2 1/2 hours as the time it would take to go to the places we wanted to see and did not charge extra for taking additional time to include other places he thought we would find interesting. Since Canadians aren’t known for tipping he was probably happy that not only did we include one, but since some people paid in American dollars he got extra that way as well.
Prince Edward Island is one of Canada’s Maritime Provinces. It is located in the Gulf of St. Lawerence north of Nova Scotia. It is considered the birthplace of Canada due to the Charlottetown conference of 1864 where the founding fathers of the country met at Province House there prior to Canada becoming its own country several years later.
Passing freshly plowed fields we saw the island’s trademark red soil. Much of Canada’s potato crop comes from PEI. Red sandstone bricks still show in some of the area’s early buildings.
Historic buildings in Charlottetown include several churches. The very impressive Saint Dunstan’s Basilica is open to the public to come inside and take a look at its beautiful stained glass windows and intricate architectural details. To be a basilica rather than a cathedral or church a building has to meet strict requirements which include things like arches and certain building materials and construction details.
Down by the water large historic homes remain from the days when English lords lived there, each running their section of the island from the town. The governor’s mansion is usually open to the public, but as they had a changing of government the day we visited it was not.
For a small fee people can visit Beaconsfield Historic House and see a part of history.
PEI has a very popular harness racing track. Our driver referred to it as the “Kentucky of Canada.” They hold a very prestigious race there called the Gold Cup & Saucer. At $75,000 the purse is not high for horse racing, but people come from all over to try and win it for the title.
York Road out into the area of the country originally settled by Scotts is the oldest known road on PEI. It’s a regular paved road now, but originally was paved with the red clay native to the island. Our guide made a stop at a place with an old homestead and a church. The small white church is the oldest one on the island. The old farmer’s bank there is the precursor to credit unions, having never got enough money to be officially a bank, but lending to farmers so they could grow their crops.
PEI still has French settlements where descendants of the early French settlers live. After the British won against the French all the French settlers were deported from PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Some went back to France, some to New Orleans, and many died. Some came back to what are the French settlements today. Rustico is the largest French settlement on the island. They and some of the other early settlers lived where they could both farm and fish and even now many of the farmers seasonally fish for lobsters or blue muscles. Blue mussels are farmed on the island, with the majority of those used commercially coming from mussel farms at Oyster Bay.
The British royals maintain a presence on the island. They have a series of parks Queen Victoria set the land aside for. Prince Charles and Camilla visited recently. On their honeymoon Prince William and Kate spent a night at the Dalvay inn. William learned new helicopter maneuvers from the Canadian military which he could teach when he returned home. He and Kate had dragon boat races across the lake there with locals islanders who had won a lottery to get included. Our driver said he didn’t win a chance to attend the event, but those who got to watch or participate enjoyed it. He also said that Princess Charlotte is named after Charlottetown. The national park at Dalvay has woodsy trails and beaches.
Lucy Maud Mountgomery is the island’s most famous author. Her 1908 tale Anne of Green Gables remains popular. Japanese schools still use her books so PEI is quite popular with Japanese tourists. Though the author never lived in the Green Gable house it belonged to relatives and inspired her story. Many of the places mentioned in the books are real such as the haunted woods and lover’s lane. The house is in the National Park.
People can walk through the house and grounds for a nominal fee. The book is available to read free on line. A series of books brings Anne into adulthood, motherhood, and even includes one about a daughter. Though Anne and her family are fictional characters they seemed real in the author’s mind and represented what daily life was like for real people living there in that era. The author suffered from mental illness which may have provided her creativity, but eventually led to her suicide.
Cove Head Lighthouse sits alone on a beach and is the most photographed lighthouse on the island. We saw lobster fishing boats in the bay near the lighthouse. Our guide said the lobster fishery is regulated with a short season that starts May 1 and ends the first of July when lobsters start breeding and molt their shells so they can grow new bigger shells to grow into.