Prince Edward Island: Ocean Splendour

Prince Edward Island (almost always known as P.E.I.) is Canada's smallest province and has the highest population concentration. However you would never realize this when visiting this beautiful island's wide sandy and unspoiled beaches, quiet backcountry lanes and peaceful emerald green fields. Some say that Prince Edward Island is as green as Ireland. The earth here is a deep red, and adds much to the wonderful colour of the landscape. Of course the ocean that surrounds P.E.I. is always changing and has a tremendous influence on the character of the island as a whole. As well as being physically splendid, P.E.I. has much to offer historically and culturally. Not least of which is its association with author Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of Anne of Green Gables - the world favourite that was written and set in P.E.I.


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Lupins in the Springtime by Hank Heerema

Prince Edward Island's proximity to the ocean has a moderating influence on its climate. Winters are less severe than in much of Canada. Because of warm currents, the ocean here is much warmer, so swimming in the summer is particularly enjoyable. The most popular months for visitors are July and August, generally the driest time of year. Spring is very pleasant here; the evenings are long, and the island's famous lupin flowers are in full bloom and, of course, the island is even more green than usual. The autumn colours here are especially imposing; with fewer visitors, fall is a great time for quiet strolls along the beach. Winter brings a unique beauty, and is less severe than in much of Canada. P.E.I. has great facilities for cross country skiing (there is also limited downhill skiing available) and snowmobiling. During this season there is a large variety of activities, and every weekend there is something going on in the way of a carnival, festival or various indoor and outdoor sporting events.


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A beautiful former country home in P.E.I.

Archaeologists have found evidence of Aboriginal habitation on P.E.I. dating back approximately 11,000 years. The Micmac First Nations have been resident in P.E.I. since around 5 A.D. They used to spend summer on the island and winter on the mainland. The first European to see the island was Jacques Cartier in 1534. French settlement did not begin for another 200 years and the island was named Iles Saint Jean. The French colony expanded after the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia in the 1750s. However P.E.I. became British in 1763 after the Treaty of Paris, and its name was anglicized to St John Island, but was renamed Prince Edward Island in 1769, in honour of one of the sons of George III. At this time the island became self-governing. P.E.I. was one of the instigators of Canadian Confederation, and the first meeting to discuss this took place on the island. However for various reasons, P.E.I. did not initially join the new country of Canada, only opting to do so in 1873 when economic advantages outweighed previous concerns.


First and foremost P.E.I. is a province of agriculture. The island's potatoes are famous and shipped all over North America and its seed potatoes are planted worldwide. The rich red soil is believed to be the reason that this crop is so successful. Turnips, grain and hay are also cultivated, as are berries and several varieties of vegetables. Being surrounded by ocean, fishing is, of course, also very important. The island is famous for its lobsters, oysters from Malpeque Bay, and its mussels. In addition to these, flounder, hake, mackerel, cod and giant bluefin tuna are caught in the waters off the island. With such impressive scenery, excellent seafood and produce, and a very interesting cultural history, P.E.I. is becoming more popular as a tourist destination each year.


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Charlottetown Harbour

The main access to the island from the mainland of Canada is the recently opened Confederation Bridge which reaches the island at Borden-Carleton from Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick. There is also ferry service to Wood Islands, south east of Charlottetown from Caribou, Nova Scotia. The airport at Charlottetown has regional air service from Halifax and Toronto linking the island with the rest of the world. Bus service from New Brunswick across the bridge links P.E.I. from other provinces. There are also several shuttle bus services to various points in the Maritime provinces. P.E.I. has little in the way of internal bus service, but there are some shuttle services to the beach areas available. The island has no train service. (For more transportation information click here.


Until very recently the only way to gain access to the island was by aircraft or ferry. After much controversy, over which the people of P.E.I. were very much divided, (some believed that the bridge would make P.E.I. lose its special island qualities) the Confederation Bridge opened in 1997. This bridge runs from Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick to Borden-Carleton in P.E.I., thereby linking P.E.I. with the rest of Canada. At almost 13km (8.8 mi)long, Confederation Bridge is the longest uninterrupted bridge in the world. It is a marvel of engineering, and cost $900 million to construct. The bridge has 44 spans that are each about the length of a city block. It took 8000 tons of reinforced concrete to construct each span which hang about 20 stories above the sea. If you stick to the posted speed limits (anything faster would be pretty terrifying), and provided the wind is behind you, it takes about 12 minutes to cross the bridge. Aside from the novelty of crossing such a spectacular bridge, the advantages are obvious. The wait for ferries has been eliminated, (this used to mean up to a day's staying in a line-up) rough crossings are no longer something that have to be tolerated, and in winter there is no longer the problem of ferries getting stuck in the ice pack. All in all, as well as being a very interesting and novel way of getting to the island, the Confederation Bridge is a real timesaver.

The story of Anne of Green Gables is one of the most treasured and popular in literature throughout the world. Its creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and raised on P.E.I. and her books are also set there. The island has much in the way of attractions connected to Montgomery and her character Anne. Many visitors come to P.E.I. for the sole purpose of seeing these. Anne is particularly popular in Japan, and there are special charter flights from Japan to Charlottetown, which bring many of the 10,000 Japanese tourists that visit P.E.I. every year. Among these Montgomery and Anne related attractions are: Green Gables House, in Prince Edward Island National Park, the home immortalized in the novel, and furnished in the original Victorian style of the period that the book was written in. The site of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home is where the author spent around half of her life. Although the home no longer stands, the property contains some interesting information about Montgomery's life here.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's Birthplace is at Clifton Corner. There are a lot of artifacts related to Montgomery including her scrapbook and her wedding dress. The Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush, which was owned by Montgomery's uncle and where she spent a lot of time as a child, also has a lot of relevant memorabilia. Near Silver Bush is the Lucy Maud Montgomery Heritage Museum that once belonged to Montgomery's grandfather, and is still owned by the Montgomery family. There are many family artifacts here, and assorted articles associated with her nine novels. There are also original manuscripts of Montgomery's work in the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.

No collection of images of P.E.I. would be complete without at least one picture of the many lighthouses that are found around the Island's shoreline, as the lighthouse is synonymous with the Island. The island's history and the story of its lighthouses are closely tied, as the ocean plays such a big role in the whole historical, cultural and social fabric of P.E.I. Although today many of the lighthouses are no longer in use, or have been automated, they have an incredible appeal to almost everyone. P.E.I. has fifteen lighthouses that are accessible by public rights of way. There are many more that are on private land and not accessible, in various states of repair. There is a bed and breakfast inn, a well-known restaurant and a museum at West Point Lighthouse. Leard's Range Front Lighthouse in Victoria is the province's only rangelight that houses two different lights, and at Wood Islands Lighthouse you can visit the keeper's quarters and the still operative light.

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Delicious P.E.I. Lobster

If you are a fan of seafood, then one of the best things about P.E.I. has to be the famous lobster suppers that are available throughout the island. These are held in a variety of venues, from church halls and cultural centres to specialty buffet restaurants. The lobster supper standard fare usually consists of salads, chowder, local mussels, home-baked rolls and a variety of desserts and of course succulent lobster. It is interesting to note that until well into the twentieth century one of the main uses for lobsters on the Island was as a fertilizer. This was because until then lobster was not a popular gourmet food item. Restaurants on P.E.I. had specialized in lobster for many years, but then in 1964 the Parish of St. Ann in New London had the idea to hold lobster dinners as a means to raise funds for the parish. Since then many communities and groups use the lobster supper as a fundraiser, so much so that it has become a P.E.I. institution. The suppers take place all summer long from late June to late September. Whether you go to a restaurant or a community event, you can be assured of enjoying excellent lobster. As well as St. Ann's Church Lobster Suppers, two restaurants of note are New Glasgow Lobster Suppers and Fisherman's Wharf Lobster Suppers.

The Confederation Centre of the Arts is in the centre of downtown Charlottetown. It was built as a national memorial to the Fathers of Confederation, and its mission is "to celebrate and interpret the origins and evolutions of Canada through heritage and the arts." Its modern architecture, which stands out in the otherwise dominant colonial style of downtown Charlottetown, has always been controversial, but nobody can dispute that the centre fulfills its role admirably. Confederation Centre serves as a major art gallery, a public library and a museum. It also houses three theatres and an outdoor amphitheatre. There are over 15,000 works of Canadian contemporary and historical art in the art gallery and museum. These include the celebrated portrait by Robert Harris - "The Meeting of the Fathers of Confederation." There are also original hand-written manuscripts of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Additionally there are a series of rotating exhibits. The centre is also home to the Charlottetown Festival. The festival presents original Canadian stage musicals as well as plays and a variety of other concerts. Perhaps its most famous production is Anne of Green Gables - The Musical. This is held every year from June to October, and there are other arts events going on at the same time in the other theatres and the amphitheatre.

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Playing on Cavendish Beach

Prince Edward Island National Park is one of Canada's smallest national parks, but its varied coastline and cultural landmarks make it one of the most interesting. The landscape includes sand dunes, with the park's Greenwich dune system considered one of the most remarkable in North America, red cliffs and earth, and wide, long sandy beaches. The beaches in the park benefit from the Gulf Stream that touches this part of the island, so the water is reasonably warm. One of the most popular beaches is Cavendish Beach; this is the island's widest beach and is bordered by some beautiful dunes. On P.E.I. popular does not ever mean that the beach is crowded like in major world resort centres. If you go to one of these beaches please ensure that you take plenty of sunscreen, as there is very little shade available. P.E.I. National Park has over 40 km (25 mi)of hiking and biking trails. Sea kayaking is a popular activity in the ocean off the park's beaches. For ornithologists the park contains three percent of the world's piping plover population. The ponds and woodlands here contain many other species of birds including the great blue heron. It is also possible to see red foxes.

The most famous attraction in the park is undoubtedly Green Gables House, and it is wise to arrive early in the day to avoid the rush from the many bus tours that schedule a stop here. Another notable landmark is the Dalvay by the Sea Hotel; this hotel is used in the TV productions of Lucy Montgomery's novels. This very attractive hotel was built in 1895 and certainly makes visitors feel that they are in a bygone era. Even if you can't stay the night, the restaurant is worth a visit as a special treat. There are great opportunities for deep-sea fishing in the ocean, and please remember that you will require a license if you plan to fish in the park's ponds and streams where there are brook trout. Golf and tennis is also available here. The Prince Edward Island National Park certainly has much to offer visitors.

Green Gables House
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