You’ve heard the word picturesque, right? Trust us, this is not a word we throw around lightly – it’s a bit fancy-schmancy for everyday use.
BUT there can be no other word to describe Prince Edward Island. Pretty and quaint, it’s as if you’ve wandered into a painted picture.
We were pretty jazzed at the prospect of having PEI as our home base for exploration of The Canadian Maritime Provinces. Having just spent the better part of a month crisscrossing Newfoundland, we loved the idea of spending some more time on one of Canada’s Atlantic Islands.
We arrived late in the day, so heading off to explore the rest of the island would have to wait.
But we were excited to see our new surroundings, so we took a short walk over The Stanley Bridge to the tiny harbor in the picturesque fishing village of the same name.
On the bridge we were surprised by what looked to be the most popular way to while away a Sunday afternoon, jumping off the bridge.
Fearless kids from about eight to eighteen were excitedly checking for boat traffic, and then leaping into the water about twenty feet below.
Fun to watch but we weren’t about to join in, the possibility of a horrifying belly flop was just too high… as was the bridge.
Over the following days we learned that nearly all of the island’s little coastal towns are postcard worthy. Perhaps none more so than French River, which claims to be the most photographed scene on the island.
New London Bay Lighthouse
Obviously fishing is a huge part of life on PEI. Perhaps we should clarify, not just fish that swim, but all types of seafood have long been crucial to the islander’s existence.
Crab fishermen unload their catch in Victoria-by-the-sea
Hands down our favorite of those is lobster, and we got to see first hand every detail involved in the catching, processing, and shipping of them at the L & C Fisheries.
Loretta Jollimore, who puts the L in L & C, showed us every step of the lobster operation, from how the traps work, to determining the sex, to separating the smaller “canners” (under a pound) from the larger “markets,” to shipping them out around the world either live or steamed.
WATCH: Loretta shows us how a lobster trap works and explains the difference between the boys and the girls!
With millions of pounds of lobster landed each year, along with tons of mussels, oysters, and other delicacies, seafood has historically sustained life on the island. But agriculture is equally as important to the economy.
Prince Edward Island sits just eight miles off the mainland in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Her green rolling hills – lush with fields of crops and berries – have also earned PEI the moniker of Garden of the Gulf.
Some of PEI’s offerings, Beach Chair Lager and Gahan Blueberry Ale
Cute little guy at the organic Springwillow Farm
Even though it is the smallest Canadian province by far, both in size and population, more than a quarter of all the potatoes grown in the country come from the island. PEI is famous for them, and from our sampling of them, rightly so.
Dairy, beef, pork, grain, and vegetables are common on the farms too.
David milks a “cow” at Green Gables National Historic Site
Anne’s bedroom, note the dress with the puffy sleeves!
Food and pastoral scenery are not the island’s only claims to fame, PEI was also home to Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the iconic series of stories about Anne of Green Gables.
We stopped by Ms. Montgomery’s home and then the area of Prince Edward Island National Park where Parks Canada has restored and preserved the farm that inspired the books.
Green Gables, the house that inspired the novels
We stopped in for a Céilidh (pronounced Key-lee) in the town of Kensington. Stories and music keep the Scottish and Irish heritages of Prince Edward Island alive.
Veronica attempts to model a fox stole, but is quite
creeped out because the head is still on it!
In Summerside, we learned about the turn-of-the-century fox business, a storied page in PEI’s history. When a viable way was discovered to breed silver foxes in captivity, a fur boom began.
Fortunes were made as pelts and breeding pairs were sold for higher and higher prices, until war provided the pin to pop the bubble.
A fox house in Summerside
The prosperity gave rise to the term “fox house.”
This does not refer to a place where little furry fellahs lived, but the mansions that their owners built with the new found wealth.
Heritage Roads – paths free from asphalt covering the red clay – are scattered about the island.
The Acadian Monument at Port-la-Joye
While visiting Charlottetown, the provincial capital and largest city, we learned of the significant role Prince Edward Island played in the history of North America.
Certainly the tiny band of Acadians at the original French settlement of Port-la-Joye back in 1720 could never have imagined the future the island they named Île Saint-Jean would play in world affairs.
See more about the Acadian, Canadian and Cajun (Louisiana) connection
Red cliffed Port-la-Joye / Fort Amherst (Charlottetown is seen in the distance)
The British had their eyes on the continent as well, and attacked the French in 1745. The Brits were driven out the next year, but took the island for good in 1758. Following the victory General Jeffery Amherst ordered a second expulsion of the Acadians. Soon after, the island was renamed in honor of the fourth son of King George III, Prince Edward Augustus, the Duke of Kent, and the area around Port-la-Joye became Charlottetown.
Province House in Charlottetown
The very room in Province House that hosted
the Charlottetown Conference
History was far from finished with Charlottetown, as the city was destined to be known as The Cradle of The Confederation.
Back in 1864 the town hosted the Charlottetown Conference. This was the first meeting of representatives from the British North American colonies that didn’t participate in The American Revolution to discuss forming the new union that would become Canada.
The chamber where governmental duties are still performed. Hanging on a wall nearby is a painting of the ball that commemorated the signing of the confederation – same room!
In an ironic quirk, Prince Edward Island ended up declining to join the new country until several years later, in 1873.
In spite of that delay, the island fully embraces its role in the formation of Canada – even naming the bridge that connects it to the mainland The Confederation Bridge. The idea of a bridge had been bandied about for nearly 150 years, but didn’t become a reality until 1997.
During our exploration of The Maritimes we crossed the eight mile span three times, but only paid the toll twice. Wait, three trips would have left us still on the island, and no, we didn’t ever crash through a toll gate.
Before the bridge was built several ferries served the island – now only one is left – and that was how we made one of our crossings of the Northumberland Strait.
Returning to the island by ferry
We only paid twice because tolls are charged only when leaving the island, even on the ferry. As scenic and serene as this prince of an island is, it seems like the payment method should have been the other way around.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Delve Deeper into Prince Edward Island:
Explore Green Gables National Historic Site
Discover Port-la-Joye / Fort Amherst
Find out more about the Acadian, Canadian and Cajun (Louisiana) connection
See our entire adventure in The Canadian Maritimes