Canada’s smallest province offers visitors a royal combination of beautiful scenery, an abundance of live music and entertainment, and enough festivals to fill the entire summer.
By Hank and Kay Gross, F180529
Only 5-1/2 hours north of Maine lies a vacation place that no one should miss — Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, only 139 miles long and between 4 and 40 miles wide. Its population of 140,000 claims mostly Scottish, Irish, and Acadian ancestry. It’s a place where surprises are frequent.
You can reach this paradise of beauty in your motorhome two main ways: over the magnificent 9-mile-long Confederation Bridge, which connects Prince Edward Island (PEI) to New Brunswick across the Northumberland Strait, or via the Northumberland Ferry. The latter departs from Caribou, Nova Scotia, from May to late December. It’s a 75-minute trip that many folks enjoy. Phone (888) 249-7245 or visit www.nfl-bay.com for details.
We took the beautiful Confederation Bridge, which offers a dramatic way to enter this paradise. As you leave the bridge, make a short stop at the visitors center at Gateway Village, where you can pick up a complete map, a visitors guide to the island, and a copy of the free monthly entertainment newspaper called The Buzz. An online version of this paper can be viewed at www.isn.net/buzzon/. It contains listings of all sorts of entertainment and arts events on PEI.
A short stroll through Gateway Village will give you a chance to stretch your legs and visit the fine museum at the visitors center, which will introduce you to this wondrous land. Don’t forget to try some delicious Cows brand ice cream before you leave the center.
From Gateway Village, travel east on the TransCanada Highway “” Route 1 “” to Charlottetown, a drive that takes approximately 50 minutes. On the way, you will enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside on the island: rolling hills; fields of potatoes, wheat, rye, oats, barley, hay, and corn; and grazing land for beef and dairy cattle. Each week throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the island is ablaze in color, from the red of its rich soil and the greens of its early crops and trees to the multicolored lupines and roses that grow wild by the roadsides, and beautiful gardens planted near homes. In late summer your eyes are dazzled by the gold of the ripening grains in the fields, and in the fall “” all the leaves!
We focus on Charlottetown and on other island attractions in this article, but we must mention the topic that many people think of when they consider PEI: the Anne of Green Gables book and related attractions. For those with a great interest in the topic, and especially those traveling with children, we recommend a visit and a campground stay at the Cavendish resort area on the island’s north-central shore. This is where amusement parks, museums, Anne of Green Gables attractions, and other family-oriented activities center on the “Anne” theme.
Charlottetown is the provincial capital and largest city on the island with a population of approximately 58,000; a traffic jam there consists of waiting for the traffic signal to cycle twice “” and that occurs only in tourist season. But don’t let this city’s size fool you. It actually abounds with theater, music, fine food, shopping, festivals, and, of course, sight-seeing. It offers many beautiful churches, venerable homes and buildings, and historic sites.
In the heart of Charlottetown you will find the Confederation Centre of the Arts, with three theaters; an art museum and library; Province House, the historic site where Canada was born; Confederation Court Mall; and the beautiful Confederation Birthplace Commemorative Park, located at the waterfront. Victoria Row — a bricked street adjacent to the Confederation Centre of the Arts that is closed to traffic “” has several fine shops and sidewalk cafes. It’s a must to visit for lunch after viewing the free musical performed daily during the summer at the outdoor amphitheater next to the Centre of the Arts.
Just a mile east of downtown is the Civic Center and Charlottetown Driving Park, where harness racing takes place all summer long. The highlight of the racing season is the Gold Cup and Saucer Race, held at midnight on the last day of Old Home Week (the provincial exhibition “” the Canadian equivalent of a state fair), August 8 through 16 this year. Charlottetown is also home to the University of Prince Edward Island, the Charlottetown Mall, and a fine airport.
What is there to do? On some weekends, three or four festivals take place at once on PEI! Among the must-see festivals, in addition to Old Home Week in Charlottetown, are the following: the Festival of Lights in Charlottetown, which begins June 28 and culminates in Canada Day celebrations on July 1; the Summerside Lobster Carnival (July 13 through 19); the Festival Rendez-Vous Rustico Festival, an Acadian festival that is held in Rustico (July 25 through 27); the Oyster Festival in Tyne Valley (August 2 through 4); the Acadian Festival at Abram-Village, held over Labor Day weekend (August 29 through 31); the Festival of the Fathers in Charlottetown, held on Labor Day weekend; and the PEI International Shellfish Festival (September 19 through 21) in Charlottetown. These represent only a few of the many summer events on PEI.
Music festivals also abound. The PEI Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Festival (July 4 through 6) is held at Rollo Bay, where you can park your RV on the festival grounds for the price of your admission (approximately $20 per person). Food festivals include a salute to the blueberry (July 28 through August 3 in St. Peters Bay) and homage to the potato at the PEI Potato Blossom Festival (July 21 through 27) in O’Leary.
Musicals, comedies, concerts, and dramas are presented in various locations. In addition to the Confederation Centre of the Arts, other major venues include the Jubilee Theater in Summerside; the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown; the Victoria Theatre in Victoria; Britannia Hall in Tyne Valley; and the MacKenzie Theatre, the Art Guild, and the Carrefour, all in Charlottetown.
One of the most popular, must-see programs on PEI is the musical show based on Anne Of Green Gables book by PEI native Lucy Maud Montgomery. Be sure to get a seat up close so you can watch the performers’ facial expressions. The “Anne” musical is presented from late May to mid-October at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown; phone (800) 565-0278 for details.
Music presented on PEI covers the entire spectrum, from classical to jazz, blues to bluegrass, and Celtic to country. Organ recitals are held in some of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals you have ever seen. Regular concerts are held at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts in Summerside (phone 877-224-7473 for details) and at the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival grounds, where a ceilidh (pronounced CAY-lee) is offered once a week. Ceilidh is a Gaelic word that means an informal evening of song and stories. At the Rollo Bay festival grounds, a ceilidh is offered every Thursday night from June 20 to September. Phone (902) 687-2584 or visit www.rollobayfiddlefest.com. Ceilidhs also can be enjoyed at various locations throughout the island nearly every night of the week, with admission prices ranging from $2 to $8. Check the local entertainment listings in The Buzz for these and for performances held at many restaurants, lounges, and Legion Halls. And while in Charlottetown, don’t miss The Olde Dublin Pub downtown, which offers Celtic and Maritime sounds galore.
What else is there to do and see? Driving around the island along the scenic coastal roads is sure to bring encounters with many photogenic fishing harbors, many of which offer opportunities for deep-sea fishing adventures. Tackle and bait are supplied and, if you wish, excursion providers will bait your hook, remove your catch, and even fillet the fish for you.
As you travel, you will note many outstanding churches. Go inside (they are never locked … this is PEI) and savor their beauty and variety. Travel to the extremes of the island, East Point and North Cape, and view the lighthouses there and at many other locations.
How about golf? Many fine courses can be found on PEI, such as the host course for the 1998 “Skins Game,” the Links at Crowbush Cove; Brudnell River and Dundarare, adjacent 18-hole championship courses; and Belfast Highland Greens at Lord Selkirk Provincial Park, named one of the 10 most beautiful nine-hole courses in the world.
Bicyclists, walkers, and cross-country skiers use the Confederation Trail, which covers the island from tip to tip. A total of 210 miles of prepared surface is available.
Want more? Go clamming. Watch for seals and dolphins. Walk the beaches and collect shells and sand dollars. Pick strawberries, raspberries, and wild blueberries. Look for eagles, osprey, and great blue herons. Visit a Gouda cheese factory, a chocolate factory, and a preserve company. See the beautiful Belgian horses gather the Irish moss (seaweed) in the surf along the northern and western shores.
Once you’ve had enough exercise, it’s time to eat. The most famous dish on PEI is lobster, and lobster supper restaurants abound. The most famous are St. Ann’s; the New Glasgow Lobster Supper; and the Fisherman’s Wharf, all of which are in the north-central part of the island. Along with lobster (cold or hot), dinners typically include unlimited steamed mussels, salad, rolls, and desserts; some eateries even offer a gigantic buffet. If you want to dine in a fancier place, try various establishments in downtown Charlottetown, such as the Culinary Institute of Canada; the Claddagh Room; the Off Broadway Restaurant; the Selkirk, at The Delta Prince Edward hotel; and Piece A Cake. Many, many more eateries with varying menus and prices can be found.
The cost of this paradise will vary according to when you are there, how long you stay, and how often and where you choose to eat out, but here are a few figures you can use. The average cost of a full-hookup campsite in season is approximately $25 per night and $150 per week. Most items on the island, including meals, are subject to a federal goods and services tax (GST) of 7 percent and a provincial sales tax (PST) of 10 percent, with the PST applied to the GST. However, non-Canadians can get reimbursed for much of the GST where each receipt is $50 or more, including that charged on campground fees (there is no PST on campground fees). A bonus for those of us from the United States is that these Canadian prices are lower once you recognize that the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar. The U.S. dollar buys approximately $1.50 Canadian. Since all the figures mentioned in this article are in Canadian dollars, you have a real bargain. Be sure to use an automated teller machine (ATM) or credit cards to get the best rate of exchange.
Non-Canadians should also have their automobile insurance company send them a Canada non-resident motor vehicle liability insurance card for each of their vehicles. They are free, and you will need one should you have an accident in Canada.
When you leave the island, your bridge toll will be $43.75 for an RV, with or without the towed vehicle. But you may find yourself lingering, because on top of all of PEI’s attractions, the best part of a visit to the island is its people. They are some of the finest and friendliest folks you will ever meet, and you probably will find it difficult to say good-bye to these new friends. You’ll be planning your next trip to this summer paradise before you wave farewell from the end of the bridge.
Tourism Prince Edward Island
Canada C1A 7M3
A complete visitors guide to PEI is available from this tourism office. It includes a listing of most campgrounds on the island. It is highly recommended that you make campground reservations well in advance for any visit between July 10 and August 25, and it is a good practice to make a reservation any time of year.
The following campgrounds are closest to downtown Charlottetown:
Holiday Haven Campground
Canada C0A 1H0
Pine Hills RV Park
Winsloe RR #9
Canada C1E 1Z3
Southport RV Park
20 Stratford Road
Canada C1B 1T5