This is the first of three articles related to Prince Edward Island (PEI). They cover the following subjects:
1. The history of PEI;
2. PEI places to see and things to do; and
3. PEI Shipwrecks and Scandals.
When young, I travelled all over Canada and although I appreciated the variety of landscapes and sights to see, I longed for trips to Europe and other far off exotic places. If asked about what location I would most like to visit, no Canadian site would make my top ten listing and I recognize now, how I had undervalued my home and native land.
My father was in the military and when I was in high school, he was posted to Trenton, Ontario. I spent my summers enjoying the scenic beaches at Presqu'ile, Sandbanks and Consecon. Their easy access and familiarity closed my eyes to the absolute beauty of these local sites. I will write more about them in another article, but the point of their mention is that we are often oblivious to the splendor of places that are close to us or that lie within our own country. This article is about such a place. Prince Edward Island, which until a visit last fall, failed to garner mention in any of my travel articles or posts and yet is a place of outstanding beauty and historically tied to a multitude of world and Canadian events.
I had grown and moved away from home when my father was posted to Prince Edward Island. I went to visit him, and he took me around the island to show me various locations that he thought were interesting. My visit was quick and so our local tour could best be described as a “whirlwind” look at the island. I thought there were some pretty spots but nothing so monumental that it bookmarked the island as deserving of another trip once my father moved off island.
In the summer of 2021, following a year of three canceled cruises, two postponed land trips and severe travel restrictions, we accepted the invitation of friends to visit their cottage on Prince Edward Island. It was an attractive proposition as we could drive to the island and given the covid testing that was mandatory for everyone who wanted to visit the island, we were assured that the destination was a relatively safe one. Our friends even invited our cat (well perhaps “invited” is too strong a word. More of a “did not object to the cat coming with us” scenario).
The first week of September we were off on our adventure and the one who seemed to enjoy the trip the most was the cat who loves being in the van and hissing proprietarily when she spots a dog or two in other vehicles. The shortest route from Ottawa to the island is through Maine but with the border to the USA closed to tourists, we drove through Quebec and New Brunswick until we reached the bridge to Prince Edward Island. A journey that we accomplished in two days as we stopped after eight hours of driving the first day. It did not help our timing that I kept stopping so I could photograph some specific spot that I thought was particularly interesting or beautiful and there may have been an antique store of two that needed a quick examination. We arrived in PEI the following day around noon having traveled roughly 1400km (870miles).
We were tested for Covid as soon as we crossed the bridge in a process that I can only describe as smooth, fairly quick and well orchestrated. We were soon on our way to the cottage where our friends greeted us with food and drink fit for visiting royalty. Spoiled is the best description.
Located on the south side of the island, not too far from the Confederation bridge, we enjoyed viewing the changing landscape that the tidal waters offered up at different times of the day. An eagle, who occupied a tree not far from the cottage, was kind enough to make various passes which provided me with some good photo opportunities. Our cat opted to stay inside and view the eagle from behind the relative safety of the patio screen. A tranquil, welcoming atmosphere was on offer. It was probably the most relaxing and fun vacation I have had in years.
Before I start to write about the locations we visited, I am going to touch a bit on the history of the island. I confess that until this visit, my knowledge of the island’s history was centered on what I learned in school about the birth of confederation and the generic comments about PEI consisting of red mud, potatoes and Anne of Green Gable groupies. Our friends had some interesting literature about the island, and I was soon engrossed in reading stories about discovery, shipwrecks and nautical adventures.
No one knows when, and by whom, the island was discovered but it is believed that about 10,000 years ago, when the area was still connected to the mainland, Paleo-Indian hunters and foragers would travel in the area that would become the island. Following the processes of lithospheric extension and continental rifting, the land that became Prince Edward Island separated from the mainland, but it is unclear as to whether there were any peoples occupying the land during that time or whether people simply migrated seasonally through the area, never putting down roots.
We do know that as long ago as 2000 years (or around 10BC), the indigenous Mi'kmaq peoples were settled on the island. It is believed that they were the first to permanently occupy the area and even those proponents of “Vikings being the earliest settlers” of various east coast locations have to give the nod to the Mi'kmaq who not only occupied PEI, but other east coast provinces and the northern states of Maine and Massachusetts long before the Vikings put in an appearance.
In 1534 Jacques Cartier landed on the island but aside from charting waters and noting the land mass, little was done in the way of any type of European settlement for another 180 years. The French named the island “Île Saint-Jean”. The literature I read, indicated that in 1720, the French established the settlement of Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst (alternate spelling is: Port La Joie).
In 1769, ten years after they achieved full control of the eastern, upper region of North America, the British established a colony on the island and anglicized the name to “St. John Island”. A proposal to rename the island to Prince Edward Island was put forward in 1798. This change was in honour of Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent who was stationed in Halifax at that time and held the title of commander-in-chief of British North America. He later went on to father the future queen, Victoria. By 1799, the name change was official. The name St John Island was no longer used, and Prince Edward Island became the official moniker and PEI the acronym.
In the eighth paragraph of this article, I mentioned studying PEI’s role in confederation when I was in school. We studied the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 which led to discussions of the east coast provinces joining together. During that conference, led by a contingent from upper and lower Canada, the theory was advanced that rather than join just the east coast regions together, all regions in British North America should join and form Canada. The discussions born from that conference, continued at the next conference which was held in Quebec and that led to the creation of Canada
Interestingly enough, the residents of the island saw little benefit to joining the other provinces and when confederation occurred in 1867, PEI was not among the provinces of the newly formed nation. Newfoundland also did not join but it was considered inconsequential at the time, given its location and lack of population base. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick felt differently and joined confederation which meant those travelling to PEI from either of those two provinces, would leave Canada when they caught one of the boats to PEI.
However, the leadership of PEI changed, and the minds of the residents turned to the benefits of joining Canada and in 1873, PEI became the newest and smallest province in the fledgling country of Canada.
Since this history recap is taking a bit more space than I had anticipated, I am going to fast forward to the building of the Confederation bridge. When I first visited the island, the only way to get to PEI was to take a ferry or fly in. It stayed that way until 1997, when a box girder bridge officially opened and linked PEI with the province of New Brunswick. People can still take a ferry if they so choose, but they can now also take the bridge which is long, impressive and offers outstanding water views. The cost of a car to take the bridge (two-axle vehicles) is $50.25. Each additional axle will increase your costs by 25 cents up to $8.50 while taking a motorcycle across is a straight $20. If you opt to take the ferry between Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island and Caribou, Nova Scotia, the trip will take you 75 minutes and cost you $84 for a car (two-axle vehicle) and $44 for a motorcycle. Please note that these are return fares.
In my next article, I am going to talk about some of the interesting places to see and things to do when visiting the island. I will also touch upon the most famous resident of PEI, a fictional character called Anne of Green Gables. My third and final article covering PEI will address the island’s shipwrecks and scandals.
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