Prince Edward Island: Eastern Canada’s Summer Playground: Part 1

The Micmac (or Mi’kmaq) Indians called it Abegweit: “land cradled on the waves.” Today, the crescent-shaped island off the east coast of Canada is known as Prince Edward Island.

Sally O’Neal Coates

Prince Edward Island (PEI) lies in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, north of Nova Scotia (to which it connects by ferry) and east of New Brunswick (to which it connects by the 13-kilometer Confederation Bridge, a controversial engineering feat completed in 1997). The island is about 30 miles wide (from north to south) and about 100 miles long (east to west).

History In Brief
PEI was made a British colony in 1769. Before that, it was owned by France, which called it Isle Saint-Jean. When the British took over in 1758, they forced the Acadian French from the island. Fortunately, some of the Acadian heritage remains today, influencing food, architecture, and language in parts of the island (though English is definitely the predominant language throughout PEI). In 1873, the island became (and remains) Canada’s smallest province.

Fox farming was once the island’s main industry. Fishing and farming (shellfish and potatoes) are today’s mainstays, along with tourism. The population of the entire island is just over 135,000.

Lay Of The Land
Flat and fertile, there is something about this pastoral island that brings out the nostalgia in everyone. Even if you don’t have a “Grandpa’s farm” in your personal memory, something sweet and simple in the unhurried, agrarian lifestyle is absolutely contagious. I’ve never relaxed more quickly or completely than I did during a recent week spent on PEI.

Sandy beaches alternate with rocky ones on PEI. These two north-shore beaches are about 10 miles apart.

In summer, PEI is a two-colored island: red (from the iron-rich, fertile soil) and green (from the lush vegetation, much of which is potato plants). Set off by the blues of the sky and sea, the pastoral island is a photographer’s dream. Pristine white, steepled churches and cheerful red barns dot the countryside. Sleepy two-lane roads (some of them graded red clay, most asphalt-paved) connect hamlets with names such as Canoe Cove, Five Houses, and Little Pond. Over 50 lighthouses grace the coastline.

Aquatic Adventures
While the pace of the island is relaxed and unhurried (except perhaps in the capital, Charlottetown, and the avoid-at-all-cost tourist town of Cavendish), there are plenty of activities for the outdoor enthusiast.

One of Prince Edward Island’s fifty-plus lighthouses; this one overlooks Colville Bay.

Water, water everywhere makes fishing and kayaking two attractive options. Sportfishing boats take tourists out for extremely reasonable rates (as low as $20) to fish for mackerel. Companies include Marine Adventures (800-496-2494), Baywatch (902-961-2910), Jack’s (902-687-2550), Bearded Skipper’s (902-963-2334), and Graham’s (902-886-2491). Serious sportfishermen will want to head for the northeast part of the island and find a tuna-fishing excursion. One-thousand-pound Bluefin can be caught in the gulfstream waters. Contact Tony’s (902-357-2207), MacNeill’s (902-357-2454), Coffin’s (902-357-2030), or Bruce’s (902-357-2638), and expect to pay $450 or more for the outing. Brook and rainbow trout, and salmon also are caught here. Morell River Management Co-op (902-961-2013) can provide overall information and licenses. Fly-fishing also is available at Ben’s Lake (902-838-2706).

Kayaking is popular and loads of fun. The island’s shoreline is laced with scores of coves and bays, large and small, many leading inland into saltwater “rivers” where mussel farming is prevalent. Guided or self-guided adventures are available all over the island. One of the larger guided tour companies is Outside Expeditions (800-207-3899, http://www.getoutside.com). Its tours include the North Rustico Harbor on the island’s north shore and Brudenell River Provincial Park off Cardigan Bay on the east shore. Other companies include PEI Kayak Adventures (888-838-4206, http://www.blackdogruns.com), The Pier Water Sports (877-886-7437, http://www.inatthepier.com), Malpeque Bay Sea Kayak Tours (902-432-0111, http://www.peikayak.ca), and By The Sea Kayaking (877-879-2572, http://www.bytheseakayaking.ca).

Warm Water For Swimming?
Who would expect that swimming would be so popular in this northern clime? Surprisingly, PEI boasts some of the warmest Atlantic waters north of Florida. Ivory-skinned Canadians and New Englanders flock to the sandy north-shore beaches near Cavendish, but many other venues afford excellent swimming opportunities. Some beaches are sandy, such as the gorgeous strand along the north shore at Prince Edward Island National Park, stretching west from Dalvay or the aptly named Sandy Cove on the south shore just west of Summerside, while others are strewn with the red rock of the island. Some of the best and least-trafficked white sand beaches can be found on the far east coast of the island at Basin Head, north of Souris.

A lone kayaker glides past fields of lupine in New London Bay.

Relatively warm waters and sunny summers bring out the tourists, so PEI entrepreneurs have responded with other means of enjoying the water. Snorkel rentals, jet skis, and even parasailing can be found in the more populous areas of this sparsely populated Canadian playground.

Please read more about my adventure on PEI in Part 2.

Sally O’Neal Coates is a travel writer based in Washington State. Her books include “The Unofficial Guide to Bed and Breakfasts in the Pacific Northwest.” Her stay on Prince Edward Island was made infinitely more pleasant and comfortable by staying at BayView Beachside Cottage, http://www.peiwaterfrontcottage.com, 1-800-208-2204.

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