Canadian Maritimes #02 – PEI
Canadian Maritimes #02 –Prince Edward Island (PEI)
This is part 2 of a trip we took in October of 2019 to the southeastern portion of the Maritime Provinces in Canada. On this trip we visited Halifax, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. We flew into and out of Halifax Nova Scotia but the rest of the trip was by rented car.
Three major destinations on this trip
This installment is for PEI (Prince Edward Island). After spending several days in Halifax we hit the road for PEI. The bridge to PEI is less than 3 hours from Halifax mostly on 4 lane highways through a nondescript landscape of farms, fields, rolling hills and a forest or two, and not many places to stop for lunch. However in route we did find some of the town names quite interesting. There was Shubenacadie, Stewiacke, Bale Verte, Jolicure, and my favorite – Sackville.
Halifax to Stanley Bridge (PEI)
The last (and only other) time I was in PEI was in 1968 when I was a student in bad standing in Boston. My live-in (runaway) girlfriend at the time had a sister who had moved to Charlottetown on PEI so I volunteered to drive her up there in my 1963 Dodge Dart station wagon for a visit. Six hundred miles each way. In January. With virtually no money. And who says young folks have no sense. Well, long story short, somewhere along Trans Canadian Highway in New Brunswick between the middle of nowhere and the edge of nowhere we wound up in a “white out” blizzard. Now who would have thought that it might snow in Canada in the middle of January? But there we were – going nowhere.
But, lo and behold there was a small ratty motel on s little hill all by itself just ahead. We managed to slip and slide up the hill and into the parking lot and they had one room left. But there was nothing else for miles around in any direction. But, we were well prepared. After all, I was a Cub Scout once. Our dinner that night was stale packets of saltine crackers, with ketchup, mustard, and relish in those little packets that I had liberated from a Burger King the prior summer and stashed in the glove box for just such an occasion.
The next day we crept along till we came to the ferry dock as there was no bridge at that time. Now, the ferry has a summer schedule and a winter schedule, and this being January they were on the winter schedule which as I recall was once a day each way – and they don’t sail in bad weather. But after spending many, many hours with the car in line and us in a waiting room with vending machines we finally made it on board for a middle of the night rock and roll voyage to the island.
So, why did I tell you all of this? Well, on this 2nd trip in October it was beautiful fall weather, no rain (let alone snow), and they now have a bridge. The bridge is named the “Confederation Bridge” and it opened in 1997. At 8 miles long it is the longest bridge in Canada. It also happens to be the longest bridge in the world that goes over ice-covered water. So, given my first experience, having a bridge was quite a luxury.
When PEI joined Canada in 1873, the Canadian (then the Dominion of Canada) constitution was amended to require that the federal government supply efficient steamboat service for the conveyance of mails and passengers between the Island and the mainland throughout the year.
Ferry service came and went over the years on different routes and with various degrees of reliability and comfort. The winter server was especially bad using primitive “iceboats” (ice breakers). In 1915 (maybe 1917) they implemented a “railcar” ferry service where you could stay on the train during the ferry ride which was vastly more comfortable than the hard benches of the boat itself, and a car ferry opened in 1938. But as time went on it became more and more apparent that boats weren’t the answer anymore.
Various proposals for a fixed link (a bridge) can be traced as far back as the 1870’s. It took another 100 years or so, till the 1980’s, for there finally to be a proposal which would result in the construction of a bridge and that required an amendment to the constitution to replace the “steamship service” with an all “weather bridge”. But built it was and has been in operation since 1997.
Once we crossed the bridge and onto the island itself, we still had to cross the entire width of the PEI to get to our destination on the north shore in a place called “Stanley Bridge” where we had arranged to stay with some friends we had met on our Ireland trip.
So, off we went following the instructions provided by our GPS. Almost immediately we were off the highway and following narrow country lanes wedged between farm fields. I seriously think our GPS was on an acid trip that day. Turn left, turn right, turn right, turn left. If it weren’t for the sun hitting my left ear through the window I’d have sworn we were going in circles. In fact at one point I pulled over to look at the GPS map a bit bigger to see if we were even headed in the right general direction. But we were so we dutifully followed the electronic voice and actually did wind up at the house whose address I had plugged in. Never would have found it otherwise.
Prince Edward Island History
Prince Edward Island (PEI) is an island next to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick but it is also its own province making it one of three Canadian Maritime provinces. It is the smallest Canadian province in both land area and population, but interestingly it is the most densely populated with 158,158 year round residents. In fact in terms of size it is not even the largest island in Canada and only ranks in at number 23.
The mainstay of PEI is farming which produces 25% of Canada's potatoes. Other important industries include fishing and tourism.
Originally part of the home territory of the Mi'kmaq, it was subsequently claimed by France, then Britain and finally incorporated in the Federation of Canada as a province in 1873. The island has several informal names such as "Garden of the Gulf", referring to the pastoral scenery, It is sometimes also referred to as the "Birthplace of Confederation" or "Cradle of Confederation", even though it was the seventh Canadian province. However, it is one of Canada's older settlements and demographically still reflects older immigration to the country with Scottish, Irish, English and French surnames being most common.
Speaking of the French, a Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, was the first European to see the island. And in 1604, the Kingdom of France laid claim to the lands of the Maritimes, including Prince Edward Island, establishing the French colony of Acadia. The island was named Île Saint-Jean by the French. The Mi'kmaq of course never recognized the claim but welcomed the French as trading partners and allies.
During the 1700’s the French and British were fighting it out in many areas of North America. On PEI they engaged in a series of battles. The French formally ceded the island and most of New France to the British in the Treaty of Paris of 1763.
The British Initially named the island St. John's and it was administered as part of the colony of Nova Scotia until it was split into a separate colony in 1769. In the mid-1760s, a survey team divided the Island into 67 lots which were allocated to supporters of King George III – all in England - thus making all the residents “tenants”. This was not met well with the settlers on the island who were unable to gain title to the land on which they worked and lived. To add insult to injury, and in true British fashion, these absentee landlords charged the locals exorbitant rent and provided little in return. This feudal system in tern dissuaded new settlers from wanting to come over from Europe. As a ploy to get more settlers the British governor of St. John’s (what PEI was called then) got the colonial assembly to rename the island to “New Ireland”. But the home office back in London put the kibosh on that idea pretty quickly.
So what else of interest happened here. Well, during the American Revolution, PEI was raided by a pair of American-employed privateers using armed schooners out of Beverly, Massachusetts. During and after the American Revolution, the governors of St. John put a fair amount of effort into attracting British loyalist refugees from the rebellious American colonies and this effort met with some success as many took up the offer. As it turns out, one of them, Edmund Fanning, wound up being the 2nd governor of the colony. Under his rule, a large number of Scottish Highlanders came over in the late 1700’s giving St. John’s the highest proportion of Scottish immigrants in Canada. And, of course these folks came speaking Scottish Gaelic and bringing Highland culture with them. To this day, they say that the traditional Scott culture present on the island is stronger than in Scotland itself as the settlers could more easily avoid English influence than those in actual Scotland could being adjacent to England.
The island officially changed its name from Saint John’s to Prince Edward Island in 1798. This was to avoid confusion with other St. John’ in the area such as the cities of Saint John in New Brunswick and St. John's in Newfoundland.
It wasn’t until 1853 that the Island government passed the Land Purchase Act which empowered them to purchase lands from those owners who were willing to sell, and then resell the land to settlers for low prices. This scheme collapsed when the Island ran short of money to continue with the purchases.
In 1864, Prince Edward Island hosted the Charlottetown Conference, which was the first meeting in the process leading to the Quebec Resolutions and the creation of Canada in 1867. However, PEI did not find the terms of union favorable and balked at joining in 1867, choosing to remain a colony of the United Kingdom. In the late 1860s, the colony examined various options, including the possibility of becoming a discrete dominion unto itself, as well as entertaining delegations from the United States, who were interested in Prince Edward Island joining the United States.
In 1871, the colony began construction of a railway and, frustrated by Great Britain's Colonial Office, began negotiations with the United States. In 1873, Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, anxious to thwart American expansionism negotiated for Prince Edward Island to join Canada. The Dominion Government of Canada assumed the colony's extensive railway debts and agreed to finance a buy-out of the last of the colony's absentee landlords to free the island of leasehold tenure. Prince Edward Island entered Confederation on July 1, 1873.
Our hosts on PEI
Even though PEI was the 7th province to join Canada, as a result of having hosted the inaugural meeting of Confederation, the Charlottetown Conference, Prince Edward Island presents itself as the "Birthplace of Confederation" and this is commemorated through several buildings, a ferry vessel, and the Confederation Bridge (constructed 1993 to 1997).
Our guided tour of PEI area near Stanley Bridge. (My GPS died so dotted line is a guess)
On PEI we stayed with a wonderful family, the Croziers, that we had met on our tour of Ireland a few years ago. They were the greatest hosts. They invited some of their clan in and prepared a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner for us. Thanksgiving in Canada is pretty much the same as in the US but it is in mid October rather than the end of November. Then they spent an entire day taking us on a sightseeing tour of their part of PEI. Now, that is Canadian hospitality. I hope that some day they venture out to the San Francisco area and we can return the favor.
They have a lovely house on the shore of a peninsula sticking out into New London Bay in the town of Stanley Bridge.
View from their backyard of sunset over the bay
Our first stop was the very nearby Cavendish Beach which is at the western end of the PEI National Park. Prince Edward Island National Park is located along the north shore of PEI, fronting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Established in 1937, over time it has grown to about 37 miles long, It is definitely a seashore of park with broad sand beaches, sand dunes, both freshwater wetlands and salt marshes which is a haven for birds.
As you know from reading this, our trip to the area was in October of 2019. What you may not recall is that Hurricane Dorian clobbered PEI in September of that year and the area of Cavendish was quite heavily damaged. Whole swaths of forest were ravaged and the clean-up/salvage crews were quite busy cleaning up the mess.
We first visited the west end of the Cavendish Beach area and its very lovely beach. A bit on the cold and windy side in mid October but in the summer I’m sure it is jam packed with people enjoying the broad warm sand, gentle surge of the waves and the fantastic views. This is a nice sandy beach backed by small grass covered dunes.
West side of Cavendish Beach
Boardwalk leading to fresh water lake (Lake of Shinning Water)
The east end of the Cavendish part of the park is completely different. Here eroded red sandstone cliffs plunge directly into the bay with no beach at all. The erosion of the cliffs has resulted in all sorts of fantasy shaped contours, pockets, caves and outcroppings – all in a brilliant red that contrasts beautifully with the blue water below.
Eroded red sandstone bluffs at east end of Cavendish. West end beach can be seen in background
Many of you may be familiar with Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote the Green Gables novels in the early 1900’s. Cavendish is where the Green Gables farm and house are. The house, which has been incorporated into PEI National Park, was designated as a National Historic Site in 1985 and it can be toured.
The Green Gables farm was owned by the MacNeill family, who were cousins of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. The farm's name is derived from the rich dark green paint of the gables on the farmhouse. The main exterior walls of the farmhouse are painted white. Montgomery visited the farm as a young girl and based the location of her best-selling Anne series of books on the Green Gables farm. She drew romantic inspiration from the house, as well as the surrounding area, including the "Haunted Woods", "Lovers' Lane", and "Balsam Hollow." Upon Montgomery's death in 1942, her wake was conducted from the living room of the Green Gables farmhouse.
There is a modern visitor center where you can book a guided tour. While waiting for your tour of the house to start, there are displays about the author and many of the characters in the book (or the actual people those characters were modeled after). There is also a Lego model of the house on display.
One is usually allowed to roam around the grounds in order to discover the places described in the books, but due to the hurricane most of the property was still closed for clean up and safety inspections. However, we were able to get to the entrance to Lovers Lane where I could get a photo over the barricade.
Lego model of the House of Green Gables
Green Gables house
House of Green Gables Sitting room
North Rustico Harbor
North Rustico is a small fishing harbor on the north shore of PEI facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was incorporated in 1954 but changed its status to a town on in 2013. The town is known to locals, as well as many others, as "The Crick" for some unknown reason. The population as of 2016 is a whopping 607 people which I guess is enough for “town” status.
Like many small towns, North Rustico has a claim to fame. Each year it holds a Canada Day celebration on July 1. The event usually attracts in excess of 10,000 people, which packs the town quite full and parking must be a nightmare. . The festivities include a parade down main street as well as a boat parade on Rustico Harbor. The day is completed by a fireworks display over the bay.
The village of North Rustico was founded circa 1790, around a small harbor and was home to a remnant Acadian population who fled British capture and deportation during the Seven Years' War. English, Scottish and Irish settlers moved into the area during the remainder of the 18th century and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The name Rustico comes from Rassicot, the name of one of the first settlers from France.
The fleet here are the smaller to mid size fishing craft. Probably single boat family operations. The harbor has around 40 craft that call North Rustico their home port but this includes pleasure boats as well as working boats. Although there are some seasonal residents that just show up in the summer, most of the 344 dwellings are year round.
So, now you know all there is to know about North Rustico.
But it is a very charming low key fishing village that is off the tourist track. You don’t see ice cream, popcorn and corn dog stands. You don’t see booths selling harbor cruises or souvenir shops full of T-Shirts and baseball caps, and best of all you don’t see throngs of tourists. Of course we were there off season. Wikipedia says, “In the summer, it is one of PEI’s most popular destinations. On a warm summer evening, dozens of people can be found strolling the town's waterfront boardwalk.” But even so, I doubt it’s all that different in mid season, even with “dozens” of tourists. – expect of course for Canada Day.
Small fishing craft in the harbor
Lobster traps waiting for the season.
Typical small commercial fishing business
Through the lobster trap
On our tour led by our friends, we came to another picturesque small fishing village called French River. According to a sign at a highway overlook on the other side of a small bay,
“French River is one of PEI’s most famously picturesque fishing villages. Among the area’s most unique features is the contrasting yet complimentary combination of water view and farmland within a single vista. It’s this gentle mix that has led French River to become one of the Island’s most sought after locations for artists, photographers, and visitors alike.”
The French River inlet is also known as “Yankee Hill”. It seems that the area was used by American fishing vessels whose crews would buy supplies from an American merchant there. This name is also given to the nearby pioneer cemetery and an adjoining farm. Approximately 25 American sailors drowned during the Yankee Gale in 1851 and are buried in the Yankee Hill Cemetery.
French River also seems to have had a hand in the fox farming business. During the 1930’s and 40’s, Fox Farming became quite popular and profitable in certain areas of PEI, including French River. Records show that there were at least 9 farmers operating fox ranches here at that time. Of course in the fox trade the product is the fur not the meat and in the case of the PEI most of the fur was sent back to Europe for women’s fashion.
French River fishing village
Cape Tryon Lighthouse (near French River)
Along our wonderful all day tour, we also passed all sorts of churches, farms, forests, and vistas way too numerous to go into here, so I’ll just leave you with a shot of a church and a sign in front of a church that was pointed out to us.
St. Mary’s Church, Indian River
Sign in front of a church in Malpeque
I hope you enjoyed reading about our time on PEI and will come back for more as I get around to publishing them.
PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS AS I ENJOY HEARING YOUR REACTION TO WHAT I'VE WRITTEN
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Thanks for reading – Dan
(All images by Dan Hartford. Info from Wikipedia, other web sources, and pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way)
Keywords: Anne of Green Gables, blog, Canada, Cavendish, Cavendish Beach, Confederation Bridge, dan hartford photo, DanTravelBlogMaritimes, French River, Green Gables, Indian River, New London Range Rear Lighthouse, North Rustico, North rustico Harbor, PEI, Prince Edward Island, St. John's, St. John's Island, Stanley Bridge
Great photos, and great weather! Thanks for the tour and info, and yes, the stuff we do when young and relatively stupid are great stories in the rear view mirror. The lobster traps reminded me of being in the little towns around Acadia Park in Maine a few years ago. Ah, fresh seafood in restaurants along the bays.....
Linda Pfeffer (Greece trip)(non-registered)
Dan, I laughed so hard over your 1968 exploits, although I'm sure at the time, there wasn't much laughter going on. Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures & interesting details of a place that's on my bucket list.
Dan, I enjoyed your blog and images. I have distant relatives who emigrated from Canada to Illinois named Crozier. I wonder it they are related?
Walter & Betty Gray(non-registered)
Lovely pix. Thank you. PEI is a favorite memory of ours, the high point of a 3-week-long motor trip from Toronto east at a time when our teen daughter was reading "Anne ..." I recall going to a church suppoer that was billed as the Annual Strawberry Festival that turned out to be the Annual Frozen Strawberry Festival, but was a lot of fun. The trip was a warm-up for a six-week X-country drive the following year.
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