When I talk to someone about visiting Canada, I like to say that I’ve been to the beginning, the middle and the end. I speak in geographic terms: I’ve been to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, a brief taste of Quebec City and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Alberta (Banff and Calgary) and British Columbia (Vancouver and Burnaby).
Years ago, I decided to do a solo trip around Prince Edward Island (PEI), largely due to the influence of Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote some great books and short stories. I flew to Halifax, rented a car, drove cross-country and took the ferry over to PEI. I was determined to cover as much of the island as I could, so I headed north and east as far as East Point, then gradually worked my way west to Cavendish. Most of my driving involved going through areas like the photo below.
In Cavendish, there is the MacNeill house, which was Lucy Maud’s inspiration for the Anne of Green Gables house. Each character has a room with furniture and possessions the character might have owned. Anne’s room, naturally, has the broken slate that she cracks over Gilbert Blythe’s head when he dares to call her “Carrots” (moral: redheads are quite capable of sticking up for themselves, thank you very much).
In New London, you’ll find the house that was Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace. It contains various memorabilia, including a copy of her wedding dress. She appears to have had one of the world’s smallest waists; Calista Flockhart and Kate Moss would be wailing and gnashing their teeth in envy.
Although much of the island has associations with Anne of Green Gables, there is so much more to it. There are fantastic beaches with beautiful dark red sand, attractive B&Bs, lighthouses sprinkled at various points around the island and interesting towns. (If you’re a photographer or a cyclist, you’ll be in paradise.) And I also had the fun of visiting the Woodleigh Replicas at Burlington. The Woodleigh Replicas are outdoor scale models of different buildings such as the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral and The Old Curiosity Shop from Charles Dickens. (I could get my British castle fix without jet lag! Yeah!)
On this first trip, I made the interesting discovery that there is quite a bit of French culture on the western part of PEI, due to its Acadian heritage. But I only made it as far as Miscouche (gesundheit!) and Richmond; there wasn’t time to get all the way to North Cape that day. I had to wind up my trip by working my way back east through Charlottetown and to the ferry at Wood Islands. I had missed most of western PEI.
So that was the first trip. A few years ago, I made my second trip, this time with a relative. It was interesting to see the Island again through her eyes and we definitely hit western PEI this time. I revisited the MacNeill house and to my astonishment, they had built a visitor’s center with gift shop and a mini museum. One of the museum displays held another surprise for me — some fan letters to Lucy Maud Montgomery, one of which came from my father’s birthplace. What are the odds, people, of seeing a letter from my dad’s hometown all the way up there in Canada?
And will I ever go back to PEI? I wouldn’t mind, if the opportunity came up. Road trip, anyone?