Story by Michelle Hopkins
CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — We finish dinner at one of Charlottetown’s hottest new eateries, Terre Rouge Bistro Marche, on Queen Street. After indulging in a beet salad and seared PEI scallops, we head out. It’s been raining off and on all day and now, at 7:30 pm, the skies are blue and clear. We follow the swelling crowd down towards the waterfront. Already, you can feel the excitement. It’s not every day that PEI hosts a huge outdoor concert headlined by one of Canada’s favourite rockers — Burton Cummings.
At least 6,000 of us crowd into the PEI 2014 Celebration Zone in Landing Park to hear the former Guess Who lead singer belt out such hits as “These Eyes,” “American Woman” and “Stand Tall” for two hours straight.
The free concert is part of ongoing summer celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference — considered the event that led to the birth of Canada’s confederation.
What a way to wrap up my 10-day trip to Prince Edward Island. The charms of our country’s smallest province seduce me year after year, and especially this year given its celebratory mood.
Charms of the Smallest Province
Driving rural routes offers snapshot moments at every turn — small-town main streets, outdoor markets at the local churches, antique stores in heritage buildings, fishing boats tethered to salt-weathered docks, and roadside farm stands with honour boxes among miles of rolling hills, reddish white sand beaches, ocean coves and the province’s famous red soil. Not just about nostalgia, PEI is also a place to recharge and unwind, to take life at a slower pace.
This is where you savour the moment; breathe in the salt spray of the Atlantic; wiggle your toes in the sand. For the first few days, I lulled away the hours. I biked the country roads, walked the sandbars, hiked along two different stretches of the Confederation Trail, a linear park running tip-to-tip through the entire province, and dipped my toes in the warm waters at Cavendish Beach.
Getting to Know Georgetown
Shortly after sunrise one day, I left from Augustine Cove on the south shore, where my sister and her husband have a Cape Cod home on an acre of oceanfront. (Every morning without fail, I walked for an hour along the nearly secluded beach.) I drove about two-and-a-half hours along the highway heading to the scenic eastern seaboard to check out the community of Georgetown. As soon as I reached the main street, I was transported into the Victorian era. The streets are lined with a collection of beautiful, well-preserved heritage buildings dating to the mid-1800s. I strolled up and down the streets, poking my head into many of its buildings that house gift shops, restaurants and the Georgetown Inn, constructed in 1840 as a mercantile store. The innkeeper was more than happy to let me see its rooms.
I was told by many local residents that I could not skip a stop at the Maroon Pig Art Gallery and Sweet Spot. I was promised the cinnamon buns here are the best on the entire island. Smothered in local strawberries, the perfect amount of cinnamon and finger-licking good glaze, I had to agree.
Strolling Through Victoria-by-the-Sea
I’m especially fond of this “storybook” village for many reasons. One being it’s where my brother, Eugene Sauvé, opened up his restaurant, the Landmark Café, more than 25 years ago. In the press, he received many accolades for his fusion of Asian, Cajun and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine and he was once dubbed a visionary for offering fare that was healthy and never fried — something that was decidedly not common when he opened in 1989.
Tucked away on the north shore, this village was founded in 1819 and has a year-round population of less than 200. Not to be missed is a visit into one of Canada’s few operating lighthouses. The village is also renowned for its theatre, Victoria Playhouse, which has the distinction of being the longest-running little professional theatre in PEI. After dining at Eugene’s restaurant, we attended a concert by blues artist Thom Swift. There was some serious toe-tapping happening.
Having Fun in Stanley Bridge
A drive to the north shore wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Carr’s Oyster Bar. It’s far from fancy, but it’s a must for so many reasons — the fresh seafood, the ambience, the location — overlooking one of the most picturesque vistas on the island. There’s also some excellent live music. After dinner, we headed to the Stanley Bridge Hall for some serious fiddling by the Richard Wood Trio World Class Kitchen Party. We were taken on a musical ride of jigs and reels, hornpipes and step-dancing.
Malpeque’s Marvellous Oysters
Another north shore stop is Malpeque Bay, where a feast of oysters is awaiting. Here, you can head to the city dock, catch a boat and go oyster or crab fishing, or walk along the endless stretch of beach. Then, head up the stairs for an oyster lunch at Malpeque Oyster Barn (the local chowder is fabulous too) — the quintessential fishermen’s spot with a sweep of sailboats lined up at the marina. You can even buy some oysters to go.
Birthplace of Confederation: Charlottetown
It’s in the capital of this pastoral province where many of the 150th anniversary celebrations are happening. For that reason, Vacay.ca named Charlottetown the No. 1 place to visit in Canada in 2014.
I was strolling up and down Victoria Row — a pedestrian-only street of heritage buildings converted into shops, cafes and restaurants — when a young man looking eerily like Sir John A. Macdonald summoned me towards Province House for a historic re-enactment of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference. Put on by the Confederation Players, I was given a front-row seat as the past was brought to life for me. These young bilingual actors were exceptionally talented.
On a whim, I then caught the Young Company’s performance of “We Are Canadian” in the amphitheatre outside the Confederation Centre of the Arts. These young artists sang, danced and acted out scenes showcasing our multicultural national pride. Inspired by the festival’s dance classic, “Les Feux Follets,” the performance was a nod to more than a dozen ethnic backgrounds that define our country.
That evening, we dined at the newest eatery on this strip, the Row House Lobster Company. Prince Edward Island is blessed with rich red soil and an abundance of incredible local farmers at its doorstep, so one can understand why this hip, modern restaurant prides itself on knowing exactly where its food sources come from and then creating dishes that are inventive. Lobster is its forte, and award-winning chef Erin Henry’s lobster tacos are garnering positive reviews.
In the end, for all its polish, PEI hasn’t forgotten its seafaring history.
MORE ABOUT VISITING PEI
Getting There: You can fly directly into the capital city of Charlottetown (the airport is less than 10 kilometres from downtown); or enter by road from eastern coast of New Brunswick via the Confederation Bridge; or via ferry from Pictou, Nova Scotia.
Charlottetown Conference: Anything you want to know about the Charlottetown Conference sesquicentennial party and major attractions running now to September 7, 2014 can be found at www.PEI2014.ca. There are more than 150 festivals, events and activities going on across the province this summer.