Serendipity in Canada's Prince Edward Island

By Bartruff, Dave | The World and I, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Serendipity in Canada's Prince Edward Island


Bartruff, Dave, The World and I


Living in California on the shores of the Pacific, I was anxious to discover how a scenic drive on Canada's charming Prince Edward Island would compare to our own famed scenic coastal Highway One.

So I made plans to visit the fabled "Gentle Isle" and its legendary "Land of Green Gables," eastward a continent away in the Canadian Atlantic Maritimes. My plan was to drive its picturesque Blue Heron Coastal Drive.

The route is a 125-mile scenic circuit that encircles the center portion of the island with its saltwater seascapes and beaches north and south, and its rivers and bays east and west. Water, water, everywhere! The drive not only physically encompasses PEI's central heartland, but also captures the heart and soul of its friendly islanders, I would happily discover.

In 1865, Canada's Founding Fathers gathered together on Prince Edward Island at Charlottetown, the island's historic capital and major port, to form a confederation that is today's Canada. As capitol of the country's smallest province, Charlottetown's population today is just 35,000.

PEI's earliest inhabitants, the native Mi'Kmaq peoples, called their island "Abegweite," or "The land cradled on the waves." The French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first European to set foot on its sands in 1534. He described his discovery as "the fairest land that may be possibly seen."

The island is only 175 miles across and just four to 36 miles top to bottom. It's actually lobster-shaped, like one of the many crustaceans including shrimp and crab for which PEI is famous.

The fair island's coastline is indented with tidal inlets, steep sandstone bluffs, long sandy beaches (invitingly deserted) adorned by quaint light houses and small harbors of rustic fishing villages. While inland, rust-red manicured potato fields and green pasture lands make a gently rolling landscape that rises no more than 500 feet above the sea. Iron oxide contained in its soil rusts on exposure to air creating the earth's unique rusty red hue.

I planned my journey to begin from Charlottetown, at the mouth of the broad Hillsborough River. Driving northward, a mere 40 minutes later I planned to be in the legendary land of Anne of Green Gables. Here in 1908 Lucy Maud Montogmery penned the novel that captured the imagination of readers around the world a century ago.

Since then, the poignant story has become an economic bonanza for the quaint island's 138,000 population, drawing more than a million and a half vacationers a year from around the world.

But even before the serendipity on the road began, I had a delightful chance encounter my first morning leaving the breakfast table in Charlottetown at the historic 1865 Shipwright Inn. Lo and behold, down the hallway came a handsome young Japanese couple in formal wedding attire joined by a uniformed limousine chauffeur, an interpreter and a photographer escorting them to their wedding ceremony at a nearby church.

Kazumi Shimada, 30, and his fiancee Mizuki Aichi, 26, had traveled from Kawasaki, Japan for their wedding and would be spending the first night of their honeymoon at the Shipwright. Later, the honeymooners told me of being drawn to PEI and the legend of Green Gables during a speaking engagement they attended in Japan given by the author's visiting 50-year-old grandson.

Having lived in Japan and with my own Japanese wife, we were both able to see the wedding couple out the door with our good wishes in Japanese: "Go kekon, omedeto gozaimasu!"

Once on the road, twenty minutes later, I found myself on the pier at Tracadie Bay alongside a group of four burly mariners in the final stages of hosing down their lobster boat after a night of fishing. With a little prodding, they posed for a photo together exhibiting their abundant catch.

To my surprise I discovered I'd caught myself a whole PEI clan...on shore! They were all named Watts and all related: three were first cousins; two others, father and son. …

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