Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Historic Prince Edward Island

This map of Prince Edward Island came from the official 2009  Island Guide.

Prince Edward Island is often called the Cradle of Confederation or the Garden of the Gulf.  Another favourite name is "Spud Island," due to the Island's well-known potatoes.  We native Islanders are sometimes introduced by other Canadians as being a "Spud Islander."  I doubt that any Islander resents that, although they might retaliate, such as I used to do with a friend from Saskatchewan, where I lived for three years in the late 1960s. I called him a Prairie tumbleweed, constantly rolling.  We both got a kick out of our ongoing reciprocity.

Below: Prince Edward Island separated from the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick by the Northumberland Strait. This picture also came from the official 2009 Island Guide.

Prince Edward Island is Canada's smallest province.  Despite its small size and mostly rural aspect, it is the most densely populated province of Canada compared to the vast areas of undeveloped and sparsely populated land of the other nine provinces.

Located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with its southern shore along the Northumberland Strait, its population is somewhere between 140,000 and 145,000.  It is the province in which I grew up into my early teens.

The Island became renowned through the writing of Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose book Anne of Green Gables, written in 1908, put Prince Edward Island on the map of the world.  Girls of a certain age loved that book, as did I, and it is still popular today--as are her follow-up books--in many countries, Japan being one of the notable ones. 

The large sign above shows a picture of "Anne," advertising the live musical performance of "Anne of Green Gables," which is showcased on stage throughout the summer in the heart of Charlottetown at the  Confederation Centre of the Arts. 
The Island also became known through a couple of well-known entertainers:  Don Messer and his Islanders and Stompin' Tom Connors as he was called, due to his pounding the floor with his left foot as he sang.  His first hit was "Bud the Spud."  His most famous song was "The Hockey Song," which was played at every Toronto Maple Leaf hockey home game.  He received The Order of Canada, one of the country's highest honours.

Don Messer began his musical career in the 1920s and had a radio show in Charlottetown in the 1950s.  "Don Messer's Jubilee" played on TV for many years from CBC Halifax.  Dad knew him well.  My sister, Carol, and I went to school with his daughters, Lorna and Dawn.

The following picture was on one of the official Island internet sites. Unless one is on the water in a boat, that view cannot be seen well and certainly not when one is on the bridge itself.

As mentioned in my previous blog, Childhood Haunts, Prince Edward Island joined Confederation only after being assured they would have year round access to the mainland.  At that time it meant using a car ferry.  For over a hundred years that is how most people got to the mainland: from Borden, Prince Edward Island to Cape Tormentine, New Brunswick.  Since 1941, a ferry service has been in operation from Wood Islands, PEI to Caribou, NS and return. No service is available there from December 20th to 1 May, due to ice. You can download the ferry schedule from the internet.  They advise to reserve ahead.

Before the bridge, only a car ferry from Borden to Cape Tormentine was in operation during the winter months, as the water of the Northumberland Strait froze over, requiring an ice-breaking ship to cut through the heavy ice.  (There is no longer a ferry operating there, summer or winter.) 

Heading over the bridge to P.E.I. in summer 2013.
In those earlier summers it could take three to four hours in long lineups before boarding the ship to cross the Strait from the mainland to the Island and return.  

After our family moved to Nova Scotia in 1948 we drove over every summer and waited in the hot sun for several hours. I remember it as being a 75-minute crossing from Caribou, N.S. to Wood Islands, P.E.I., and a 45-minute crossing from Cape Tormentine, N.B. to Borden, P.E.I.

The Confederaton Bridge opened to traffic on May 31, 1997 after years of construction, using crews of more than 5,000 local workers at a cost of one billion dollars.  It is the longest bridge in the world that crosses ice-covered water (in winter).  It is considered one of Canada's top engineering achievements of the last century.  It didn't come easy, though, as there was a lot of discord and debate within the province before the decision was made.  It was settled at the polls in a plebiscite. 

The red shore of the Island ahead  

Only 59.4 per cent of the Islanders voted yes, but it was enough.  Many had been afraid about how year-round access to the mainland would affect their way of life and livelihood.  I doubt anyone now would want to go back to the ferry service only.  One can still take a ferry in the warm months, however, from Caribou, N.B. (near Pictou) to Wood Islands, P.E.I. and from the Island back to the mainland. 

In early September 2013 my sister Paula and I drove to the Island for three to four days to close the cottages for the winter.  We had taken food with us so we didn't have a lot of meal preparationAlong with some wine and our laptops to keep in touch with everyone, we had a wonderful time.  The weather was warm and sunny with perfect late summer, almost fall-like days.

On one of our days we visited Fort Amherst.  In our youth, we called it the "French fort" as indeed that is what it was originally.  

As children, we always walked there from the cottage, perhaps about a 20-minute walk.  It was just a large grassy area overlooking Charlottetown harbour.  It included a hill with a moat surrounding it.  (You can see the small rise of that hill in the picture above.)  It was also the grazing area for a farmer's cattle, so we had to watch where we walked!  

On the left, the entry area of the park.  It is an open area with no charge. 


The Mi'kmaq have remained in this area for thousands of years.  I remember visiting them with my grandmother.  Many live here still. 

A view from Fort Amherst of Charlottetown across the harbour. 

Paula and I drove from Fort Amherst to visit the Blockhouse, which is in the same general vicinity.  I don't believe it is still used as a light house, but I could be wrong.  There was no sign of life.  In the picture at left, a bit of the harbour and Ch'town can be seen.

Back at the cottage it was time to have dinner.  We had brought most of it with us but there were still a few things in the fridge-freezer.  First things first:  a glass of wine on the deck.  Paula waiting while I took the picture. 

 Then, a delicous meal of chicken and fresh vegetables.

The next day we walked down to the beach, just a minute below the cottages.  First: Some views from the cottage

 On the beach

The red sandy shore; tide is out.

Charlottetown in the distance

Below left: You get a glimpse of one of the two lighthouses that send out their lights at night.  The second one is some distance behind it.  Below right:  Testing the salt water:  cool!  In mid summer it is lovely.

Several times during the summer ships pass by.  Here are two:  the first, a cruise ship and the other, a steamship belonging to Canada Steamship Lines (don't know if they actually were using steam, though.


Paula's granddaughter, Rie, planted an herb garden by the cottage

When in Charlottetown, have the ice cream that Reader's Digest awarded the title of being the best in Canada!
Time was going.  After a wonderful couple or so days, the following day we returned to Nova Scotia.

 Arriving back on the New Brunswick side
The sign below warning drivers to watch for moose crossing the road.  This road has several of those signs.

Much of the foregoing information about the Island history was from Prince Edward Island's websites. 

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