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The Colors of Prince Edward Island
It is impossible to fully describe Prince Edward Island, Canada without mentioning her colors, for the colors red, green, and blue dominate the island. Most places are a mixture of color: shades of brown, oranges, and green. Not Prince Edward Island, her colors are vibrant and distinct. No wonder Jacques Cartier, upon his discovery of the island, wrote in his journal, "the fairest land it is possible to see."
Located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Prince Edward Island is the smallest of Canada's provinces. It is only 140 miles long and its width varies from four to 40 miles, encompassing a total of 2184 square miles. The highest point on the island is less than 500 feet above sea level. Size, however, has nothing to do with the charm of this colorful place. Most of the island's residents live in rural areas--close to their red soil. Many of them are farmers. Agriculture is the PEI's number one income producer, with half the island under cultivation.
The first thing one notices is the rolling jade-green fields, then the brilliant red sandstone and soil, and finally the deep blue sky and sea. Everywhere one looks, it seems one of these colors is dominant, unless it is at one of the many displays of dazzling purple lupine blooming alongside a bay or filling a field--just to mix it up a bit.
Under the green category would have to be Green Gables in Prince Edward Island National Park in Cavendish. The house and farm grounds were once owned by the cousins of Lucy Maud Montgomery's grandfather. The farm was the inspired setting for her 1908 novel, Anne of Green Gables. This attraction draws "Anne fans" from around the world. Last year more than 250,000 people visited Green Gables House. Parks Canada took over the house and grounds in 1937 and began preservation work. The house is furnished to portray the time period described in the novel. "Anne" dolls, postcards, straw hats with the attached, requisite red pigtails, and other paraphernalia line the shelves of tourist stops in the Cavendish area.
While visiting Green Gables, I saw one red-haired young lady quickly twisting her hair into pigtails for her aunt to take a photo. Not one to pass up such an opportunity, I asked if she would mind me also taking a shot of her standing in the doorway.
The Cavendish area is an active, family-oriented vacation destination with many family attractions in the area, including museums and amusement parks. Leave the Cavendish area and one seldom encounters another tourist.
Also under the green category, in addition to the pasture and hay fields, are the golf courses of the island--seventeen 18-hole courses.
In between the island's greens are some of its reds--the red soil of the potato fields. The rich red soil takes its color from the broken down, iron-rich red sandstone that forms the island's base. Potatoes are the primary cash crop of PEI, with over half the agricultural acreage devoted to potatoes. PEI is the largest single producer of seed potatoes in North America.
The sandstone cliffs along the shore are another of PEI's reds. These are lovely at any time of day, but the early morning or late evening light causes them to glow a fiery red. Parts of the beach in Prince Edward Island National Park are bordered by such cliffs.
Another island red not to be missed, is the bright red of a well-cooked lobster. Fisherman's Wharf in North Rustico puts on an excellent lobster supper (they are called suppers, not dinners in PEI). The meal's price is based upon the size lobster one chooses for the meal. Everything else is included on an all-you-can-eat salad and fixings bar 60 feet in length. The desserts are fantastic. I was irresistibly drawn back for a second piece of blueberry pie.
This brings us to the final of her primary colors, blue. The blue sky and sea dramatically contrast with the island's reds and greens making all the color seem much more intense. The island's original residents, the Mi' kmaq Native Americans, called PEI "Abegweit," which means, "cradled by the waves." PEI is inextricably tied to the sea. It was the sea which surrounded and separated this island from the Canadian mainland until the June 1997 opening of Confederation Bridge spanning Northumberland Strait joining her to New Brunswick. It is the sea which provides a primary source of her people's income, cradling her through the fishing industry--though not as much now as in the past. Fishing is now the third-ranking income producer for the island. Over-fishing of some species has led to new regulations.
A new aqua-culture is gaining ground on PEI--the farming of blue mussels. "Island Blue" mussels are appearing on restaurant menus as far away as San Francisco. Perhaps this venture, now employing more than 400 residents, will take up the slack created by the controlled fishing on other marine species.
Charlottetown, the capital, has many typical hotel-type accommodations for visitors, but while out on the island the best way to gain a true flavor of PEI is to stay at one of the many Bed & Breakfast establishments. One such place I visited was the Woodlands Country Inn along Route 311 near Cardigan. This large, old farmhouse from the last century sits back off the road in a wooded area--not that there is any traffic to speak of on Route 311. A chorus of songbirds in the trees awaken guests as the sun breaks through the canopy. Max Newby, the proprietor, seems to be a rather carefree sort of guy. Not what I would normally expect of an Englishman and former Coast Guardsman. Max enjoys his inn's surroundings. I saw him swinging highly in a rope swing under a huge tree on the lawn one evening. The day I was leaving, Max was walking around on a set of stilts. The $75 a night charge, with the setting and sumptuous breakfasts cooked up by Mary Cameron, is a bargain (Canadian Dollars--approximately $52 US, depending upon the exchange rate).
While out on the island, try a hike or bike ride along Confederation Trail. The trail follows the old railroad right-of-way, much like the United States rails-to-trails program whereby old abandoned rail right-of-ways are turned to recreational use. The trail now covers PEI tip-to-tip, a distance of 275 kilometers. Bike rentals are available along sections the trail. Trailside Adventures in Mount Stewart is one such operation. Here bike rentals are available with or without a guide--and if you take the guide you have the option of doing the "Historic Mount Stewart Tour" through the town.
It would seem Prince Edward Island is Canada's quiet province, a quiet and serene province where the farmers and fishermen go about their work with a friendly wave to the curious tourists who may drive by. PEI's theme seems to be color. The one scene that perhaps captures the essence of this spectacularly colorful land best is East Point, the easternmost point of the island. Here sits East Point Light Station (light stations in Canada, not light houses), white with a bright red roof, sitting on a lawn of brilliant green, above brick red sandstone cliffs by the royal blue sea.
If You Go:
The first step should be to get the Prince Edward Island Visitor's Guide from Tourism PEI. It lists attractions and accommodations across the island. Included is an island map and all the phone numbers and addresses.
Text and Photos [c] PROSE & PHOTOS