Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prince Edward Island at Cabot Beach

From The Pumpkin Patch we drove to Houlton, ME, near the New Brunswick border where we fueled up in with what would be our last U.S. priced diesel for a while. We also shut off our iPhone which would remain off for the duration of our stay in Canada. For folks so used to “being connected” we wondered about withdrawal symptoms.

The crossing into New Brunswick went quickly. The duty free store offered an opportunity to exchange money and where we picked up a bottle of rum cream and a bottle of Screech. Screech? We first experienced Screech, a Jamaican rum, while on our 2006 trip to Newfoundland. We had intended to bring a bottle home with us at that time but were thwarted due of a recent terrorist attack attempt by some moron using lighter fluid on a commercial airplane. All liquid carry-on’s including checked luggage were temporally banned. This Jamaican rum had begun being imported to Newfoundland in the 1700’s in exchange for Newfoundland’s salt cod bound for the Caribbean. The name “Screech”, so the label reads, comes from “the shriek of the wind in the rigging as it drives home for Newfoundland; it’s the cry of the Arctic Tern circling the sails.” Then there was the whole being “Screeched in” thing.

Woolastook RV - a park to avoid
It was already July 31st and since we had a reservation for Cabot Beach Provincial Park on Prince Edward Island starting on August 1st, we spent just one night in New Brunswick. We planned to spend more time in NB after we began our trek south in September.
Our NB overnight was at Woolsastook RV near Fredericton. In a nutshell, you will want to avoid this park. Our site (as were most sites) was comprised of coarse gravel piled a couple of inches higher than the surrounding grass. The width of the gravel bed barely accommodated the width of our RV’s axels. The lane to the site (as were most other lanes) was narrow with little room to maneuver around other parked RVs. And in order to back the RV up over the gravel we had to put the truck into 4WD. It took several attempts with Carol nervously looking on but we finally got the rig situated correctly.
Owing to the severe slope of the site, in order to get even close to level we had to disconnect. Although we had added wooden blocks beneath the RV’s front feet, the front legs were fully extended and still not anywhere near level! Tom had to manually raise the rear legs (in essence lower the rear of the RV) to be able to then lower the front legs to some semblance of level. Even so, the sewer connection was uphill a good foot higher than our output pipe! Overall, the park’s appearance and maintenance was subpar. We would have gladly opted for a Flying J!
Hooking up again in the morning given the steep angle of the site was a challenge but we were soon on our way headed to PEI. After a quick break at a Tim Horton’s in Salisbury (Carol’s first T.H. experience), plus a short visit to Leisure Days RV to pick up a new water pressure regulator to replace the one Tom had inadvertently left behind at Pumpkin Patch (he manages to forget a regulator every couple of years) we started across the Federation Bridge around noon.

Cabot Beach PP site 151 and shoreline
Connecting New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the bridge was completed in 1997 after five years of construction. The13 kilometer (8 mile) drive over the two-lane bridge almost felt like a pelagic trip. Carol even spotted Northern Gannets from our lofty view. We stopped at the bridge’s terminus in PEI, Borden-Carlton, to get our bearings at the Gateway Visitor Centre. Even though we had spent a fair amount of time researching PEI, all the added information available at the visitor center was overwhelming. PEI may be a small province relative to other Canadian provinces but it’s crammed with so many things to do we wondered if a month would do the island justice. By the way, the bridge is a toll bridge but tolls are only collected when one leaves the island. Prior to the bridge’s completion, the only way to and from PEI was by ferry.

Librarian Shelley and the Kensington Station (now a pub)
We arrived at PEI’s largest park, Cabot Beach Provincial Park, by early afternoon and set up on site 151, a corner site with small pines on three sides in a section with full hookups (called “three-ways” in Canada) with water, electric and sewer. A level site on grass (great for going bare foot). The location of the “three-ways” made for a bit of a stretch for hoses and cables but was doable. Provincial parks, while still pricey, offered us the most economical way to park when compared to the more costly privately owned RV parks.

PEI's only brewery: Gahan
The park happens to be situated on Malpeque Bay, one of 36 sites in Canada designated as “Wetlands of International Importance.” A 25-km long coastal sandspit and dune formation provides protection of a lagoon system from the open sea (Gulf of St. Lawrence) for the globally threatened Piping Plover as well as a staging area for large numbers of geese and ducks during spring and fall migrations. We learned there are about fifteen pairs of Piping Plover on the island.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the immediate park area which included a walk to the beach and chatting up other RVers parked close by, all Canadians on holiday. While many speak English many speak French. We’re used to bilingual road signs but now instead of English/Spanish it’s French/English.

no Piping Plovers but plenty of Semipalmated Plovers
Kensington, a small town of about 1500 residents, is a ten minute drive from the provincial park. Our first two weeks based at Cabot Beach will be spent exploring the island’s west and central coasts and to that end we dearly missed the ability to easily jump on the Internet to research new suggestions of places to explore. Fortunately at the Kensington Public Library, Shelley, the local part time librarian has been a wealth of information and who also helped us setup a free PEI-wide library WIFI account good for 30 days. The library’s connection regularly drops out but will suffice. During our first visit Tom was able to post our latest blog entry and Carol was able to get some online banking done. And of course deal with a backlog of emails. It didn’t take much time to walk about and see the Kensington sights.
In addition to the library there’s a small grocery, a few gifts shops, and a couple of hardware stores. And yes, even a Tim Horton’s. One of PEI’s main bicycling and hiking trails cuts through the center of town. Not unlike Wisconsin, when train right-of-ways were abandoned, outdoor enthusiasts saw an opportunity to convert rails to trails. The PEI Confederation Trail is one of the top ten cycling trails in the world. The Kensington train station, along the trail, now converted into the Kensington Island Stone Pub, is where we had a lunch of fish and chips washed down with a local Gahan’s Beach Beer Lager.
We’ve found that mosquitoes can be a bother, especially when we’re near the shore. And the sight of red beaches on PEI, comprised of red sand, took a little getting used to after the bright white sands of Alabama Gulf Coast beaches. The water has been surprisingly warm (the locals say it’s the warmest beach on the island).

Cedar Dunes PP lighthouse and retired RCMP motorcycle club members
In order to better explore PEI, the island has been conveniently subdivided into four driving tours, each with its own printed guide and signage. On Sunday the 4th we drove a good portion of the North Cape Coastal Drive which started out in the seaside town of Summerside, the second largest city on PEI and the closest town for serious grocery shopping (about 25 minutes away from Cabot Beach). It took the better part of the day to wind our way up to the island’s most northwestern point, North Cape. Along the way we stopped in Abram-Village, one of several Francophone Acadian communities in the “Evangeline Region” for the town’s Sunday brunch where we met a very friendly retired couple who offered many helpful suggestions of things to see and do. A motorcycle club had also stopped and of course we chatted them up as well. Several riders were either Canadian military veterans and/or retired RCMP. Of note is that the western shoreline of PEI is dotted with several hundred massive wind turbines.

Summerside Harbor and Acadian Museum in Miscouche
A few days after our North Cape drive we returned to Summerside for some grocery shopping and sightseeing. A town of roughly 14,000, it has developed an extensive waterfront boardwalk that shirts various shopping districts. After breakfast at the Granville Street Diner we drove 15 minutes to the town of Miscouche and the Acadian Museum which chronicled the conflicts between French and British settlers that culminated in the expulsion of thousands of French speaking Acadians.

Saint Mary's Church near Malpaque
Lighthouses and churches dot the PEI landscape. The former all seem quite small when compared to larger and more stately lighthouses we’ve encountered on the Great Lakes and on the northeast coast of New York. Churches are of many faiths with Catholic and Presbyterian faiths being the dominant choice.

Oyster Barn and Malpeque Basin
Of course seafood is abundant on PEI. In particular PEI mussels. Even back in Appleton, a local fish shop had imported fresh PEI mussels. Given that we’ve never had mussels before, quite naturally we had to give them a try. And what better place to start than the Oyster Barn, a highly rated restaurant within walking distance of our RV!?
The Oyster Barn’s consists of a retail seafood shop on the first floor and the small upstairs dining area houses about six tables. Reservations are encouraged since on most days the place fills quickly. Our reservation netted us a small table next to a large window looking out onto Darnley Basin. No sailboats or luxury yachts here - it’s all working class fishing boats.
Aside from PEI mussels, we were in the heart of the source of world famous Malpeque (MAL-peck) oysters. Fortunately Carol is not a fan of oysters so my order of six Malpeque oysters on the half shell were all mine. On the other hand, her “small” (two pounds) order of PEI steamed mussels in  a buttery garlic sauce was large enough to share. Then came Tom’s creamy clam chowder and Carol’s order of fish cakes...all washed down with a pretty decent local red wine. We’ll definitely be back to the Oyster Barn for more.

Malpeque Church, museum and community hall
Much closer (about a five minute drive) than Kensington is the small town of Malpeque. It’s essentially an intersection comprised of a the Princeton United Church, the Kier Memorial Presbyterian Church, and the Malpeque Hall where every Wednesday from June through August at 7:30, a “Céilidh” (KAY-lee) is held. Modern day Céilidhs are social gatherings involving Gaelic folk music and dancing. The over two hour night of song and dance included local regulars Michael Pendergast, Nathan Condon, and step dancer Samantha MacKay plus a couple of guest performers. An audience of well over 100 crammed the small hall. Lots of audience participation raised the roof with singing, toe tapping, and hand-clapping in time with the music. At intermission strawberries over homemade ice cream was served. Céilidhs occur in towns across the island but the Malpeque Céilidh has the distinction of being the island’s top rated Céilidh for 16 years running.

Green Gables, "Anne's" room and yard leading to the Haunted Woods
Lucy Maud Montgomery, and her Anne of Green Gables, is by far one of the principle reasons people come to PEI. Given the number of tourist related businesses based on the characters in Anne of Green Gables (the PEI visitors guide has a section simply named “Anne”) we wondered what L.M. Montgomery would think were she alive today. There’s the Anne of Green Gables - The Musical, the Green Gables Heritage Place Canadian National Park, Avonlea Village where scenes from the book are reenacted in skits by local actors, and Montgomery Homestead where the writer’s descendants still live. There’s Lower Bedeque, home to the schoolhouse where the author taught (and site of the annual L.M. Montgomery Festival). The town of Cavendish now resembles what can best described as PEI’s version of the Wisconsin Dells. It’s population is listed as 266 but being the largest seasonal resort area on PEI, the population in July and August swells to over 7,500. Anne parties, festivals, live theatre, music concerts and an endless supply of Anne memorabilia makes for big tourist dollars.
Not terribly attracted to the touristy, we limited our Anne fix to visiting the Green Gables Heritage Place. This the location of the original Green Gables home, the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s fictional tales. Montgomery never lived at Green Gables but had come to know it through frequent visits to her cousin’s farm and surrounding woodlands. We walked through the house and experienced through our own eyes what Montgomery saw. A nice followup to Carol’s reading of the original, unabridged text of the novel.
Our quest to visit Green Gables was part of our Central Coastal Driving Tour where the flat lands to the west were replaced by steep rolling hills more reminiscent of central and southwestern Wisconsin. Fields of potatoes gave way to fields of canola and various grains. What a relief to see that farmers on PEI left substantial hedge rows between fields of crops.
Cape Tryon lighthouse and shorline
There was a long walk out and back to Cape Tryon and the Cape Tryon Lighthouse where we found Double-crested Cormorant colonies in the red sandstone cliffs, ripe for the pickings of nearby young Bald Eagles. We drove through the small coastal villages of French River, Stanley Bridge, and Bayview and stopped for a seafood snack at the windswept tables at Carr’s Oyster Bar (coconut shrimp and more local ales). Another short walk on the waterfront at North Rustico Harbour to watch shorebirds on the mudflats and passing rafts of kayakers. We barely had enough time to stop at The Dunes Art Studio and Cafe near Brackley beach before our reservation at Saint Ann’s Parish the island's longest running lobster supper. More PEI mussels, seafood chowder, a pound and a half lobster for each of us, sides of potatoes, fresh vegetables, and topped of with a desert and coffee. We think we need to do more walking than eating for a while.

French River
Following a Friday night of high winds rain clouds cleared on Saturday afternoon for an extended walk on the swimming beach. How different the shoreline looks when the tide is low. Sandbars reappear dotted with gulls, terns and shorebirds. In the distance Northern Gannets were seen diving for food. About an hour into our walk we met Chuck and Sally, a couple from of all places Green Lake, WI. Small world. They were surprised that we knew so much about Green Lake and we were surprised to learn that Chuck’s father had built Lawsonia.

The Dunes and St. Ann Parish Supper
Sunday morning found us back on the road this time driving along the Central Coastal Drive. The southern route portion is known as the “Red Sands Drive”. Aptly named for no where else were the red colored sand cliffs and waters so evident. We passed through Cape Traverse and Augustine Cove before we reached the quaint by-the-sea town of Victoria. First order of business: breakfast on the deck at the Beachcomber's On The Wharf (eggs Benedict and lobster omelet) before taking a walking tour of the town.

Beachcomber's breakfast
The sweet smelling Island Chocolates store featuring handmade chocolates first attracted our attention. The “Kit Marlowe and Company Theatre Bookshop” was most definitely eclectic with a capital “E”. Conveniently situated directly across from the Victoria Playhouse, its main inventory consisted of books with a clearly theatrical theme. Plays and biographies mixed in what was a seemingly endless array of whimsical figures and icons representing famous and not so famous writers and actors. The apparent disorganization (by design, actually) of materials would drive any librarian bonkers. An “around-the-clock bookshop for vagrants and literary insomniacs.”

Victoria Playhouse, lighthouse, and Coach House Antiques
Around the next block and down another lane was The Studio Gallery with island paintings and printmaking. We bought a card from local artist Henry Dunsmore. Further on, the Coach House Antiques was where PEI’s largest tree resides, an American Elm that has somehow survived all manner of storms. Overall it was pleasant to again find that with the construction of the Trans-Canada Highway bypass, that small towns like Victoria have survived.

Argyle Shore PP and Canoe Cover church
Argyle Shore Provincial Park redefined our understanding of the word “beach”. The beach was no where to be seen until we walked to the very edge of a cliff. Steep stairs descended to the shore where the beach, barely five feet wide, was snugged against a towering cliff face. People sat in the rock strewn sand basking in the sun while waves crashed, quite literally, at their feet.
A short construction detour took us briefly off the tour route and down to Canoe Cove, a point jutting out into Northumberland Strait. A strong breeze blew across a large grass expanse filled with Sunday afternoon families enjoying another gorgeous day on the island. Along the road leading up to the point were singing Nelson’s Sparrows calling from a nearby marsh.

Port-la-Joye - Fort Amherst National Historic Site
Our west to east direction of the driving tour should have terminated in Charlottetown but since we had already decided to visit Charlottetown on another day, we ended our drive at the historically significant Rocky Point. It was here in 1758 following years of tension and war between the British and French that the mass deportation of the French and Acadian population by the British occurred. Having visited two significant Acadian museums in Louisiana during the past few years and learning about where many of Acadians finally settled, we now were on the very spot where it all began. After a tour of the Port-la-Joye - Fort Amherst National Historic Site interpretative center, we caught the tail end of what had been a day long festival celebrating the relationship of the French and Algonquin Nation Mi’kmaq peoples. Speaking with a Mi’kmaq descendant we learned of the subsequent poor relations with the British that ensued after the tragic “The Grand Dérangement”. It wasn’t just the Acadians who suffered at the hands of the British and we were again reminded of similar injustices done to Native Americans.

Mural depicting Acadians expulsion, commemorative marker, and Fort Amherst site
Not everyday has been spent exploring. We put a day or two in between longer driving tours and stay local. The lack of Internet has been both a blessing and a curse but we do wind up having more time for writing blog entries, editing photos, reading, chatting with campers in the park, housekeeping, and planning some of our next outings. As for local TV we’re able to receive three stations, all Canadian. One from Halifax, NS and a couple from PEI so we’re able to keep up with weather and local news. As for news it has been quite noticeable that shootings and gun related incidents occur dramatically less in Canada than we’re used to hearing about in the U.S.. Discovered a very funny TV show, The Rick Mercer Report, which was a mix of John Stewart’s Daily Show and Mad Magazine. Hilarious.

Charlottetown harbor and skit in front of Province House
On Tuesday we added one more road trip to to visit PEI’s largest city, Charlottetown, where in September 1864, 23 political leaders from the British colonies of PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) began discussions in “Province House” that led in 1867 to the creation of the Dominion of Canada. As a point of historical reference, 20 years earlier in 1847, Lawrence College in Appleton had already been founded.

Cahan Pub, St. Peter's "All Souls", and St. Dunstan's
The city of Charlottetown prides itself on “a city made for walking” so it was not difficult at all to get hold of a map and start hoofing to see the sights. Up Queen Street to Grafton Street and then onto University Street where we fortified ourselves with some s-t-r-o-n-g coffee and a light “breky” at the Beanz Espresso Bar. Then over to St. Peter’s Cathedral to visit the attached “All Souls” chapel, an example of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture designed by ecclesiastical architect William Critchlow Harris with interior walls featuring paintings by his brother, Robert Harris. The chapel was used by Charlottetown’s poor “lost souls” (all people of color) for various church services not offered at any of the other churches.

Les Feux Follets
On to Great George Street past the towering twin towers of Saint Dunstan’s Basilica before a quick stop at Atlantic Canada’s largest art gallery the Confederation Centre of the Arts (fascinating interactive media display of the Mi’kmaq peoples).
While the city held many attractions, our main reason for our Charlottetown visit was to attend “Les Feux Follets”, a lively fast-paced hour-long show about Canada and Canadians. Held in the art center’s outdoor amphitheater, young student performers from the Confederation Centre Young Company school presented a kaleidoscope of color and movement blending traditional and contemporary styles highlighting various historical events involving Canadian ethnic groups. Simply mesmerizing. Unfortunately the pictures don’t begin to convey the troupe’s singing voices.

Les Feux Follets
With no no shortage of places to choose to eat lunch, it was a no brainer for us to pick PEI’s only brewery, The Gahan House for their Brown Bag Fish and Chips plus sample some “Sydney Street”, a dark creamy stout. Post lunch we walked more city streets watching spontaneous historical vignettes of the Fathers and Ladies of Confederation dressed in period dress.

Les Feux Follets
No visit to Charlottetown would not be complete without a tour of the Province House National Historic Site. In spite of Parks Canada current undertaking of an extensive renovation of Province House (hopefully completed for the 150 year anniversary of the birthplace of the Confederation in 2014) we were able to visit some of the interior rooms including the original Legislative Council Chamber where PEI legislative representatives still meet.

Les Feux Follets
Just one day and we barely scratched the town’s surface. We walked right past the Confederation Public Library, missed so many of the art museum’s exhibits, and didn’t attend any of the musicals currently playing in town. As we returned in late afternoon to our parked truck at the waterfront we happened upon a Mi’kmaq celebration of native drumming and dance realizing we couldn’t be in all places at once. Perhaps while we’re parked at Brudenell PP we might again revisit Charlottetown? In the few days we have remaining at Cabot Beach we’ll revisit the Kensington Public Library, a bit of grocery shopping in Summerside, enjoy another meal at The Oyster Barn and squeeze in one more walk on the beach before moving onto Brudenell PP on August 14.



  1. Loved the post Tom. Your pictures are great. I especially like the Bridge & the dancers & the one of you & Carol at French River is definitely a framer! Would have loved to see all the dancing. So do you know why PEI is so red as compared to say Cape Breton which is close but not red??

  2. The Island is formed from sedimentary bed rock of soft, red sandstone which produces the rich, red soil. The redness of the soil is due to the high iron-oxide (rust) content. Unsettling at first but we got used to it pretty quickly. It does stain clothing, though! And the soles of our feet got a bit red walking on the beaches.