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by Pam Hobbs

Summerside, P.E.I. - If there comes a time when you feel the need to escape Green Gables, Matthews Market, Marilla's Pizza, Anne's Tea Room and assorted kindred spirits scattered in and around this tiny province, you could be ready for the Lady Slipper Scenic Drive. Starting and finishing in Summerside, it will take you for approximately 175 miles (280 km), past some of the island's most productive potato fields, lovely little fishing villages, provincial parks, uncrowded beaches and coves sheltered by high red cliffs.

You will learn something of island history you probably didn't know before, encountering industries and cultures pertinent to the region. The direction you travel is unimportant. Either way you will drive a figure eight, marked by signs bearing the island's floral emblem of a delicate pink Lady Slipper Orchid. Before setting off, I suggest you drop by the information centre at Wilmot, a couple of miles (km) east of Summerside on Route ll. Here you can preview the drive's highlights through photographs, artifacts and storyboards, and pick up your easy-to-follow brochure detailing the route.

Almost immediately on leaving Summerside, we are into country where tall trees line the roadside and rich green leaves of potato plants on brick-red soil stretch to meet the sky. Introduced by settlers in the late 1700s, high quality potatoes thrive in the island's temperate climate.

As we reach the coast, scenery changes. Now we are into Acadia's French-speaking communities such as Mont Carmel and Cap Egmont, where great twin-spired churches look disproportionate in size to the towns they serve, and headstones in cemeteries often appear larger than houses passed along the way. Throughout the Atlantic provinces we have come upon Acadians, striving to keep their culture and traditions alive. When their ancestors arrived two centuries ago this was Ile St. Jean, named by French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534. Then the British took over and called it Saint John, later renaming it for their own Prince Edward. All who wouldn't pledge loyalty to the crown were expelled. Some took to the woods, others left the country, but gradually they came back. At this time close to 15,000 Acadians live in fishing communities around this part of the coast. Several work in the recreated village representing l9th century Acadia, three miles (5km) beyond Mount Carmel.

Provincial parks along this west coast are among the island's finest, usually with beach frontage and recreational facilities. Photographers will find themselves stopping often along these shores. At West Point, for the century old lighthouse. And at Cape Wolfe, named for Britain's General James Wolfe who stopped off on his way to Quebec where he defeated the French, and so changed the face of Canada.

On these shores farmers and fishermen gather Irish moss, the purplish seaweed tossed loose by wind and waves. Carrageenin, an emulsifier extracted from the moss, is used in the manufacture of toothpaste, ice cream, wine and cough syrup, among other things.

North Cape, meeting place for Gulf of St Lawrence tides and those of the Northumberland Strait, is the island's most northerly point. From this windswept corner our homeward journey is past jagged red cliffs shaped by the sea, and more delightful provincial parks. At Alberton a l9th-century courthouse has become a folk museum recalling farm life in that era. Additional exhibits tell of the island's Micmac Indians, and the silver fox industry which prospered here until the 1930s.

Biggest surprise for me is Green Park Provincial Park, not for its campgrounds, beach frontage and pleasant parkland for day visitors because I have come to expect these things of Prince County, but for its commentary on the island's shipbuilding industry I knew nothing about. At one time, because the region's wooded lands were considered an impediment to settlers, trees were cut down and the lumber sent to Britain's shipbuilders. Almost every type of wood was useful: birch, beech and maple where strength was required, softwoods such as pine and spruce for hull planking, decks and masts.

The original French settlers carved their fishing boats from island timbers of course, but really this island's shipbuilding industry began in 1818 when master shipwright William Ellis and two young helpers arrived from England to settle up shop. In a modern interpretive centre now, plans, tools and models of ships built in their yards show how they prospered in the next three decades.

Throughout this drive you will be tempted by attractive little restaurants, canteens serving freshly caught fish to be eaten at wharfside picnic tables, and in cosy dining rooms of former private homes.

GETTING THERE: For tourist information on this province contact Tourism P.E.I., telephone toll free 1-800-565-0267 or