THE SHORES OF RELAXATION, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND STYLE
By Pam Hobbs
Prince Edward Island National Park isn't the largest or the oldest link in Canada's chain of
parks, but it is certainly one of the most popular. While European farmers settled this north shore
as early as 1777, and vacationers discovered its superb beaches a century later, it wasn't until
1937 that 13 square miles (34kmē) along the Gulf of St Lawrence were contained in a national
preserve. Its purpose, as every visitor will appreciate, is to protect the delicate sand dunes, red
sandstone cliffs already in danger of crumbling, marshlands home of so many bird species,
natural ponds and some of Canada's finest sand beaches.
There is no real hub to the park, no main town with shops and restaurants clustered
around country club amenities. Nor is any needed, because all along the coast you will find
vacation and leisure facilities. It is a place where big-city people can wash away a year's
accumulated stress, and retirees enjoy leisurely summers. Families love it because there is plenty
to do. In good weather the beaches are heaven blessed (some have change rooms, snack bars and
lifeguards.) If it rains, shops, museums, restaurants and theaters are only 15 miles (25km) away
in the tiny provincial capital of Charlottetown.
The park has something for everyone. Accommodation runs the gamut from
campgrounds and cottages to a gracious old hotel where some guests have been returning every
summer for thirty years. There are fish to catch and birds to watch, golf and tennis and
windsurfing for the energetic. You can find a quiet cove for your picnic lunch, or eat at a wooden
table in a busy harbor. Drive through a landscape so colorful it looks unreal, and past ocean
views that exhaust your film supply in no time at all.
Nature enthusiasts have a lovely time here. Many are retired people, here for the season.
Bronzed and fit, they stride along the beaches and cycle the seafront for pleasure and exercise.
They set up easels and paint the scenery, buy food supplies direct from farmers and fishermen,
form their own hiking and nature study groups and are regulars at park interpretive programs.
Every national park has interpretive programs designed to illustrate its special features.
On Prince Edward Island we learn about the sand and sea through evening slide shows, campfires
and beach hikes. At a talk on sand dunes we learned about a wide variety of wildlife they
support. Seafood cooking demonstrations, given by staff of the Provincial Department of
Fisheries are as useful as they are entertaining.
One fine morning I joined bird lovers at a wetland marsh area where park personnel
arrived with tripod-mounted telescopes so we could study some of the 200 bird species
inhabiting this region. Several great blue herons were obligingly close, majestic creatures
standing motionless, knee-deep in water, waiting for their lunch to swim by. We didn't see the
elusive piping plovers and didn't really expect to because there are so few here, and usually
fewer than 15% of their eggs survive to maturity.
I found myself wandering about Covehead harbor most days, usually to buy cod fresh
from the boats, and to watch leisure fishermen return triumphant. On an afternoon when the sea
was particularly calm, we joined si others for a fishing excursion and came home with a
respectable haul of mackerel. Fellow passengers who had no means of cooking their catch gave
us more, and we left the island three days later we still had three dinners in our motorhome
freezer. Deep sea fishing jaunts, scenic boat rides and seal watching are popular with visitors all
around the coast. Rods and tackle are provided. Skippers have a saint-like patience with novices
who tangle their lines.
Of the park's three main regions Cavendish is most popular for its 18 hole golf course,
grand beach and Green Gables - home of that ever-popular red-haired, freckle-faced orphane
Anne. The l9th century wooden farmhouse, sparkling white with green trim, was originally
owned by elderly cousins of author Lucy Maude Montgomery. Rooms are furnished according to
descriptions in Anne of green Gables, since visitors want to believe she actually lived here. In
mid-July, height of the tourist season, I sat on the grass outside waiting for a line-up at its front
door to shorten, only to see it grow as one busload of tourists after another arrived.
If you are staying in the park, a better bet is to join an interpretive walk covering
Anne's favorite haunts. At the Cavendish cemetery Lucy Maude Montgomery's remains are
buried in a plot she selected, "because it overlooks the spots I always loved, the pond, the shore,
the sand dunes and the harbor."
There's no disputing Anne's success since she burst into the world some nine decades
ago. The book is translated into 17 languages. Plays, films and TV shows are based upon the
story; a musical in Charlottetown is deservedly sold about every summer. Less publicized events,
also traditional to the island, can be worthwhile. Ask at any tourist information center whether a
scallop, blueberry or potato blossom festival is scheduled during your visit. Or join a lively
ceildidh at Orwell Corner Historic Village.
Lobster suppers have become an island tradition since the first was held as a church
fund raiser in 1964. By now the suppers have outgrown volunteer cooks and waitresses, but still
the down-home atmosphere prevails. Even at St Ann's where the licensed restaurant serves close
to 300 customers on an average summer's evening. Cost is about $40 for a full dinner. That's for
a one pound lobster with juices, mussels, salads, and assorted homemade desserts. Seconds of
everything except the entrees are offered. At our table comment cards read "excellent value for
visitors", and "typical island hospitality" and "will definitely be back." The same could be said
about Prince Edward Island.
If you Go: Prince Edward Island National Park is between 35 - 50 miles from the New
Brunswick end of the Confederation Bridge to PEI and accessible from the Trans Canada
Highway, depending on your destination, via Highways l and l5. For more information on the
park, go to www.parkscanada.ca and follow the links or write to the Superintendent, c/o P.O. Bo
487, Charlottetown, P.E.I. ClA 7Ll. Tel 902-672-2211.Email: