Thursday, June 30, 2011

Small Halls, Small Island, Big History

Having sat idle for two whole years we decided it was high time we put the camper on the road again. Nature abhors a vacuum, the saying goes. So it seems: an array of wild things had taken up residence in various corners – sow bugs, spiders, ants, even a cricket or three. Ignoring the doctrine of squatters’ rights, we gave them all the heave-ho, washed off the grime and discovered that apart from a balky jack, all of the camper’s mechanical bits seemed to work just fine. We decided to go to Prince Edward Island.

Serendipity made a return performance. En route to the Island we learned that a music event, the Festival of Small Halls, was underway – 42 events over 11 days in 34 small halls – and that a particularly fetching one was set for North Rustico that very evening. We arrived at the Caribou ferry dock just in time to roll on to the 2:45 sailing, the last vehicle through the gate. More serendipity: at the PEI visitor at Wood Island we found that there were two tickets left for ‘Night Out in the Crick’. The sellout crowd ate up the event, literally. As if the musical offerings – from Tony McManus, Catherine MacLellan, Troy MacGillivray, et al – weren’t enough (and they were), the organizers provided free food too, headlined by help-yourself Island mussels. Night Out in the Crick was so swell we ate up two more gigs, ‘Belfast Hosts the Grammys’, Gordie Sampson, Liz Carroll at the Belfast Presbyterian church, and ‘Girls Night Out’ (Liz Carroll again, Andrea Beaton, Meaghan Blanchard and pals) at Munns Road near PEI’s eastern tip.

Without really meaning to we went to the Garden of the Gulf at just the right time. There was plenty of room at the one national and several provincial park campgrounds we frequented. Come a week later, we were told – after Will & Kate have taken their turn – we would find the same facilities booked solid.

Even by comparison to its Maritime neighbours PEI is an oddball. The island is settled throughout, much of it apparently by potato farmers. There is hardly any litter at roadside. Do they shoot people who dare to throw a Tim Horton’s cup out the window? The ‘Garden of the Gulf’ moniker suits: there is no wilderness on the Island, the moose, bear and deer are all gone.
Happily there are still wildflowers and birds. Never having been in the western end of the Island we rumbled to North Cape, where an array of big generators contributes significantly to the Island’s power grid – 18 per cent of PEI’s electricity is wind-generated. Who knew? At North Cape we walked the Black Marsh Trail, saw a fine array of bog-barren wildflowers and soon discovered that, fierce as the North Cape winds are, they weren’t up to the task of keeping Cape mosquitoes at bay.

We walked the storied red sand beach at Cavendish national park. At Red Point it is the sandstone cliffs that are red, the beach is of the ‘singing-sand’ variety, and almost white. After North Cape we drove the whole length of the Island (it’s easy enough to do) to East Point and thus earned our very own Tip-to-Tip Certificate.

Our trip was a history quest in large measure. After the bellyful of Rustico mussels we spend a few hours at Green Gables and had a good feed of Lucy Maud Montgomery. We time-travelled at Orwell Village. In the late 60s the Orwellians, such sensible people they were, decided that preserving the old buildings of the village was preferable to tearing them down.
We had the place to ourselves, wandered the village, snooped about the one-room school (which operated as late as 1969), general store, blacksmithery and church. In the community hall a nice lady served her own fare: chicken noodle soup and the best buttermilk tea-biscuits I ever had. In Georgetown we gawked at the splendid houses surviving from the mid-1800s. At Charlottetown we visited Province House and walked the same halls where – in September 1864 – the Fathers of Confederation decided it might be a good idea to invent Canada.

We’d planned to spend three days on the Island but wound up making it five. By and large the weather was fine, the food good, the people friendly, the ambience just right. I was a tad regretful as we rolled on to the Confederation Bridge but comforted myself with the notion it won’t be long before the land of Ann Shirley and Stompin’ Tom lures us back.

1 comment:

Mary Sanseverino said...

What a great bonus -- two stories at the same time!!! Keep them coming. I've just finished re-reading all of the Anne series on my iPod.

Your pics and words remind me of our brief cycle over the Island -- must get back for more.