A Detour to Prince Edward Island… The 10,000-Mike Bike Trek

Grey skies detracted from the "picture postcard" look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it.

Grey skies detracted from the “picture postcard” look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it. A crow sits on the railing, looking down toward us.

I bicycled past Prince Edward Island (PEI) on my 5000-mile marathon bike ride home— and had regretted it ever since. It was a bucket list item for me, and I was ever so close, merely a ferryboat ride away. But the clock was ticking.

They have built an 8-mile (12.9 k) bridge between New Brunswick and PEI since, and proudly point out that it is the longest bridge in the world— over ice— an interesting clarification that suggests cold and snowy winters. Peggy and I decided we could zip across the bridge, spend a day, and check out what I had missed. Fortunately, it was neither cold nor snowy and the ice had melted, but it was windy and rainy.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick. I was ever so glad I wasn’t on my bicycle.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed. To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed! To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned, however, that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

PEI is named after Prince Edward (1767-1820), the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, son of King George III, and the father of Queen Victoria, which is quite a legacy. The French initially named the island Île Saint-Jean and the English followed suit, calling it St. John’s Island. There were too many other St. John’s floating around the Atlantic Provinces, however. Thus Edward got his chance. I don’t have anything against the Prince, or the long-dead Saint for that matter, but I prefer the First Nation, Mi’kmaq name, Abegweit, which translates into land cradled in the waves. It is so much more poetic.

I often find that First Nation or Native American names for places have more magic and power than the current names we have given them. Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, is another example. Originally named Mt. McKinley, after a little-remembered American President, the name has recently been changed back to its Athabascan name, Denali, which means the high one. (See my post on the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska that Peggy and I made this past spring.)

The names for Prince Edward Island reflect its history, which is quite similar to its neighboring Atlantic Provinces, moving from First Nation to Acadian French to English and finally, expelled Scots. The Gaelic for PEI, by the way, is Eilean a’ Phrionns: the Island of the Prince.

The day we had allowed for our visit led us to focus on one place. We chose the small, south-coast town of Victoria. We couldn’t resist the description by Stephen Kimber, “The Trans-Canada Highway bypassed Victoria. So did the shopping centers and tourist amusement parks. And that— along with its independent-minded citizens— is what makes Victoria the enchanting, picture post card place it is today.” It sounded like our kind of town.

We arrived under dark clouds that were threatening a deluge but somehow held off for our visit. Given the bad weather and the fact that we had arrived before the summer crowds, it appeared that we were the only people in town. Most shops were closed and the “enchanting, picture post card” look was dampened somewhat by the lack of sunshine. Still, Peggy and I found much of interest.

"Where's the chocolate?" Peggy seems to be asking.

“Where’s the chocolate?” Peggy seems to be asking the locked door. Her taste buds had been prepped for it. “Brain food,” she always declares. Fortunately, we were able to find some equally delicious and sinful lobster. Otherwise, it could have been a long night.

Victoria had once been a bustling seaport doing trade with Europe, the West Indies, and the East Coast of the US. Peggy and I walked through the village of precisely laid out streets and Victorian homes that spoke to the earlier times. We were admiring the town’s lighthouse when a man came hurrying out of one of the homes and crossed the road to greet us.

Colorful homes greeted our walk around the town.

Colorful homes punctuated our walk around the town.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing…

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

Appropriate to Victoria's seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat.

Appropriate to Victoria’s seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat. (Fishing, BTW, is still carried on out of Victoria’s small port. That’s where our lobster came from.)

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith the “town greeter” of Victoria came bursting out the door of his house and made a beeline for us.

“Would you like to go in the lighthouse?” he asked in a voice that almost demanded we say yes. Naturally we agreed. Of course we wanted to see the lighthouse. He introduced himself as Ben Smith. He was apparently the town greeter, unofficial mayor, and a candle maker— a virtual one-man chamber of commerce, not to mention crow-master. They seemed to be following him.

“Ah yes,” he allowed, “I feed them. Sometimes they go for walks with me, hopping along behind.” We pictured this strange parade walking/hopping down the streets of Victoria and laughed. As Ben hurried off to get the keys, the crows stayed with us, making sure we didn’t slip away.

We were checking out the lighthouse when a man came hurrying across the street and asked if we would like to see in side it.

While Ben went to retrieve the lighthouse key, a crow stood guard on the railing.

Ben turned out to be as knowledgeable as he was nice. We got the A+ Tour, which included climbing into the top of the lighthouse up narrow, steep stairs to check out the light and then butt-scoot around a precipice to go outside for a view of the small town and its harbor. Ben took our photo and provided an ongoing lecture on the area’s history. After all of this, we insisted on seeing his candle shop and bought one as a thank you. We also sat in his ‘lucky chair.’

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse look out.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse lookout. (Photo by Ben Smith.)

Entering Ben's candle shop...

Entering Ben’s candle shop. Note the horse shoe over the door for luck.

And sitting on the 'lucky chair.'

Peggy sits in the ‘lucky chair.’ Some of Ben’s candles are resting on the table beyond her.

“The man who made this chair and gave it to me was struck by lightning on three different occasions and survived,” he explained. Peggy and I took turns sitting in the chair, just in case. Ben walked us back to our van and insisted we buy a lobster roll from the Lobster Barn restaurant on the dock. It was delicious.

Leaving Victoria, we made our way over to the New Glasgow Highlands Campground in the center of the island, which proved to be quite lovely. Along the way, we got something of a feel for the rural nature of PEI and more of a sense of the island’s beauty. But we knew we were missing a lot. One day is far too short of a time to visit the island. We’ll be back.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils. Wind breaks surround most farms.

This river reflected the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

This river was brimming with the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees at the campground.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

Check this out. Note how similar the church looks to the one above. The other church I photographed was laid out in the same way. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved?

Check this out. Note how similar this church looks to the one above. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved? Does PEI have an agreement on how churches are supposed to look? (Kidding, I think.)

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Another...

Another…

And a final one.

And a final house, the last photo for this post.

NEXT POST: I am back on my bike route crossing New Brunswick, entering Quebec, climbing up and over the Gaspe Peninsula, and crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway.