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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 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.
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.
52 thoughts on “A Detour to Prince Edward Island… The 10,000-Mike Bike Trek”
wonderful post, Sir… I love and I often miss Canada… ❤ we may return there next year, as "old" friends from Québec, Toronto and Vancouver have kept on inviting us over… 🙂
Thanks, Melanie. And how could you go wrong with Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver?! I’ve traveled a lot in Canada, even up into the far north like the Yukon Territory. And I have never been disappointed. Beautiful country, beautiful people. 🙂 –Curt
What a magical island even in the less than perfect weather. We have travelled over the Millau bridge in France once, in deep fog!
PEI certainly left me with wanting more. The bridge in the fog with low visibility would be quite scary. We used to deal with that in the Central Valley of California. Massive pile ups on the freeway sometimes result.
Massive dust storms create a similar experience to the fog. Peggy and I got lost in one at Burning Man. Not fun. –Curt
I like Canada. They are our heroes when it comes to accepting and welcoming refugees. Milo would bark at the crow looking down from the light-house. Lovely show again, Curt.
Canada has a lot going for it, Gerard.
Imagine Milo’s reaction to the crows following Ben down the street. 🙂 Thanks, Gerard. –Curt
Love the photos. And I completely agree that the original names are always more magical than the “new” names of places and landmarks. They had no need to name beautiful places after wealthy or politically powerful people.
With McKinley, it was some political friends hoping it would give his presidential campaign a boost. Talk about adding insult to injury! Thanks Sylvia. –Curt
Thanks, Estelle. –Curt
Great photos of a lovely spot. It’s on my bucket list. Have yet to get up that way, unfortunately.
Thanks. The Atlantic Provinces are all a delight and, given their size and closeness, easy to visit all at once. I’d give it a couple of weeks, however! 🙂 –Curt
I love lighthouses having grown up on the shores of Lake Erie. This lighthouse was one of five, each with a red stripe painted on it. Ships coming to port at that time would line up stripes on two lighthouses at a time to help with navigation. Ben shared this history with us which I found fascinating.
Thanks Peggy for adding some detail on the lighthouses. As far as I know, this was a different way to utilize lighthouses that went beyond their normal duty of warning ships away from rocky shorelines. –Curt
Your caption read – “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.
To me – lobster can replace ANY other food!!!
Equally great photos and looking forward to the next – as usual!!
With Peggy, it may be a toss up, G. 🙂 She does love her chocolate. But oh was that lobster good! Thanks. –Curt
What a charming little place. It looked a tad forlorn on the day you visited, but I’m sure those brightly colored and cozy-seeming houses helped! I’d love to see all of these Maritime provinces someday, preferably in the summer!
Ben pretty much made up for the lack of sunshine, Lex. A pub might have helped as well. I’d like to return for a warm summer week as well. Or perhaps in the fall when the leaves are turning! Thanks. –Curt
I’ve never been to PEI, or anywhere in the Maritimes for that matter. PEI looks thoroughly charming.
So Alison, you are just going to have to put your exotic traveling shoes aside for a few weeks and hie yourself out there. 🙂 –Curt
Brain food. Tell Peggy I agree! Great post, Curt.
Peggy is laughing, Kelly. And I have to say that Peggy has won me over to the dark side— dark chocolate, that is. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt
It sounds like they used their lighthouses the way we use certain aids to navigation today, as in the Houston ship channel. There are markers other than the usual red and green buoys that are meant to be lined up. If they do line up perfecty, you know you’re in the center of the channel.
I had to laugh at your foggy, cloudy weather. That’s exactly what I’ve been having, and it just isn’t wise to waste time moaning and groaning about it. The days are passing, and popping back for photos in better weather isn’t possible. So, adaption occurs — one way or another. Another life lesson from traveling set, eh?
I suspect that knowing where you are in channel as big and busy as Houston is always a good idea, Linda! As for the weather, it was pretty much that way throughout the Atlantic Provinces. Must say, it is a lot easier to deal with in a vehicle than on a bicycle. 🙂 Also, photography is just different. Some shots are better on cloudy days. As for popping back, you’re right, but I tend to regard it as an opportunity. (grin) –Curt
My childhood memories of PEI and the Maritimes are blurry, these lovely photos remind me that I need to play tourist in my own country. -Ginette
I’ve always enjoyed playing tourist in your country, Ginette. 🙂 –Curt
We often feel badly we have not yet been to PEI. Yes I agree cycling on the bridge in the weather of your recent trip would be awful. Loved seeing the photos. Such a gorgeous spot.
I certainly kicked myself for skipping it on the first go-around, Sue.
I think it would be fun crossing the bridge in good weather if they let you. But getting hit by a 60k wind when you are out on it… No way! That’s one swimming lesson I’ll pass on. 🙂 –Curt
Haha yes I don’t think that swim would be a happy one!
There’s something to photograph at every turn in PEI! And Bert would say I didn’t miss much! We even saw a play based on Anne of Green Gables while there. Would like to return to PEI and take more pictures — and, like Peggy, eat more chocolate! — Rusha
We didn’t make it to the Anne of Green Gables cottage, Rusha. And good for you, not missing much! I’ll plan on a week next time I am in the neighborhood. Peggy has been amused on the chocolate feedback. 🙂 –Curt
The photos are really lovely. Ben Smith stole the show though 🙂
Ben was a unique, generous character— no doubt about it. And thanks, Timi. –Curt
What a wonderful detour. I am always fascinated by naming of towns and geographical features in US. Bill Bryson wrote an entertaining book about it. My favourite picture is the barn door with what I assume are wooden shingles?
Great post as usual Curt!
Why am I not surprised about you favorite, Andrew? It is, after all, a door. 🙂 And yes on the wooden shingles.
William Least Heat Moon in his classic Blue Highways, also had a lot of fun with names, going out of his way to visit some of the more interestingly named towns.
Thanks as always. –Curt
I just finished reading a collection of shorter books from Bryson, all with the theme of comparing the UK to the US. He does have a way of making things we take for granted, like place names, seem absurd or at least entertaining.
He is a fun writer for sure, Crystal. His trip on the Appalachian Trail was hilarious. Even more so from the perspective of a backpacker. –Curt
(Chocolate) and lobster. You guys do it right!!
Thanks, Petra. We don’t eat like that every day! (Although chocolate is a regular addition to Peggy’s diet.) 🙂 –Curt
I devoured the Anne of Green Gables books growing up, and watched the excellent PBS movies. They give a purely romantic impression of the place, and it’s nice to have it brought up to date in my mind.
Peggy read them as well, Crystal. What we saw of the island was merely a taste. But it certainly seemed romantic. –Curt
Such a wonderful post, and your photos are really beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. 🙂
Well thank you, Linda. Much appreciated. Wandering through Canada was a special part of the journey. –Curt
I’m not sure how you keep outdoing yourself in the photography, C. And Peggy’s looking better every time. The birch is gorgeous. A wonderful journey.
Thanks D. Lots of beautiful country helps. Hard not to take good photos. And Peggy says she likes you too. 🙂 –Curt
My photos won’t come out that way, no matter how beautiful the country.
These houses and the ones I like so much in New England must be identical twins. Love the colors and I smile when you write about the owners’ imagination with the house and its red trimming. Our Maine cottage was painted red. We’ve kept some parts in red, which makes it very easy to find whenever we give directions and also gives the house a constant good mood appearance.
It’s always so special when a local opens his heart , his town, and his shop to visitors. A candle is not a piece of chocolate but it’s still lovely.
I suspect the older big houses of PEI and New England have large families and long cold winters in common, Evelyne. 🙂
Fun that you have kept parts of your cottage red and in a good mood.
Ben is one of those special people for sure.
Peggy likes candles as well as chocolate, but I don’t worry about getting between her and her candles. —Curt
I love these old houses. A bit difficult to heat though on those cold windy days. An eight mile bridge lets you know you are traveling to another town. Ben Smith looks to be an energetic welcomer. Eager to share his community with strangers. Very refreshing compared to us, who look warily at a strange face. Lovely post Curt.
Thanks, Kayti. And it was wonderful of Ben to take an hour out of his day to show us around! Old homes can get a bit breezy, not to mention expensive to keep warm. But they sure have the personality. 🙂 –Curt
Curt, I’m glad cyclists weren’t allowed across the bridge as I’m sure you’d have tried despite the deluge! You’ve met some wonderful characters on your trip and Ben Smith was another one who helped to make your visit special – only pity he didn’t have the key to the chocolate shop! Love the houses too and very similar to ones in Sweden which are wooden and painted in a variety of colours although there is a certain darker red which is traditional out in the countryside. Lovely photograph of you and Peggy – living life to the full and so contented! 😀