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Visiting Prince Edward Island on Your Next Road Trip
By Charles Shugart, Jr.
Although I suppose it’s technically illegal, I found several places in Canada’s Atlantic Provinces where I camped overnight right along the coastline. I was away from towns and homes, and made no mess or disturbance, of course. Quiet, picturesque. Free. And I wasn’t bothered at all; folks didn’t even honk their horns as they cruised by. One of my favorite places was in sight of Confederation Bridge, which is the 9-mile long connection between mainland Canada and the Province of Prince Edward Island. I stopped near the bridge on the New Brunswick side and did some casual beachcombing (with practically no waves, not a whole lot washes ashore). I read some, and wrote in my journal. In the evening, I dragged out my camera and tripod because the prospects for a spectacular sunset were good. No filters were needed as the lowering sun turned the clouds orange, red and crimson. It was one of the few times I’ve used a 400mm lens for a sunset shot, but the most intense colors were in a small area, so the long telephoto lens was the right choice.
Early in the morning I drove across the bridge to Prince Edward Island. The crossing was free! However, the return trip would cost a bundle (2008 fees are $41.50 for the first two axles and $6.75 for each additional axle), but P.E.I. is worth it!
At nine miles, Confederation Bridge is the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered sea water (in winter only).
Once on the island I drove straight to Charlottetown, the provincial capital. It’s a lovely old city, with multi-story red brick buildings indicating a definite absence of earthquake activity. I was raised in California and notice such things.
The folks at the visitor center were quite helpful, so off I went in search of the real P.E.I.
But first, I had to get some propane for my travel trailer. It was not that easy to do in eastern Canada because they didn’t use the same propane “fill-up” valve connectors that we did in the states. So I had to track down a propane distributor who had the parts to make the right conversion. That took an hour going from one gas station to another. Finally, I found a place where, with considerable searching through the parts bin, the man was able to come up with half of what was needed. He sent me to a building supply store for the rest. Overall it was a pain to search out several stores in a strange city while pulling a trailer. For starters, where do you park at each of them?
When all was said and done, the whole thing cost less than Cdn. $40.00 (the man charged no more than a few dollars for all the time he spent putting the pieces together). It was another example of the honest, friendly and helpful eastern Canadians with whom I’d come into contact.
Leaving Charlottetown, I immediately entered the rich-looking red-earth farmland that makes up much of P.E.I. But it wasn’t just the red soil that contributed to the overall beauty.
There were lupines by the tens of thousands. The only lupines I’d seen in the far west were the short, blue variety with white markings. In the Maritimes, it was different. Especially on P.E.I., where they were long-stemmed and of many and varied colors, and happened to make their homes alongside the highways. It really added to my driving enjoyment.
With the recently acquired provincial map in hand, I continued my counter-clockwise circling of the island, taking every paved road that indicated it might be at the water’s edge. As my first evening on the island approached, I headed down a dirt road that went right to the end of a small peninsula. Finding a place with good views of the ocean on three sides, I waited for what promised to be another lovely sunset. Just a few clouds were in the western sky to mute the harshness of the sun and lend several varieties of pink to the clouds and the bay.
Comfortable in my silent sleeping sanctuary, I was awakened at the un-godly hour of “fourish” in the A.M. by what sounded like dozens of insects buzzing loudly, yet far away. Rising to my elbow to look out into the darkness, I saw their lights. Still half asleep, I decided they were nothing more than gigantic fireflies. But at 4 A.M. my curiosity was exceeded only by my desire to get back to sleep.
At the grey light of pre-dawn I was again awakened by the buzzing, so I got up. There must have been fifty small outboard-motor-driven lobster boats noisily checking their traps.
Prince Edward Island not only has rich-looking red earth and wonderful wildflowers, but tidy-looking houses and villages, pampered farmland that grows potatoes, alfalfa and scrumptious strawberries! You-pick is common here, and I picked and ate many boxes of strawberries. They were small, red all the way through, and exquisitely sweet—flavor that I hadn’t found at the market for many a year.
And P.E.I. was green everywhere! I’d never seen so much green in my life.
Selecting a small, unmarked road at random, I turned onto it, in search of one of the hundreds of tiny natural harbors all along the edges of the island. I wanted picturesque views of a quaint little fishing port. The road led me a mile from the highway, right to the dock. Dozens of lobster boats were coming back, having disturbed as many boondocking tourists as they could.
Talking with one lobsterman, he said that he had 300 traps. Current prices paid him from CDN. $5.50 to $6.50 per pound. The daily catch varied from 100 to 1000 pounds.
All the lobstermen I talked to complained about the difficulty in making a living because of interference by the government.
During one conversation, I talked to a retired government fisheries inspector who said that over-harvesting had killed off one of the best cod fisheries in the world, and if the fishermen weren’t careful, they’d do the same with lobstering. Then he added, “Besides, even though they complain all the time, them lobstermen all live in real nice houses and buy new pickups every year or two. Do the math.”
Math was never a favorite subject of mine, and besides, such complications are commonplace when it comes to harvesting nature’s bounty. Currently living in the Pacific Northwest—where we had our own similar problems—I made no judgments, and after another hour of poking around, I drove off.
Lobster fishing is among the few industries on Prince Edward Island; I’d been following the coastline as much as possible and photographing many of the tiny, natural harbors that served as bases for the fishing boats. It was time for a lobster dinner. Hah! At a very modest cafe, the cheapest meal featuring lobster cost more than $20.00, and contained only 2 to 3 ounces of meat (at the store, lobster was selling at CDN. $45.00 per pound). And I was only fifty feet from the boats that trapped the creepy, crawly crustaceans!
One night I made the mistake of boondocking at a picturesque fishing port. Lobster fishermen and women start work really early. I didn’t make that mistake again.
Considering that I’d been following the water’s shoreline practically from the time I entered Quebec and the Maritimes, I had seen very few coastal birds, such as seagulls. There seemed to be few dead things that washed up along the shore. Perhaps that was the reason. Yet, there were many fishing ports and canneries. Shouldn’t that attract scavenging seagulls? Apparently not.
Turning into a corner gas station out in the middle of nowhere, I had to do a figure 8 in order to get my fuel filler next to an open pump. After coming to a stop, I got out of my pickup. From a group of obviously “dedicated” bicyclists sitting around drinking cold beer, one red-headed man smiled and said, “I give you eight and a half points out of ten for that maneuver.”
I responded by saying that I only needed seven points in order to get my driver’s license.
At Malpeque I got some good photos of the boats and the harbor, and struck up a conversation with two old-timer fishermen. Like many others among the island’s fishing community, they were of Irish/Scottish background. No wonder they were so friendly; the Irish and Scots are among the friendliest people on earth.
Completing my circle of the island, I paid the toll (gulp) and crossed the bridge to New Brunswick.
Prince Edward Island is small (only 2144 square miles), yet it has an extensive and rugged coastline. Numerous towns have RV parks or campgrounds, and there are the provincial parks as well. With short travel distances, finding suitable camp sites should not be a problem. As always, selecting one early in the day is better than waiting until dusk, especially on weekends.
If you like small fishing villages, a rocky coast, lovely pastoral scenery and friendly people, P.E.I. should be on your list of Atlantic Provinces worth visiting.
Plus, summer brings the best strawberries ever.
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