What do you think of when you hear Prince Edward Island, or PEI? PEI mussels? Or, when you are in a literary state of mind, the home of Cavendish, the town that served as the model for the fictional town of Avonlea in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel, “Anne of Green Gables”.
Those who are most familiar with the island, however, know PEI for what it really is: a leisurely, generally rural spot where despite man’s best efforts, nature prevails. Nature in the form of green grasses and trees, reddish-brown sandstone hills, and miles and miles of golden sand dunes and beaches, expanses of blue ocean, and a handful of small sleepy towns. The island, after all, houses only 175,000 people.
Prince Edward Island National Park occupies strip of land along much of the island’s Northern shore, about 24 kilometers from Charlottetown. It provides miles of soft, clean sandy beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes and occasional sandstone cliffs and headlands and lighthouses. It is a lovely area to visit.
Charlottetown is the province’s capital. It contains a quarter of PEI’s residents and is the island’s closest approximation of an urban hub. It is known as the “Birthplace of Confederation” because it was the site of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference which laid the groundwork for the creation of Canada.
Charlottetown was initially settled in 1720 across from the French fortified town of Port-La-Joye. The town was ceded to British who promptly renamed it in honor of its then current Queen. While much of the town’s commercial and governmental centers are very much of the 20th century, sections such as Great George, Water and King Streets, Victoria Row and Peake’s Wharf hark back to the 19th-century, if not the city’s 18th-century roots as a fortified administrative and trading post.
Although Charlottetown does not have a lot of “must stops”, it does have some interesting places to explore.
Olde Charlottetown around St. Georges, King and Water Streets has several 19th century building interspersed among newer buildings and what appears to be a virtual pandemic of refacing older buildings to make them appear almost as parodies of the originals.
The waterfront is an interesting place to explore from the Historic Seaport, Peake’s Wharf and Confederation Landing Park to the Victoria Park Boardwalk.
The 1847 Neo-Classical sandstone building (closed for renovation when we visited) was the site of 1864 Charlottetown Conference that led to the creation of Canada three years later. It now does double duty as a historical site and home to the PEI legislature.
While noted primarily for its summer musical theater productions, it has a three-level art gallery of art from across Canada.
The beautifully renovated pedestrian block of nicely renovated 19th-century office buildings is lined with cafes and bars, all with large outside seating areas.
The 1834 Georgian is home to the island’s Lieutenant Governor.
The cottage-like home of island architect William Henry Pope is located here.
The Basilica is an example of High Victorian Gothic Revival and is one of the most elaborate churches in the Maritimes.
Booths along Victoria Row provide music every afternoon and evening in the summer. Local musicians and performers reserve the booths and perform for tips.
We enjoyed a several balanced meals from all three of PEI’s essential food groups in Charlottetown—oysters, mussels and lobsters.
Joyce got her steamed PEI mussels at lunch and Tom succumbed to a shellfish pot pie that was loaded with lobster (and smaller amounts of scallops and mussels) in a rich cream sauce topped by a puff pastry shell. Both served as worthy ambassadors to PEI seafood.
For a pre-dinner treat, we had a couple dozen $1 Happy Hour oysters (Malpeque Selects) and a couple glasses of non-descript Sauvignon Blanc.
Following our oyster appetizer, we headed for dinner here. We both began with lobster dinners with each consisting of a pound of PEI mussels followed by 1.5-pound PEI lobsters and, for good measure, baked PEI potatoes. We added a bottle of pleasant 2022 Jackson-Trigg Chardonnay from the Niagara escarpment. We ended up taking our left-overs back to our Inn for a mid-morning snack. But Tom succumbed to the lure of a sinfully delicious home-made coconut custard pie that was loaded with coconut and topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut.
Charlottetown Evening Entertainment
Our walk back to our comfortable room at the Shipwreck Inn happened to pass two popular evening entertainment options.
We stopped here for al fresco music of a duo of guitar-playing singers performing ‘70s and 80’s light and country rock songs. Joyce enjoyed the music with a Pinot Gris while Tom had an after-dinner single-malt MacCallum 12-year scotch.
You can play everything from pin-pong, darts and pool to a range of video and virtual reality games at this large bar/entertainment complex.. Although we didn’t stay, we were certainly tempted. It was, however, getting late and we had to get off to an early start the next morning.