Prince Edward Island, Canada, often called PEI, was almost our destination about a year and a half back. We ended up going to Charleston, SC instead, but I think that when Canada is available as a destination, we may give PEI a visit.
Statistically, PEI is the most densely populated Canadian province, and the smallest. Tucked between Cape Breton Island and New Brunswick, PEI is connected to Nova Scotia by a bridge, so no ferry ride is needed to get there. The island is a popular vacation spot, with agriculture and fisheries the other industries. In the summer months, farmer’s markets are likely to have veggies to go along with the fish you grill on your patio.
Beach combing is promoted as a holiday activity on PEI, one of the reasons we first looked at it as a place to visit. We’d explore the coast looking for beach glass and other finds. There are miles and miles of beaches all around the island.
We also like to visit some quirky places, and AtlasObscura.com never lets us down. PEI has a Potato Museum, a museum and Hall of Fame related to fox ranching (for fur coats?), and the smallest library in Canada. The place we’d actually visit is the Edward Arsenault Bottle Houses. Rather than waiting for bottles to become beach glass, Arsenault saved empty bottles and used them to build three different structures. It sounds like quite a hobby.
Also notable is the fact that Anne of Green Gables, a favorite novel, is set on Prince Edward Island. The town of Avonlea in the stories is modeled after Cavendish, PEI. There are a number of places that take advantage of the association, including Green Gables Heritage Place, with “the house that inspired Anne of Green Gables,” and Avonlea Village, a “tribute town”. If you read the book as a child, you might want to stop in.
While looking for information about PEI, I came across this illustration from the cover of a brochure about the island that was published in 1900, "The garden of the gulf, Prince Edward Island – and its handsome and delightful capital Charlottetown – being pictures and description of the charms of city and seashore as summer resorts“. PEI looks very inviting.
After my previous post, we would have gotten off the ferry at the north end of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. One of the first things we’d see is the “World’s Largest Fiddle” (60 ft. high), along the Sydney, NS harbor where the ferry lands. From there, if we don’t decide to stay locally, we’d make our way toward the Atlantic coast. If we make it past Isle Madame, where there is a provincial park, we’ll wend our way off Cape Breton Island and on to “mainland” Nova Scotia.
The coast is full of inlets, with only one road leading south, so we’d probably take double the travel time calculated by Google maps. We might stop to have a brief quarrel in Bickerton, then agree to spend the night in Spanish Ship Bay, just because I like the name. The next day, we’ll continue toward Halifax, perhaps renting our home for a month somewhere along the coast northeast or southwest of the city. That would give us access to anything we need in the way of services, including my monthly visit to a retina specialist, and still let us explore the Atlantic coast. Nova Scotia has been visited by Europeans since about 1597, when explorer John Cabot landed somewhere between Maine and Labrador, often thought to be Nova Scotia. This means that beach combing along the coast could yield anything from a fisherman’s boot lost in the previous month to a 16th century Venetian coin.
One of my favorite websites to check for places to visit is Atlas Obscura, where contributors report odd sights and experiences, and where I found the world’s largest fiddle. There are a number of these for Nova Scotia, including the Oak Island money pit, a spot that is said to hold a fortune in treasure for the person who can get to it. Many have tried and failed due to quicksand and other hazards, but hope springs eternal in a gambler’s heart, so people occasionally still try to figure out why no one has been able to get to the bottom of the pit. The Curse of Oak Island reality TV show claims to have found the secret of the treasure to be revealed in the final episode of their eighth season, available on Amazon Prime in 2021. I’ll have to tune in.
Nova Scotia has been occupied by native people for thousands of years. The Mikmaq are the most recent group, from late prehistory to the present. Some sites can be visited, though pre-European life was relatively simple, with survival the principal goal. The arrival of Europeans started construction of all kinds, and today
Nova Scotia is a colonial history buff’s delight, with a long record of being caught in the crosshairs of international politics. Toward the end of the 1700s, Acadian settlers were expelled for being allied with France, some of whom ended up in Louisiana as Cajuns. while British loyalists moved in from the former colonies after 1776. In the 1800s an influx of Scots escaping the Highland Clearances shifted the population toward Gaelic speakers. Every war seems to have pulled in this strategically located area. Ruined forts and fortifications intended to protect the coast can still be seen in many places.
Nova Scotia is also a great place for lighthouse aficionados. There is an excellent map that shows the 128 lighthouses and places that once had lighthouses. There are lists that tell you whether you can visit, drive by for a photo, whether the lighthouse is so remote you can’t even get a decent photo, or whether the lighthouse is no longer in existence. The map is very nice-looking as well.
Since we are nature lovers no longer capable of long wilderness hikes, and archaeology buffs but not necessary fans of old forts and other stony places, we’ll spend most of our month visiting the coast and admiring the crashing waves. We’d look for some of the birds that live in the northland (puffins!), and visit Halifax for markets and restaurants. We’d like to think that by the time we can get across the border into Canada, Nova Scotia will be ready for us.
I have shared a lot of photos of the California coast this year, where we continue to find trails and beaches that we haven’t visited before. We are gradually getting nearer to our goal of walking as much of the shore as possible between Big Sur and Santa Cruz. As more and more people get vaccinated, the “travel question” is emerging. Where will we go when it is safe to travel again. I don’t know when that will be, but I’m starting a list of possibilities. Most of the suggestions I plan to post are islands, because that’s the kind of place I like to visit.
I’m starting relatively close to home, with Newfoundland, Canada. I’ve seen the colorful buildings in downtown St. John’s in the opening scene of “Republic of Doyle” on TV. If you haven’t seen that clip, and would like an orientation, this map shows you that Newfoundland is an island just off the coast of mainland Canada. It’s a big island, about the 16th largest in the world, slightly larger than Cuba, and just smaller than New Zealand’s North Island. St. John’s is the capital, on the extreme eastern of the island, facing the Atlantic Ocean. It would be interesting to be there through a storm and watch the waves break on the rocky coast. On the other hand, I would probably visit Newfoundland during the summer months when storms are less likely.
When we decide that a place may be worth visiting, one of the first things we do is look at the annual weather. Jonathan and I aim to travel from March or April through the end of October. Here’s how Newfoundland looks in terms of temperature and rainfall:
You can see that the lowest rainfall and warmest temperatures come in July and August, followed by May, June, and September. I include September based on another chart that shows the ocean is warmest during that month. Personally, I don’t plan to go swimming in Newfoundland. May doesn’t have much rain, but is pretty cold. The best time to visit is the best time to visit many places, in the middle of summer. On the bright side, Europe is getting to be so hot during these months that a visit to Canada may be just the thing.is
Beyond the view of St. John’s, and the legendary Newfoundland dogs, I only know of one place to visit in Newfoundland, the only confirmed Norse site in North America, L’Anse aux Meadows. Norsemen sailed from Viking settlements in Greenland, landing on the northern tip of Newfoundland around AD 1000. The weather was harsh, game was scarce, and the indigenous people were hostile, according to Viking accounts of the New World. There’s a difference of opinion over L’Anse aux Meadows. Was it a short-lived settlement, or a boat repair station that was used on and off for a century or more?
Today, L’Anse aux Meadows is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are reconstructed buildings to see, artifacts from excavations at the site, and a nearby historic park where blacksmiths hammer, weavers spin, and visitors can observe some of the tasks that the occupants of the site carried out in AD 1000. I would like to visit this unusual site, even though getting there takes a bit of work. St. John’s is about 500 km from L’Anse aux Meadows, and according to Google, it would take more than 11 hours to drive there. For us, that means at least one night on the road each way.
Unlike our usual plan to stay in one place for a month and explore from that base, Newfoundland might require a different strategy if we’re really going to the far northern tip of the island to visit an archaeological site. I’d plan to spend two weeks in the St. John’s area in an Airbnb. We’d rent a car and explore the coast, going out from St. John’s as far as we could comfortably visit in one day. During the second two weeks of our stay, we’d take a road trip, stopping overnight in Grand Falls/Windsor, the largest town in the interior (pop: aprox. 15,000). From there we’d drive to the west coast of Newfoundland, possibly stopping another night near Gros Morne National Park. We’d make the final drive up the northern peninsula of Newfoundland to St. Anthony’s, a far northern town, about a half hour’s drive from L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park. Staying in the area for four to five nights, we’d have time to rest from our long drive, and to see L’Anse aux Meadows at a leisurely pace. We’d also look at the coast and do some beach combing.
With a few days left in our month in Newfoundland, we would head south again. Depending on where we can return a rental car, we’d drive to Stephenville on the west coast of NF, or back to St. John’s on the east. If we could work it out, we’d drive all the way to the southwest corner of Newfoundland to Port aux Basques, drop our car and board the ferry for Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Since we’re visiting Canada just now, Nova Scotia will be my next stop.