By Charles Gulotta
There are places in the world where your senses are assaulted and overwhelmed by things manmade: neon signs, billboards, gleaming structures, and flashing lights. Typically, those places are also filled with people and cars, noise and excitement. Their attractions compete for your attention, running out to the sidewalk to drag you inside before someone else gets a crack at your credit card. The floors are shiny, the roads are smooth, the lines are long, and the pace is dizzying. New York, Las Vegas, Toronto.
I am none of those things. I am the eastern stretch of Prince Edward Island’s north shore. As different from those other destinations as any place could be.
Oh, the treasures are here, have no doubt about that. But they’re tucked away, inconspicuous, quietly awaiting discovery. And if you choose to race by, I’ll let you go without a struggle. I am not used to crowds anyway, or traffic, or lines. What shines here is the warm white sand that joins green-capped rocky red cliffs to the sparkling waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What gleams are fields of grass and crops and one of the most beautiful golf courses on the continent. What competes for your attention are undulating dunes, quaint fishing villages, and an abundance of wildlife. My skyscrapers are lighthouses, my noise the irresistible melodies of fiddlers.
As small as it is, PEI has a long and jagged coastline, so any journey around its perimeter is going to be longer than you might expect. My advice is to break it up into smaller, one-day jaunts. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Hillsborough River Discovery Drive
Begin on Route 2, southwest of Mount Stewart. If you’re here in June, you can attend the Abegweit First Nation’s annual powwow, a day to celebrate this strong and traditional culture. Any time, hike or bike the nearby Confederation Trail as it follows the flow of the Hillsborough, a Canadian Heritage River. A large Celtic cross marks the site of an eighteenth-century pioneer cemetery, and commemorates the arrival of the Scottish Settlers in 1772.
In Mount Stewart, visit the Hillsborough River Eco-Centre, home to fascinating exhibits and videos about the region. The observation tower offers unobstructed views of the river and nearby marshlands. For delicious home cooking away from home drop by Kristies Restaurant or the Thoughtful Squash.
Northeast of Mount Stewart, St. Andrew’s Chapel was built in the 1770s as PEI’s first major church. Its history is too long and startling to recount in full, but here’s the abridged version: the chapel was replaced by a larger structure in 1862, hauled over the ice twenty miles to Charlottetown in 1864, used as a school for girls for more than a hundred years, heavily damaged by a major fire in 1987, cut into four pieces, and transported back to St. Andrew’s. Now restored to its original design, the chapel is considered an elegant example of Georgian architecture, and is used for lectures, concerts, plays, and other community events.
A little to the east, find Warren’s Pond in Cherry Hill for trout fishing. With a little exploring you’ll find pioneer mill and early Acadian home sites. At Lakeside, Circle-T Trail Rides offers a great day on horseback. Lakeside Beach is uncrowded and peaceful, and its lookoff provides a spectacular view out over the sand dunes. For an unforgettable round of golf, go to the Links at Crowbush Cove, widely considered to be one of the ten best courses in all of Canada. Or continue on Route 2 which will quickly take you to the lovely town of Morell. Kingfisher Outdoors provides kayak and canoe tours on the Morell River, famous for Atlantic Salmon and trout fishing. This area is also a paradise for bird watchers.
Continue east on Route 2. In this section just past Morell, the Confederation Trail hugs the shore of St. Peters Bay, offering some of the most exquisite scenery in this part of the Island. A great time to be on bike or foot! And if you didn’t stop at the scenic look-off in Scotchfort (or even if you did), don’t miss the one in Midgell.
North Shore Discovery Drive
Heading northeast on Route 2, bear left onto Route 313 in the scenic community of St. Peters. Immediately you’ll be drawn in several irresistible directions. St. Peters Landing features delightfully unique gift and craft shops, including DJ’s Dairy Bar, Salt Water Rose, Chez Charlie, Millage and LLoyd and also Bye the Bay Fish Mart. Just across the road is Landing Park, a magical place to sit, bike, or stroll. If you’re around in late July or early August, head for the St. Peters Blueberry Festival. Don’t forget the St. Peters Courthouse Theatre, which presents local plays and live entertainment, and a fine museum depicting the area’s history.
Don’t leave St. Peters without sampling some of the Island’s most authentic cuisine: Rick’s Fish & Chips and Seafood House (a favourite of tourists and locals alike) and the restaurant at Inn at St. Peters (fine dining), with amazing flower gardens! Then stop in at St. Peters Catholic Church, an impressive brick and stone structure high on a hill overlooking the bay. St. Peters Bay Crafts & Giftware has beautiful pewter jewellery and other gifts handmade right on site – take the free tour and watch a demonstration; the store also houses Confederation Trail Bike Rentals.
Follow Route 313 West to the end to reach Greenwich Prince Edward Island National Park & Interpretive Centre. This 900-acre preserve features interactive exhibits, a multimedia presentation, a supervised beach, and self-guided interpretive trails over the breathtaking parabolic dunes. (Give yourself at least an hour or two for this stop.) Then turn back onto Route 313 and take a left onto Route 336.
If you have just one chance to experience Prince Edward Island’s traditional music and dance, time your trip to be at the St.Margarets Hall on Sunday evening at 7:30 for a Kitchen Party or Ceilidh with Local musicians and stepdancers entertain audiences at a ceilidh, Celtic for kitchen party. (By the way, ceilidh is pronounced KAY-lee, and Celtic is Keltic.)
Nearby Naufrage offers a variety of activities, including deep-sea fishing, birdwatching, clam-digging, a lighthouse (not open to the public), and still another beautiful beach. Watch seals swim in the ocean and bald eagles soar overhead. See the local fishermen hauling in their daily catch, then sample some of it at the Shipwreck Point Café.
History buffs may want to spend a little time exploring St. Margarets site of eighteenth-century French and Scottish settlements. As with other places in eastern PEI, the church and cemeteries here have countless stories to tell about those early pioneers from Europe.
Time for a relaxing drive or peaceful bike ride through the small community of Clear Springs, then on to Hermanville. Here you can visit and tour the Prince Edward Distillery, where Canada's first and only potato vodka is produced and sold. Or continue to Rock Barra, Bayfield, and on to the endpoint of the North Shore Discovery Drive, Priest Pond. From there, you can stay on Route 16 toward East Point and begin the Eastern Beaches Discovery Drive, or turn right onto Route 302 and head to Red Point or Souris.
Be sure to come back and visit us again!