Enchanted by Three Rivers-Roma Area is a collection of treasures
By Shelley Cameron-McCarron
Perry Gotell is walking his dog Rudy along Fisherman’s Wharf in Georgetown, PEI shortly before 9 a.m. on a brilliant Sunday morning, when he stops to check out a 45’ lobster boat. That’s when my husband urges me to talk to him.
“Go ahead,” says David. “Why don’t you ask him? He owns the boat.”
Just moments before, as the cry of gulls broke the early morning air and my daughters scampered around the boardwalk of this deep-water harbour, I’d been furiously scribbling notes off a wooden billboard advertising the most fascinating sea-going experience.
Under the stewardship of a third generation lobster fishermen – Gotell as it turns out – Tranquility Cove Adventures offers real lobster fishing trips in season and PEI’s only giant bar clamming adventure where participants don wet suits and dig giant bar clams on the beach of an uninhabited island, then cook their catch, beach comb for sea glass, swim, mackerel fish, and haul a lobster trap and crab pot.
“I wanted to get into something different. So far guests really love it.” says Gotell.
It’s not hard to see why. The soft-spoken fisherman is in no rush to shake off five curious out-of-towners – a trait we’re to find common to PEI’s Three Rivers-Roma area, a spectacularly pretty 27-kilometre stretch tucked along the province’s eastern shores from Murray Harbour North to Cardigan. It’s an area easily accessible from city center Charlottetown and less than 20 minutes from the Wood Islands ferry.
The Three Canadian Heritage Rivers shape the heart and the history of the Three Rivers-Roma area,” he says as he points to the map on the wharf. “The Brudenell River goes up the middle. The Cardigan is on the north, and the Montague is on the south and they meet at Cardigan Bay.”
It is at the point where two of these rivers meet (the Montague and Brudenell overlooking Georgetown Harbour that we find Roma at Three River: National Historic Site, the site of one of the first French settlements on PEI Merchant Jean Pierre Roma settled the point in 1732 with dreams of building an international trading centre. Today this early commercial venture is a national historic site and home to 1700s style buildings, a heritage garden and nine kilometers of forested trails. Guides in period dress explain life of the times.
The Montague River, actually an estuary, along with the Brudenell and Cardigan rivers wind through towns, villages and communities in King’s County, draining into Cardigan Bay. The waters of these rivers still flow as they have for centuries, past farms and fisheries and shipyards, linking those along its banks. Thankfully its natural beauty is still intact.
The very first time I saw the area, I knew I wanted more.
It’s filled with fishing villages where visitors can sit and watch lobster boats coming and going, and people mussel and fly-fishing. It’s home to quiet beaches where one can sit for hours undisturbed, to walking and cycling trails, and a full slate of cultural and historic sites, golf, boating, seal watching, crafts, antiques and perhaps best of all, a selection of fine places to eat in surprising tucked-away corners.
When we pulled into Montague, a cozy river town and the area’s main service center, hundreds gathered along the marina to watch a ducky race, while officials worked feverishly to judge a chili cook-off.
The marina is the town’s undisputed centerpiece. Fishing fleet and pleasure boats tie up in the wide, lazy river. A gazebo is on its bank and a former train station now houses a visitor welcome center, a gift shop, ice cream, washrooms, and the ticket station for Cruise Manada, a popular fully-live narrated tour that departs from the marina for an eight-kilometre trek down the river to St. Andrew’s Point to see a colony of seals. This is a popular starting point for hiking and biking Confederation Trail.
Today, there’s a community celebration and as my daughters take pony rides and queue with their dad for face painting, I slip off to discover more of the town.
I wander across the street to Belle’s Boutique, a sophisticated independently owned women’s clothing shop – then up the hill to the Garden of the Gulf, PEI’s first museum, housed in a gorgeous sandstone historic building overlooking the marina.
For dining options, Montague serves up Gillis Drive-In, a delightful old-fashioned neon diner, and tourists enjoy Windows on the Water, located downtown overlooking the marina. At the bustling MacDonald’s Bakery (K), we found the best coconut donuts ever.
In-the-know locals say the Montague Superstore has a great seafood counter for those who want to cook their own.
Or lobster lovers could take a trip to nearby Cardigan, a destination for the Cardigan Lobster Suppers. The original century-old store is home to a pub while the lobster suppers are served in the new dining room with two outdoor decks overlooking the marina.
Around the bend, Cape Light Restaurant and Pub offers a fine dining room, a casual pub and an outdoor deck, all with million-dollar views of the Cardigan Heritage River. Diners can order crab-crusted haddock, pork tenderloin with apple chutney and garlic mashed potatoes, while kids can fill up on veggie plates and mac and cheese. Right next door is Famous Pepper's Pizza.
Walk it all off with a visit to the Cardigan Craft Shop and Tea Room housed in the restored rail station, and a trip to Canada’s smallest library on the waterfront.
In fall, Richard MacPhee’s U-Pick just outside the village is a steal – 50 cents a pound for crunchy, delicious apples. A popular outing is picking apples off the tree at Haneveld’s Maple Farm in Lower Montague, another popular U-Pick.
In Georgetown, Aubrey and Rhonda Brown are doing wonderful things in the intimate 25-seat dining room at the historic Georgetown Inn, which was built in 1840 as a home and mercantile store.
About a block or two away, Clam Diggers Beach House Restaurant, housed in a replica of the old train station on Veterans Landing, offers some of the best seafood on the island, a killer Sunday brunch, and amazing sunsets off its 1,800 square foot deck. It even gives guests the chance, and tools, to cook seafood on the deck. Just down the road is Eden's Gate Restaurant.
Be sure to bring your walking shoes. Georgetown is meant for strolling.
“It’s the last of the towns to still have its original streets, with a centre square, the old English Victorian style, with gardens, courthouse and churches surrounding the square,” says artist, businessman, former mayor and general man-about-town, Peter Llewellyn.
The Kings Playhouse, the town’s theatre, is the oldest in Canada – Mary Pickford, Harry Houdini, Donald Sutherland, all played here. People can pick up the Confederation Trail in town, and a boardwalk, bandstand, eco-lookouts and a children’s play area are all new.
Minutes away – four to be exact -- are Rodd Brudenell River Resort and Brudenell River Provincial Park You travel down a gracious, tree-line paved driveway to a wonderland that offers beach and forest trail rides at Brudenell Stables, a campground and RV park, a marina, day park and beach, Rodd Brudenell Resort, and the famed Dundarave Golf Course and Brudenell Golf Course, both 18 hole championship courses on the Brudenell River.
It’s an impressive area of tennis courts and cottages on the water, where horses quietly graze by the sparkling river. Renting a kayak or canoe gives one an entirely different view of the Heritage Rivers.
For the most part we travel roads, which wind around rivers, and quiet, tidy countryside. Side trips offer quiet bays, dune beaches, and postcard perfect moments such as the Lower Montague Road to St. Andrew’s Point which ends in a pretty day park, popular with cyclists, near a pioneer cemetery.
“I’ve got a peaceful, easy feeling,” plays in my head as my oldest daughter and I walk along the shores of Panmure Island beach. We’ve just come from the 1853 lighthouse – PEI’s oldest wooden lighthouse – where a tabby cat roamed and four horses grazed in the morning sun.
Now, the intoxicating sound of water laps on shore, a breeze blows, and my child is full of marvel. “Oh, it’s so beautiful,” she says and she’s bending down, fingers in the pearly grains of sand. “It’s soft and warm and silky,” she says, caressing its feel.
“Why do you think people should come here?” I ask.
“Because they have nice beaches,” she replies, and turns to tuck the little bottle of sand she took from Panmure Beach into her collection of treasures.