When we first came to Prince Edward Island (PEI), in 2000, the attraction that took our attention was Anne of Green Gables. The region of Cavendish is a popular thematic attraction, including farm and village buildings with plenty of opportunities for tourists to experience the kinds of activities Anne and Gilbert would have enjoyed. In high season, hordes of Japanese teenagers, brought in by the busloads, thronged the place (an animated version of the Green Gables story had been released in Japan and was very popular there). In front of the museum But one visit was plenty for us: we avoided Cavendish this time, and discovered that there is much more to see on this beautiful island.
Take potatoes, for example. We visited the Potato Museum, in O'Leary, a village that had been settled by Irish immigrants a couple of hundred years ago. Now the Province has developed a museum which tells visitors everything they could possibly want to know -- the potato was originally found in Peru; potatoes are traditionally grown from sections of a potato but now are developed from micro-tubers; infinite care is taken to prevent viruses (e.g., the Irish potato famine experience); really bad things can happen to potatoes, as described in a series of tiny potato coffins illustrating the vegetable attacked by insects, damp, mold and nefarious potato diseases; but all told, about 85 percent of the French fries sold world wide comes from PEI. Whenever we passed one of the factories the smell of fries was wonderful!
Take dandelions, for example. At this time of spring, one of the most beautiful sights on any sunny Spring day is a field of green filled with yellow dandelions, next to a ribbon of reddish-brown soil of a potato planting. Occasionally in the suburbs you can see an obsessive householder grimly digging out dandelion plants, but that is rare. Canadians as a whole appear to be completely tolerant of this plant and may well have uses for it that we haven't observed. Dandelions in a park
The most popular flower this time of year is the tulip. We have seen tulips larger than any we have seen anywhere else, and the colors are gorgeous. Tulips are massed on the lawns of civic buildings, in tiny home gardens, just about anywhere that there has been room for planting.
There are few unoccupied acres on the island, so the animals we see are mostly domesticated, like the dairy cows and calves, the horses and ponies and dogs. But one day, driving not far from our hotel, we saw a fox with a silver tail crossing our road. This led to a visit to the International Fox Museum (like most attractions, it doesn't officially open for another month, but a phone call brought an appointment to visit the museum).
Silver foxes are what made PEI famous and rich in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A mutation of the red fox, the black fox sometimes has a dark silver coat. This fur became so desirable that fox farmers devoted themselves to developing silver foxes, not as easy as one might think. The problem was learning how to farm them, making them so comfortable that they felt like Tulips are favorites breeding. Two PEI men developed the most successful techniques and made themselves, and the island, rich. PEI did not suffer during the Depression because the fox industry was so extraordinarily successful. It was said that the foxes ate better than humans, consuming, for example, crates of oranges in the winter; not so surprising, perhaps, when the price of a breeding pair could have purchased more than a half-dozen large houses at the height of the fashion. The big event of the year was selecting the best fur for the Queen. Later fur wearers switched to mink and chinchilla, and today the only remaining fox farm on the island belongs to one family which continues the business more for historic than for economic reasons.
In addition to foxes and potatoes, Prince Edward Island concentrates on tourism and fishing. Right now it is lobster season, but other food -- clams, crabs, scallops, oysters, and of course the famous PEI mussels are abundant. The other day we ordered steamed mussels for lunch at the little fish place across the street from the hotel. The waitress came to tell us that "they looked fine, but when Wind turbine exhibit we started cooking them they had a strong odor, and my boss said we won't serve these, so I had to run over to the fish market next door and get more. It'll be just a minute more." It was and they were delicious.
There is lobster in the sea food chowder, lobster on every restaurant menu, and McDonald's has its lobster roll back on the menu. Up here, you can get a lobster sandwich for slightly less than a lobster roll; the only difference is bread instead of hot dog roll. Still, the fishermen love to complain, and overall the fishing industry is in decline -- overfishing for centuries has reduced the once unimaginably large stocks of seafood.
Tourism is the most visible industry on the Island and the tourist season is short. With a pattern of cold wet Spring weather, some attractions don't even open until the first of July, Canada Day. We're told the tourists do linger into the fall, though. Tourist maps emphasize scenic driving routes and are tied to lavishly illustrated tourist guides. A family so inclined could take craft lessons, play in the coastal waters, attend concerts, take guided walks, buy souvenirs and objets Tall ship sailors d'art and enjoy seafood dinners.
The Island is windy, unsurprisingly, and derives a significant amount of its power from massive wind generators near the North Cape.
For American readers, Canada didn't start to become a nation until 1867, when the government of Great Britain passed the British North America Act establishing the Dominion of Canada as a confederation of (Upper and Lower) Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Oddly enough, the constitutional conference was held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, because the locals were opposed to confederation and didn't want to pay to send a delegation elsewhere. As tourism would have it, the Province now celebrates its status as the Birthplace of Confederation!
We are staying in Summerside, in a hotel right at the harbor's edge, across from the Coast Guard Base. Looking out our window during the past few days we have seen several tall ships, ocean-going sailing vessels. They're staging here for a forthcoming tall ship festival beginning in Moncton, NB.