I’ve always been an avid reader. Whilst life gets in the way now, as a child I used to devour books. I would become completely smitten with characters, and they would become my friends (or enemies), perhaps because I lived in the country and so didn’t have friends (or enemies) nearby. I would read books over and over again, simply because we could only get into town to visit the public library once a week, and for some reason children were only allowed two books out at a time. Sometimes I’d finished my first book by the time we got home. One of my favourite books, then series, was Anne of Green Gables. So when I knew I had to go to the eastern states of Canada for business, I knew that a visit to Prince Edward Island was compulsory.
It was May, and the cold wind and rain we had endured in freezing Quebec City turned into bright sunlight and warm spring temperatures as we got off the overnight train at Monckton and picked up our rental car. We drove across the bridge to the island, and instantly felt at home. The landscape was gentle, with green farmlands, quaint (to our eyes) farm buildings, rolling hills, and lots of white, steepled wooden churches. There was a softness to the landscape, the light. There were no harsh edges and, as we drove into Charlottetown, with wide streets, few cars, leafy trees and elegant if a little tired buildings. The waterfront and historic area was nicely developed – not too busy, not too quiet, enough historic areas balanced with enough shops and restaurants to keep us interested, fed and watered. I felt a little like Goldilocks – it was all “just right.”
The next day we ventured out to explore the island. The weather was stunning, and this early in the season, we felt like the only travellers around. We headed to the north of the island, to one section of the Prince Edward Island National Park, in Greenwich. I’d seen a photo of this area before we left home, and thought it would be nice to visit. We went prepared for a hike of a couple of hours, and spent the first half of the time walking through what seemed like farmland on the edge of a forest, with hawks or eagles flying high above us. I felt a momentary sadness, thinking of my father who had died only 8 or so months before, who would have revelled in the sight, but decided to revel in it for him. After making our way through the coastal edge of the forest, we saw a marshlands spread out before us, and made our way across the boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk, we climbed the sand dunes and walked along the endless sandy beach. We were the only people for miles, and it felt as if we were in the middle of the Atlantic, as remote as we could get.
Our time in Canada had been a little frustrating. We both like to know and understand the history of a place. But in Canada, we’d struggled to learn this. The more we saw, the more questions we had, realising how little we knew of this country that in some ways felt so familiar and so comfortable to us. In Montreal and Quebec, there was common reference to the trappers and the fur trade, but we actually had to ask someone at a museum what animals were actually providing the fur they had displayed! References to the indigenous populations were rare. But at the Charlottetown Founders’ Hall we found ourselves in a beginner’s guide to Canada, in what is often called the birthplace of Canada, and finally had some of our questions answered. I’ve read some scathing reviews of the Founders’ Hall, but suspect these were from Canadians themselves, who didn’t need the introductory version of their history and federation.
Of course, there was one key place we hadn’t yet visited, and so travelled back to the northwest of the island to make a pilgrimage, for me at least, to the home of cousins of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables. This house was the setting for the Green Gables of the books, and is decorated in the style of the times, and with features from the books. I was childishly delighted to see a brown dress hung in “Anne’s” room, remembering the dress from the book. (My husband was bemused at this pilgrimage, and to keep my dignity I had to continually remind him that “yes, I did know it was a piece of fiction.”)
We were lucky to be there in early May. The car-park was huge, and there were dozens of parks for tourist buses. As we arrived, a bus full of Japanese tourists – apparently huge fans of the books – was leaving. It made me smile – that a small girl voraciously reading a book in the South Island of New Zealand could have this in common with a small Japanese girl in bustling Tokyo, or indeed from anywhere all over the world.
That really summed up Prince Edward Island for me. It made me smile … and still does.