A Detour to Prince Edward Island… The 10,000-Mike Bike Trek

Grey skies detracted from the "picture postcard" look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it.

Grey skies detracted from the “picture postcard” look this lighthouse in Victoria, Prince Edward Island is supposed to have, but provided a powerful backdrop for the tree that seems to lean toward it. A crow sits on the railing, looking down toward us.

I bicycled past Prince Edward Island (PEI) on my 5000-mile marathon bike ride home— and had regretted it ever since. It was a bucket list item for me, and I was ever so close, merely a ferryboat ride away. But the clock was ticking.

They have built an 8-mile (12.9 k) bridge between New Brunswick and PEI since, and proudly point out that it is the longest bridge in the world— over ice— an interesting clarification that suggests cold and snowy winters. Peggy and I decided we could zip across the bridge, spend a day, and check out what I had missed. Fortunately, it was neither cold nor snowy and the ice had melted, but it was windy and rainy.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick.

A stormy day limited our visibility when we crossed the 8-mile Confederation Bridge to PEI from New Brunswick. I was ever so glad I wasn’t on my bicycle.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed. To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

High winds greeted us on the way back. Adjust your speed indeed! To a bicyclist this would be equally worrisome if not more so than the rainy day. I learned, however, that bicyclists and walkers are required to take a shuttle across the bridge— regardless of the weather.

PEI is named after Prince Edward (1767-1820), the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, son of King George III, and the father of Queen Victoria, which is quite a legacy. The French initially named the island Île Saint-Jean and the English followed suit, calling it St. John’s Island. There were too many other St. John’s floating around the Atlantic Provinces, however. Thus Edward got his chance. I don’t have anything against the Prince, or the long-dead Saint for that matter, but I prefer the First Nation, Mi’kmaq name, Abegweit, which translates into land cradled in the waves. It is so much more poetic.

I often find that First Nation or Native American names for places have more magic and power than the current names we have given them. Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, is another example. Originally named Mt. McKinley, after a little-remembered American President, the name has recently been changed back to its Athabascan name, Denali, which means the high one. (See my post on the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, Alaska that Peggy and I made this past spring.)

The names for Prince Edward Island reflect its history, which is quite similar to its neighboring Atlantic Provinces, moving from First Nation to Acadian French to English and finally, expelled Scots. The Gaelic for PEI, by the way, is Eilean a’ Phrionns: the Island of the Prince.

The day we had allowed for our visit led us to focus on one place. We chose the small, south-coast town of Victoria. We couldn’t resist the description by Stephen Kimber, “The Trans-Canada Highway bypassed Victoria. So did the shopping centers and tourist amusement parks. And that— along with its independent-minded citizens— is what makes Victoria the enchanting, picture post card place it is today.” It sounded like our kind of town.

We arrived under dark clouds that were threatening a deluge but somehow held off for our visit. Given the bad weather and the fact that we had arrived before the summer crowds, it appeared that we were the only people in town. Most shops were closed and the “enchanting, picture post card” look was dampened somewhat by the lack of sunshine. Still, Peggy and I found much of interest.

"Where's the chocolate?" Peggy seems to be asking.

“Where’s the chocolate?” Peggy seems to be asking the locked door. Her taste buds had been prepped for it. “Brain food,” she always declares. Fortunately, we were able to find some equally delicious and sinful lobster. Otherwise, it could have been a long night.

Victoria had once been a bustling seaport doing trade with Europe, the West Indies, and the East Coast of the US. Peggy and I walked through the village of precisely laid out streets and Victorian homes that spoke to the earlier times. We were admiring the town’s lighthouse when a man came hurrying out of one of the homes and crossed the road to greet us.

Colorful homes greeted our walk around the town.

Colorful homes punctuated our walk around the town.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing.

I found these old barn loft doors intriguing…

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

And I admired the imagination of the person who had added red trim to this building of by-gone days.

Appropriate to Victoria's seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat.

Appropriate to Victoria’s seagoing past, we found and admired this retired fishing boat. (Fishing, BTW, is still carried on out of Victoria’s small port. That’s where our lobster came from.)

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

A sign proclaimed that this was the largest tree on Prince Edward Island.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith the “town greeter” of Victoria came bursting out the door of his house and made a beeline for us.

“Would you like to go in the lighthouse?” he asked in a voice that almost demanded we say yes. Naturally we agreed. Of course we wanted to see the lighthouse. He introduced himself as Ben Smith. He was apparently the town greeter, unofficial mayor, and a candle maker— a virtual one-man chamber of commerce, not to mention crow-master. They seemed to be following him.

“Ah yes,” he allowed, “I feed them. Sometimes they go for walks with me, hopping along behind.” We pictured this strange parade walking/hopping down the streets of Victoria and laughed. As Ben hurried off to get the keys, the crows stayed with us, making sure we didn’t slip away.

We were checking out the lighthouse when a man came hurrying across the street and asked if we would like to see in side it.

While Ben went to retrieve the lighthouse key, a crow stood guard on the railing.

Ben turned out to be as knowledgeable as he was nice. We got the A+ Tour, which included climbing into the top of the lighthouse up narrow, steep stairs to check out the light and then butt-scoot around a precipice to go outside for a view of the small town and its harbor. Ben took our photo and provided an ongoing lecture on the area’s history. After all of this, we insisted on seeing his candle shop and bought one as a thank you. We also sat in his ‘lucky chair.’

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

The light that warned and guided sailors approaching Victoria.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse look out.

Peggy and I standing on the lighthouse lookout. (Photo by Ben Smith.)

Entering Ben's candle shop...

Entering Ben’s candle shop. Note the horse shoe over the door for luck.

And sitting on the 'lucky chair.'

Peggy sits in the ‘lucky chair.’ Some of Ben’s candles are resting on the table beyond her.

“The man who made this chair and gave it to me was struck by lightning on three different occasions and survived,” he explained. Peggy and I took turns sitting in the chair, just in case. Ben walked us back to our van and insisted we buy a lobster roll from the Lobster Barn restaurant on the dock. It was delicious.

Leaving Victoria, we made our way over to the New Glasgow Highlands Campground in the center of the island, which proved to be quite lovely. Along the way, we got something of a feel for the rural nature of PEI and more of a sense of the island’s beauty. But we knew we were missing a lot. One day is far too short of a time to visit the island. We’ll be back.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils.

Prince Edward Island thrives off of its small farms where crops such as potatoes are raised. The island is noted for its red soils. Wind breaks surround most farms.

This river reflected the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

This river was brimming with the rain the island was receiving. Interestingly, drinking water is primarily ground water pumped up from wells.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees.

A small bit of sunlight broke through the clouds and illuminated these birch trees at the campground.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

The dark, stormy skies were back the next morning. I liked the drama they created in this photo of a church.

Check this out. Note how similar the church looks to the one above. The other church I photographed was laid out in the same way. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved?

Check this out. Note how similar this church looks to the one above. I believe the churches were different denominations. Was a common architect involved? Does PEI have an agreement on how churches are supposed to look? (Kidding, I think.)

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Peggy and I really fell for the charm of the houses we found on PEI.

Another...

Another…

And a final one.

And a final house, the last photo for this post.

NEXT POST: I am back on my bike route crossing New Brunswick, entering Quebec, climbing up and over the Gaspe Peninsula, and crossing the St. Lawrence Seaway.

 

52 comments on “A Detour to Prince Edward Island… The 10,000-Mike Bike Trek

  1. wonderful post, Sir… I love and I often miss Canada… ❤ we may return there next year, as "old" friends from Québec, Toronto and Vancouver have kept on inviting us over… 🙂

    • Thanks, Melanie. And how could you go wrong with Quebec, Toronto and Vancouver?! I’ve traveled a lot in Canada, even up into the far north like the Yukon Territory. And I have never been disappointed. Beautiful country, beautiful people. 🙂 –Curt

    • PEI certainly left me with wanting more. The bridge in the fog with low visibility would be quite scary. We used to deal with that in the Central Valley of California. Massive pile ups on the freeway sometimes result.
      Massive dust storms create a similar experience to the fog. Peggy and I got lost in one at Burning Man. Not fun. –Curt

  2. Love the photos. And I completely agree that the original names are always more magical than the “new” names of places and landmarks. They had no need to name beautiful places after wealthy or politically powerful people.

  3. I love lighthouses having grown up on the shores of Lake Erie. This lighthouse was one of five, each with a red stripe painted on it. Ships coming to port at that time would line up stripes on two lighthouses at a time to help with navigation. Ben shared this history with us which I found fascinating.

    • Thanks Peggy for adding some detail on the lighthouses. As far as I know, this was a different way to utilize lighthouses that went beyond their normal duty of warning ships away from rocky shorelines. –Curt

  4. Your caption read – “Where’s the chocolate?” Peggy seems to be asking the locked door. Her taste buds had been prepped for it. “Brain food,” she always declares. Fortunately, we were able to find some equally delicious and sinful lobster.
    To me – lobster can replace ANY other food!!!
    Equally great photos and looking forward to the next – as usual!!

  5. What a charming little place. It looked a tad forlorn on the day you visited, but I’m sure those brightly colored and cozy-seeming houses helped! I’d love to see all of these Maritime provinces someday, preferably in the summer!

    • Ben pretty much made up for the lack of sunshine, Lex. A pub might have helped as well. I’d like to return for a warm summer week as well. Or perhaps in the fall when the leaves are turning! Thanks. –Curt

  6. It sounds like they used their lighthouses the way we use certain aids to navigation today, as in the Houston ship channel. There are markers other than the usual red and green buoys that are meant to be lined up. If they do line up perfecty, you know you’re in the center of the channel.

    I had to laugh at your foggy, cloudy weather. That’s exactly what I’ve been having, and it just isn’t wise to waste time moaning and groaning about it. The days are passing, and popping back for photos in better weather isn’t possible. So, adaption occurs — one way or another. Another life lesson from traveling set, eh?

    • I suspect that knowing where you are in channel as big and busy as Houston is always a good idea, Linda! As for the weather, it was pretty much that way throughout the Atlantic Provinces. Must say, it is a lot easier to deal with in a vehicle than on a bicycle. 🙂 Also, photography is just different. Some shots are better on cloudy days. As for popping back, you’re right, but I tend to regard it as an opportunity. (grin) –Curt

  7. We often feel badly we have not yet been to PEI. Yes I agree cycling on the bridge in the weather of your recent trip would be awful. Loved seeing the photos. Such a gorgeous spot.

  8. There’s something to photograph at every turn in PEI! And Bert would say I didn’t miss much! We even saw a play based on Anne of Green Gables while there. Would like to return to PEI and take more pictures — and, like Peggy, eat more chocolate! — Rusha

    • We didn’t make it to the Anne of Green Gables cottage, Rusha. And good for you, not missing much! I’ll plan on a week next time I am in the neighborhood. Peggy has been amused on the chocolate feedback. 🙂 –Curt

  9. What a wonderful detour. I am always fascinated by naming of towns and geographical features in US. Bill Bryson wrote an entertaining book about it. My favourite picture is the barn door with what I assume are wooden shingles?
    Great post as usual Curt!

    • Why am I not surprised about you favorite, Andrew? It is, after all, a door. 🙂 And yes on the wooden shingles.
      William Least Heat Moon in his classic Blue Highways, also had a lot of fun with names, going out of his way to visit some of the more interestingly named towns.
      Thanks as always. –Curt

    • I just finished reading a collection of shorter books from Bryson, all with the theme of comparing the UK to the US. He does have a way of making things we take for granted, like place names, seem absurd or at least entertaining.

  10. I devoured the Anne of Green Gables books growing up, and watched the excellent PBS movies. They give a purely romantic impression of the place, and it’s nice to have it brought up to date in my mind.

  11. Such a wonderful post, and your photos are really beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this lovely tour, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. 🙂

  12. These houses and the ones I like so much in New England must be identical twins. Love the colors and I smile when you write about the owners’ imagination with the house and its red trimming. Our Maine cottage was painted red. We’ve kept some parts in red, which makes it very easy to find whenever we give directions and also gives the house a constant good mood appearance.
    It’s always so special when a local opens his heart , his town, and his shop to visitors. A candle is not a piece of chocolate but it’s still lovely.

    • I suspect the older big houses of PEI and New England have large families and long cold winters in common, Evelyne. 🙂
      Fun that you have kept parts of your cottage red and in a good mood.
      Ben is one of those special people for sure.
      Peggy likes candles as well as chocolate, but I don’t worry about getting between her and her candles. —Curt

  13. I love these old houses. A bit difficult to heat though on those cold windy days. An eight mile bridge lets you know you are traveling to another town. Ben Smith looks to be an energetic welcomer. Eager to share his community with strangers. Very refreshing compared to us, who look warily at a strange face. Lovely post Curt.

    • Thanks, Kayti. And it was wonderful of Ben to take an hour out of his day to show us around! Old homes can get a bit breezy, not to mention expensive to keep warm. But they sure have the personality. 🙂 –Curt

  14. Curt, I’m glad cyclists weren’t allowed across the bridge as I’m sure you’d have tried despite the deluge! You’ve met some wonderful characters on your trip and Ben Smith was another one who helped to make your visit special – only pity he didn’t have the key to the chocolate shop! Love the houses too and very similar to ones in Sweden which are wooden and painted in a variety of colours although there is a certain darker red which is traditional out in the countryside. Lovely photograph of you and Peggy – living life to the full and so contented! 😀

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