Prince Edward Island (PEI) is one of those gems that is tempting to keep to oneself,
yet has so much significance that it needs to be shared. This Canadian province of
140,000 residents is located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just east of New Brunswick
and north of Nova Scotia. At roughly 2,200 square miles (5,700 square kilometers),
it is also Canada’s smallest province, making it possible to see many of its sites
during a typical eight-hour port of call.
Cruise ships dock in the capital city, Charlottetown (population 33,000), situated
on an inlet of the south shore of PEI. Charlottetown is of major significance in
the history of Canada. In 1864, the Canadian Confederation held a meeting that led
to the formation of Canada three years later. (Interestingly, PEI did not join the
new Confederation for another six years after that.) As such, you may hear Charlottetown
referred to as “The Birthplace of Canada” or “The Birthplace of Confederation.”
We’ve found Charlottetown to be a very welcoming port of call. It was wonderful to
be greeted by the rolling green hills and, along the shore, the deep red sands. Charlottetown
is a very walkable port, and the recently restored terminal area is a marvel. A beautiful
park, Confederation Landing, overlooks the harbor, and shopping, dining, and historic
sites are all within a reasonable walk. Excursions are also available to other parts
of the islands, including Cavendish (known for Anne of Green Gables), the red cliffs
of the north shore, and the farmlands of the interior. Below are some of the places
we’ve seen during our travels.
An important part of the modern history of PEI is the Confederation Bridge, which
opened in May 1997. At 8 miles/12.9 kilometers, the Confederation Bridge is the world’s
longest bridge that crosses waters that freeze. The bridge links the island to the
mainland—more specifically, from southeast New Brunswick to Borden-Carleton, PEI,
roughly 35 miles/60 kilometers southwest of Charlottetown.
Given the right weather conditions, is likely that your ship will pass under Confederation
Bridge on your way into or out of Charlottetown. We had some disappointment in 2011
as our course to PEI needed to be rerouted due to fog, thereby requiring that we
approach the island from a different direction. Yet, if your route takes you under
the bridge, this experience is not to be missed. Check your ship’s daily program
for the ideal time to be out on deck, noting that it will likely be very early in
the morning. I’d recommend at least half an hour earlier so that you can take in
the magnificent approach. An upper deck provides a superb vantage point.
Your cruise line might offer a shore excursion that takes you to the bridge’s roadway
and provides details on its construction.
For a first visit, I would recommend seeing the sites associated with the incorporation
of Canada (the Confederation), all of which are within several blocks from the cruise
ship terminal. The most historic of these—and, also the most spectacular—is Province
House, the site of the 1864 meeting that started the process of the formation of
Province House was constructed between 1843 and 1847 for the purpose of giving an
official home to PEI’s legislature, judiciary, and colonial offices. Also known as
the Colonial Building, it was used additionally as a place for social gatherings
such as balls and banquets. As the government grew, new buildings were constructed
nearby to handle the overflow, and Province House received renovations inside and
out. In the early 1970s, PEI and Parks Canada began a project that restored the exterior
of the building and several rooms to their appearance at the time of the historic
1864 conference. One of the rooms restored was the Confederation Chamber (lower left),
the site of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, that had been built originally
to house the Legislative Council.
Confederation Chamber (left) and Provincial Assembly Chamber (right)
Although Province House is viewed today as a tourist attraction, government meetings
are still held within its walls. The PEI Provincial Legislative Assembly continues
to meet in the Assembly Chamber (above right) as it has done since 1847.
Important note: In preparation for the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference
in 2014, Province House is currently undergoing exterior renovations. The building
will remain open to visitors, yet please check the Parks Canada Web site for updates.
If you’d like to learn more about PEI history, stop by Founders’ Hall, located a
block from the cruise ship terminal adjacent to Confederation Landing.
Anne of Green Gables Homestead
Located 25 miles/41 kilometers from Charlottetown, the Anne of Green Gables Homestead
is one of the main visitor sites in PEI. We opted for a cruise line-offered shore
excursion, although I am certain there are ways to see this site on your own.
We made a quick drive through downtown Charlottetown and then made our way to the
north shore area of Cavendish to see the home that inspired L.M. Montgomery’s most
famous and beloved novel, Anne of Green Gables. The ride there was beautiful—very
rural, very green. Thin rows of trees are used to mark property lines, and the government
will supply and plant them for free, if asked.
The Anne of Green Gables homestead was exactly how I had pictured it, due to the
wonderful descriptions in the book. We learned that L.M. Montgomery (known as Maud)
didn’t actually live in the house, yet distant relatives did, so she visited often
from the nearby home she shared with her grandparents.
Lisa of Green Gables?
While the book is fictional, it was easy to see the inspiration for some of the settings.
There really is a Haunted Woods (at the end of a long path from the front door) and
a Lovers’ Lane (Balsam Hollow Trail, starting in the back of the house, turn right
after leaving the back door.) Red clay was along the paths, and quite beautiful.
Inspiration for Haunted Woods (left) and Lovers’ Lane (right)
The house was decorated to appear as it did in the book, with bedrooms clearly marked
for Matthew, Marilla, and Anne. (Yet, there was no liniment in the pantry—I checked.)
Anne’s bedroom (left), Pantry (right)
Should you plan on this tour, whether independently or though the cruise line, I
highly suggest that you read the book prior to your visit. (And, I read it again
after my return!)
Prince Edward Island National Park
The red sands of the north shore of PEI are a sight to behold. They are just part
of PEI National Park, a 25-mile (40-kilometer) stretch of land that includes beaches,
walking trails, and cliffs, as well as several inland attractions such as the Anne
of Green Gables homestead. We visited the westernmost portion, in Cavendish, as part
of our Anne of Green Gables tour and were intrigued by the many red sand dunes and
red rock. We heard it is usually filled with people in the summer—our visit coincided
with overcast skies, so few were out.
Erosion is an issue—the coast is losing about a foot a year according to our guide.
Therefore, boardwalks have been constructed to keep people off the grass that protects
the dunes. (See bottom right.) While the time one has to visit during a cruise is
short, I can definitely seeing myself staying here on a land vacation. The natural
scenery is stunning.
Dining and Shopping
As is true of most ports on the Canada/New England route, Charlottetown is not much
of a shopping port. However—the dining more than compensates. One of the highlights
of our trips to Charlottetown is a lunch that includes PEI mussels. Our most recent
trip found us at Peakes Quay, not far from the cruise terminal, where we complemented
the PEI mussels with a lobster roll (me), haddock (Neil), fried clams (our son).
It was superb. We dined on the back porch overlooking Charlottetown Harbor. If you
are up for dessert—we were satiated, so we passed—there is a wonderful ice cream
shop, COW, nearby.
Shopping in PEI falls into two main categories—food (most notably, preserves) and
Anne of Green Gables souvenirs. There is no need to go up to Cavendish for the latter,
as there are many places in Charlottetown that sell Anne books, dolls, and other
theme items. There is also a small shopping area along the harbor that offers general
souvenirs and red-dirt T-shirts. And, as Charlottetown is a modern city, there are
other options. For example, we once stopped in a shopping mall near Province House
to purchase an extra memory card for our camera.
Prince Edward Island is such a great place to visit—I wish cruise ships would call
here more often. It is simply glorious in the summer! Its history, laid-back lifestyle,
and natural beauty more make this port well worth visiting time and time again. Then
again, I kind of like that this is our little secret for now.