It’s all Anne, all the time on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. For fans of the redheaded heroine of the children’s novel Anne of Green Gables, the province is hallowed ground. Anne references are everywhere, from the Anne Shirley Motel to the Green Gables Golf Course to umpteen shops carrying Anne dolls, Anne preserves, Anne plates and even Anne straw hats with red braids attached.
So why would this mother of two boys who don’t care a lick about Anne bring them to P.E.I. for a holiday? Because there’s so much more to discover.
The first thing that strikes me as we drive to the island from New Brunswick across the Confederation Bridge is the hectares upon hectares of perfectly mown lawns. When I ask a resident about this love affair with grass, she stares at me as if I’ve asked why cows need milking or why potatoes (P.E.I.’s most famous crop) are planted in rows.
“It’s what we do,” she says matter-of-factly. “And you’ll get a look from your neighbours if you don’t mow regularly.”
We rent a cottage—yes, with a perfect lawn—at My Mother’s Country Inn in New Glasgow. It proves to be a great location, ten minutes from Cavendish (a popular beach and tourist centre that’s to be embraced or avoided, depending on your tolerance for crowds) and 30 minutes from Charlottetown, the provincial capital.
In fact, given that the island is only 175 miles from tip to tip, nothing is too far away, though travel on the rural roads is slow.
We spend our vacation outdoors, hiking in the Greenwich area of Prince Edward National Park where wooden boardwalks protect fragile sand dunes, kayaking on shallow Malpeque Bay (famous for its oysters), playing on rusty-red beaches and cycling from St. Peters to Morell along the gravelly Confederation Trail.
Ah yes, confederation. P.E.I. may be Canada’s smallest province, but it played a big role in the country’s creation. We learn about this nation-building past during a visit to Founders’ Hall in Charlottetown. The attraction’s use of technology and humour has us thinking that Canadian history is actually really interesting. Really.
After a fair bit of arm twisting, my family agrees that we’ll do some Anne-themed activities, all in one day — “to get them over with quickly,” suggests my older son.
“To get the full experience,” I reply.
We begin with the obligatory trek to Green Gables, the real farm that was author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s inspiration for her fictional Anne stories. The site’s introductory video is interesting, and a walk around the grounds pleasant, but the most entertaining thing is watching Japanese tourists get their pictures taken in front of the farmhouse. (Anne of Green Gables is required reading for Japanese school children.)
It’s total Anne immersion when we visit Avonlea – Village of Anne of Green Gables . This make-believe town is obviously heaven for the eight-year-old girls running around its faux historic streets (think dress-up studio, pony and wagon rides and petting farm). My sons peg the highlight as Diana’s Tragic Tea Party (in which Anne and her friend get drunk on what they think is raspberry cordial), one of several story scenes performed throughout the day.
In the evening we attend Anne of Green Gables—The Musical at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre for the Arts. It’s a slick production and my sons applaud enthusiastically. Could they be warming to the plucky orphan with the heart of gold?
Of course, the way to a young man’s heart is through his stomach. And so, on our final night, we tuck into a lobster feast—lobsters, seafood chowder, mussels, salad, rolls and strawberry shortcake—at the New Glasgow Lobster Supper. Satiated and a bit nostalgic about our holiday already, my sons give P.E.I. an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up. Anne included.
For more information on Prince Edward Island, visit the P.E.I. Tourism website at www.tourismpei.com