PEI: More Than Spuds and Bright Red Mud

“There was a guy from PEI they used to call potato

He met this young Leamington, Ontario tomato

But he had eyes for other girls, and she was a little mushy

So he said, let’s get wed, there’s no sense being fussy.”

The Ketchup Song, Stompin’ Tom Connors

Appropriately this Stompin’ Tom song includes the potato capital of Canada, PEI, and the original home of Heinz Ketchup, Essex County, where we currently reside.

Long before it became known as Prince Edward Island, the Mi’kmaq called it Epekwitk, which translated means “land cradled in the waves.” The Mi’kmaq believe the Great Spirit created the island by placing dark red crescent-shaped clay on the blue waters. Of course, in 1604, France laid claim to the isle naming it Île Saint-Jean. Then in 1798, the British, who had been calling it St. John Island, decided to change the name to Prince Edward to distinguish it from all of the other St and Saint Johns in the Maritimes. Three was one too many. Prince Edward, you may be interested to know, was the fourth son of King George III of England and, having had the power to do so, named this British colony after his boy, Eddie. PEI is also known as the birthplace of confederation and officially became Canada’s seventh province in 1873. In terms of landmass, it is Canada’s smallest province but most densely populated, with approximately 164,000 residents. PEI is known for potatoes, seafood, sandy beaches, Stompin’ Tom Connors, and an optimistic young woman with hair the colour of the island dirt, Anne of Green Gables. 

In the words of Ann with an e: “‘Dear old world,’ she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.'” Just replace Dear old world with Dear PEI.

We have visited PEI several times over the past few decades. This time around, we spent time exploring parts of the island we hadn’t seen in the past, including several provincial and national parks. We visited with friends, made new ones. We swam, ate, drank, explored, and we loved it all.

“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.”

Prince Edward Island has some of the most beautiful beaches in Canada. We kept returning to Panmure Island on the southwest side of PEI. We loved the beach(es), the sunsets, the staff at the Provincial Park (particularly Sherri/Shelly with whom we laughed a LOT), the lighthouse, proximity to the town of Montague and the lack of mosquitoes. It’s also worth noting that we had our most enjoyable dump station experience at this park. Okay, maybe only one ever. Imagine emptying tanks to live fiddle music throughout the process by a fellow camper named Valerie.

Nearby Northumberland Provincial Park offered a stunning view of Nova Scotia and the Wood Islands Ferry, complete with red rock cliffs.

Cabot Beach on the north shore was probably the best swimming fun had by the three of us. We enjoyed the sand bars, pools of clear water, a long stretch of sandy beach and beautiful sunsets from our cliffside campsite.

Back on the south side of the island, west of Summerside, Linkletter Provincial Park was one of our favourite campsites of the summer. We could step out of the van, walk 15 metres right into the warm, shallow waters of the Northumberland Strait.

The National Parks, Greenwich, Cavendish and Stanhope, all on the north shore, have long, beautiful sandy beaches where a NO DOGS rule is in place until October. Not an ideal situation when you’re travelling with a water lover like MacDuff. 

We also spent time on wild beaches, like Cable Head on the north shore, where we enjoyed a van lunch followed by rock collecting and beach wading. There is certainly no shortage of beaches on PEI. You have only to follow any side road leading to the water.

Driving over hill and dale Stompin’ Tom Connors song, Bud the Spud, played out over the PEI landscape. We ate our fair share of the famous spuds while on the island. Fried, boiled, mashed, and in the form of hand pies and perogies.

“It’s bud the spud from the bright red mud

Rollin’ down the Highway smiling-

Slow because he’s got another big load,

Of the best doggone potatoes, that’s ever been growed

And they’re from Prince Edward Island 

They’re from Prince Edward Island” 

When it comes to eating and drinking, there is plenty to recommend. Some of our favourites include Rick’s Fish and Chips in St. Peter’s, all the better because we shared the experience with our friend Erin. We would return to Richard’s in Victoria-by-the-Sea in a heartbeat for the best lobster roll we’ve ever had. Remember to always listen to the locals. They know where to eat! That is how we found out about Gallants and Co, located in a strip mall on the outskirts of Charlottetown. We had the most delicious chowder, biscuits, crab cakes, salad and cinnamon buns there. Not all at once! We highly recommend the handmade ice cream from Holman’s and the on-site, house-roasted / brewed coffee from Samuel’s, both in Summerside. We stocked up on beans which we brewed right up until we arrived home. You won’t find a better or more fresh selection of oysters, lobster, or fish available at any seafood market you encounter. And do not miss the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market! We stocked up a couple of times during the month on great bread, fresh greens, sweet heirloom tomatoes, cheeses, sausages, cider, samosas, pierogies, komboucha, and a terrific variety of vegetables.

“The world doesn’t seem such a howling wilderness as it did last night. I’m so glad it’s a sunshiny morning. But I like rainy mornings real well, too.” – Anne of Green Gables

We had a few rainy days and stormy nights, which made the sunny days that much better. Rainy days make great driving days, reading days, sitting inside drinking tea days. They’re great for visiting with goats, exploring a lighthouse, stopping at farm stands and farmer’s markets, getting takeout and enjoying it in the comfort of your van in the parking lot, drinking local beer or cider. We also love to walk on beaches and through forests when it’s raining. Rainy days aren’t all that different from sunny days except that we don’t tend to sit outdoors.

“What a splendid day! Isn’t it good just to be alive on a day like this? I pity the people who aren’t born yet for missing it…they may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one.” – Anne of Green Gables

On one such day, we woke up smiling, listening to the waves roll into shore while remembering the previous evening spent around a dinner table with new friends. Before leaving Linkletter Beach, we hugged our new friends Nicole and Claude farewell and then drove directly to Samuel’s in Summerside for delicious lattes and breakfast sandwiches. We had a 10 am appointment at the Chrysler dealer to replace our van’s rear door handle happily covered by our warranty. Having read great reviews of the Handpie Company in Albany, we made sure our route included stopping there for lunch. They were so good we made sure we had room in our tiny freezer to stow four of them away to enjoy when we got back to Ontario. We continued to Montague on the island’s east side, where our friend Erin was performing at the Copper Bottom Brewery. There we met and made new friends, including two very witty and friendly guys from Montreal. We drank beer and ate wood-fired pizza while listening to our friend play guitar and sing. By the time we made it to our campsite that night, at Brudenell Provincial Park, we were happy to have been alive on such a day.

Two of our favourite campsites on Prince Edward Island were Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts offer paid memberships whereby we may camp at wineries, breweries, and farm markets, provided they have room and we make a purchase from the host. The first host was Island Hill Farm, a goat milk soap-producing farm with a cafe on site. The cafe hosts are two warm, friendly, engaging, and entertaining islanders named Baker Joe and Willow. As you can tell by his name, Baker Joe is a baker and, perhaps more importantly, a maker of the most delicious breakfast sandwich we have enjoyed before or since. Willow is the barista and island ambassador, offering all kinds of tips on where to go and what to do, eat and drink. Since it rained throughout our stay, we enjoyed some real quality time with these two. And all the goats as well!

The second host was Galla Designs, a shop selling artisanal crafts made on the island. The hosts are a family from Ontario who bought a house in PEI sight unseen and then moved there during the pandemic. Their property includes a barn with farm animals that are indeed members of the family. Like the fluffy chickens that get carried around the property like one might cuddle a beloved cat or small dog. We camped on a private section of the property overlooking the Northumberland Strait, where we enjoyed one of the most incredible sunsets of our trip. This three-generation family made us feel so welcome and even invited us to stay for several nights.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” – Anne of Green Gables

Before boarding the ferry to Nova Scotia, we made a final stop at the studio of our Fellow Earthlings, Nova Scotia art school educated, Christopher and Sydney. They have carved out a custom-made eyewear business in coastal PEI, where rainbows and pastel play equipment are part of the everyday landscape. They make eyewear for the likes of Lady Gaga and now Julie and Christian. This inspirational stop was the icing on the cake to a truly memorable month on Anne’s green island.