Prince Edward Island is Canada’s only island province and the smallest one by both area and population.
As a rich farmland, the island was one of the first parts of Canada to be settled by Europeans. Today, it draws visitors from around the world who come for its beaches, golf courses, pastoral beauty, relaxed pace of life, and, of course, to see the island that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery to write the classic Anne of Green Gables books.
A Brief History
Prince Edward Island was part of the traditional lands of the Mi’kmaq First Nation (Indigenous) people. They named the island Epekwitk, meaning “cradled on the waves”. Europeans represented the pronunciation as “Abegweit”.
The Mi’kmaq’s legend is that the island was formed by the Great Spirit placing on the Blue Waters some dark red crescent-shaped clay. There are two Mi’kmaq First Nation communities on the island today.
In 1604, France laid claim to the lands of the Maritimes, including the island they called Île Saint-Jean, establishing the French colony of Acadia.
A large influx of Scottish Highlanders in the late 1700s also resulted in the island having the highest proportion of Scottish immigrants in Canada. This led to a higher proportion of Scottish Gaelic speakers and thriving culture surviving on the island than in Scotland itself, as the settlers could more easily avoid English influence overseas.
In 1864, representatives of four British North American colonies met in Charlottetown to discuss a union of the colonies. Prince Edward Island’s capital thus became the “Birthplace of Confederation”, and the group of men became known as the “Fathers of Confederation”.
Birthplace of Confederation
Things To Do In Prince Edward Island
Visit the top cities and a few of the charming small towns in Prince Edward Island. The most notable ones are:
- Charlottetown —a pretty, tiny capital city, and host of summertime performances of Anne of Green Gables the Musical
- Summerside — the second-largest community, home of the Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island
- Brackley Beach-Stanhope — Beach area 15 minutes north of Charlottetown
- Borden-Carleton — PEI end of the Confederation Bridge and gateway to the island
- Cavendish — largest seasonal resort area in Prince Edward Island; home to Lucy Maud Montgomery, writer of Anne of Green Gables
- North Rustico-New Glasgow — a rural farming village known for their Lobster Suppers
- Kensington — including the north shore of the island between Malpeque Bay and New London Bay, and the Anne of Green Gables Museum
- Souris — the ferry terminal for the Magdalen Islands
- Montague — tree-lined streets, tranquil river, and stately buildings
- Georgetown — a natural deep water port
- Wood Islands — the ferry terminal, PEI end of the Northumberland Ferry, and gateway to the island
Prince Edward Island National Park
Prince Edward Island National Park is over 65 km of shoreline, including beaches, red sandstone cliffs, and rolling sand dunes along the island’s north shore, it covers much of the central north coast and tourist destinations.
Tourism in PEI often focuses on the beach, seafood, music, and the Anne of Green Gables House (in Cavendish), which especially appeals to visitors from Japan, for whom this is the third or fourth most popular destination in North America (after the Grand Canyon and Banff, Alberta and often ahead even of Niagara Falls).
L. M. Montgomery’s book, Anne of Green Gables, has become a major part of the Japanese school curriculum, and as such, the Green Gables historic site is a major attraction for Japanese tourists.
Basin Head is a popular beach that also has a bridge that you can go and have some fun jumping off of.
Cape Bear, at the southeastern tip of the island, is formed from high cliffs that offer a good location for photography and viewing seals.
During World War II, the lighthouse at Cape Bear was used to spot German U-Boats. Cape Bear was also the first land station in Canada to receive an SOS from the Titanic in 1912.
A Ghost Ship
The Ghost Ship of the Northumberland Strait is a legendary ghost ship believed to sail the Northumberland Strait by nightfall engulfed in flames. Many ships ventured out on rescue missions to this burning ship.
Reportedly, the ship always receded from view. Witnesses across the island will testify to the sightings of this phantom ship.
The cliffs surrounding High Bank in Kings County in eastern PEI provide sweeping views along the Northumberland Strait of Nova Scotia and Pictou Island.
Malpeque Harbor is a bay in Prince County. It is the source of famous oysters, and of many postcards and posters of the picturesque fishing boats, colorful barn-shaped boat houses, and neatly stacked lobster traps. Arrive in the late afternoon or early morning for the best light on the water.
In the 1700s, Murray Harbor in southern Kings County became an important Canadian port for the fishing trade. Today, Murray Harbor is still a fishing community. Local fishermen cast around the harbor for lobsters and scallops.
St. Peter’s Bay & Dunes
St. Peter’s Bay is bordered by the 900 acres of Greenwich Dunes on one side and is full of row upon row of buoys used for mussel farming.
PEI is Canada’s #1 golf destination. It draws golfers from around North America and the world to its 25 courses.
Victoria Playhouse in picturesque Victoria by the Sea presents up to 85 live theatre and performance events each season. The playbill includes a mix of established classics and new plays by young playwrights.
A Prince Edward Island bike tour starts in Cape North and winds its way through Malpeque Bay, along the Bay of St. Lawrence, to the most easterly point of the island, passing through many lovely villages, including Cavendish, North Rustico, Brackley Beach, and Stanhope.
Red Sand Beach
One of the best ways to experience island life is to meander along the various back roads and highways, adding your own diversions here and there.
Tourism PEI promotes three scenic drives:
- North Cape Coastal Drive
- Blue Heron
- Points East Coastal Drive
All are unique and shed a glimpse of different aspects of Island life.
Cycling is also a great way to see PEI and the areas covered by the scenic drives. A good first stop for cycling information and resources is Tourism PEI.
The Confederation Trail is 470 km long, traveling almost all of the island. It is part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Take ferries to nearby islands
The ferries to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Nova Scotia: the one to Nova Scotia could be a shorter route if you go to Cape Breton Island.
However, Confederation Bridge remains open year-round and is the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way back to the mainland.
Best Time to Visit
The climate of the island strongly influenced by the surrounding seas, and is characterized by changeable weather throughout the year.
It has some of the most variable day-to-day weather in Canada, in which specific weather conditions seldom last for long.
In the winter months of January and February, the average daytime high is −3.3 °C (26 °F).
Winters are moderately cold and long, and the island usually has many storms (which may produce rain as well as snow) and blizzards. Springtime temperatures typically remain cool until the sea ice has melted, usually in late April or early May.
Summers are moderately warm, but rarely uncomfortable, with the daily maximum temperature only occasionally reaching as high as 30 °C (86 °F). During July and August, the average daytime high is 23 °C (73 °F); however, the temperature can sometimes exceed 30 °C (86 °F) during these months.
Autumn is a pleasant season, although storm activity increases compared to the summer. There is ample precipitation throughout the year, although it is heaviest in the late autumn, early winter, and mid-spring.
How To Get Here
Being an island, PEI has limited access by car.
The monumental Confederation Bridge, almost a visitor attraction in itself (viewing stations on the New Brunswick side offer good photo opportunities), crosses the Northumberland Strait between New Brunswick and PEI.
It’s reached from the mainland on TCH Route 16 near Aulac, and stretches 13 km across open water to the island. The toll of $47.75 toll for a car, $19.00 for a motorcycle, is collected on the PEI side when returning to the mainland.
Travel across the bridge as a pedestrian or cyclist is possible via the passenger shuttle service which travels between Borden-Carlton, PEI, and Cape Jourimain, NB. The price for the shuttle is $4.50 for pedestrians and $9.00 for cyclists (this price includes the bicycle as luggage).
There are a number of car ferries to PEI:
Northumberland Ferries Limited, crosses from Caribou, Nova Scotia to Wood Islands about once every hour and a half, from 6:30 AM to 7 PM (a return trip is $20 per passenger, $17 for seniors and free for children, $79 per car or camper up to 20 ft (6.1 m), $41 for motorcycles, and $20 for bicycles.
Same as the toll bridge, only the way out from PEI is charged: taking the ferry from Nova Scotia is free). The ferries do not operate during the winter months (January-April).
CTMA runs ferries from Cap-aux-Meules on Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, to Souris about once a day ($40 per passenger or $75 per car).
Throughout the summer months, cruise liners stop in Charlottetown for one-day visits.
Prince Edward Island is served by Charlottetown Airport (YYG IATA). The following airlines operate passenger flights into the airport:
- Air Canada/Air Canada Express (Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto)
- WestJet (Toronto)
- Sunwing Vacations (Puerto Plata)
Non-metered taxi service is available within the city limits of Charlottetown and Summerside, as well as in most large communities. Most taxi companies are willing to provide transportation to rural areas of the island as well, but be prepared to pay a higher rate for this service.
The city of Charlottetown operates a public transit system that provides bus transportation at a cost of $2.25 to various locations around the city. Although the service does not extend very far beyond city limits, it does provide fast, reliable transportation to most locations within them. There is little intercity public transport: T3 on line Charlottetown-Kensigton-Hunter River-Charlottetown
In the summer cycling is popular. Although most roads do not have wide shoulders or designated bike lanes, drivers tend to be quite courteous to cyclists. The landscape consists mostly of rolling hills; there are few steep hills to climb.
Additionally, the Confederation Trail stretches from one end of the island to the other. Built on a disused rail bed, the trail has low grades and is reserved for cyclists and pedestrians. Cycling maps, sample itineraries and other cycling resources are available from Tourism PEI, MacQueen’s Island Tours (based in Charlottetown), and Atlantic Canada Cycling.
Outside of walking, hitchhiking or cycling, a vehicle is almost mandatory to travel the island, especially in winter.
The traditional tourist restaurants serving boiled lobsters with all-you-can-eat coleslaw still exist and can be a lot of fun, but those looking for a more refined or exotic meal now have several options.
Malpeque oysters are known around the world for their large size, soft flesh and sweet, mild flavor. Eat the freshest possible Malpeque oysters at the Malpeque Oyster Barn, Malpeque Harbour, near Kensington.
Lobster suppers are a very popular dining experience and ubiquitous on the island. These meals are built around the main course of locally-caught lobster and usually include appetizers, soups, salads, and desserts.
Look for a large, red lobster claw on the front lawn of a church or social club, or a hand-painted sign at a crossroad. New Glasgow Lobster Suppers is one of the most widely advertised restaurants for the lobster dining experience.
Widely recognized as the best dining on PEI is the Inn at Bay Fortune near Souris. The menu was developed by chef Michael Smith, and his Food Network series The Inn Chef was filmed at the Inn. The restaurant has been awarded three stars (the maximum) by the Where to Eat in Canada dining guide.
If you choose to cook your own meals at a rental cottage or a campsite there are large grocery stores around the island.
Atlantic Superstore (in Charlottetown, Summerside, and Montague) and Sobeys (in Charlottetown, Summerside, Montague, Stratford, and West Royalty) are the largest grocery stores in the province, and both carry a wide selection of staples and international imports.
Sunday shopping is permitted during the summer season. Also, there are two Walmarts in the province, in Charlottetown and Summerside.
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