Touring off the beaten track on eastern coastal roads – pausing here and there – may be one of the best ways to visit Prince Edward Island (although hailed as Canada's number one golf destination with its 28 courses, golfers might disagree).
Murray Harbour, Highway 18
It's a combination of calm and can-do attitudes that permeate the residents of this hospitable island. For instance, Ina Proeber, proprietor of Sunshine Farm located near Murray Harbour at Highway 18 and the south shore, has never staged a lobster lunch before. But when our first day on the island delivers us to her table, it's lobster lunch for everyone. "Live, for one time only," she jokes as she presents the crustaceans before cooking. One would swear she's been serving lobster lunches to paying clientele all her life. She even sought out the island's very best strawberry pie for dessert.
Proeber's seasonal day job is at the Rossignol Estate Winery just down the road. Now that grapes have begun to replace tobacco as a local crop, Rossignol ranks among P.E.I.'s newest crop of tourist attractions. Still, it's the many more traditional stops that will alter your sense of time.
The Log Cabin Museum on Route 18A appears deserted at first glance, but Preston Robertson, founder and operator, is cutting the grass as we arrive and climbs off the mower to lead a personal tour of his vast collection of memorabilia. A sublime moment comes when he explains the workings of a 1905 Edison phonograph, cranks it to life and fills his museum with an eerily clear rendition of "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" played not from a record, but a wax cylinder.
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Orwell, Route 18A
Our next stop is the Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead, a national historic site in the town of Orwell. During a tour of the homestead, a guide concedes that some islanders do leave for Canada's mainland – only to feel the pull to return. Why, Sir Andrew himself chose academia in order to escape island life, only to return home each summer with such colleagues as the poet John McCrae, who wrote the infamous poem "In Flander's Fields", and Stephen Leacock, the celebrated humourist, talking the night away at the home's huge dining room table.
East Point Lighthouse, Highway 2
The next morning, we take Highway 2 leading toward the extreme eastern tip of the island. Tourists flock to the East Point Lighthouse to catch the natural spectacle of both the St. Lawrence and Northumberland Strait tides churning together. This morning, we had the added treat of watching seals and black-backed whales cavorting in the distance.
Confederation Trail, Route 16A
Inland but a few minutes on Route 16A, the Elmira Railway Museum is the starting point of the Confederation Trail, guiding hikers and cyclists some 280 kilometres over an abandoned rail bed to the opposite end of the island. Adventurous travellers can use the trail to participate in the Island's "Tip to Tip Challenge" (earning a certificate awarded to finishers), so on a whim we take up the challenge with our car, turning off onto Highway 2, cruising west and reaching the North Cape some four hours later.
Gahan brewery, Highway 2
Despite the impromptu travel change, there's time before dinner to relax on a patio near Stanhope Beach. There's time too for an island-brewed ale from Gahan – the P.E.I. brewery founded in 1997 – as well as the opportunity to contemplate that, although there's a flight to catch next morning, these two days of touring P.E.I. are best thought of as a fine beginning, with more to come on an inevitable return.
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