The Island Way
By Jeff Bursey
Anne of Green Gables has been synonymous with Prince Edward Island for a century now. She is our darling, our icon, and this year is our opportunity to celebrate the many attributes she has brought to our Island over the past 100 years. And this year Anne will be busier than ever.
In fact, there's always something to do on The Gentle Island, which is probably one reason why we're rated one of the ten best island destinations in North America, according to Condé Nast Traveler magazine.
One thing to do is get your hands dirty at the PEI School of the Arts in picturesque North Rustico. Take up a new hobby in a friendly, relaxed setting during one of their July workshops. Pottery, glassworks and jewellery are some of the offerings taught by instructors from here and elsewhere. Get introduced to Islanders and Island culture while letting your inner artist out. For kids and adults who've always wanted to perform, the Confederation Centre of the Arts offers one- and two-week theatre camps in July and August, where you can try your hand, and other body parts, at mime and clowning, dance, martial arts, voice study, acting and film editing. If you've secretly desired to recite Shakespeare on a stage, get acquainted with jazz dancing or musical theatre, then here's the chance.
A perfect way to occupy yourself during the warm summer nights is to see who's playing at our musical hot spots. Charlottetown's popular Jazz and Blues Festival in early July features well-known and up-and-coming musicians, you're sure to find someone who'll please your ears. Keep an eye out, too, for the next big-name entertainer who'll call PEI home. Charlottetown has hosted Willie Nelson, Aerosmith, Bryan Adams and others. Our clubs and festivals provide a great opportunity to enjoy a diverse range of music, from jazz and classical, to pop, rock, country and traditional.
The Island's heritage can be found on mailboxes, in community names, and in community museum exhibits from Alberton to Wood Islands. A fun taste of history can be had on a Guided Walking Tour with the Fathers and Ladies of Confederation in Charlottetown.
To find out what's going on, it's a good idea to consult The Buzz, the free monthly arts paper available everywhere. It'll have complete details of what's happening. The hardest part will be fitting it all in! Indian River Music Festival offers jazz, classical and international music in the wonderful acoustics of St. Mary's Church, while Rollo Bay hosts fiddlers and bluegrass musicians from all over North America. Immerse yourself in Acadian culture at Miscouche's Acadian Museum and, for a true Mi'kmaq experience be sure to explore Lennox Island in the blue jewel of Malpeque Bay, where you'll have the opportunity to pick up native crafts of all description.
For a night's entertainment and to rest your feet, start with a good meal, then take your seat at the Victoria Playhouse (leave time to admire Victoria's many heritage buildings and the charming tree-lined streets). You will also find live theatre at Summerside's Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre and, in Charlottetown, at The Guild and the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
This year in addition to celebrating Anne at 100, the Charlottetown Festival revs up with America Strikes Back! The British Invasion II staging a rock and roll history of both sides of the Atlantic; The Ballad of Stompin' Tom telling the incredible story of Canadian music icon Stompin' Tom Connors; and Stones in His Pocket serving up an evening of hilarity with the Tony-award nominated play.
All that walking and sightseeing might work up an appetite. Right at hand are lobster, scallops, mussels and oysters - just a few of the seafood delicacies we're famous for worldwide. The New York Times food critic, Frank Bruni, visited the Island recently in search of the freshest of fresh shellfish, noting, "This is where the oysters that go by the designations or labels Malpeque, Raspberry Point and Colville Bay originate. This is what the initials PEI in front of a mussel mean. A PEI mussel is like Niman Ranch pork: a brand with real clout, a boast restauranteurs itch to make."
And you haven't experienced taste or Island hospitality until you've gone to a lobster supper in a church hall on a hot summer's night, where the merriment and goodwill make every butter-drenched morsel of lobster or fresh Island potato salad taste even better. Grownups and kids will find lots to choose from at St. Ann's or New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, to name only two. Charlottetown's Culinary Institute of Canada has turned out many a fine chef for Island dining rooms, and the dining room there has a wonderful view of the harbour. Always wanted to know how to get into the shell of a delicious Malpeque oyster? Sign up for "Shucking 101" where you will learn this and more from an oyster expert. Seafood fans might want to try out 22 mussel flavours on the menu on Charlottetown's waterfront.
EATING AND TOURING
Take a look at our six-day dining tour for thoughts on coast-to-coast Island food experiences. Or why not eat your way from festival to festival - we have one for every taste from blueberries to potatoes, from oysters to corn. Those looking for an international flavour to their food may be surprised to find Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian restaurants in the capital city. As for general culinary ambiance, what could be more pleasant than a table in the sunshine overlooking the water - fresh air, fresh food and fine company?
Feeling you dined a little too well? Afraid to go swimming for fear you'll sink? Get back into shape at a ceilidh. Once the expert musicians (and they're everywhere here) pick up their fiddles, bagpipes and guitars, you'll be dancing with friends who were complete strangers moments before. Visitors and Islanders alike will be swapping stories over the whoops of delight, handclapping and step dancing. The whole family can kick up their heels at an Island ceilidh.
Mention of the Confederation Centre Mainstage brings us back, of course, to the red-haired girl who has captured hearts the world over. The stage adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's well-loved first novel Anne of Green Gables - The MusicalTM is Canada's longest-running musical, still going strong at 44 years and counting. Many visitors catch one performance and come back the next year to enjoy it all over again, especially if there's been a cast change! The play's warmth, its songs and the touching story will stay with you long after the house lights go up. Heart-warming and fun, Anne of Green Gables - The MusicalTM is the perfect theatrical event for children and adults. (In 2008 our orphan girl's story marks her 100th anniversary, and she'll be fêted in style, so make plans to join in the celebrations.)
With so much to do, you won't want your Island vacation to end. Extend your stay in a simple way. As you get ready to put away the bathing suit, now a little snug thanks to the great meals you've had from Souris to Tignish, visit one of the many fine bookstores across the province and stock up on our nationally and internationally respected writers. There's always an L.M. Montgomery book you haven't yet read, plus books on Island ways, local history, poetry, short stories and reminiscences. You'll find something that will keep your vacation memories alive, and whet the appetite for your next excursion to The Gentle Island.
Prince Edward Island and Anne are much alike - timeless, captivating, and endlessly creative. What you'll take with you could be a memory of farmland and ocean glowing in soft sea air. Maybe it's the excitement your kids felt on the beach or at a ceilidh. It might be the taste of an irresistible, warm berry pie or mussels fresh from the bay. Or possibly a stage performance that lifted your spirits. Whatever you take away from our Island, rest assured, like Anne, we will still be here, waiting for your return.