The tug of the Maritimes

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Lorne Eckersley

Lorne Eckersley

Our vacation in Prince Edward Island turned out to a wonderful Canadian experience, in more ways that I had anticipated.

The idea for this destination came to me in the spring when I was looking at ways to use some air travel points. With the poor exchange rate, a US destination held little appeal, and our one previous trip to PEI was a few days in wet weather.  The idea of an autumn vacation, a time of year that has always served us well, from the West Coast of Canada to various spots in Europe, grew in its appeal.

What I really wanted was simplicity. And what could be simpler than to fly onto the tiny island province and rent a simple base from which to take day trips? I booked the flights, and later found a cottage to rent in the Tracadie area, only about a 20-minute drive from the Charlottetown airport.

On arrival, we picked up our rental car and then stopped to pick up groceries. Google Maps directed us straight to our little cottage at 91 Blue Herron (apparently there is a Blue Heron Drive across the Bay, so this little road became “Herron” to ease the confusion). We were greeted by the cottage owner and her teenage daughter, and welcomed with a great feed of freshly picked chanterelle mushrooms. The cottage was toasty warm and jam-packed with sea-related items and art. I have come to think of it as charming kitsch because it is so abundant.

The Canadian theme started the next day, when we toodled around the north central part of the island, with Anne of Green Gables on our mind. I came to the novels of L.M. Montgomery late in life, perhaps five years ago. I read several and was smitten—fine writing and very human stories. We stopped in at a gouda cheese maker’s on the way and then visited Anne of Green Gables Museum, which was the home of an aunt and uncle of Lucy Maud. She described it as “the wonder castle of my childhood” and it was a delight. We wandered the grounds, visited the gift shop and left all the happier for our visit.

A day or two later, I spent some time deciding what to do for a day in Charlottetown. During my research I learned that a musical adaptation of Michel Tremblay’s great play Les Belles-soeurs was nearing the end of its run at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. I booked tickets for a Saturday matinee, then also purchased seats for an evening performance of Anne and Gilbert, a musical about Anne and her early relationship with Gilbert.

We started that morning wandering through the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, an indoor/outdoor delight that showed off some of the best of PEI produce (including wild chanterelles and cranberries) and handicrafts. Our day’s focus, though, was on these two quintessential musicals based on the works of two of Canada’s literary giants. Les Belles-soeurs was a controversial hit in 1965, when Tremblay laid bare the working class lives of 15 Quebecois women, one of whom had just received news she had won a million grocery store stamps (anyone remember those?) and decided to throw a party so her friends could help paste them into 833 books so she could redeem them for “everything” in a catalogue of household goods.

Les Belles-soeurs is unapologetically funny, but it is also a deft social commentary on women’s role in society at the time, values and friendship. The musical loses nothing of that social importance over time—the songs are often hilarious and always thought-provoking.

That evening we went across the street to The Guild, where we entered an intimate venue to take in Anne and Gilbert, the fictional story about how Anne Shirley resisted, and eventually relented to, the affections of her friend Gilbert Blythe. Once again the music was terrific, and we very much enjoyed the story about characters from L.M. Montgomery’s stories, which don’t seem stale more than a century later.