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By Jennifer Van Allen
Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway or a trip that has fun for the entire family, Prince Edward Island has a wealth of adventures to offer. The first order of business on most everyone’s agenda is to get to know the island’s most famous resident, Anne of Green Gables. The book by the same name, written by PEI native Lucy Maud Montgomery, has sold 50 million copies since its publication in 1908 and captivated generations of fans all over the world with the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan sent mistakenly to live with a pair of elderly siblings seeking a boy to help them around their farm. Anne’s pluck and imagination quickly bring new life to their house, just as her spirit continues to enliven the province today.
Each year, more than 125,000 people visit the Anne-related sites scattered around the island. In New London, the author’s birthplace is open to the public; in Cavendish you’ll find the Green Gables house that inspired the novel, along with several settings familiar to readers, including the Haunted Wood and Lovers’ Lane. In Park Corner’s Anne Museum, you can take a carriage ride around her Lake of Shining Waters and peruse the Enchanted Bookcase where she meets her imaginary friend, Katie Morris. Eat in any of the five restaurants of Avonlea Village, a re-creation of the town in the novel, complete with a schoolhouse, a church, and the minister’s residence. You can even see Anne herself, either strolling the grounds at one of the sites or in the musical Anne & Gilbert, playing at The Guild theater in Charlottetown all summer long.
No matter where you go on the island, Anne will be a constant companion, but there are many other ways to explore the rich history and culture of the people who live here, and you’ll want to see them all. Discover the island’s aboriginal heritage by following the Sweetgrass Trail over to Lennox Island, a Mi’kmaq First Nation on the northwest coast that is home to more than 400 residents. Interpretive displays at the cultural center explain the customs, language, and spirituality of the aboriginal people through photos and artifacts dating as far back as 10,000 years, and guided tours of the Path of Our Forefathers nature trail will take you through seashore and forest and past the former homes of some of the tribe’s most significant historical figures.
European culture has also made its mark on PEI, with the French, English, Irish, and Scottish starting to arrive as early as the 1600s. A trip to the Acadian Museum in Miscouche will introduce you to the tumultuous history of the Gallic pioneers. About two hours southeast, the Basin Head Fisheries Museum, on a bluff overlooking Northumberland Strait, shows the settlers’ reliance on the bounty of the sea. While you’re there, take a stroll along Basin Head Beach, known as “Singing Sands” because of the squeaking sound the crushed quartz and silica make when you walk on them. At the Elmira Railway Museum, you can learn about the Prince Edward Island Railway, built in the 1870s to transport passengers from Tingnish, on the western tip of PEI, to the eastern terminus of Elmira until it closed in 1989. Today much of it makes up the Confederation Trail, a popular 292-mile rails-to-trails recreation network.
Before heading back to Charlottetown, step back in time once more at Orwell Corner Historic Village, a living re-creation of a farming community founded by Irish, Scottish Highlanders, and American loyalists in the early 19th century. Costumed guides will discuss the various facets of life in the 1800s, and you may recognize some of the village’s fourteen buildings — the original schoolhouse, the barn, the blacksmith’s shop, or the period-perfect general store — from the television series Road to Avonlea, available on Amazon.
A must for history buffs is Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts, whose four sandstone buildings span a full city block and include a contemporary art gallery and a theater presenting music, dance, and dramatic performances all summer long. Don’t miss “Anne of Green Gables—The Musical,” now in its 54th season and the longest-running annual musical theater production, according to Guinness World Records. In the Upper Arts Foyer you can relive “The Story of the Confederation” with actors dressed in period costume in a replica of the chamber where the Charlottetown Conference took place in 1864, when delegates from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick met with leaders of the province of Canada to discuss the birth of a new nation.
Among the other notable buildings in Charlottetown are the 1877 Beaconsfield Historic House, a stunning example of Victorian architecture, and St. Dunstan’s Basilica, built in 1916 and now a National Historic Site. And of course Anne of Green Gables Chocolates. The building may not be historic but when you’re ready to say goodbye to PEI it can provide a sweet reminder of everything this vibrant, hospitable island has to offer.