For the past year, I’ve been travelling Canada on assignment to discover some of its iconic destinations. What I found in P.E.I. this month was surprising. Not because it was so different than my home province of Saskatchewan, but because it was so much the same.
The similarities come in the farm-based economy, the friendly people and the love of a good time. The difference, however, is that islanders are surrounded by ocean (and seafood) and they are also inundated with tourists because of it.
You see, Islanders are a rare breed. All 142,907 of them seem to have drunk a potent elixir that has allowed them to play host to over 1.5 million tourists annually without becoming jaded or cranky. In fact, they like it when people come to their tiny patch of rich red land sized 224 kms from stem to stern and 64 kms wide.
With no part of Prince Edward Island being more than 16 kms from the ocean, these hospitable Islanders pull up the lobster traps from the bottom of the sea when any guests arrive. They shuck their oysters and pick their potatoes and turn it all into feasts of plenty. And then, they pull out their fiddles and the wooden spoons and they invite you into their fold like you’re a long-lost relative.
As I sit down for the main course of fresh-caught lobster at their annual International Shellfish Festival, I see the real Prince Edward Island.
Staring down at a basket full of bright-red PEI lobster, I declare that I’m a bit of a novice in terms of dissecting the tasty creature. That’s when the PEI lieutenant governor H. Frank Lewis, seated to my right, gives me some pointers and PEI-born chef Charlotte Langley of Toronto grabs my lobster and cracks its claws like she’s been doing it all her life, which she probably has.
The Saskatchewan-like hospitality and abundance of locally grown and fresh food simply does not end as I get the exact same treatment no matter where I travel and no matter whose company I keep.
“How are’s ya?” says the Fiddling Fisherman, J.J. Chaisson, as he and his wife Julie heartily welcome me and seven other tourists aboard their boat for an afternoon of jigging and reeling. We dance, we play the spoons, we eat scones and jam, we spy dolphins and passing sail boats and then we return to the red-earthed shore a merry band of new-found friends.
The next night I’m off to the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in downtown Charlottetown to take in a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee, it’s a maritime party with Celtic folk music). By the end of the family friendly evening, surrounded by young and old, I am jigging with complete strangers like we’re all part of the same wedding celebration.
Day three and four bring farmers markets, leisurely drives to PEI’s red-sand beaches and strolls through quaint and colourful fishing villages. At the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company in New Glasgow, we dine on PEI potato pie that is surely from the gods. With its bacon-maple cream sauce and its layers of soft, luscious PEI potatoes, I long for just one thing…the recipe. But I know that restaurants don’t give out their recipes—it’d be the death of them—so I don’t bother to ask.
When we return to the car, my friend pulls a piece of paper out of her purse and presents it proudly. It’s the ‘Potato Pie Recipe’!
I giggle as I see it because it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Of course these Islanders would give away their culinary secrets because when you’re in Prince Edward Island, you’re not really visiting—you’re more like family. Just like in Saskatchewan (except they have lobster, ceilidhs and potato pie).
Email comments to LCfroese@sasktel.net and follow Christalee Froese’s 21days2joy Blog at 21days2joy.wordpress.com.