I like islands. One of my earliest memories is of going to Toronto Island with my mother and paternal grandmother. I must have been about three when we went there – probably to Ward’s island because I remember a lot of trees near the shore. I remember swimming in only my white underwear and vest and thinking I really should be in a swim suit. A sense of propriety cosseted me even then, it seems.
Later while I was a student teacher, I visited Toronto Island in the middle of winter and stayed for a week at the Toronto Island School. Even though we were so close to downtown Toronto, it was an adventure for both the pupils and the teachers. We learned why ducks’ feet don’t freeze in the winter and, amazingly, how to shoot a BB gun.
Since then, I have travelled to many Canadian islands: Malcolm Island in B.C., Manitoulin, Pelee and Grand Manon, the Magdalens, Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and of course, Prince Edward Island. I suppose going across the water on a boat is a big part of the attraction. There is that enforced pause: slowing down to a halt to wait for the ferry and then lounging about on board while the crossing is made. How often are we made to slow down and stop in life, to merely wait and wool gather with no choice but to enjoy patience.
Now that the fixed link has replaced one of the ferries to PEI, some of the magic of the crossing has been sacrificed for efficiency, but going to PEI each summer is what I look forward to all year long. This year Greg and I visited yet again, and I was not disappointed.
Some mainland habits die hard. A short distance from Confederation Village, there is an ESSO gas station, where the tarmac is always clogged with cars. Not for fuel for the vehicle, apparently, as much as for fuel for the body: the first Tim Horton’s, probably since Moncton, is located here. In fact, a sign enjoins visitors to pay for their gas before they get their Tim's.
Once we fueled up both ways, we headed for Victoria-by-the Sea, a former ship-building village, where the old frame buildings, now restored and painted glorious bright colours, house an inn, a playhouse, B & Bs, and one-of-a-kind shops. All were open but one; according to the notice on the door it was closed due to the wedding of the owner’s niece. It might be the height of the tourist season, but family comes first!
Islanders are pretty trusting: Not all of the shops we visited were staffed. In one, I found a print I wanted to buy. As there was no one in the store, I wandered out a side door and found four people in a rather pleasant back garden enjoying tea. One left the group and helped me make my purchase.
After doodling along the shore taking in potato fields and rolls of hay we arrived at our lodging for the night, the Desable motel, an unintentional paean to the 1970s and before. Each unit had an orange plastic basket chair outside the door.
The bathtub sloped slightly, but the water was hot, and behind the motel were walking trails to the ocean, an unexpected treat for the travel-bleary. Meals were served across the highway at the Blue Goose Restaurant and Bakery, recommended by the motel proprietor who often went to eat there. She was right; the food was good.
The next day was Sunday, and we decided to go to church in Charlottetown. We had plenty of time to get to the 11:00 service, or so we thought, as we dipsy-doodled our way along Highway 19.
We came to a park, the Port-la-Joye – Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada, to be exact. From there, we could look across the bay towards what is now Charlottetown and agree with Louis Denys de La Ronde, a French naval officer and explorer, who wrote in 1721, "...Port-la-Joye, one of the most beautiful harbours that the eye can behold."
Unfortunately, despite a damp wind, we lingered a bit too long over the history of the M’ikmaq, the Acadians and the English and got to church in the nick of time, we thought, only to find that the summer services started at 10:00. "Oh, well," said the cheery greeter at the door, "You haven’t missed the most important reason for coming." By this she meant Holy Communion. Needless to say, St. Peter’s is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
Clutching the bulletin and masses of inserts, so typical of any Anglican tradition, we crept into the back pew, where a plump, jolly older woman made sure we knew where the hymns were to be found. Once the very formal service was completed, we were invited to assemble for lemonade on the lawn – well, everyone went except for us, who were held in thrall by the same dear old soul, as she recounted decades of Anglican history and the lives of a number of rectors from the Island and Upper Canada. Other congregants looked at us with a mixture of alarm and pity before quickly exiting.
(On our way off the island at the end of the week, we attended the other Anglican church in Charlottetown, a much more informal service, so low church in fact that during the chatty portion of passing the peace, someone left to go to the washroom - located conveniently in the narthex. He returned in lots of time for the resumption of the liturgy.)
We agreed neither was necessary, as a cross draft provided all the air conditioning we needed, and the satellite TV offered the same two programs in every time zone across Canada. However, I was happy to have WiFi and even happier to enjoy gourmet meals, lovely gardens, and a view of the Bay.
Our week on the Island had begun well.