Hello once again and my usual warm welcome to readers both old and new. Having made one of my infrequent trip to visit my stats I find that I have garnered a new reader from Trinidsad and Tobago, which I know translates as Holy Trinity and tobacco of all things so welcome to you Mr. / Mrs or Miss T&T.
At my age I still find it amazing that people from all over the globe read these idiotic musings of mine, it certainly is a matter for cosideration that people from places I will never see have seen fit to read about my various rambles around the world. It is a humbling experience.
Back now to my latest little excursion on this blog and my trip round the Maritime Provinces of Canada which you can read about from the beginning here.
I was in an aged campervan / RV which we had decided to call Betsy, in company with my dear Canadian friend Lynne, in the rather chaotic summer of 2014 where we had already survived an unseasonally hurricane and the weather was much less than brilliant so if you want to know what happens next, please read on.
22nd July, 2014.
If you have been hardy enough to have read through the previous posts in this series you’ll know that Lynne had chosen an excellent campground called Campbell’s Cove and she swears that it was nothing to do with my surname. It was just convenient to where we wanted to be and, in the event, it turned out to be one of the best sites we stayed at which is really saying something due to the uniformly high quality of campgrounds in the region.
In our by now usual way, I woke up before Lynne and so, with my coffee drunk and my ablutions preformed, I decided to have a look around. Care to join me?
The location and facilities were both excellent and there was definitely a bit of a “hippy” 60’s / 70’s feel to the place by which I do not mean there were all night drug-fuelled noisy parties, it was extremely peaceful. There was just the odd little nod to the music of that era if you looked closely enough, like the wooden steps leading to the beach called “Stairway to Heaven” or the Beatles lyric regarding the barber in “Penny Lane” on the side of the little old-fashioned barber’s shop cabin.
Bert’s Barbers is actually one of five camping huts available if you don’t have your own RV or fancy hauling a van or fifth wheel around. All the rest are named after Beatles song titles, “Dear Prudence, “Golden Slumbers” etc. It all just made me smile but I was doing a lot of that in those days.
I can tell you little about Campbell’s Cove itself as it does not even qualify as a hamlet, it is an unincorporated area named for one of the first settlers, Angus Campbell, who was Postmaster by 1905 and was originally called Campbell Cove. The possessive “s” was added in 1966.
Surprisingly for us, we were on the move before midday and I know this because I took an image of our first stop off point at exactly 1201. We had driven the short distance to Elmira and the PEI Railway Museum which proved to be a great find and regular readers will already have guessed that I am going to tell you all about both railway and museum, so get yourselves comfy.
The Prince Edward Island Railway (PEIR) was initially started in 1871 and was quickly to pave the way not only for rail transport on the island but also for it’s becoming part of Canada which did not exist then in anything like the form it does now. The plan was to drive a line through from Tignish in the West to Elmira in the East with significant spur lines to major centres like Borden-Carleton and Charlottetown amongst others.
There had been a large meeting in Charlottetown in 1864 discussing the possibility of forging all the different territories into one nation but the rather independently minded Islanders had resisted the idea. We shall be hearing a lot more about that prticular gathering in another post very soon, it is one heck of a story!
Incompetence and possible corruption amongst those overseeing the project rapidly brought the PEI auhorities to the verge of bankruptcy and their hand was somewhat forced into accepting Confederacy on the understanding that the “national” Government would assume the financial responisibility for the railway. This was agreed to and PEI became a Province of Canada (although even then it was not as we know it today) on July 1st, 1873.
The incompetence and corruption I mentioned mainly refers to the fact that the contractors were being paid by the mile of track laid so they were taking a meandering route which increased their revenue and avoided the need for expensive tunnelling, bridge-building and the like.
Another little trick they had was insisting on building stations at every “hole in the hedge”, again at great expense, to the extent that in it’s heyday the PEIR had a station every 2.5 miles (4km.) of it’s length, clearly a ridiculous situation.
With the increased financial resources of central Government the work continued with a spur line opened in 1885 to Cape Traverse on the Northumberland Strait and this was to lead many years later to the eventual demise of the railway.
Obviously PEI is an island and needed some means of communication with the mainland of New Brunswick and in 1917 when an ice-breaking ferry entered service. You may remember that before the construction of the Confederation Bridge the Strait was ice-bound in winter and this led to another problem.
The PEIR system had been built to a narrow gauge of 3’6″ (again probably a cost-cutting exercise on behalf of the contractors) but the rolling stock coming from the mainland was gauged at 4′ 8 ½” so all the tracks had to be double gauged to allow for the new locos and wagons. Yet more expense.
The following year all railways in Canada, including PEIR were nationalised as what was to quickly become CNR, later CN from 1960. Work began on standard gauging those parts of the system not already completed although it took until 1930 to complete the job.
The railway in the Province was very busy during World War Two as there was an Air Force base, a flight training school and a radar station all requiring provisioning and a new short spur line was even built to the Air Force facility. After the war there was another major advance as the cost of shipping bulk coal to PEI was becoming prohibitive and so the Province was completely diesel by the end of the 1940’s, a full decade before any other Province.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s a new all-weather paved road system meant more and more freight being moved by trucks and CNR didn’t help by making the icebreaker ferries more accessible to the road vehicles at the expense of railcars. The last passenger train ran on PEI in 1968 and CN effectively washed their hands of railways in the Province making it clear they were pulling out which they did by the early 1980’s.
That then is the history of the railway but what of the Museum? The first thing to tell you is that if you are going there in search of gleaming locos, plush state carriages or even a cattle truck ort two then forget it as there is little of that nature left.
There is a caboose brought in from elsewhere and one flat-bed truck converted into a picnic area! They had three pieces of rolling stock but they have sadly been lost to neglect and arson now. You can still go for a ride though as we shall see in a moment.
What there is available is an absolute treasure trove of railway memorabilia housed in the 1912 station, the work of F.S. MacDonald and typical of Maritime stations. It was lovingly restored in 1973 to celebrate the centenary of PEI’s Confederation and is well worth a look.
Amongst my favourite exhibits were an excellent selection of antique luggage although some of it looks far too huge to carry, and a cunningly adapted bicycle which you can ride on a railway line. I was also interested to see the Ladies Waiting Room, very right and proper. You don’t want their Edwardian sensibilities upset by a bunch of rough men like me!
I said you can go for a ride and here is how. The Museum has a minuature train and a speeder which both give rides on a section of track which goes into some beautiful woodland for a couple of miles from the station.
I should mention that all the rest of the PEIR track has been ripped up but the trackbed has been put to excellent use by being re-purposed as a walking / cycling trail called the Confederation Trail, a brilliant idea. If you want you can walk from here the 273 km. to Tignish and if you do all the spur lines you’ll have an impressive 449 km. to knock off. The best thing, if you are not terribly fit as I certainly was not then and am much less so now, is that being a railway it never ascends or descends more than 2%.
The day were there was fairly quiet in terms of visitors and so the speeder was in operation rather than the miniature train which carries more passengers. We had a chat with the driver and a quick safety briefing before setting off. If you do not know what a speeder is, it is a small self-propelled wagon designed for getting a work gang of permanent waymen (track engineers) out to where they were needed.
I am not sure where the term speeder arose from as it was anything but speedy but on that lovely day in beautiful Maritime woodland it was a complete pleasure. I even made myself busy with the video and you can see the outward trip here and if you want more, here is a clip of us returning to the station and a very smooth halt it was.
After the speeder ride we went to have a look at lots of locos and rolling stock albeit in minuature form as the Museum is home to one of the most extensive model railway exhibitions in the Maritimes.
Obviously, Lynne virtually had to drag me away from the Museum again but we were sure there would be other interesting things to see and we only had to go another few miles to find the first of them which on the coast road round PEI was almost inevitably a lighthouse, in this case the rather worryingly named Shipwreck Point Light.
It doesn’t get any more comforting if you know it is situated at Naufrage Pond where the Naufrage River empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence as naufrage is the French word for, you’ve guessed it, shipwreck. The wreck in question was not too disastrous as most of the crew of the 1719 made it ashore and set up a community nearby, the first settlers of St. Peters Harbour.
There was not a light here until relatively late, 1913, when a wooden construction with accommodation and ancillary buildings was built with Frank McKinnon as first keeper. Sadly he did not enjoy his post long as he was a non-swimmer and drowned setting lobster traps in 1917. Local legend has it that, on the night of his death, his eight year old son Neil, who knew something of the operation of the beacon, instructed some local men how to operate it.
Frank’s wife Sarah took over responsibility and the light continued in the McKinnon family until Daniel O’Henly took over in 1939, succeeded by Hugh MacDonald until the light was automated, like so many others, in 1966. It was decided that the old light with the accommodation was not financially viable so a new concrete light was erected nearby which is what you see today with the original being a private dwelling now.
I honestly do not know how long the current light or indeed the original wooden structure will be here to be viewed as I have never seen coastal erosion on such an extreme scale anywhere as I witnessed at Shipwreck Point. It was obviously fairly recent and, if you look closely you can even see the remains of part of the former safety railing half-way down what was presumably once a cliff but is now merely a dangerous looking landslide with a newer safety fence stopping visitors getting too close. I am obviously no expert but without serious remedial work I would not give them too long.
Whilst Shipwreck Point is neither the most attractive nor historic light we saw I am glad we visited because right beside it is the lovely café you can see in the images. It was certainly lunchtime for Lynne and beer o’clock for me and the Shipwreck Point Café was just what was needed.
I even got to try a new lager I had never seen before and was not to see again, although that was no great loss as it was pretty aneaemic. Alpine Lager is part of the Moosehead portfolio, a brewery based in St. John, New Brunswick.
Off we go again, along the #16 which became the #2 at St Peter’s Bay and which would have taken us all the way to Charlottetown had we followed it but a short way shy of the Provincial capital we branched off right in our self-appointed mission to stick as close to the coast as possible. This took us on the “scenic route” looping round on Highway #6 and whilst it was longer it certainly was beautiful.
We arrived in Charlottetown just before 1700 and were still in time to catch the excellent Visitor Information Centre and here’s what I wrote about the city at the time.
A small city with a big, big history.
“Charlottetown is the capital of Prince Edward Island which is, by a considerable distance in this huge country, the smallest Province of Canada. Do not, however, let that put you off visiting as the Province as a whole is almost unbelievably beautiful and the capital certainly does not disappoint.
I should perhaps address the title of this tip here. Charlottetown quite rightly brands itself as the “Home of Confederation” which term refers to the situation in the mid 19th century whereby the country we now know as Canada was a series of separate territories. In 1864 a conference was held here with delegates from most of the territories and with the idea of potentially forming a single nation. There is a lot of history as we were to find out.
Fortuitously and totally unplanned, I happened to visit in 2014 which even my pretty poor mathematics denotes as the 150th anniversary of that historic occasion and they had certainly laid on quite a show. I was so fortunate to have visited when I did.
As for the city itself, it doesn’t really even feel like a city as it retains a certain small town charm which I found totally endearing. Certainly it has everything the traveller would need, restaurants, bars, theatres, shops etc. but it was the genuine friendliness, a trait of all the Maritime Provinces people I met, that struck me most.
Your brain would be telling you that you were somewhere you did not reside but your heart or soul or whatever was telling you that you were right at home. I do not wish to sound overblown about this but I only ever write as I perceive things and that is the way I felt. I do suggest that the traveller spends at least a couple of days here as it is certainly well worth it.”
After the Visitor Information Centre we took a short walk to have a look at the 150th anniversary celebrations nearby but we had not timed it well as the daytime activities were finishing up and the evening’s entertainments were still being prepared but I did like the sand sculptures. I will never know how they keep those intact especially with the weather we had been having.
We decided to have walk round town after that and it is ideally suited for that activity as it is so compact. Why do you think I have included a picture of a well-maintained but fairly ordinary municipal bench here? OK, the second image is a bit of a giveaway.
Say hello to Eckhart the Mouse, the 1999 creation of PEI author David Weale and is the story of a curious little mouse who goes in search of the true meaning of Crumbfest which I suppose must be the rodent equivalent of Christmas or something. There are nine little Eckharts scattered around the town and they are designed as a Scavenger Hunt for children (of all ages) to teach them the history of the City.
I thought he was quite cute and if you want to follow the clues and Eckhart you can do so here. After meeting our crumb-seeking friend we passed Province House, a fine looking building but which was closed at that time of day. Don’t worry, we will visit in the next post.
Close by was a seated statue of Sir John A. MacDonald, originally from Scotland but having moved to Canada at a young age and who was a lawyer, politician and one of the “Fathers of Confederation” as well as the first Prime Minister of the newly formed Canada. Sadly I see whilst researching this piece that the statue has been criminally damaged three times in the last year by vandals protesting about his part in the undoubted institutional abuse of indigenous people’s rights in the Victorian era.
Not for any political reason but I have unintentionally vandalised the statue myself by partially decapitating the poor man in the image. I am annoyed with myself as I am normally more careful than that but, as it is the only one I have of the statue I thought I would include it.
I was obviously having a bad day with the lens that day as, having “scalped” the former Prime Minister I then managed to do the same to a chocolate shop, if you can be said to decapitate a building.
We have already met one PEI writer in this piece but undoubtedly the literary star of the Province was Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote the famous children’s book “Anne of Green Gables” and there is a fair proportion of the tourist industry in the Province, including the chocolate shop you can see (well most of) in the image, devoted to her and her work.
It wasn’t the shop that attracted my attention so much as the large poster in the window advertising “Cow Chips”, which are apparently crinkle-cut potato crisps (chips) covered in chocolate – what a revolting concept. The fact that I know enough North American “slang” to know what the term cow chip signifies there didn’t help.
Over the years I have eaten things like deep-fried locusts, brain masala, pig’s intestine soup and sweetbreads so I will try anything once but once was enough, the actuality was as bad as the imagining of it beforehand. No thanks.
As much to get the taste of the cow chips out of my mouth as anything I was so glad to find, just round the corner The Gahan House / Brewery and here is what I wrote.
“One of my great delights whilst travelling is to visit new bars and sample new brews. Now, by the time I had got to Charlottetown I was not totally unaware of the excellent qualities of the products of the Gahan Brewery and so when we discovered the actual Gahan House it was a given that we would go in for a drink or two.
The first thing we noticed on approaching the fine old red brick house was that there was quite a queue of people outside the door.
Upon enquiry, we were informed that they were waiting for tables for food. We had intended to dine in Betsy that night and so we wandered in to the bar area. I have to say that the place was completely packed as the queue outside would have suggested.
Despite the crowd, we were promptly attended to by a very polite and friendly young barman who quickly filled our order of a beer and a Virgin Caesar for Lynne who was, as always and very responsibly, not drinking as she was driving later.
We managed to find a couple of bar stools although not actually at the bar and sat down to enjoy our drinks. The atmosphere in this place was absolutely bouncing and I get the impression that this is a place where people come to enjoy themselves, it was certainly lively enough without being at all stupidly loud or offensive.
There was plenty of food being served (all of which looked excellent) although I believe the main dining area is upstairs. A drink was all we required however, although a wander outside for a smoke break did reveal a very interesting plaque on the wall which I had missed on the way in and which gives the history of the building all of which added much to the experience of simply having a beer. I have included an image here which you can peruse if you are interested.
Although terribly busy, this place is very enjoyable with good, friendly service and well-kept and served beer as you might expect in a brewery tap.
Whilst there are many excellent brews here, I must reserve special mention for the blueberry ale which is a style I had never had before. I had sampled fruit beers before in the Low Countries of Europe (framboise, peché, kriek and once even banana beer of all things) but never before blueberry and it was quite delightful.
It is possible to make dining reservations here either online on the attached website or by ‘phone which is the preferred option at less than 24 hours notice and I really do suggest you avail yourself of the facility to avoid the queue at the door. Of course, the very fact that there is such a queue probably tells you more than I can about this excellent establishment.
Again, this was all written long before the virus so please do check for details of the current operation as with everything in this series.
Leaving the Gahan House it was literally a matter of crossing the road to the Old Dublin pub but I shall tell you all about that in the next post so just a couple of images here. We only had a quick one there as we wanted to get checked into the campsite which was actually in Cornwall a few miles out of town and Lynne certainly deserved a drink by that point so again I’ll tell you about the camping facilities in the morning when we have a good look round.
Having been suitably hooked up to everything we needed we obviously broke into the “supplies” in our cargo hold i.e. wardrobe which held nothing but cider! This may explain what happened next as you can see in the above images. Lynne must have been really bored as I ended up with a very fetching French plait (I believe that is the correct term).
In truth it is not the first time this has happened to me, women seem to have a thing about plaiting my hair but when they start on my beard as well, it gets a bit silly. Actually I don’t mind it as I think it is a suitably off-beat look and it certainly keeps the hair out of my eyes!
Our attack on the stores and tonsorial interlude probably also explains why the evening meal was not served until gone midnight (yet again) and looks like I threw it together in about 20 minutes flat. Not one of my more labour intensive efforts in the galley, for sure.
In the next post, we shall go round Charlottetown again, including a real culinary treat (for me anyway), visit the home of those awful cowchips (yes, really) and another military museum before getting back on the road. If you want to find out all about it then stay tuned and spread the word.