Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest post in the current series. For readers who are new either to the series or my blog as a whole, greetings and should you wish to read the former from the beginning you may do so here. Briefly, it concerns a 2014 six week road-trip in Betsy, a very old campervan / RV which we had vaguely re-fitted ourselves, with my dear friend Lynne.
Regular readers will know that last time I left you with us in a campground in Cornwall which is a few miles out of Charlottetown,the capital of Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian Province by some distance.
I had promised you another look at that beautiful city so if you want to join us then please read on.
Before I take you on that trip I had also promised you a report on our campground and so here it is, based as usual on my original notes from the time.
I don’t understand the name but it is very good.
I should explain the title of this piece here. When I originally wrote it I had no idea what KOA stands for. A quick look round the internet failed to provide any immediate answers until VT member Jessie Lang informed me it stands for Kampgrounds Of America (even if we were in Canada) although why they spell it this way remains a mystery.
What I can tell you about KOA sites is that they are very good, well-run, clean, tidy and with good facilities. I also believe I am right in saying that we got a discount because Lynne was a member of CAA (AAA in the USA).
This particular site sits a little over five miles Southwest of Charlottetown on the West River in a delightful location and is quite large. I normally prefer smaller sites (KOA sites tend to be big) but this was not a problem at all even though it was a little daunting to drive in with our aged 23 foot campervan (RV) to see loads of huge Winnebagos and equally gargantuan static units about.
Going into the large camp office / shop and approaching the desk, were treated most courteously to have our pre-‘phoned reservation confirmed and be allocated our pitch. It was getting on for dusk but a quick look round showed an Olympic sized pool, excellent kids play facilities and a shop that was well-stocked so that was all good.
A further look round in the wonderful morning light of the next day confirmed that these impressions were entirely correct. I subsequently discovered that they have all the usuals like propane, firewood etc., there is wi-fi on-site and even bike rentals should you be feeling energetic.
We found our pitch easily enough and it was very pleasant with a bit of tree cover / shade (unnecessary for us but of use in hot weather), quiet with full three way facilities and really all that we required.
Despite it being a large and busy site at the height of season, there was no problem at all with noise and to wake up in those glorious, peaceful surroundings in the morning was indeed a joy. Sure, I had only been in Canada for a few weeks at that point but to rise and look out the window onto such wonderful environments daily was a source of unending happiness to me.
This site is a little out of town although it does provide a great base for exploring Charlottetown but I would suggest that you need your own vehicle. I believe there is a bus service from the main road (a bit of a walk) but it is infrequent to say the least.
As well as RV / caravan / fifth wheel pitches, there are camping sites and even a couple of cabins for hire as well as a 27 ft Travel Trailer should you not have your own vehicle / gear.
I always like to check my informtation before I publish these posts and I was having a quick look at the attached website when I noticed something I had not seen before. I mentioned above the size of some of the rigs we were parked up beside and it appears that the largest pull-through site i.e. one for vehicles rather than static rigs is 100 feet long. Who drives a 100 foot RV, that is longer than an articulated lorry? To put it in context, you could fit four of Betsy nose to tail in a pitch that size and still have had room left over. Utter madness.
Our first destination for the day was the Cows Creamery which I must admit was not really my thing but I could not, in conscience, object. Lynne wanted to go and promised me the best ice-cream known to man and as I had been dragging her hither and yon to see places she probably had little interest in I thought it was only fair. Here is my report.
Merchandising outlet with attached creamery.
“Ever since we had arrived on Prince Edward Island Lynne had been raving about having a Cows Creamery ice-cream which is apparently very highly rated amongst afficionados of that particular confection.
The Cows Creamery was close to our campsite and on our way into Charlottetown itself therefore a stop for a creamery tour was called for.
We parked up in the spacious carpark and walked into what can only be described as a fairly large tourist orientated retail outlet dealing in every kind of merchandising imaginable from T-shirts to baseball caps to infant’s clothing to coffee mugs and so on and so forth. Naturally there was a counter selling a bewildering variety of ice-creams which apparently change regularly depending on what they are making so at least you know it is as fresh as can be.
The selling point of all the various merchandise on offer is that it relies on take-offs of popular themes with a few examples being Dr. Moo (Dr. Who), Moogle (a ripoff of the Google logo), Cowzilla (Godzilla), you get the idea. Admittedly some of it is quite clever but personally did nothing for me at all.
We purchased our tickets and waited around for the next tour to begin. We had been given paper hats to wear although they were totally unecessary as a hygeine procedure as we were never in a food processing area, being hermetically sealed from them at all times.
A fairly vivacious young lady escorted us into the “inner sanctum” and onto the first point of interest which was……….. the T-shirt production area! We were treated to a video presentation of how they produce their advertising which, frankly, I have no interest in. I know how T-shirts are printed.
On we went then to the area where the ice-cream is produced although there seemed to be very little actual production going on with just one lady doing not a lot in front of one of the machines. The accompanying explanation of the process was quite interesting though.
Walking a little further on (the factory really is not that big) we came to the cheese cave, which did interested me as I absolutely adore cheese. It came as something of a disappointment to be told that the cheese was not actually made there as I would dearly love to see some proper cheese production. It is made miles away and brought here to age in climatically controlled conditions.
At this point the cynical part of my hindbrain was whispering that the cave was merely here to pad out a fairly uninteresting tour and provide something for the visitors to look at. In fairness, the young lady did give a fairly interesting commentary about the cheese-making process. Why would they not just age it where it was made thereby cutting transportation costs?
After this we went into another room for the tasting and I must admit the small tub of ice-cream we were given was absolutely first class and amongst the best I have sampled. It was very tasty and creamy which, as we had been told, was due to not forcing much air into it compared to other brands.
The offering that day was a line known as Wowie Cowie and I still have no idea what was in it but it was excellent. Almost needless to say, in the tasting room they had a display of their discontinued lines of T-shirts. Why?
Back into the shop then and straight to the counter for a nice big cone of Wowie Cowie which was equally as toothsome as the sample we had tried at the tasting and which we sat and ate at the pleasant seating area out the front on a decent July day.
I always try to report fairly and so I should add here that Lynne thoroughly enjoyed the experience and has written favourably about it on a tip on VT which I think this is one of the great things about the site. The reader can compare differing opinions and decide for themselves.
One thing that did make me smile was the sign outside exhorting people not to climb on the cow! It is one of the stranger signs I have seen in my life and in reference to a huge GRP cow statue they have there. You have been warned, do NOT attempt bovine mountaineering!”
I did debate whether or not to edit out the reference to Virtual Tourist in the above report but I decided to leave it in as it shows what I thought about VT and what a valuable travel resource was lost to all when the site was needlessly closed down to satisfy corporate greed and ambition. Don’t get me started on that subject or we shall be here until next week and this post will be long enough as it is.
Driving into Charlottetown proper we happened upon something that was much more to my taste (tasty as the ice-cream was) so let me tell you about it.
A military museum in it’s proper place.
“Whilst exploring the delightful city of Charlottetown one day with my travelling companion RavensWing (Lynne) we more or less happened upon the military museum which is located in the HQ of the Price Edward Island Regiment. I have mentioned many times on my other pages that I have a great interest in military history as I was in the Forces, as was Lynne.
Wandering unchallenged into the compound (I wonder if that has changed in light of the subsequent atrocities that have happened in Canada) we saw several old pieces of military hardware including a Ferret armoured car and a World War 2 vintage Sherman tank which had been unveiled by her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1967 and was dedicated to the war dead of the Province of that conflict.
We walked into what appeared to be the main entrance of the building and exchanged a brief glance as it was just like walking into a military drill hall and that is exactly what it was as this is a working military base with the side issue of running the Museum.
To be precise, it is a militia facility, the militia being reservists in the Canadian Forces. I was sure we had accidentally gone in the wrong entrance and approached the two soldiers dressed in combat gear who were obviously going over some paperwork at a table on the far side of the room.
I enquired if this was the Museum and was assured that we were in the right place and room to the back of the drill hall was indicated along with a very civil invitation to explore at will and take as long as we liked. I must say, I don’t ever recall senior NCO’s in the British Army being that generous to random “civvies” wandering into their domain!
Off we duly went and into the Museum which, it must be said, is not huge although it does have an impressive amount of history recorded and many artefacts ranging from the raising of the Regiment (or it’s predecessor outfits) right up to modern day peace-keeping operations in places like Afghanistan. I had noticed before, as I was to do many more times, how involved the Canadians seem to be in peace-keeping missions worldwide and the regrettably appalling price they have paid for that duty.
We probably spent a lot longer in there than we would have expected to on first entering it as there are some simply fascinating things to see.
My interest in military history is fairly general but I have a curiosity about the Special Forces altohugh I had never heard of the Devil’s Brigade. A fearsome name certainly but apparently with a fighting reputation to match. They were a joint US / Canadian unit raised in 1942 at roughly the same time the British Commandos (now effectively the Royal Marine Commando) and the SAS were being formed in Britain and North Africa respectively. They fought in the Aleutian Islands as well as Southern Europe before being disbanded in late 1944.
Many modern day Special Forces in North America owe their origins to these guys, albeit that they existed for such a short period. I am now fascinated by them and have determined myself to learn more about them.
As always I do aoplogise to readers of my other pages for the repetition of this mantra but you can learn something just about anywhere. What appeared on first sight to be a fairly small and regular regimental Museum turned out to be anything but and taught me an awful lot which I believe should be the primary function of any such place.
Admission is free although donations are appreciated.
I did not mention it in my original report but the third military vehicle you can see, the one with the domed cupola, is a Lynx – M113 American-built Command and Reconnaisance vehicle and I must admit I had never seen one before. It is fully amphibious even though it looks like it would never float! It was in Canadian service from 1968 – 1994 and saw overseas duty in Germany, Cyprus and the former Yugoslavia.
The Museum was a great find and we hadn’t even got into the city proper yet. Come on then, lots more to see.
Going for walk round the area of the CFB (army base) we headed towards the water which is almost inevitable here as water surrounds the city on almost every side. I soon spied a Celtic cross, something that was very familiar to me from my upbringing in Northern Ireland, and so we naturally had to investigate.
I discovered that this was the Irish Settlers Memorial commemorating the estimated 10,000 immigrants from the island of my birth who came here in the 18th and 19th centuries and made such a contribution to the development of PEI, as indeed they did all over what is now Canada.
As was explained on the plaque adjacent (apologies for the unavoidable shadow in the image) the ring of 32 stones laid in front of the memorial represented the 32 counties that Ireland was comprised of in those days. Not only that but each stone, with the name of the county inscribed thereupon, had been quarried in the county represented which I thought was a brilliant touch. Sadly, whilst we had a lovely time there, things have changed since and not for the better.
I mentioned in the previous post the repeated vandalism of the MacDonald statue in the centre of town and, although I found the city delightful, it seems that vandalism is a serious problem. After a long period of neglect (it was looking slightly scruffy when we visited) and repeated vandalism culminating in some mindless criminal driving a heavy vehicle over the stones and smashing them, the site was a complete mess a couple of years later.
Eventually the authorities were persuaded to do something about it but that is another cause for regret. Rather than replicating the meaningful original stones they decided to penny-pinch and replaced them all with stone from Quebec which somewhat detracts from the whole idea of the memorial. I discovered an excellent article by a former Canadian diplomat who is a local resident which you can read here. I suggest you do so as it deals with the issue far better than I have.
We made it into the city centre and had no problem parking as there seemed to be very little traffic and plenty of spaces. As I mentioned in the previous post, Charlottetown really doesn’t feel like a city, much less a Provincial capital, it has more of a large market town atmosphere.
We made our way back to the Founder’s Hall where we had visited the very useful Visitor Information Centre on arrival in Charlottetown but we didn’t need any further brochures or maps, we were loaded to the gunwales with those. We went for a different reason, an exhibition about the Confederation of Canada which I have mentioned often in this series. Here is my report and again it is from my original VT notes.
Regrettably, you won’t get a chance to do this.
As I alluded to in my introduction to Charlottetown, it styles itself as the “birthplace of Confederation” as it was here in 1864 that a conference was held between delegates from a number of what were then still Territories with the idea of possibly confederating into a nation. This conference was effectively the first step on the path to the formation of the nation we now know as Canada.
I thought the exhibition was well done utilising a mixture of tableaux and faux TV news coverage presented by modern newsreaders but reporting the news of that time.
Prior to visiting Canada my knowledge of the history of that vast country was scant to say the least as it is just not taught in UK schools but I did learn a terrific amount whilst there and this was certainly an interesting part of that learning process.
Whilst researching this tip I was quite surprised to find that it had been open since 2001 as it still looked “fresh” to me but apparently visitor numbers had dwindled to the point that it was making a considerable loss every year. That in itself does not surprise me as when Lynne and I visited in the height of the tourist season (late July) we had the place completely to ourselves which I thought was a bit of a shame as it was well worth the reasonable admission price.
They decided that they would keep it open until the end of 2014 as that was such a significant anniversary albeit that it was losing an absolute fortune and an article I read whilst researching indicates it was closing at the end of that year. I do hope the local authorities find some alternative way of marking what is a hugely siginificant event in the relatively short history of their country.”
I was correct in my assumption above and it did indeed close not long after, eventually finding new owners and re-branding as a Food Hall and Farmer’s Market. I told you Farmer’s Markets were huge in the Maritimes and we shall be visiting another one later on in this post.
By now it was definitely beer o’clock and I knew exactly where I wanted to spend that happy time, the Olde Dublin pub which I mentioned briefly in the previous post and so we headed there. Here is my impression of that excellent establishment.
How many oysters can you eat?
“OK, I know the title of this tip is a little odd so please allow me to explain and in the interest of fair reporting I shall say that my personal record is five dozen at one sitting. This was many years ago in Darling Harbour in Sydney, Australia and all washed down with around two dozen beers. They even presented me with a menu as a souvenir!
So what exactly has this got to do with Charlottetown in Canada? Bear with me and I shall explain after a couple more observations.
Having lived in Northern Ireland for the first 28 years of my life I generally dislike “Irish” bars anywhere in the world as they tend to be between unconvincing and downright ludicrous. I am sorry but putting up two Guinness posters and one from the Irish Tourist Board from c. 1985 then calling yourself Bridie O’Toole’s just doesn’t do it.
I also tend to shy away from anywhere that insists on putting the letter E onto the word old especially when the place, as proclaimed on their own sign, was established five years after I had left school. I know I am old but I am hardly “olde” yet. What then enticed me to enter the Olde Dublin House pub (est. 1983) in downtown Charlottetown?
In large measure it was the unmissable sign on the gable wall which pronounced in large letters that $1 oysters were available from 4 – 6 (1600 – 1800 hours) every day and that was just too good an offer to pass up. To put it in context, about the only place you can get oysters in London (UK) now would be a fairly posh restaurant and they normally run at about £2:50 each if not more. That is the equivalent of over $4:50 CAD each so you can understand how unbelievably cheap they appeared to me.
I have no problem in admitting when I am wrong and I was quite wrong about this place. Going up to the first floor bar (I am sorry, I did not check for wheelchair access) and almost immediately took a bit of a liking to it. A quick glance round suggested that the artefacts appeared to be genuine and the bar area itself was spacious (pretty huge in fact), spotless and comfortable. Certainly not “olde worlde” style but none the worse for that.
A friendly and courteous server filled our drink order promptly and I naturally ordered a dozen oysters. Instead of our normal practice of sitting at the bar we opted for a table over by the window and the oysters quickly appeared, served by another equally delightful young lady. The place did get busy later on but she always managed a smile and a friendly word as she passed in the way I have now come to associate with servers all over the Maritime Provinces, it really is a feature of the region.
The oysters were delicious and I believe locally sourced therefore fresh as anything and with nothing to speak of in the way of food miles if that is an issue for the reader. Simply served on the half shell on ice with a wedge of lemon and a small dish of a faintly spicy ketchup / salsa they were divine and another dozen were swiftly ordered which elicited a suitably humorous remark from the server. The second dozen arrived to the accompaniment of another well-kept and served beer and were duly dispatched the same way as the first.
By the time the third dozen arrived, I had a plan! Oysters are one of those things that you either love or hate and there is apparently little in the way of middle gorund. Lynne most definitely falls into the latter category but a lot of cajoling eventually persuaded her to try one as the image shows. Treasure this image as it is a collector’s item!
In truth, another image taken about three seconds later would have been much more amusing but I did not have the heart. She absolutely hated the thing. Well, all the more for me then so happy days and did I mention before how tasty they were? Oh, I did but it bears repeating.
Lynne contented herself with a dish of chips (fries) which I snaffled a few of and which were delicious, apparently hand cut and skin on, dry and crispy, piping hot and served in (probably faux) newspaper in the old-fashioned way but that is probably due to some Health and Safety regulation or other. It certainly didn’t detract from the taste.
Prince Edward Island is renowned, amongst other things, for the quality of it’s potatoes and they are excellent. Although it pains me to say it as a Northern Irishman, where we pride ourselves on the excellence of our “spuds”, these were as good as I have eaten.
If you don’t fancy either oysters or chips, there is a pretty extensive menu offered with all the usual favourites, often with a little (generally Irish) twist. The attached website gives full details which I do not propose to replicate here.
There is also a restaurant on the premises called the Claddagh Oyster House that I believe offers a more refined dining experience which is fine for me occasionally but wasn’t really what we were after. The bar offered all we required and did it with considerable style despite my totally unfounded preconceptions about the place.
If you want to make a night of it, the Olde Dublin offers live music every night although we had to regrettably be on the road and didn’t have time to stay for it. In a city where there are a number of excellent pubs this one really does stand out.
a quick update here, in 2021 they are still selling oysters at $1 CAD a pop and I have no idea what price they might be at home now.
As I said in the report we had to be moving as Lynne who, despite my best efforts to the contrary, had adopted the habit of booking campgrounds ahead, although thankfully usually only one day. As she was driving I didn’t really have much choice anyway.
We were aiming for Wheatley River just over 20 miles Northwest of Charlottetown so we were back on Highway #2 then the more minor #226 / #243 and made good time, getting almost to the village before we stopped.
The reason we stopped was because we had spotted the sign you can see in the image. La Serena Farm Stand, sounds good to us. A farmstand is one of the outlets for local produce that I mentioned in my discussion on the subject what seems like about a hundred posts ago!
They are normally unstaffed and work on an honour basis and you never know quite what might be on offer there, just whatever they have dug up or picked that day or the day before. I think it is a brilliant idea. It is only now in 2021 whilst researching that I have found out the amazing story of this farm and naturally I am gong to share it with you now.
In 2013 Charles and Laura Lipnicki were both in high-powered jobs in Ontario but wanted a change. Despite only ever having had a vegetable garden they had a wild idea to buy a farm either in Ontario or PEI so they visited the island but decided it wasn’t really for them. After a totally chance meeting at a pancake breakfast of all things, they heard there was a farm for sale here, viewed it, fell in love with it, bought it and moved in.
By the time we got there they had only been farming for a year and I can tell you that they were producing some lovey veggies but the story doesn’t end there. In September 2017 they opened the Island Honey Wine Company meadery (is that a word?) and you read that correctly, a place where they make their own organic mead. It sounds almost like a Hollywood script but it appears to all be true and good luck to them.
We bought a few bits and bobs and then drove literally three minutes (I checked the times on the images) when we stopped again and the reason you can see here. Yes, another War Memorial and we simply had to investigate it. Whilst it moved me at the time, it was only when re-visiting my images for this post that something occurred to me.
Wheatley River is not even big enough to be a hamlet, it is what is known as “unincorporated”. It comes under a larger administrative district called Lot 24. The latest figures I can find for this Lot are that in 2006 (last figures available), it had a population of 1,572 so I suspect it would have been much less in 1911 and yet 11 men from this small, sparsely populated rural area died in World War I. In World War II the figure was eight. Like so many other places throughout the Empire / Commonwealth, this must have been a grievous loss as it would have been predominantly young men. It certainly made me think.
We eventually made it to our campground which was another beauty but,as is my way, I shall tell you about it in the next instalment. I shall also tell you about our uncharacteristic back-tracking to Charlottetown in the regrettably all too characteristic rain so stay tuned and spread the word.