Hello once more one and all and welcome back to the latest in my series about a road-trip round the Maritime Provinces of Canada in the alleged summer of 2014. I say alleged as the weather was awful and we had already survived a hurricane! For purposes of clarification we are my dear friend Lynne and Betsy the 33-year-old campervan.
If you have been following the series you will know that in the previous post we had returned to Charlottetown, capital of Prince Edward Island Province for some more sight-seeing and had spent the night in the KOA Campground where we had been previously. If you have not been following the series and would like to do so from the beginning then it starts here.
I think that by now we had seen most of what Charlottetown had to offer, which was quite a lot, and it was time to get back on the road so if you want to join us then please read on.
25th July, 2014.
We awoke to another morning of lousy weather and my mood was not improved when I realised that I had exactly one week left before I had to fly home. We had been roaming about without a care in the world and, as is always the way when you are enjoying yourself, the time had just slipped by. Ah well, that is all part and parcel of travelling and I was used to it by then.
Again we were on the road pretty early by our standards but we didn’t get far before our first stop of the day and the image says it all. I promised in the previous post to tell you about Lynne’s addiction and this is it. In the same way as I have beer o’clock Lynne has coffee o’clock and that can be any hour of the day or night.
I am as fond of an infusion of the seeds of the coffea arabica plant as the next man but, like most North Americans, Lynne is obsessed with it and, whilst I know that she is on first name terms with all the staff at her local Starbucks in Edmonton who even write her messages on her takeaway cup, her absolute obsession is Tim Horton’s or Timmy’s as it is often referred to in Canada.
Timmy’s is something of a national institution and I well remember her absolute, almost childish, delight at finding one in Belfast, Northern Ireland a couple of months later when she visited me in UK. I must admit I didn’t even know it was there as it certainly had not been in my time in the country but I suppose I had been living away for 26 years at that point.
With Lynne caffeined to the eyeballs (is that good for a driver?) we set out along Highway #2 aka Veteran’s Memorial Highway and put a good amount of ground behind us before we found something interesting to stop at in the small rural community (the official designation, it is too small and spread out to be a village) of Miscouche.
Miscouche has a population of 932 (2016 figure) yet it boasts a Mayor (with Deputy), a Fire Chief (also with Deputy), bingo every Sunday evening in the Rec. Centre and a branch of A.A. Of rather more interest to me was the Acadian Museum, although I suppose I should really call it the Musée Acadien, and we simply had to pull in.
Since arriving in the Maritimes I had been learning about the Acadians, a group that, to my eternal shame, I had never previously even heard of and who I was becoming increasingly fascinated by. I still am, come to that.
I only ever try to report honestly and the exterior was certainly in need of a bit of a touch up as the images show. A quick look at more recent images online shows that this has been done beautifully.
On the inside, I have to report that it was one of the most sparsely populated museums I have ever been in in terms or artefacts and yet, yet is as powerful as the “but” I mentioned before, it was one of the most fascinating and worthwhile. Consider for a moment the function of a museum and, as a complete non-academic, this must only be a personal view.
Surely a museum must exist to preserve and conserve what history is available to it and to present it to the best of it’s ability to educate and inform potential visitors. Certainly, archaeological exploration, re-constructions / re-enactments, research etc. are all valuable contributions but presentation and education must be the core function and the Musée Acadien does what it is meant to.
Through a series of professionally presented panels I was treated to a complete history of the Acadians on PEI and to a lesser extent all the Maritimes. It really seemed to me a case of making the best of the little you had, as was the lot of the Acadians here, in days past.
I have included the occasional image of the Acadian flag / logo in previous posts but I did not fully explain them as I was waiting for this opportunity because it makes sense here. I like things to be where they are meant to be.
The Acadian flag is effectively a French tricoleur of red, white and blue but it has a yellow star in the blue third. As relatively old as the Acadians are in the Maritimes, both pre and post expulsion, the flag was only actually agreed on in 1884 at a conference of Acadian people in this “nothing” place on a small island (by modern Canadian terms) and yet it’s resonance is profound. Once again we had stumbled upon some great history by accident.
In the years between 1881 and 1937 there were ten conferences of the Acadian people and at the second was held here in 1884 where Father Marcel-François Richard, an Acadian himself, proposed the flag we see today. With the French tricoleur being obvious to even the casual observer, what is the relevance of the star which differentiates it from that of the “home” country?
The star is the “Stella Maris” (Star of Mary) and relates to Judeo-Christian mythology in that Mary, who could not have been called that as the name Mary is purely Western European, has a star named for her. The Mother of the historical Christ was probably called Miriam or Maryam or some variation thereof as Mary was unknown as a name at that time and in that place. Just another lie.
Whatever her nomenclature, she allegedly guided the Acadians back to North America by her star, “Stella Maris” in the Latin. I even remember one of the best boxing schools in my “home” city of Belfast being Stella Maris so the cultural symbolism is strong.
The reason it is the colour yellow is, as the Roman catholic priest affirmed, that “The tricolour flag would become the flag of Acadia, with the addition of a star in the papal colour on the blue section. The star representing Mary, the Stella Maris, will serve as the emblem on our flag in the way that the flag of Canada incorporates that of England as a symbol of Confederation…”.
I could now digress into a whole dissertation about why organised religion was the greatest threat then to our species in the 21st century but I won’t. The Chinese have managed to knowingly unleash an even greater danger which has altered the world irrevocably.
Suffice it to say that a religion which, by my Northern Irish upbringing I have come to to distrust hugely was, in 2014, bringing me huge interest in a subject I had known nothing about previously. Travel is good like that and only one of the many reasons I now miss it so much.
Our next stop-off was literally round the corner and we could have easily walked it from the back door of the museum but we drove round and found ourselves in the local graveyard leading to the Church.
Graveyards are to me like nectar to a bee or perhaps a moth to a flame, please pick the analogy of your choice. Given the relatively recent history of PEI, this was a beauty. Having been fascinated thus far on the trip by the Acadians, as I noted above, the cemetery was an absolute treasure trove of the social history of the area and the names on the headstones were mostly French.
As I have mentioned elsewhere in this series, the British settlers of the Maritimes were mostly Scottish and Protestant, predominantly Presbyterian, and so would have been interred elsewhere. I have long wondered about the divisions engendered by organised religion even in death, I suppose it is just another way of exerting the complete control which is all they are really about.
Whilst the cemetery as a whole was fascinating, as they always are to me, there were a couple of graves that particularly caught my eye. The first was a mass grave of those formerly interred at La Riviére Platte and who, presumably, were re-interred here for whatever reason.
The second grave that particularly interested me was the Gaudet family plot. The obverse of the headstone commemorates Alfred J. (1913 – 2012) and Mildred L. (1910 – 1985) but it is the reverse that made me stop and look closer. Commemorated here is Dennis J. (1941 – 2012) and also Alfred S. Jr. (b. 1945), Darryl M. (b.1943) and Joanne G. (b. 1945) with the latter three having no dates of death. Were they still alive when I visited in 2014? It is entirely possible but I found it a little ghoulish to have your headstone partially carved before you are even dead, if that was indeed the case. Talk about a constant reminder of your own mortality, although I suppose it ensured uniformity of the stonemason’s work.
The cemetery is overlooked by the rather imposing three story building you can see in the image which was, until 1984 the convent nuns of of the Congregation de Notre Dame with an attached school, initially for girls only but latterly co-educational which was the first Acadian convent school in the Provinces of New Brunswick and PEI.
As you can see in the image above the grave of the Reverend Sister St. Fulbert CND (d. 1896) and, in this case CND does not stand for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament although I feel the Reverend Sister would probably have approved. I further suspect that she would also have approved of her final resting place being overlooked by the building which housed her colleagues and successors. RIP, sister.
Having visited the cemetery it seemed only logical to visit the rather splendid adjacent church and so we did.
When we went in I was confronted with a sight that is now ubiquitous in the wake of the Chinese originated pandemic which has effectively destroyed the world but which, at the time, I had only ever seen in places like hospitals – a hand sanitizer dispenser. I was so surprised to see it that I took the image above and I do distinctly remember mentioning it in my original notes (now sadly lost) which I published on Virtual Tourist.
As always in Canada, the building itself is not comparatively that old, it is no Gothic Norman cathedral, but it is spacious, well-maintained and does have some interesting features, not least of which is the commemorative tablet headed “For King and Country”.
It is unusual in that it does not merely commemorate the dead but rather those “who have volunteered for active service” which I thought was rather nice. Strangely, it does not state specifically which war this tablet commemorates but by the style and numbers involved I am guessing WWI.
I have mentioned in previous posts that I am very proudly British and am equally proud of having served my country under arms but I do recognise our many historical shortcomings. Our treatment of the Acadians was certainly one such example and yet, less than two centuries later, young men (yes, they were all men in those days, active servicewomen were long in the future) were volunteering in apparently huge numbers to fight and, quite often die, for a country that had treated their forebears so shabbily. Just another little something to ponder on.
By this stage of the journey, as you may have guessed, I had developed quite a soft spot for the Acadians, they are lovely people who didn’t even laugh at me when I ventured a few words of my schoolboy French! It is strange that Lynne, being Canadian where being bi-lingual is the norm and French is taught in Anglophone schools, speaks far better French than I do and yet steadfastly refuses to do so in public.
With my limited vocabulary and very tenuous grasp of French grammar, I rattle it off whenever I can. I am sure that Miss James, the poor woman entrusted with the unenviable task of dinning some knowledge of the French language into my unreceptive skull is looking down somewhere lamenting my appalling mangling of that tongue but perhaps smiling a little that at least some of it stuck.
The Church itself is not actually on the site where it started which I suppose is one advantage of timber construction over the Gothic stone edifices I mentioned above. Imagine trying to move Salisbury Cathedral but that is what the Acadians did in the early 19th century when, following an accommodation with the English landowner they were sold a plot of 6,000 acres here on Lot 17 and they moved their church, lock, stock and barrel from nearby Malpeque to close by where the present structure is. This was done in time for Father MacDonald (not a very Acadian name I know) to celebrate midnight Christmas Mass in 1824.
The convent we saw earlier was opened in 1864, literally a stone’s throw from the church, with three nuns from the afore-mentioned CND (a Montreal based order) initially in charge. The current structure dates only to 1891 which, to put it in context, only predates my maternal grandmother by two years. At the risk of repetition I can only say again that a country so chronologically young in terms of European influence (and latterly Asian influence) is absolutely packed with history and interest if you keep your eyes open.
The main interest in the Church of St. Jean Baptiste is the organ, a Casavant which means absolutely nothing to me, Philistine that I am but standby for a shameless name-drop here. I know nothing of organs but a classmate of mine from school certainly would. Barry Douglas, awarded the CBE in the 2021 New Year’s Honours List, is an international pianist of some renown and used to play the organ for assembly at our school. Barry would know what to do with this fine piece which I lamentably did not take a viable image of.
I am, by way of religious conviction or lack thereof, an atheist but I was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican tradition and therefore have no real knowledge of the stations of the cross which are so evident in Roman Catholic churches / cathedrals. For some obscure reason I find myself drawn to them in such buildings and there is a particularly fine set (if that is the correct term) in St. Jean Baptiste. I did spend some time looking at them.
I fully realise that this post is becoming a little philosophical which is not at all my intention. My reason for starting this site was primarily as a travel blog and it remains so but travel has a way of making you think. I am certainly no Schopenhauer or Hegel (take note, Monty Python fans!) but my mind tends to turn a little more actively when I am on the road and being confronted daily with things that are unfamiliar to me.
With the church well and truly visited we jumped back in Betsy and headed vaguely West again. I had never heard of Miscouche before and I doubt Lynne had as she is more of a Nova Scotia girl but look what happened. All that history in a place that didn’t even look like it was a place, this trip was turning out more educational than I could ever have imagined.
West took us past some more beautiful scenery, even on a main road and I was beginning to wonder if there were any ugly places in the Maritimes. I am sure there must be but I am damned if I found any in six weeks of roaming about them.
Whether by good luck or good judgement we rolled into Tyne Valley, another place that probably doesn’t deserve the name of village as it consisted of a few houses, a pharmacy, a tattoo shop of all things, and no less than three restaurants, at least one of which also served as a bar so job done.
Lynne had said she was a bit tired and we had covered a few miles. Not driving anything with more than two wheels I can still understand that small as Betsy was, without power steering and in her condition, she was a bit of a physical entity to control and so we adopted our usual strategy.
Lynne parked up just across the road from the excellent Landing Oyster House and Pub and don’t bother looking for it online, it is another of those wonderful places we visited that has now closed. Yes, it is a burger joint now, just what Canada needs, another burger joint!.
Some readers might think that it is a very strange way that we were operating on this trip and I fully understand why. Let’s look at a typical day for us and this was one such.
I would wake first and have a look round the campsite where we had invariably arrived at dusk the evening before. I would go back to Betsy and wake Lynne with a coffee (I did tell you about her addiction and I do not make coffee like a Tim Horton’s but it seemed to suffice) and then she would go and shower whilst I battened down the hatches in Betsy to prevent a recurrence of the awful first day turning disaster. Please go back to the first day of our trip if you don’t understand this.
We would get on the road and stop at any hole in the hedge that I thought might be interesting and Lynne would end up having to drag me out of some tiny museum / church / graveyard or whatever. We would drive on a bit, come to a settlement with a pub where I would ensconce myself for the afternoon whilst Lynne had a nap in Betsy.
I would wake her at a pre-arranged hour (with another coffee obviously) and we would drive a bit further to the campsite Lynne had chosen, despite my efforts to stop her planning ahead. She was probably right, though.
Most people would find this a most unusual way to conduct a road-trip but most people weren’t in Betsy, we were. Apart from a few weekends “ticking” pubs in a couple of ancient VW Kombis in UK it was my first real campervan / RV road-trip and certainly the first without a bunch of drunken hairy-a*sed rugby players and I believe I am right in saying it was Lynne’s first road-trip under such circumstances.
At no point had we ever sat down and drawn up a rulebook of how we were going to tour, it just happened fairly organically. The reader should bear in mind that until I saw her standing waiting for me after my horrorshow (any Clockwork Orange fans reading?) at Halifax airport I had never even met the lady before.
I am very much a “lone wolf” when it comes to travelling and the whole thing, on paper, was doomed from the off with a potential ending of one of us killing the other and we are both capable of such. Thankfully we were not travelling on paper, we were travelling on Canadian Maritime roads, major and very minor to the point of being unpaved tracks and we had a ball. This day is an absolute microcosm of that.
Two of us in a 23′ confined space for six weeks with both of us used to being single, the whole thing was a potential powderkeg waiting for a spark and it never happened. I am not giving a spoiler here but we were to go on another two even longer trips round Western Canada in similar circumstances and we have never yet had a cross word between us.
Believe me, nobody is more perplexed by this situation than me but I hope that, if you have read my previous posts, you know I only ever report honestly and this is the absolute truth.
Back to Tyne Valley and enough of my ramblings but I thought it was worth it a) to explain what may have appeared to the reader at first sight a very odd situation and, perhaps more importantly b) to give anything a go once. It was not even in my thinking to embark on a road-trip with one female, that was madness in my head. How the Hell could I put up with one woman for all that time in a very confined space? I had tried living with women a few times and it always ended in tears.
I tried it, I loved it and, by the end of this trip, we were already planning the next one which I shall hopefully recount here in due course. I actually ascribe a lot of it to us both having been in the Forces. Living intimately close with others comes pretty easily to those who have served, albeit that living with the “contrary gender” is still not encouraged in the Forces of either of our respective countries.
Enough, enough! Sorry, my mind tends to wander when thinking about this trip as there are so many wonderful memories but back now to the Landing Oyster House and Pub. Again, my notes are sadly and needlessly lost but I do remember the place well and have a video to share with you (see below).
The Landing was a typical PEI wooden building and a reasonable size when I walked in. The size was accentuated by the fact that I was the only person there, even at the height of tourist season.
A quick glance round yielded the information that this was a music pub, attested to by the mandolin on the wall, which may have been purely ornamental although it looked serviceable but the clincher was the evidence of gigs passed in one corner. There were a couple of mic stands, a Peavey bass amp and several setlists / lyric sheets lying around in the general detritus that musicans leave lying behind them.
I went to the bar where I was greeted in typically friendly fashion by a guy I later learned was called Josh who quickly served me up a pint of “red”, a type of beer I rarely see in UK (never during virus house arrest!) but which I had become quite fond of in the Maritimes.
As the name suggests this was very much a local seafood place, it is such a shame it had to become generic and turn burger with so much brilliant natural seafood on the doorstep but I suppose demand drives supply. Yes, I failed my Economics “A” level, all that supply and demand nonsense. When I got an “E” grade, I thought it stood for Economics. Probably best I chose a less cerebral career path.
After serving me Josh took about shuckng oysters and which I made a video of which you can see here. The clip features me attempting some sort of interview with the poor guy who was using a very sharp knife to perform a potentially dangerous culinary prep task and trying to talk to me at the same time. I am so glad he didn’t lose a digit.
You see now why I am happier relying on images rather than videos, I just cannot do it. I realise that this is a shameless plug but, if you want to see how a video should be done (including drone footage) and even overcoming a virtually incomprehensible Northern Irish accent, you should have look at my kid brother’s offerings online. Did I just say kid? The man is 60 now!
I do warn you that his site is mostly standing up to his knees in freezing water fishing or riding one of his four large motorcycles at speeds the Constabulary would probably frown upon but it shows what can be done. I fear my efforts on the clip given show my shortcomings in that respect but it is an honest reflection of an afternoon that included many more than one “red”.
I bade a genuinely fond farewell and went back across the road to Betsy and Lynne who was fully revived after her dozette and ready to go. Had we been self-sufficient, as we were to be on our subsequent trips, we could happily have stayed the night parked up in Tyne Valley at the side of the road and I know that nobody in authority would have bothered us as long as we were not causing a nuisance but, sadly, that was not an option and so on we went.
We drove on and arrived at the campground which, to my shame and despite forensic examination of my images I cannot place. I know Lynne reads this drivel so, if you can help mate, it would be much appreciated and I shall amend this page accordingly.
Wherever it was, it boasted a beautiful sunset over water, I was getting quite used to that by now. I know the image appears slightly “flared out” but I wanted it that way, that is the way I saw it with eyes that were probably at that time suffering the first signs of the cataracts that have semi-blinded me now.
That should really be the end of this post except for an image of whatever easily prepared culinary nonsense I presented for the evening meal but I have no such image.
What I do have, timed at 0133 the next morning is an image that might amuse some of you. I published an image a few posts ago when Lynne had French plaited my hair and I flippantly said something along the lines of “thankfully she didn’t get round to my beard”. I know that one of my regular readers (you know who you are) had commented similarly, hoping Lynne would get round, literally, to the other side of my head. I spoke too soon and so, please observe the plaited beard.
Don’t even ask me what that silver thing is holding it in place. In fairness, I had had my beard plaited before (always at the behest of some female with itchy fingers) and I don’t mind it. Combined with the long hair, the bandanna I habitually wear and the heavy gold earring, I think it looks quite piratical.
Enough of my very late night tonsorial stylings and let me tell you that in the next post we shall visit another two museums, including another railway one, another lighthouse and another quality local produce supplier, in this case fish so, if you are not already overloaded with lighthouses, museums and fresh food then please stay tuned and spread the word.