Lighthouses and lobsters – a last look at PEI.

Good day to one and all wherever in the world you may be and, according to the site where I create these posts before publishing them here, there are people from all parts of the globe that pop by here from time to time so thank you all.

I shall start with my usual preamble and tell you that this is one of a series regarding a 2014 trip I made to Canada where my dear friend Lynne and I were on a road-trip round the Maritime Provinces in an ancient campervan / RV called Betsy which had recently turned over the clock at 100,000 km. and needed to be treated very gently and nursed along. If you wish to read the whole story from the beginning then you can do so here.

If you have read the previous post you will know that we had parked up in a beautiful campsite which, despite my best efforts, I cannot identify now but I know it was in a lovely wooded location by the water although that doesn’t really narrow the field much in PEI. Doesn’t Betsy look wonderful? If you want to know what happened next then please read on.

26th July, 2014.

The day started in usual fashion with us not getting underway until about midday but with the sun not setting until fairly late we could still get plenty done in a day. For some reason I had it in my head that we were a lot further North than we were and it was only when I checked to write this post that I found out that PEI is all further South than the South Coast of England yet last light seems later here. Everything just seems a bit different and it must just be my imagination.

Wherever it was we had started we were soon back on Trunk Road 12 which runs from Miscouche up the East side of the island and all the way to North Cape. If you go any further than North Cape, you will get wet as you will have driven into the Gulf of St. Lawrence which is not recommended.

Long before we got that far we arrived into Alberton and the first place we stopped at was the Northport Range Rear Lighthouse (what a mouthful) which has an odd history. In 1885 two lights were erected to indicate the best passage into Cascumpec Harbour over a fairly treacherous sandbar but bars are treacherous not only to shipping but to lighthouse men and by 1896 it had shifted which rendered the two lights obsolete if not downright dangerous.

The lights had originally been fairly crude open structures but they were moved, enclosed and heightened so that they once again provided the service they were initially intended to. Eventually the former rear light was sold off as a dwelling and the former front light became the rear light (Confused? You will be, I am!) which continued until 1961. There are currently plans for the local authority to take this over as a visitor attraction and it could certainly have done with a lick of paint the time we visited.

If you are wondering about the odd name of the harbour, it unsurprisingly comes form a Miq’mak native word meaning “bold sandy shore” and whilst I have given the official rendition of the spelling, this was only decided upon in 1966 and there have been many transliterations over the years. I told you it was confusing.

Back then into Alberton and here are my original notes on my impressions of the place.

“As seems to be the standard now with my pages here on the Maritime Provinces of Canada, this was another “hit and run” visit. With no specific plan, which is one of the great joys of living in a campervan (RV), we just happened upon this place and decided to stop and have a look and I am so glad we did.

As the title of this piece suggests we found not one but two decent little museums in a settlement that would barely merit the appellation of village in my home country of the UK. It was yet another one of those glorious and almost accidental finds that made my trip to this region the utter delight that it was.

Although Canada is a country with a relatively short (non-indigenous) history, this place seems to date back further than most. The explorer Jacques Cartier came ashore near here as far back as 1534 which is pretty early in Canadian terms. After a bit of fighting between the French and the British (who won) the whole of what is now the Province of Prince Edward Island came under British control and the entire piece was parcelled up into lots which were granted by lottery to wealthy Britons. This rather quaint method of addressing locations still exists although the entire Province of PEI is quaint.

Alberton was in the rather prosaically named Lot 5. Indeed, to this day, the visitor will see road signs for lots which seems to be a fairly standard geographical reference hereabouts as referred to above.

Today, this settlement of a little over 1000 serves as something of a centre for the harvests of both land and sea (serving Northport Harbour nearby and the local farming community), and delightful it is.

If you are following the scenic Highway 12 along the coast rather than the more practical but infinitely less interesting Highway 2 you will drive through here and my best advice to you is not to! Don’t drive through but rather stop and have a look round as it is very well worth it.”

So that is Alberton but what of the two museums mentioned. Here they are.

One of two beauties.

“I have mentioned in my introduction that we discovered not one but two small but very interesting museums which only served to reinforce my perception that whilst Canada has a relatively short (non-indigenous or even Viking history) they are completely committed to displaying it to the very best effect and I had some wonderful museum visits whilst there.

We had parked in the main street a little way away (it is a pretty quiet place) and the first attraction we went to was a museum situated in the old railway station. It will come as no surprise to readers of my other pages that I love railways and so this was a delight to start with as it was just crying out for a visit.

As I trust some of the images show, the old (long torn up) rail track is still very evident and now forms part of an enlightened walking / cycling / snowmobiling right of way which traverses the Province from East to West using these old railways and I believe forms part of a much, much larger trail across the entire country. What a brilliant idea and I would love to do it some day, well not all of it as I am far too old but the PEI section anyway.

To the museum itself and it is not really so much like a museum rather than just walking back a bit in time. Certainly there are a few exhibits but it is not really about that.

The old station serves as a stopping point for those on the trail, a place to have a little light refreshment if you like and an absolute delight but it is not a museum in the perhaps more accepted sense. It is rather a chance to immerse yourself in a bygone age and imagine what life was like in the lifetime of my late Grandmother who was 11 years old (in 1904) when it was built and that was to a great extent what brought it to life for me.

This is not some archaeological ruin (much as I do like them), it is a place that was a functional if originally unexciting place in the time of ancestors that I knew.

The (presumably student) attendant was courteous to a fault and when another couple came in as they were cycling the trail described above then they were also treated to extreme courtesy, local knowledge and just about all you would expect from a well-run Information Centre. I suspect this place is rather more set up to be Tourist Information than historical.

Sure, this is not the British Museum or the Smithsonian but it is none the worse for that. If you want to have a look at a small portion of what life was like for many years in this part of the world then you could do a whole lot worse than stop off here.”

Just adjacent to the old station was the village war memorial where we naturally stopped to pay our respects and then we mad our way to ………………

Here is the other one.

“Before they ever set foot across the door of the Alberton Museum the traveller should pause for a moment to admire the building itself which was the former Courthouse (de-commissioned in 1978) and is rather splendid, not to mention well-maintained. I do hope the image does it justice.

As another of my images shows, photography is not allowed inside although I did not see anything that would merit the prohibition of non-flash photography but I certainly was not going to argue the point with the delightful young lady who greeted us as we did wander in.

As seemed to be so often the case in small local Canadian Museums we visited the attendant seemed surprised and delighted to see us in about equal measure. I have mentioned elsewhere in this series that whilst the people of the Maritime Provinces (I cannot speak for the rest of the country) are very keen to present their history and do so very well, most of these smaller Museums we had just about to ourselves even in the height of the holiday season which is a bit of a shame.

The young lady insisted on giving us a tour of the place and pointing out the main items of note as well as telling us how the Museum came to be. Frankly, I think she was glad of the company. It was effectively the private collection of a lady called Mrs. Oulton who initially kept the whole lot in her barn! Thankfully, it was extended and moved to it’s rather more suitable surroundings in 1980.

So what will the visitor see in this rather quaint old collection? Well, they are not going to see an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus nor an Elgin marble nor an original Picasso but rather a fairly comprehensive selection of fairly mundane artefacts from the days of the earliest European settlers in these parts and, impressive as sargophagii (sp?) et al are, I think I rather prefer this type of place. I love to look at how ordinary people lived not so long ago and in circumstances that we nowadays would consider very harsh.

One story particularly intrigued me and again reinforced my belief that you can learn a lot in the most unlikely places. Remember that we happened to be driving through here en-route from Point A to wherever we ended up and had not even intended to stop. We did so purely because I spotted the sign for the Museum.

What I learned specifically here was the story of the silver fox fur trade. In the days when such things were in vogue, there was an almost insatiable appetite for silver fox fur in the fashion houses of the world which could not be met by the normal trapping methods employed in this part of the world where the creature was indigenous.

Several enterprising gents set up silver fox farms, breeding them purely for the fur and made themselves very rich doing it. Indeed, the young lady told us that some of the finest houses in the town, which are still standing, had been built by these sundry gentlemen with profits from the trade.

As so often on my Canadian trip, this was just really another small little local Museum in a “backwater” sort of place (I mean no disrespect at all to the delightfully friendly people of that township that we met) but I would not have missed it for the world. I walked out the door a much better informed man than I had walked in and surely that is the point of a museum.”

That was the two museums and it did not take us long to explore the rest of the town as there is not much of it so we got Betsy back on the road but, almot inevitably, we didn’t get far, certainly no more than five miles when we were pulling up again. Let me tell you why.

Fine park with historical significance.

“About five miles heading Northeast out of Alberton on Highway 12 we came upon a sign announcing the Jacques Cartier Provincial Park. In the style of our travelling we decided to pop in and have a look.

My knowledge of Canadian history was, and lamentably still is, sketchy to say the least but I knew that Jacques Cartier was one of the first Europeans to land in what is now Canada as early as 1534 and whilst exact historical records are not available it was somewhere pretty close to this spot that he “discovered” what is now Prince Edward Island. Whilst he obviously said it in French it is reputed that on landing he declared that it was “the fairest land ’tis possible to see!” and after well over 450 years I am not going to take issue with the man as it really is a beautiful corner of the planet.

Today the Park is partly RV / campsite, part supervised swimming beach (lifeguard available in high season), part day picnic area and so on and I do hope my few images do it justice. It boasts a full range of evening activities in the main tourist season.

On the way in it also boasts a rather fine statue of Cartier which the affixed plaques indicated was presented by a representative of Macdonald Tobacco Inc. in 1969. Given the rather draconian smoking regulations in Canada, I was slightly surprised they had not ordered this to be altered so as not to be seen as advertising tobacco or whatever. I did rather like the pose of the statue which seems to indicate, “Right lads, we’ll go that way” and so off into a brand new world.

Frankly, if we had not only covered a few miles by the time we got there I am sure we would have been very tempted to stay a night as it really is so lovely but the road was always calling. Definitely recommended for a visit if you are in that part of the world and well worth considering for an overnight if you are camping / caravanning / RVing.”

A few miles North we had almost made it to the charmingly named Tignish, another corruption of a Miq’mak word meaning paddle which was founded in the last year of the 18th century by nine Acadian families, shortly thereafter augmented by a number of Irish immigrants and these two communities still make up majority of the population of 719 (2016 figure). When we visited it was only a village but in 2017 it was elevated to the dizzying heights of a town, good for you Tignish!

The predominant industry here is fishing, specifically lobster which is of an excellent quality due to the unpolluted waters in this part of the North Atlantic. Indeed, it was fishing that brought us up short of the town itself by way of a sign indicating the Fishmart of the Tignish Fisheries Association which has something of a history.

Trust me, I only wanted to buy some fresh fish / seafood as I have already spoken of our determination to buy local independently sourced produce where we could. I didn’t know then that it was the first fishing co-op in all of Canada. Here is the story.

In the early part of the 20th century life was hard for the fishermen on PEI and I do not just mean the back-breaking physical labour in harsh and often dangerous conditions. In a situation very reminiscent of the mining community we had visited at Glace Bay quite a few days previously, the fishermen were completely controlled and exploited by rich bosses.

They worked on a half-line system whereby they had to give half their catch to the businessmen who never put to sea but rented them the boats. In the winter, when there was no fishing, they were extended credit by the bosses but in the form of “currency” that could only be used at the company store they owned. It was effectively a form of serfdom.

By the 1920’s, many of the men had had enough and enlisted the help of Chester McCarthy, a local lawyer, who gave them the correct legal advice on how to set up the co-op even though there were no laws governing such an enterprise at the time and in 1923 the enterprise was started with seven men. Today there are 175 fishermen involved and a further 100+ employed in the adjacent processing plant.

The co-op went from strength to strength and in 1962 landed an amazing 13,200 lbs. of lobster alone although they do not do such things now. Today the co-op is very much into sustainability and there are strict rules about the size of the catch landed with pregnant females being returned to ensure the population. They export their product all over the world and have won many export awards.

Needless to say, I was like a kid in a sweetshop when I went in there and emptied my wallet if not quite their shelves. The selection was superb and you’ll see some of it later on in the post. On we went and had only the briefest of looks round Tignish as Lynne had done her usual planning trick of having booked us into the KOA campsite at Borden – Carleton which would give us a last night on PEI and leave us well placed to head over into New Brunswick the next day.

The drive to the campground was uneventful and we got checked in, thankfully just missing the karaoke, but I’ll tell you all about that in my campsite piece in the next post when I have a good look round in the morning.

The evening meal that day was respectably early by my standards with both courses served before midnight which regular readers will know is a rarity for a pair of night owls like us. I promised you a look at the lobster I had bought earlier and so I went for a very retro 70’s lobster cocktail with my own recipe Marie Rose sauce which I am rather proud of. The presentation was not so much retro but rather camping kitsch as I like to think of it. I am not going to show you the main as it was fairly average to say the least but probably tasty enough if I could even tell from the images what it was.

Another great day on our road-trip, our last on PEI which I had fallen completely in love with, and the days were ticking down rapidly now. In the next post we get to New Brunswick, the third Province of the tour which was nothing short of miraculous given Betsy’s state of health and if you want to know what happens then stay tuned and spread the word.

Author: Fergy.

Hello there. I am a child of the 50's, now retired and had been enjoying travelling pre-virus. Now I am effectively under house arrest. Apart from travelling, I love playing music (guitar, vocals and a bit of percussion) as the profile pic suggests and watching sport, my playing days are long over. I read voraciously, both fiction and nonfiction I'll read just about anything although I do have a particular interest in military history of all periods. I live alone in fairly central London where I have been for over 30 years since leaving Northern Ireland which was the place of my birth. I adore cooking and I can and do read recipe books and watch food programmes on TV / online all day given half a chance.

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