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Finding Old World Charm on a New World Island

June 25, 1989|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

Looming in front of us and not helping my disposition any was a pickup with a camper on the back. I hate to be behind vehicles I can't see around.

It wasn't as if this was a traffic jam. It wasn't. My wife, Joyce, and I had been traveling through some of Canada's Maritime Provinces, and we were at the car-ferry landing in Caribou, Nova Scotia, waiting to cross over to Prince Edward Island.

I was tapping impatiently on the steering wheel when I hit the horn. It stuck. With both of us pounding and pulling, it stopped after a few seconds. But it sure got the adrenaline going.

"Now, you've done it," Joyce said.

"It was just an accident," I answered. My wife, who was looking through the windshield, nodded toward the pickup.

"Which," she said, "you may be about to have."

A tall man with a red face and muscular arms had climbed down from the truck's cab and was walking toward us. As he leaned on the driver's side window frame, the car settled a little in his direction.

"Tourists, right?" he said.

"It was an accident," I said. "The horn has a hair trigger. No offense."

He waved my answer aside.

"Just thought you might be trying to get my attention. Nobody honks much around here."

He leaned in and introduced himself as George Wasson. Then he called out toward the camper, and a lady and two young girls came out. He introduced them as his wife and daughters.

We learned that he was a fisherman, that for aboot (Canadian for about) four months a year he was a lobsterman, and that he and his family had lived on Prince Edward Island for generations. He informed us that God also lived on Prince Edward Island.

His wife asked if there was anything special we should see on the island.

"Just touring the Maritimes," I said. "We don't even know what we should look for."

"Got a map?" Wasson asked. We handed it to him.

"First," he said, "it helps if you know we call her 'P.E.I.,' and that she's the most beautiful part of Canada." He spread the map on the hood of the car and we all crowded around while the Wassons pointed out the places we would have to see.

Even the girls got involved. "You'll have to go to the preserves," the older girl said. The other agreed. "It's the most fun. The preserves are just heavenly."

They told us about Charlottetown, the only city among 30 villages, "the home of Canadian independence," along with harness racing and lobster dinners. We promised to take a guided tour. There were no arguments about trying the lobster dinners.

"You never get tired of them," Wasson said.

Then a name was dropped that made no impression on me at all but it seemed like magic to the ladies.

"And you'll have to go to Ann's house."

"Ann? Ann who?"

"Ann of Green Gables," the fisherman said. Seeing that I still didn't understand, he lowered his voice and continued.

"She was a fictional character," he said. Catching his daughter's disapproving look, he added, "I think. You'll get to know her before you leave."

-- -- --

We booked a room at the Linden Lodge, which was really a bed and breakfast place that was also a farm. A dog on a chain in the front yard announced our arrival by barking, jumping in the air and then running in tight circles trying to bite himself on the rump.

Since each circle seemed to shorten his chain, I figured maybe he'd be good for two more guest arrivals and then the back half wouldn't be able to get away from the front.

Sinclair MacTavish, owner of the inn and the dog, came out and introduced himself.

"Don't know why he does that," MacTavish said. "The older he gets the more he acts like people." He never did explain that one.

The next morning, after breakfast, we got a little history of the island.

Over coffee, MacTavish explained how in 1803 the forefathers and mothers of the island's population had arrived, having been evicted from their farms during the Highland Clearances and deported to the New World.

The English landholders of the Scottish shires of Ross, Argyle and Inverness and the isles of Uist, Skye and Mull thought they could make more money using the land for sheep rather than tenant farms. So they simply deported the population to the Maritime Provinces.

When we loaded our bags into the car, the dog was growling at his backside and snapping at his hind feet a time or two.

MacTavish told us to take it easy, enjoy the countryside and come back.

We drove through rich farm land and along the ocean. Nearly every house had a yard half-full of lobster traps, and it didn't look as if anyone was in a hurry.

Our city guide in Charlottetown was in his last year of high school. The tour took an hour and the guide provided a lot of information about Canadian history. Even more about hockey. He was hoping for an athletic scholarship to college.

When I asked him if he was good, he answered: "Still got my teeth." I took that to mean "yes."

At the end of the tour he pointed out the Confederation Centre of the Arts. "Every year from June 21 to Oct. 8 there's 'Ann of Green Gables,' a musical show. It makes the ladies laugh and cry."

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