Summer Travel ’09: Prince Edward Island

Charming island of adventure
Brian Banks

Prince Edward IslandCharlottetown Festival (June 18-Sept. 26) Now in its 45th year, the Charlottetown Festival is the event that really put Charlottetown—and P.E.I., for that matter—on the Canadian travel map. It’s three months of musical theatre, comedy and other artistic performance from top Canadian actors, performers, directors and writers, at the Confederation Centre for the Arts. Anne of Green Gables: The Musical—the production that started it all—anchors the program. Other 2009 productions include Charlie Farquharson and Them Udders and Stan Rogers: A Matter of Heart. One-night musical performances feature the likes of Rawlins Cross and Gordie Sampson. The Confederation Centre is located close to the provincial legislature, Province House, in Charlottetown’s charming Victorian downtown. Smaller theatres and galleries have taken hold nearby; all of that, in turn, is not far from waterfront trails and parks established recently on the town’s harbour.

Old Home Week, Charlottetown (Aug. 13-22) If the Charlottetown Festival brings tourists from “away” to P.E.I., Old Home Week calls to native Islanders who have also left the fold. The result: a provincial homecoming featuring livestock shows, agricultural competitions, a midway, concerts and, at the centre of it all, 15 cards of harness racing—P.E.I.’s unofficial No. 1 pastime—over 10 days at the Charlottetown Driving Park Entertainment Centre. Old Home Week was first held in 1888 and now draws upwards of 80,000 people annually. The final-night, final-race climax is the Gold Cup & Saucer, the most prestigious harness race in Atlantic Canada, which marks its 50th anniversary in 2009. Get there early: the grounds will be packed and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a dry eye anywhere when it’s over.

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: Full coverage of Summer Travel ’09

2009 Canada Games (Aug. 15-29) Full marks if you know the Canada Games aren’t a P.E.I.-exclusive. In fact, this two-week competition, involving thousands of elite, amateur Canadian youth athletes, has been held every two years (summer and winter games, alternately) in a different province since 1967. When P.E.I.’s turn came up for 2009, instead of several communities submitting competing bids, it made a single, province-wide submission. The result: a Canada Games first, in which spectators will be able to take in 18 events (such as softball, soccer, rowing and cycling), see at least a few future Olympians, and do so in a way that takes them into towns and communities all over the island. Know this: Islanders will hold nothing back when it comes to hospitality. Set an itinerary that includes an eastern or western island road trip and see how much you can eat, drink and soak up in the process.

Cavendish Beach, P.E.I. National Park Red cliffs and white sand beaches are a P.E.I. staple. To get your fill of both, head to Cavendish Beach and Prince Edward Island National Park, which stretches almost 50 km along the island’s north shore. Dune lovers should seek out the Greenwich Peninsula, a six-kilometre stretch of spectacular sand dunes and trails added to the park in 1998. Of course, Cavendish is also home to all things Anne of Green Gables, including the house that inspired author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous story, an Anne of Green Gables museum, as well as Avonlea Village, a kind of themed, historical amusement park. A Lucy Maud Montgomery Festival kicks off in early July. Overlapping that is the Cavendish Beach Music Festival, a three-day country music festival, which this year features international headliners Reba McEntire and Tim McGraw (July 10-12).

Golf Golf Golf No province has a monopoly on great golf, but P.E.I. consistently ranks as the country’s top golfing holiday destination. Credit the number of courses (more than 30), their quality (10 in Canada’s top 100), the picturesque landscape and P.E.I.’s small size, which means every course is nearby. The island’s rep got its latest boost when the Golf Channel selected Mill River Golf Course as the setting for its spring 2009 edition of the Big Break reality golf series. Consensus picks as P.E.I.’s two best courses: the Links at Crowbush Cove, on the north shore near Morell, and Dundarave, on the Brudenell River, near Georgetown. They’re a half-hour drive apart and each a half-hour drive from Charlottetown.