I’d been longing to visit Prince Edward Island since I first read Anne of Green Gables as a child. Montgomery’s descriptions of this Canadian island’s “ruby, emerald and sapphire” landscapes intrigued me almost as much as the adventures of Anne Shirley, a highly imaginative 11-year-old orphan mistakenly sent to live with middle-aged brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, instead of the boy they requested to help with their farm.
First published in 1908, Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success. It’s estimated that more than 50 million copies have been sold worldwide and the novel has been translated into at least 20 languages, and adapted for the stage and screen. Today, Anne is the basis of Prince Edward Island’s multi-million-dollar tourist industry, with gift shops, house museums, horse-drawn carriage rides, a mock village and a whole lot more, all devoted to scenes and characters from the book and its seven sequels. As such, I was slightly sceptical that my visit to PEI might be marred by tacky, tourist attractions, but I decided to keep an open mind.
“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” ― Lucy Maude Montgomery, ‘
Happily, I discovered that a visit to Prince Edward Island can be a very special experience. You don’t have to be a devoted fan of ‘Anne of Green Gables’… but it helps!
The Confederation Bridge
Just getting to Prince Edward Island is a bit of adventure, if you drive there from New Brunswick on the Confederation Bridge. Spanning the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait, the curved, 12.9 kilometre (8 mile) long bridge is the longest in the world.
Anne Shirley would have arrived on PEI on the ferry from Nova Scotia and then taken the train to Bright River where Matthew Cuthbert met her in his “buggy and sorrel mare”.
Montgomery based the location of her Anne series of books on the Green Gables farm, which was owned by the MacNeill family, her cousins. The author visited the farm as a young girl and drew romantic inspiration from the house, as well as the surrounding area. In 1937, Green Gables and its surrounding area became Prince Edward Island National Park, and today the house, preserved as a historic site, welcomes over 125,000 visitors each year.
Inside the house, reconstructed rooms are decorated in stiff Victorian furniture and include details easily recognisable by fans of the books, such as a brown, puffed-sleeve dress hanging on the closet door of “Anne’s room”, a broken slate representing the one Anne Shirley broke over Gilbert Blythe’s head, and a bottle of “raspberry cordial”.
Visitors to Green Gables can also explore the Haunted Wood Trail and the Balsam Hollow Trail, which begins as Lovers’ Lane.
The capital city of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, is called the “Birthplace of Confederation” after the historic 1864 Charlottetown Conference that brought together delegates from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and led to the unification of Canada.
At the age of 15, Anne Shirley attends the Queen’s Academy in Charlottetown, where she earns a teaching licence and wins the Avery Scholarship for the top student in English.
Prince Edward Island is also famous for the “best ice-cream in Canada”, to be devoured at Cows.
There are 23 beaches on Prince Edward Island, which is an impressive number for Canada’s smallest province, and even more remarkable when you consider that the entire island only has about 1094 km (680 miles) of shoreline. White, golden, pink and red sand. There’s a beach to suit everyone.
“Look at that sea, girls–all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.” ― L.M. Montgomery, ‘
Travel Log and Tips
- I travelled to Prince Edward Island in September 2015 as part of a tour of the Canadian Maritimes with Grand American Adventures.
- Prince Edward Island is best visited during the warmer months of May to October as the winters are very harsh.
- If you’re going to visit Green Gables, get there early in the day before the crowds arrive (Green Gables is open 9 am to 5 pm).