TRAVEL BLOG: Potato Edward Island

A trip to the Maritimes just wouldn’t be complete without Prince Edward Island. Other than the touristy Trap of Green Gables, which we didn’t see due to time constraints, poor map reading and the fact that I haven’t actually read the book, the Isle seems pretty nice. It’s a place of little else besides potatoes and soy and fisherman with a strong representation by retirees.

Aging Sands
But where have all the youth gone? Even the waiter that served us breakfast was a student there to study and was from Alberta. I have to assume most have gone the opposite way, headed out west to find glory and a paycheck.

There is a rule currently in place that states that to purchase a large parcel of land, something over about 5 acres, one has to be a resident and have lived on PEI for at least a year. While this seems to have been implemented to stop the expansion of summer cottages and keep PEI land in PEI hands, I’m not sure how well it’s working to keep populations and age groups in check.

PEI’s median age in 1973 was 25 and a half. In 2013, it was 43.1. In 2013, the population estimate for ages 15-24 was 19,131. In 1980, that number was 24,478 and steadily declined to it’s current state. Meanwhile, the seniors (65+) numbered 14,671 in 1980 and by 2013, that number was 25,076 – the ages of 65-74 alone made up 14,610 of that. According to the Government of PEI’s projections, the trend of less youth and more seniors will continue with natural increase (births minus death) becoming a negative figure in 2018.

Keeping Industry Afloat
Some of the best experiences I had weren’t those listed in the tourism guide like tuna fishing or clam-digging or soap making, but rather just stopping and chatting with locals. The one fisherman I met explained the hardships of losing almost 11 days of their two month lobster season due to ice – in May.

Tossed broken lobster crates at one of PEI's many shorefronts.
Tossed broken lobster crates at one of PEI’s many shorefronts.

Hundreds and thousands of lobster traps are up on shore being repaired for the next season and some are being sold to tourists as souvenirs. I’m not joking when I say I know people who have purchased them as gifts. At $10 each, the gear-as-gifts industry might be the next big thing. I’ve seen reclaimed rope woven into mats go for $40 a pop and almost every gift shop has a wall of wooden buoys that range from a few bucks to a hundred.

Other than crustaceans, agriculture is a big deal. You would think that having such a record for potatoes, both for table and for seed, that there would be a PEI brand of chips. More than 10% of the workforce on the island grows potatoes, and in 2012 the industry was worth about $1Billion. A quarter of Canada’s potatoes are grown in PEI but it looks like more fields are being turned into soy or of even more prevalence, into subdivided lots for cottages. All along the Eastern Shore and down to Charlottetown the roads are covered in “for sale” signs between the B&Bs, cottages, inns, motels and hotels. Anywhere there is waterfront it seems a large portion of it is up for grabs.

Finding Concrete Evidence 
My favorite place in all of PEI has to be near Borden-Carleton. And no, it’s not the bridge itself. That was pretty cool given that Confederation Bridge was a huge undertaking and is the longest bridge over iced waters in the world. But nearby, there’s a field full of concrete pillars and piles of rubble that served as the construction site for the bridge.

Behind the pillars where spans were constructed, you can see Confederation Bridge.
Behind the pillars where spans were constructed, you can see Confederation Bridge.

The columns that support the deck were built up on platforms to allow them to be moved over easier, and spans were made in this raised manner as well. Now, with the bridge complete, here lies a place that archaeologists will discover in a thousand years and wonder about. The local youth, whatever number of them remain, go down and tag various walls with their graffiti. Most of it was pretty basic but one or two earned a chuckle.

Oddly enough, we stumbled upon this field of concrete and only learned after stopping on the other side in Cape Jourimain, N.B. about its use.

I had a great time on the island but I don’t know if it deserves a second visit – even though it is free to get on the Island and you pay to leave. I’ll go back as soon as the islanders get the memo to make their ice cream cones larger.

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