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Prince Edward Island

Spend time with 3 of Canada’s loveliest ‘ladies’ — Anne, Charlotte and Victoria

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Originally named for St. John, Prince Edward Island was renamed in 1799 in honor of King George III's son.

This fertile, red-soiled island — a crescent 140 miles long — was attracting more and more attention, and no one wanted to be confused with the St. Johns in New Brunswick or Newfoundland.

PEI (as it is now often called) is known as the Cradle of the Confederation, because it was here that meetings leading to the unification of Canada were held. Because of its rich farmland, it has been called Garden of the Gulf, the Million Acre Farm and Spud Island (potatoes are a leading crop).

PEI is industrious and hard-working. It has an important political legacy. But it is also full of charm and beauty.

And despite the fact that it is named for a prince, it is the "ladies" of PEI that help define its heart and soul. Here are three every visitor to PEI should get to know:

Anne

If you arrive in PEI by driving across the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick, almost the first welcome you get is from Anne of Green Gables. A bronze statue of her gives you a cheery wave at the Gateway Village.

Prince Edward Island was home to Anne Shirley, the dear heroine of numerous books by Lucy Maud Montgomery who has enthralled generations of readers.

You can't read the books without falling in love with her island — or wanting to see for yourself the red-colored roads, the soft sand dunes, the lakes of "shining waters" and the woods of haunted

memories, Lover's Lane.

You find all these places around Cavendish on the north shore. This is where Montgomery lived, and where she is buried. This is where she set her stories about the little orphan girl.

Shortly after "Anne of Green Gables" was published in 1908, visitors began coming to Cavendish to find her. And although she is a fictional character, there is much to associate with her.

"Cavendish is to a large extent Avonlea," Montgomery wrote in 1911. "Green Gables was drawn from David Macneill's house, though not so much the house itself as the situation and scenery, and the truth of my description of it is attested by the fact that everyone has recognized it."

You can visit the site of Montgomery's girlhood home, a museum at Silver Bush that contains artifacts and mementos from her life, and, of course, Green Gables.

The restored farmhouse is now part of Prince Edward Island National Park, created in 1937 to protect both the coastal landscape of the area and the cultural sites surrounding the Anne stories. The site includes the house and outbuildings as well as walking trails down Lover's Lane and through the Haunted Woods.

There is plenty of "scope for imagination" here, as Anne might say.

The rest of the national park is also worth a visit. Encompassing sand dunes and beaches, freshwater ponds and saltwater marshes, woodlands and green fields, the park is a place to meet and mingle with nature at its best.

You can learn the intricate processes of dune creation: erosion, shifting sands, delicate ecosystems.

You can watch for some of the more than 300 species of birds that make their home in the park.

Among them are the endangered piping plover; as few as 25 pairs nest here — about 2 percent of the world's dwindling population.

More common are the great blue herons, the elegant wading birds that are the park's symbol; watch for them in shallow bays, ponds and marshes.

You can walk along the sandy beaches, listening to the gentle rush of the waves, looking out over the St. Lawrence Gulf, and feel a kinship to all those who live here: animal or human; real or imagined.

Charlotte

The wife of George III gave her name to the capital of PEI, a stately city overlooking Hillsborough Bay founded in the early 1700s. But with a population of about 30,000, Charlottetown retains a lot of small-town appeal.

The compactness and central location of important sites, make Charlottetown easily and ideally explored on foot.

A walking tour of the Great George Street Historic District takes you past banks and businesses, homes and churches that have preserved the history of the area in brick and stone.

You must visit the Province House, the seat of island government since 1847 and the place where the founding fathers met in 1864 to form Canada, which was finally unified on July 1,1867.

You might not have realized that Canada is such a young nation — if so, you would not be alone. A lot of Americans are sadly ignorant of Canadian history, but the guides at the Province House won't hold it against you. Instead, they will eagerly share the details with you; tell you the story of the meetings, as important here as our own Continental Congress.

And, you might find it interesting that PEI did not join the union at first. Not until 1873 — after the lumber boom had turned to bust — did PEI become the seventh Canadian province.

Next to the Province House is the Confederation Center of the Arts, with art galleries and theaters that pay tribute to Canada's artistic heritage. Not to be missed is the musical version of "Anne of Green Gables."

As for shopping, you can't beat the quaint and charming Victoria Row, a collection of shops and restaurants along Richmond Street. Especially noteworthy is the Island Crafts Shop that features pottery, batik, woodwork, stained glass, knitting, weaving and other work done by Islanders.

Also of interest is the Confederation Landing Park, down at the waterfront. Fishing boats mix with pleasure boats in the bustling harbor, and you get a sense of the importance of the sea. If you have time, you can even take a harbor cruise.

Victoria

Victoria-by-the-Sea is the country cousin, the seaside girl that is typical of many of the small towns that dot the island.

As one guidebook says, "the Trans-Canada Highway bypasses Victoria, and so does time. On an island where everything seems small, slow-moving and tranquil, Victoria is even more so."

This 19th-century fishing town, with a population of about 200, looks much the way now as it did then.

The village houses tea rooms, craft shops and lots of atmosphere. A small seaport museum is found in the lighthouse. And the Victoria Playhouse is known throughout the island for its summer repertory season.

You might find it hard to believe that this was once one of the major seaports on the island; a hundred years ago three wharves would have been hopping with activity from fishing boats and trading vessels. Fishing boats still work the waters around here, but most of the other commercial activity has shifted elsewhere.

Victoria is small, quiet and charming.

The best way to get to it from Charlottetown is along the scenic coastal Blue Heron Drive. This specially designated byway circles the center of the island, and along with the Kings Byway and the Lady Slipper Drive offers the most picturesque views of PEI. This small section takes you past hay fields and potato farms as well as along curving oceanside roads.

Near Victoria the Blue Heron Drive will also take you to another National Historic Site: Fort Amherst-Port La Joye. The French and Acadians established a fort here in 1720; the British took over in 1758. Grass-covered earthworks are all that remain of the once-strategic settlement. But you can get the story of life in the 18th century at the interpretive center.

The site also offers a great view of Charlottetown, across the harbor, and of the red cliffs along the shoreline. You can walk along a nature trail to a couple of small lighthouses or have a picnic in the serene setting.

Anne, Charlotte and Victoria are by no means the only worthy acquaintances on PEI. The island offers a full contingent of sights, sounds and activities. For the adventurous, there are ample opportunities for sea kayaking, canoeing and windsurfing. Cycling is also popular, especially along the new Confederation Trail, a level hiking and biking trail that takes you through villages and into natural areas. The golf courses rank high with aficionados.

For the botanical-minded, there are lush and colorful gardens. For the musically inclined, there are frequent Ceilidhs (pronounced Kay-lees) that serve up music from the island's Scottish and Irish roots.

But whatever you might do and wherever you might go on this princely island, you'll find time spent with the lovely "ladies" of PEI to be well spent indeed.