We didn’t start out looking for the portly Senator from PEI. We were on our way to see the green and white clapboard house/tourist trap for the fictional red-haired lass who dominates the tourism landscape in the little province.
Yes, I’m referring to dear Anne of Green Gables, she of the tousled red braids and impish freckled face about whom, I confess with deep shame, I know next to nothing about. Caught up in the “we must do, see, experience” frenzy of constant travel I point The Dude towards Cavendish, where author Lucy Maud Montgomery earthly remains rest, and where PEI residents recognized an economic opportunity and turned the modest little town into a tourism mecca.
Fun fact, Avonlea is the town Anne and her adopted parents lived in as portrayed in the 50 million plus books that author Montgomery sold. Fifty million – try and get your head around a Canadian author selling that many books when a best-seller in Canada today means a writer has sold about 10 thousand books. No wonder they’ve got a shrine to old Maud, she’s a Canadian legend.
Listening to CBC news expound on the Duffy trial, a tiny kernel of memory forced its way into my travel brain. Those who have been on the road for long periods might recognize travel brain as a mush of thoughts about planning next stops, reading about things to see and do, dog walks and sussing out a laundromat. Anything resembling critical thinking is tucked away where information about work, bill payments etc. etc. reside.
“Isn’t Duffy from Cavendish?”
Having seen pictures of the disgraced ex-broadcaster’s PEI home on the evening news, and given the tiny towns that speckle the countryside, a stranger might expect to find the house and shout out a “How’s it going.” if the Duffster was in the yard pulling weeds or burying cheques, whatever the case might be.
Turns out, every second house in the widespread area that makes up Cavendish looks like the Duffy abode. In fact we were hard-pressed to find the actual town of Cavendish. Whatever charm there once was has succumbed to a strip mall conglomeration of campgrounds, t-shirt stores, shops flogging Anne of Green Gables baubles and restaurants promising the best “seafood, fish and chips, ice cream” in town. There’s even a Ferris wheel. Not to be outdone by the whirling circle of death, Ripley’s Believe or Not established a franchise here alongside Wax World of the Stars, Jurassic Bart’s Dinosaur Museum and my personal favourite the Fan-Taz-Mag-oric Museum, which is devoted to random interests and, bonus points, has a mini-golf course attached.
This is not to say that The Dude and I paid admission to any of these fine establishments. In fact, The Dude, who prefers non-fiction to fiction, the show 20/20 to The Walking Dead and a bio-pic to any Bond movie (sacrilege!) wouldn’t go if you paid him. The “Cavendish Boardwalk”, which despite proximity to the sea is on dry land, is the only stop we made in Cavendish.
Okay… except for my unauthorized and clandestine visit to the Anne of Green Gables site for a photo-op. Having little to no knowledge of what the big deal was, and at first intending to take a quick glance into the onsite gift shop (big surprise), I wandered onto the grounds without a ticket. No burly guard yelled stop, you with the camera and shifty eyes. My visit lasted about five minutes, time enough to snap a couple pics, admire the lovely English garden, buy an AOGG t-shirt, (on sale even!) and head back out to the grassy knoll where Dude and Dog were snoozing in the shade.
Since I’m confessing, I have one guilty pleasure to share. During a drive back to our breathtaking campsite in Darnley, which encapsulates the beauty of PEI with its red dirt, tall grasses and ocean views, we meandered through the town of Kensington, a small town that was once a railway link between Charlottetown and Summerside, the largest town on this part of the island. Its main claim to fame is… wait for it…The Haunted Mansion.
The local story recounts a British doctor moving to the area and building a Tudor-style home to remind him of the jolly old island he had left. Somehow I convinced The Dude to tour the house with me. Given his aversion to scary movies, which in my family are a rite of passage, he earned big props by agreeing to accompany me. Let the cheese fest begin!
The Haunted House is a warren of dark passages, haunting music, ghostly figures popping up and lots of fake blood everywhere. Bonus points for the microwave with a skull lazily turning inside. There’s even a strange little area that mimics a London street with little shops. The whole house is massive and musty, a giant version of the fun-house at the PNE.
Emerging back into sunlight, we walked through an English garden with ponds, flowers, and odds and sods of what appear to be gargoyles left over from the house. It must have been an idyllic outdoor space before commerce brought in the cheese factor. Got to pay those bills.
Tourism is the lifeblood of PEI, with its red dirt roads (The Dude bought an authentic, dyed-in-PEI dirt shirt.), fields of spuds, rolling green pastures, historic lighthouses and ocean vistas. The PEI coat of arms states “the small under the protection of the great.” I think it should be changed to “Small, but great”.
Next…Who knew Cape Breton was an Island..