Canada

Duncan’s Island Tours (Prince Edward Island, Canada)

Written by Mark McElroy

We had just one day in the Canadian port of Charlottetown, and I didn’t want our memories of Prince Edward Island to be limited to glimpses of the coast through a smeary Holland America tour bus window.

On top of that: most folks on our cruise were coming to Prince Edward Island to make a pilgrimage to Silver Bush and the Anne of Green Gables house. But since my childhood was spent reading Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury instead of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s tales about a spunky red-haired orphan, I decided I’d rather spend our limited time seeing natural sights, discovering island culture, and — of course — devouring the local cuisine.

So I did some research on TripAdvisor.com and set up a customized itinerary with Duncan’s Island Tours. On the day we arrived, Duncan’s buddy, Doug, was waiting to whisk us away for a private tour of the island he calls home.

Touring with Doug turns out to be a lot like going on an afternoon drive around the neighborhood with your uncle. Instead of putting on airs or reciting guidebook notes about Prince Edward Island, Doug’s just Doug. If we hadn’t been in the van, I think Doug would still have been driving out to the beach, dropping in on local businesses, and sampling fresh seafood just for the fun of it. Doug is as comfortable as your favorite recliner and just easy to be with — a good choice if you want to see the island the way the locals do.

And so we saw a lot of the island — worlds more than you’d see with 150 of your fellow Holland America passengers on a bus tour. Writing this months after the fact, these are the things that come back to me:

The Red Sands Shore. Right after one of Prince Edward Island’s slinky little silver foxes darted across the road in front of us, Doug turned right and led us on a short walk to the Red Sands Shore. The sun peeked out just in time for us to snap a photo or two.

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(I’m the red-head, standing next to the most handsome man in the world.)

Around the Sea. Perched on the edge of a beach, the round, rotating “Around the Sea” house combines the best of a bed and breakfast with a carousel.

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Slowly, slowly, the house on the hill goes ‘round and ‘round, giving every single occupant a seaside view for at least a portion of every day. The biggest challenge the builders faced? Designing a sewer system that wouldn’t get as twisted up as Anne of Green Gables’ pigtails.

The Fisherman’s Mussels. Doug wanted us to see how local fishermen work. We were a bit early for lobster season, but still came across stacks of lobster pots — the last condo that a lobster will ever move into — on the beach:

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A bit later in the day, Doug spied someone harvesting Prince Edward Island mussels and just dropped in on the fellow, who turned out to be the Most Handsome Fisherman we’d ever met:

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I’m not sure how I’d react if a local fellow dragged two boat people through my place of work, but the Most Handsome Fisherman spent several minutes with us, chatting humbly about his business and this month’s harvest.

Carr’s Oyster Bar. I could have spent a few more hours staring at the Handsome Fisherman’s mussels, but, after seeing how mussels are farmed, I was ready to eat a few. So Doug — while cautioning us to save room — whisked us over to Carr’s Oyster Bar for a snack. While we waited for our order, he also convinced the owners to let us into the not-yet-open-for-the-season taxidermy displays in the back:

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And once back at our table, we feasted on oysters and mussels caught just that morning. (“Garlic and white wine?” the waitress asked. Well, of course!)

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Lunch at PEI Preserve Company. What once was a small local business blossomed into a massive tourist stop with a gift shop and restaurant. Everyone comes to the PEI Preserve Company — including the tour bus crowd — so, at this scale, most of the charm of the place has been lost. Still, I did have my first slice ever of potato and cheese pie:

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And the cheesecake topped with preserves was quite nice:

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This Grilled Cheese Sandwich. After downing a dozen oysters, a bucket of mussels, a wedge of potato pie, and cheesecake, I would have been done for the day. But then Doug drove us past Glasgow Glen Farms, a local dairy now operating a store first launched by “The Cheese Lady” ages ago.

Because we had elected to avoid the crowds at the Cows Creamery in Charlottetown, I politely asked Doug to pull in to the store at Glasgow Glen. (Well, okay, I started banging on the van windows and screaming, “Must! Eat! Cheese!”)

Seconds later, we were inside this family-owned shop, where the friendly, apple-cheeked chef was whipping up a grilled cheese sandwich just for me. Because we were the only folks there, she let me come in the kitchen and snag a snapshot of my sandwich being grilled in butter:

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And going into the huge oven in back:

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And, despite the heavenly aroma coming from the bag, I even paused to snap a photo before devouring the entire gooey, creamy, delightful work of art in just one bite:

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I’ll always have fond memories of PEI’s rolling green hills, Doug’s snow stories (people were housebound for an entire month last winter), and the sandy red beaches of the island the First Nation Mi’kmaq tribe named, “Cradled on the Waves.”

But when I reflect on our trip to PEI, it’s the moments above that come back to me. Thanks to Doug’s help, we squeezed a lot of adventure into just a few hours — far more efficiently than we could have arranged the same stops on our own.

If you’re headed to Prince Edward Island, drop a line to Duncan’s Island Tours and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to snag a day with Doug. Recommended!

About the author

Mark McElroy

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