BRACKLEY BEACH, P.E.I. - While walking on the red sandy beach that Canada’s smallest province is so famous for, my playful son Noah pulls on my braids and tells me “you look just like Anne.”
The Anne my 8-year-old is talking about is, of course, Prince Edward Island’s most famous fictional resident, Anne of Green Gables, who was immortalized worldwide in the writings of author Lucy Maud Montgomery, herself born on the north shore of this treasured island.
While the story of Anne is what draws many visitors to P.E.I. each year — some from as far away as Japan where, since 1952, students have learned about the adventures of pigtailed Anne in school — most come to enjoy its the unique beaches, breathtaking scenery, crisp sea air, world class golf, bountiful seafood and the welcoming nature of the people who live here.
Oh, and because P.E.I. is the birthplace of Confederation (the Charter that led to Canada becoming a unified nation in 1867 — P.E.I. actually didn’t join until 1873), some come to immerse themselves in national history.
We’ve come to have fun.
“I’m down here!” I hear a pint-sized voice shout as I relax on the beach after our walk.
I look down but all I see is a small yellow shovel, heaps of red sand and water as far as the eye can see.
“I’m in my sand hole,” says Noah, who has dug himself a bunker on the beach that’s part of the gorgeous Green Gables Shore Touring Region.
“Look down,” he says, and suddenly I feel like the Friendly Giant.
After reassuring Noah that I’ve seen his dugout, he suggests I join him but instead I rush down the beach that drifts off into the North Umberland Strait to cool off in the salty surf.
Left: Mom Miriam and son Noah get into the spirit of old P.E.I. Middle: Miriam and Noah even got to meet Anne of Green Gables. Right: Kids have plenty of red sand in which to play.
Noah, who knows the story of Anne only too well, makes me promise that we’ll explore all things Anne during our visit, so the next day we meet up with a young tour guide named Monic for an Anne of Green Gables tour.
Monic tells us that growing up on the Island means you have to be well versed in Anne of Green Gables — it’s even part of P.E.I.’s educational curriculum.
“We watched every show (Montgomery’s words were turned into a TV mini-series) in half a semester and then we were tested on it,” she tells us.
Our Anne of Green Gables lesson begins in quaint Avonlea Village, where Anne grew up. There we explore a typical 1800s farm, a period school and church. I insist we dress up in old-fashioned clothing at Mrs. Lynde’s Dress Up Shoppe. Noah protests but I manage to get him to wear a top hat and vest and we both have a good laugh when we see our reflections in the mirror.
We’re having so much fun playing Mr. and Mrs. Dress-up, at first we don’t notice that Anne has entered the room. Noah’s fictional character has come to life and he nervously shakes her hand — his mouth hanging wide open all the while she’s standing before him.
Afterwards, we head over to Green Gables Heritage Place, part of Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site of Canada.
Upon arrival, we come face-to-face with another Anne. Noah, slightly confused, assumes it’s the same Anne and says hi again, but wonders how she got there before us.
We see happy couples of all ages walking hand-in hand down the famous Lovers Lane — many Japanese come here on their honeymoons. We also take a walk in the “Haunted Woods” and follow the path to the site of Montgomery’s real home, where she lived with her grandparents and wrote about Anne.
While exploring the Green Gables house, we come upon Anne’s bedroom made up like a doll’s house. Luckily its’s cordoned off — I have visions of Noah jumping on the neatly made bed.
Our perfect day of everything Anne ends with a live performance of Anne of Green Gables, the musical at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, which was first staged in 1965 as part of the inaugural Charlottetown Festival. Last summer, the magical show celebrated it’s 50th consecutive season, making it the nation’s longest running musical ever.
5 Fun Things To Do in Charlottetown With Kids:
1 - Take a self-guided walking tour with GPS Heritage Quest at Founder’s Hall (kids love the scavenger hunt that reveals interesting facts about the Island).
2 - Visit the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market – There you can pick-up some fresh fruit, veggies and bread for a picnic on the beach.
3 - Explore Victoria Row: It’s a pedestrian street with food, local art and outdoor music.
4 - Let the kids run along the famous Boardwalk and treat them to a fresh strawberry sorbet at the world famous Cows.
5 - Take a seal tour and see these beautiful creatures in their natural environment – the M/V Fairview departs from Peake’s Wharf daily towards Governors Island, home to a colony of over 300 Grey and Harbour Seals.
WHERE TO STAY: Fitzroy Hall is a Victorian House built in 1872. It’s a family owned and super cozy B&B. Helen makes the best homemade blueberry pancakes we’ve ever had and caters to your dietary preferences. For information, go to www.fitzroyhall.com or call toll free 1866-627-9766 / OUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT: The Dunes Studio Gallery and Café (In Brackley Beach). This is the coolest restaurant ever. There are spectacular flower/water gardens surrounding you in either the dining room, lounge or deck. Noah and I both devoured the vegan Fettuccine Alfredo and for dessert Chef created soy vanilla pudding with mixed berries, cherries and toasted coconut. All this while enjoying a view of the sand dunes and Gulf. Info: www.dunesgallery.com / INFORMATION ON PEI: Go to www.tourismpei.com or call toll free 1-800-463-4PEI / HOW TO GET THERE: Air Canada flies direct from Toronto to Charlottetown: www.aircanada.com