I once knew a guy with a guard dog that let people come right up to the porch, but wouldn’t allow them to leave. Prince Edward Island is a bit like that – it’s free to come by ferry or bridge, but you have to pay to go the other way. The system doesn’t work very well, because we’re told that the only young people who stay long term are girls – that is, girls with long red hair.
But first, let’s roll back a few months. It’s a warm February night in Australia and two families have gathered to sort out the final details of their upcoming cruise. I’m part of one of those families. “Oh look! The cruise stops at Prince Edward Island!” My response to this momentous revelation? “That’s nice dear. Where’s that?” “You silly boy – that’s an country!” I point out that it should be “a country”, not “an country”. “No, Anne country – Anne with an E!” Somewhere in the recesses of my brain a little warning bell chimes, so I pull out the ace reply “Ah, Anne country. That’s nice dear.”
… We’re now docked in Charlottetown, the largest city on Prince Edward Island, or PEI to its friends. My “Anne” knowledge is still fairly limited, but I now know that it’s really important that we go to see “all things Anne” – or else. As I may have mentioned, we’re a bit over the whole bus tour thing, so the ladies have arranged a small group tour with a local called Wonda. We feel quite smug when we spot a guy holding one of those little signs at the cruise terminal, and the sign is for us! In a matter of minutes, we’re whisked past the lines of people waiting for the buses and join our personal minivan.
Like all good tour guides, Wonda started life doing something completely different. As we drive through the idyllic countryside we learn that Wonda came to PEI to study about thirty years ago, then fell in love with the place and stayed. “Well folks, what would you like to see today? I’ll take you to all the scenic spots and, of course, we can spend as much time as you want at the Anne locations.” Wow, this sounds great. We have Wonda at our disposal for five hours. Allowing fifteen minutes for Anne stops, that gives us heaps of time for all the good stuff.
Those among you who are quicker of mind than I am may have spotted the slight flaw in my logic here. Apparently, the Anne locations are the good spots. Sure, we stop in at a beautiful old house some guy built for his wife, but unfortunately died before they could use it (sounds like we’re back in Nova Scotia – land of tragic stories). And then of course there’s the stop at the beach where we get to walk on the famous red sand and dip our toes into what we think is the Gulf of St Lawrence, but could be part of the Atlantic. Oh, and there’s a bunch of quaint towns with names like South Rustico, North Rustico, Anglo Rustico and New Glasgow (they got a bit creative there), but I’m assured the Anne locations are the main attraction. A couple of final stops to see the places where they farm oysters and mussels, and meet an old fisherman who’s part of the local folklore, then it’s off to Anne Land (my term – don’t Google it).
For those of you who haven’t watched the movie (or the Netflix series), I’ll give you my version of the story. There’s this girl named Lucy something who went to live with her grandparents on PEI when her parents died. They ran a post office, but Lucy spent much of her time walking in the local woods and visiting her relatives at a nearby farm. She then decided to write a book about a young girl named Anne, who went to live with her grandparents when …. well, you see where this is going of course. Anyways, while Lucy’s first book “Anne of Green Gables” was rejected five times by various publishers, it eventually hit the shelves and has since been treasured by little girls all over the world.
So, we visit the post office. We visit the spot where the grandparents’ old house used to stand. We visit the farm, and tour through the old house which has been reconstructed so every room exactly matches the descriptions in the book. And, we walk a ways along a woodland path they’ve named “Lovers Lane”. It’s actually all pretty neat, and being greeted by a sweet young red-haired girl in period costume just adds to the charm. “Hello, my name is Anne Shirley. Where are you folks from?” … “Australia! Oh my, it must have taken you months and months to come all that way across the sea!”
I’m growing to like Anne, and I’m glad that big movie studio in California doesn’t own the rights to the book. If they did, she’d probably be recast as another of the long line of princesses and would leave Prince Edward Island forever.