Letter from Prince Edward Island

Unlike Toronto, Prince Edward Island (PEI) is not so well known among people in Hong Kong, even though it is a rather interesting place, in more than a number of ways.

To start with, it is a province, albeit the smallest one in Canada, and is therefore politically on par with Ontario of which Toronto is but a city, albeit the capital city. PEI has a population of less than 140,000 distributed in three counties, Kings, Queens and Prince. The province is often referred to as The Island, with an area of about 5,660 sq km and is 224 km from tip to tip. Its capital city Charlottetown is on Queens which has half of the population of PEI. My friend lives in Summerside which is on Prince and is an hour’s drive from the airport in Charlottetown. Summerside has a population of about 13,000, so that almost everybody knows everybody.

The island province is connected to New Brunswick through the Confederation Bridge, often described as a dramatic bridge, which is a ten minutes drive, taking one to a tiny village called Borden-Carleton in the southwestern region of the province. One can also reach it from Nova Scotia with Northumberland Ferries, which is a 75 minutes journey ending in Wood Islands in the province’s southeast. In my case, I flew there from Toronto, which took slightly over two hours.

PEI is known for its rich and colorful history, its fine meadows and trees, its flatness and tapestry landscape, its potato exports, its beaches, its blue sky, its lobsters, oysters and seafood, its golf courses, its red soil, red because it is rich in iron oxide, and its Anne of Green Gables and the musical with the same name, now running for the 41st consecutive year.

I have included PEI in this trip because a couple living on the island was in Hong Kong in April and invited me to visit them. Rosita and I had spent sometime with them during our honeymoon. They were then in Hawaii, married a few months before us, and Rosita and I had a great time with them together. They had since migrated to PEI and would be celebrating later in the year their 30th wedding anniversary and 20th year in PEI. “It is a very quiet and private place,” they assured me.

I slept all the way in the air and felt the temperature difference as soon as we touched down. It was about 15 degrees or lower, a rather big drop from the 36 degrees in Toronto. My hosts told me they had prepared me a light supper at their home, for everything would be closed at that time of the day. The one-hour drive was uneventful, except for a sudden swirl to avoid running down a red fox sitting in the middle of the road. We drove through country roads, mostly unlit, flanked by farmland or meadows. Traffic was less than light and the air was quiet and peaceful. I told myself that I could get used to this very easily.

It rained during the night, and the air became even chillier. There was a church just five minutes walking from my friend’s house and I took my only winter jacket and walked there. The morning air was fresh and sweet, made sweeter by the blossoming lilacs by the sidewalk. I arrived St. Paul’s Parish in no time and was surprised that the parking lot was empty and the door was locked. I found a notice posted outside which said that there would be no Mass on Monday and Wednesday this week. This is rather unusual, for church doors are normally open during the day and every church would have at least one Mass each day. My friend told me later that it was due probably to the parish being understaffed. There is only one priest and his workload is heavy. Besides, they had a busy week the week before.

The weather did not improve during the day. It was wet and windy, but there was no time to lose. I was driven to some picturesque sites and was assured that they would look much more beautiful when the sun was out. Well, they looked pretty good to me, particularly through my camera lens. Nevertheless, it soon became a bit too cold to get out of the car and we ended up in the city centre of Charlottetown, looking at empty streets and locked up government buildings. So we went to obtain tickets for a show, which was part and parcel of their Charlottetown Festival somewhat like our Arts Festival in HK, but on a slightly smaller scale. This is their shoulder season. The tourist season runs from end of June to end of August, so that the main attractions have yet to open or are just about to warm up.

We went to a show at MacKenze Theatre entitled “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” featuring this legendary lady and her country music. She lived from 1932 and became rather famous very young. Unfortunately she was killed in a plane crash in 1963, after a benefit concert in Kansas City, trying to rush back to see her family. The show was put together professionally and seriously with high entertainment value. There was active audience participation too.

I was more fortunate in the following two days. The sun came out and the sky was blue nearly all the time. I felt uplifted and happy. They took me to the countryside and I took many pictures. The grass looked greener under the sun and the flowers were beautiful. The contrast between the green grass and the recently tilted red earth made good pictures. The grass smelled good and fresh. I closed my eyes and felt like I was having a large glass of alfalfa juice, freshly prepared.

Everything looked so orderly and clean, the toy-like houses with thatched or conventional rooftops, together with well chosen colors for the houses proper and tone on tone colors for the doors and windows, stand out so pleasant and strikingly harmonious with the environment that they all seem so unreal. They make the Wonderland of Disneyland look so artificial and amateurish. I took many pictures, but I suppose I can hardly capture the full picture, which would remain permanently, at least for a long while, in my mind. To top it all, everywhere is so quiet and serene, as if someone very powerful and mighty had just done a general house cleaning in preparation for some important visitors. I felt absolutely elated and I don’t think what I have written can do sufficient justice to the real thing, for I am simply speechless.

Back to my friend’s house, it was just one year short of a hundred years’ old and they have books to document its history, together with some dramatic and romantic episodes surrounding the first owners. The local government had invited them to apply for it to be declared a listed building, and they would do that later in the year, when they were less busy. I suspect they want to temporaise, while they decide what to put in before they need to seek permission for putting them in after the building is listed.

During the driving between scenic spots, I learnt a lot more about my host family, about how they spent the last 29 or 30 years, through thick and thin, and always keeping faith. In particular, I learnt about the circumstances behind their leaving the United States and how Fate had led them to settle in Prince Edward Island. They have two sons, both in the medical profession, or reading to be in, after their father. The family leads a simple and godly life, always trying hard to welcome their guests and friends and would never forget to say grace before each meal. Over the past 30 years, they had been victims of circumstances and had suffered unnecessarily through no fault of theirs, but they have come out every time stronger, because they have always placed their trust in God.

Tomorrow, I leave for Chicago, and I would talk to you from there.

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