Canada’s smallest provincial capital, Charlottetown (pop. 35,000)–Prince Edward Island’s governmental, economical, cultural, and shopping center–makes no pretense of being a big city. Rather, this attractive town is walkable, comfortable, and friendly. Its major attractions include a beautiful harborside location, handsome public and residential architecture, sophisticated art and cultural happenings, and plentiful lodgings and appealing restaurants.
The city also makes a good sightseeing base for exploring surrounding Queens County, which is the definitive Prince Edward Island as you imagined the province would be. The region is temptingly photogenic, a meld of small seaports with brightly colored craft at anchor and farmland settings with limpid ponds and weathered barns. Along the Gulf of St. Lawrence is Cavendish, the island’s most popular tourist destination. Cavendish was the childhood home of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who created perfection on earth within the pages of her books, which centered on the spunky heroine Anne of Green Gables.
In the late 1750s, English surveyor Samuel Holland surveyed all of Prince Edward Island, recommending that the main settlement be established on a peninsula within Hillsborough Bay. He named it Charlotte, for the consort of King George III. The town had its grid laid out in 1764 and was named the island’s capital the next year. Charlottetown’s development paralleled the island’s development. A road network was laid out by 1850. And by 1860, some 176 sawmills were transforming forests into lumber, greasing the island’s economy and providing the raw materials for a thriving shipbuilding industry. As the center of government and commerce, the town was enriched with splendid stone churches and public buildings, many of which date to the mid-1800s and stand to this day.
Founders’ Hall: Canadians especially will enjoy learning about how the Dominion of Canada was created at this harbor-front interpretive center.
Province House: This historic sandstone building in the heart of Charlottetown hosted the Fathers of Confederation in 1864 and continues today as the provincial seat of government.
Victoria Park: Take a break from the relative bustle of downtown with a walk through this waterfront park, home to the impressive Fanningbank residence.
International Shellfish Festival: You can feast on seafood year-round in Charlottetown, but this late-September festival is the place to try all your favorites at once.
Prince Edward Island National Park: Stretching along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this park is one of the island’s few undeveloped tracts of land. Warm water, beaches, and red cliffs are the main draws.
North Rustico Harbour: It’s just a dot on the map, but this small fishing village is particularly photogenic. A lighthouse, kayak tours, and an excellent restaurant add to the appeal.
Green Gables Heritage Place: Northern Queens County is lovingly known as “Anne’s Land,” for Anne of Green Gables, one of the world’s best-known literary characters.