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Canada is not all mountains and snow but also tiny coastal villages cosy-ing up to the surrounding oceans! Victoria-by-the Sea - it's the ‘by-the-sea’ that attracts us to this tiny, sleepy fishing village in our drive path, never mind the detour, between Charlottetown and Summerside, on the shores of Northumberland Strait. We were driving down the Trans Canada Highway towards Borden Carleton (Confederation Bridge) for New Brunswick.
The village was waking from its winter slumber, literally, as it was early June and official summer (July 1) was still weeks away. The tranquility (a continuing phenomenon of Prince Edward Island, aka PEI, one of Canada's most bucolic provinces), with just a handful of visitors and locals gives us space and opportunity for slow-paced meandering on tree-lined avenues. The village is a mere four blocks, with maximum 200 residents residing in dazzlingly brightly painted Victorian era homes - fast converting into hotels, art galleries, and studios for pottery and candle making; a possible tourist attraction.
The well laid out village, founded in 1819, was the brainchild of a son of James Baldwin Palmer, an immigrant lawyer and agent for the Earl of Westmoreland, who used his father’s estate to design the village. By the 1900s it was a bustling prosperous seaport, third largest on PEI, with trade links with Europe, the West Indies and U.S. East Coast ports. Its three wharfs were berthing points for schooners and steamboats and holiday visitors from Charlottetown and inland towns adding to its littoral ambience.
By 1950, the village's by-the-sea picture books appeal was saved by the circumventing of the Trans Canada Highway and its accompanying commercial add-ons. Victoria remained in the shadows - and this I suppose turned out to be a blessing contributing to its present status as a peaceful artistic haven. The water indexing adds a dash of mystique to differentiate it from stately Victoria, on southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the other end of Canada.
The sea breeze heightened hunger pangs and though no lobster aficionados, a PEI staple, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Beachcombers On The Wharf. Sandwiches and shakes are no alternative to best of seafood, but we still relished the presentation suggested by the owners, two sisters, who guide you on food choices.
Summertime is visitor season and the stores were gearing up for the influx. A crowd was fast collecting - parents, kids, and seniors - at the tiny homely Island Chocolates, where the aroma alone drives one into chocolatey raptures. Coffee, served on the café patio overlooking Main Street is a refreshing counterpoint.
Other not-to-be-missed Village distractions: the pottery display at Michael Stanley Pottery, an artist-run gallery specializing in handmade pottery inspired by PEI coastal nature presentation; the Victoria Seaport Museum located at Palmer’s Range Light House; the biggest tree in PEI, the American Elm tree,108 ft. height and 21-foot circumference with 129 foot canopy; summer plays during Victoria Playhouse Festival. As you walk around, the old roots are still present… the empty streets flaunting colorful houses particularly the one on Nelson Street with Queen Anne Revival special effects. This was the first tourist home on PEI, managed by one Wood family. The cottages are being restored as vacation homes.
Highly Instagrammable pastoral moments are watching kayaks and paddle boarders setting out from the harbor, fishing boats and private schooners parked at the wharfs, fishermen displaying their rich lobster hauls, the lighthouses - there are four in different locations, self-motivated against the setting sun. The Seaport Lighthouse, built in 1879, near the harbor, has been converted into a museum and easily accessible.
Temptation was rearing its ugly head to stay overnight as the best way to experience the charm and intimacy of PEI is to live in its myriad small towns and villages. But - back on the road we went, to move on to New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy, as hotel reservations were already made. But it was a charming day indeed in PEI's idyllic village by the sea!