“I never want to live anywhere else.”
“This place is so special.”
“It’s my favorite place in the whole world.”
I heard all of this and more in just my first 24 hours on Prince Edward Island.
This tiny island off Canada’s eastern coast is unfailingly friendly and unassuming. Most folks here make their living off the land. The food industry — primarily farming and fishing — is the most important contributor to their economy. P.E.I. is famous for its oysters and mussels, and visitors and locals were enjoying “field-to-table” dining long before it was trendy. Here, it’s just a way of life.
“I traveled enough as a kid with music that I knew this was my home,” said musician and fisherman J.J. Chaisson. “I love it here. This is where I want to raise my family.”
I stepped aboard Chaisson’s boat in Souris Marina for a popular experience dubbed Jigs and Reels. This isn’t just a ride on a little lobster boat; it’s an afternoon spent enjoying live, traditional music and being regaled with firsthand knowledge of lobstering traditions and personal stories. You feel as if you’re one of the family.
Chaisson, also known as The Fiddling Fisherman (www.fiddlingfisherman.com) for reasons that soon became apparent, told me that each lobster trap weighs a hefty 150 pounds when it’s wet. On average, fisherman here raise and lower 300 traps a day. If it’s a good day, each trap will catch 15-20 lobsters.
The lobstermen work hard for just two months out of the year, May and June, practically living on the boats. They sell their lobsters wholesale for only $5 or so per pound, with each averaging around 1 pound. While Chaisson still relies on many traditional methods to get his catch, he said the one thing that has changed is technology. Now, instead of a $10,000 GPS, he relies on a $7 app on his smartphone to locate his traps.
Once lobster fishing season ends, touring and music season begins. He and his wife offer tours around the bay July 1 through Sept. 30, starting at $56 a person.
“Way before I was a lobster fisherman, I was a fiddle player,” explained Chaisson.
True to his Acadian roots, he’s been playing the fiddle since he was 5 years old. After the lobster fishing demonstration, Chaisson played his music while his wife occasionally danced. Every third weekend in July, he also performs in the island’s Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival (www.rollobayfiddlefest.ca), a summer tradition that’s been going on for more than four decades.
Just across the bay from Souris Marina is Colville Bay Oyster Co. (www.colvillebayoysterco.com), a family-owned operation that’s been harvesting oysters for 20-plus years.
“This is a hard place to make a living,” said founder and owner Johnny Flynn, “but a great place to live.”
Flynn described the oysters, which have a distinctive aqua-green shell, as “plump, briny and clean tasting; like distilled ocean.”
Here in Colville Bay, the young bivalves spend up to five years slowly maturing into market-ready oysters, while the nutrient-filled currents continually flush and feed them. Flynn’s company still uses manual cultivation; all of the oysters are harvested, graded and packed by hand.
“They don’t talk back to you,” said plant manager Leo Flynn as he showed me around the modest operation. Staff members were busy hand-packing oysters behind me. “People either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I have ‘em for breakfast.”
When I left the Colville building and got into my rental car (which I hadn’t locked), there on the passenger seat was a small thank-you note and a CD from The Fiddling Fisherman — more evidence that this maritime province is a friendly place where favors are doled out liberally.
Later that evening, I drove to The Inn at Bay Fortune. The 15-room boutique property is owned by New York-born Michael Smith, who’s become one of Canada’s best known chefs. He’s also a Food Network Canada star and cookbook author.
Set on a 46-acre farm by the bay, the inn is a culinary destination. Each night, the restaurant hosts a special farm dinner with an all-you-can-eat oyster hour followed by a family-style, six-course meal. Everyone gathers at FireWorks, the inn’s restaurant, at communal butcher-block tables to share food prepped in the open kitchen. The menu changes every day, based on what’s fresh from the organic farm and from a roster of Prince Edward Island farmers, fishermen, foragers and culinary artisans.
The restaurant’s young, eager chefs radiate enthusiasm about working with the 200-plus fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. Many of them are fresh out of the Culinary Institute of Canada in P.E.I.
“It’s a chef’s dream,” said one named Hunter, 19, while prepping our final course for the day: deconstructed s’mores in mini cast-iron pans.
On my last day, I drove to the tip of the island to visit Point Prim Chowder House (closed until mid-June; www.chowderhousepei.com). Once again, there was zero traffic. As I got closer to my destination, the pavement turned to dirt, and I knew I was in for a treat.
Situated on a wind-swept beach next to the island’s oldest lighthouse, the chowder house is a quirky, wooden shack with roadhouse decor. It was completely full at 2:30 p.m., confirming its popularity.
I ordered a lobster roll (maybe one of Chaisson’s catches?) and waited outside on the deck. A table opened up inside, where I dug into the meaty lobster on a buttery roll.
I could see — and taste — why the locals love it here.
Lisa Lubin is a freelance writer.
If you go
Getting there: There aren’t nonstop flights from Chicago to Charlottetown Airport, but you can take a quick flight to Toronto and connect from there.
Staying there: Rooms at the newly renovated, five-star Inn at Bay Fortune
range from $200 to $350 a night and include a gourmet breakfast cooked over an open fire; www.innatbayfortune.com.
The bright and contemporary Holman Grand Hotel is more centrally located in Charlottetown. Rooms start around $200 in summer; www.theholmangrand.com.