A famous book comes to life on Prince Edward Island, writes Maureen Marriner.

The provinces along the eastern coast of Canada, such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, mean little to those who don't live there or have never visited but one, Prince Edward Island, lives in the hearts of millions of feisty little girls all over the world, especially but not exclusively the red-headed ones.

The island, PEI to its inhabitants, gave rise to one Anne ("with an 'e'") Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and first published in 1908. It had 10 printings in its first year, has been translated into 17 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

On a one-day cruise stop in PEI and docking right in Charlottetown, the province's historic capital, we enlist the aid of PEI encyclopaedia Jack DesRoches to takes us the nearly 40km across to Cavendish on the northern coast and the national park that includes Green Gables, the 19th-century farm that was home to the novel.


As we head out of town, we pass Province House, where the island's legislative assembly has met since 1847, and where the first discussions were held into the creation of Canada. It's undergoing a four-year, CAD$41 million renovation and we are told it is the country's longest continuous seat of government.

The countryside is softly rolling, like a puffy duvet, with rich red soil that supports agriculture, largely potatoes, as the main industry, but tourism is fast catching up. The resident population is about 143,000 but PEI sees 1.5 million visitors each year.

However, most have gone home on our visit, summer is officially over and I hope for a touch of "leaf peeping", to see the golds and reds of autumn foliage. No such luck as temperatures are still too warm. We do pass mounds of bright orange pumpkins, however. "We love our pumpkins in the fall," says DesRoches, "as much as we love our lobsters."

Canadian lobster exports last year were worth more than CAD$2 billion and on PEI lobster suppers are big business: you start with soup or chowder, follow with steamed mussels, then adjust your bib for 500g+ of fresh lobster served with melted butter, potatoes and rolls.

We pass through the fishing village of North Rustico where a 500-seater restaurant serves lobster "suppers" from noon-9pm, from July to the end of August.

"Lobster suppers often have queues around the building," DesRoches says.

Maureen Marriner in character at Green Gables on Canada's Prince Edward Island. Photo / Neville Marriner
Maureen Marriner in character at Green Gables on Canada's Prince Edward Island. Photo / Neville Marriner

Tuna fishing is also big business. They are caught by rod and reel and can be worth from $10-$30/lb. A sample is taken from the tail and if it is up to scratch it goes into an ice-filled wooden crate and is flown to Japan to be sushi as soon as it lands.

Trade with Japan is not one-way. At Green Gables many of the visitors we see are multi-generational groups of Japanese women. The book was translated (Akage no Anne) after World War II and became part of the school curriculum in 1952. A must-do photo opportunity outside the house is a buggy accessorised by a hat with red plaits. I can tell you there is no elegant way to clamber into a buggy.

Inside, "Anne's Room" and others are beautifully re-created. Nearby are what she of the vivid imagination called The Haunted Woods and Lover's Lane and in the distance is a pond that will forever be The Lake of Shining Waters.

On the road out we pass a cemetery where the best-kept graves are of Montgomery and her husband. Red plantings, of course. She wrote 24 books and although she moved away from the island, all but one were based there.

Her most famous work has been adapted for stage plays, radio dramas, movies, mini series and musicals and back in Charlottetown we see the theatre where Anne of Green Gables: The Musical has been running since 1965, the world's longest-running annual musical theatre production.

As we head back to the dock and Silversea's Silver Muse, DesRoches tells us five cruise ships are due in the following day. He also says that after a number of North Atlantic right whales were washed ashore in the past year ("beached", I thought), autopsies found the deaths were down to blunt force trauma — they had been hit by ships. In August the national government introduced a 10 knot speed restriction — down from about 18 knots — in much of the Gulf of St Lawrence, the restriction would last until migration would take the whales out of the area in about October.

As Anne said: "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in
it yet?"




has 12 cruises, on four ships, that visit Prince Edward Island in September and October 2018.