Tourism and Tourists

A mini-rant on a major Island industry.

Yesterday our dear friend Moe carolled the news that there are only 75 more cruise ships docking at the foot of our street before the season ends on October 31. Now what she didn’t mention was that often there will be three (and one day four) ships in at once. And on those days, along with the tourists who arrive by other means, our town of 45,000 will see upwards of 10,000 visitors. And most of them will pass by our front door.

Now understand that these are not unwelcome visitors – potatoes, fisheries and tourism are the foundation of our economy. Though lest you think that lobster chowder chocked full of potatoes eaten by visitors is our only industry we do have thriving aerospace, bio-science, IT, and renewable energy sectors. But tourism is up there as a principal source of revenue and seasonal employment for the good folk who live here.

The original 2015 travel guide was removed from circulation several days after it was released. It did not help that the tag line that year was “Are You Coming?”

Most tourists Nora, Nicky and I meet on our walks (and believe me those two are real conversation magnets) are wonderful people – witness that lovely lady from Saskatchewan who gave us the jar of Saskatoon Berry jam. And the number of dachshund owners/lovers/admirers we encounter can lead to conversations that extend our walks by twenty-thirty minutes. And the people I take through the exhibits at the Art Gallery are interesting and charming to chat with. And most appreciate the explanations and the chance to express their own impressions and opinions. Interactions with our visitors are often the high point of a day.

However, and you knew there had to be a however, this season a new sort of tourist has appeared more frequently on our streets – aggressive, entitled, and it would seem in grim pursuit of a vacation experience. These are the people who barge along and don’t share the sidewalk – on more than one occasion I have had to walk into the street with Nick or Nora. These are the people who when you greet them with a “good afternoon” give you a defiant glare as if you planned to rob them. These are the people like the gentleman who not only parked in our spot illegally but felt that it was okay to relieve himself in full sight at five in the afternoon in one of the building flower beds. These are people like the lady who when I suggested that her small daughter should not be running up and down our fire escape and onto our balcony told me to go do something extremely acrobatic that is only anatomically possible for well-favoured* gentlemen.

At first I thought it was just me being the old curmudgeon that I am but in speaking with others they have see the same sort of thing. They’ve noticed a sort of tension amongst many of the visitors. Perhaps it is the general mood of uncertainty that seems to permeate so much today. But often I find it is the case that people don’t respect that this is our home.

We will be leaving shortly for Europe to become tourists ourselves but I trust we have never been nor will we ever be “ugly” tourists. That we will always respect the fact that the place we are visiting is “home” to people and that we are guests in their home.

*Not that I am not well-favoured just that I’m not as supple as I use to be! Okay???

August 29th is International Day Against Nuclear Test – a worthy observation. It is also National Chop Suey Day which is what we will all become if they continue nuclear testing.

Of Flora and Floating Food Courts

I was working on getting this posted around 2200 this evening when suddenly the lights went out – all over the Island. It brought home a few unsettling truths including the fact that because the Landline is hooked up to a set of wireless phones it is basically useless. Fortunately the blackout only lasted two hours but I couldn’t sleep so finished this post.

Wherever we have lived there has always been a “garden”. Sometimes it was a large – very large – affair other times no more than a few pots on a balcony. This time around it’s no more than six pots on our small balcony/deck and with the southern exposure it’s been quite the show this year.

Our friends Don and Umi gave Laurent this little rose bush for his birthday. It had small yellow roses on it in March but has produced one large orange flower on the balcony.

I had never heard of Gazania Daisies or Treasure Daisies but when I saw them at a local nursery I was struck by their vibrant colours. I didn’t realize that they open and close depending on the sunlight. Known as nyctinasty it is considered a highly evolved way of protecting pollen from dew and damp. These are on their second growth – the first flowers were larger but these are just as brightly coloured.

I don’t think I’ve ever had begonias grow quite as lush as these two boxes. A friend got his from the same nursery and has had the same abundance in the borders around his house.

In our first house we had turned what was a small rectangle courtyard of scrub grass with a neglected Persian lilac in one corner into a very pleasant garden. When we finished with it the lilac shaded a cedar deck, a stone lantern lit a small stream and the borders were filled with roses, bee balm, fox gloves and nicotiana. The memory of the fragrance of flowering tobacco in the cool night air accounts for this small box which only recently started to thrive after weeks of less than glorious blooms. No the foil is not some gardening secret – it’s to stop Nicky from sampling the soil!

A week or so ago I mentioned Nimrod’s the pizza shack on the dock down at Peake’s Quay. It is one of three food stations on our floating food court, a busy place with good food, local craft beer and wine. Caron’s Chip Shack (soon to be featured on the Food Network) serves up the best fries in town and though I’ve yet to try Zak’s hamburgers reports are pretty good. It’s a busy place with locals and tourists. And it moves – not just side to side with the odd wave but up and down with the tides.

The first pictures was taken yesterday morning at around 0730 when the tide was high.

The second one was taken around 1530 when the tide was low – though not at it’s lowest. Notice any difference?

August 15th is Relaxation Day! Hell that’s an easy one to celebrate.

Alive and Kicking

Been MIB* the past week or so what with trips to Ottawa to help save Canadian culture and a few things that had to be seen to here at home. Hopefully I can back to something vaguely resembling regular posts.

Laurent was speaking with our friend Pam earlier today and she mentioned that she was heading over to Richard’s at Cove Head Harbour for her first lobster roll of the season. It is almost embarassing that in three years here we’ve never tried what some people maintain is the best lobster roll on the Island if not in the world. So being as it was sunny and warmish – actually with that damned North-Easter blowing off the Gulf almost cold at the Harbour! – we decided to head up to the North Shore to judge for ourselves.

There must have been a pound of juicy lobster with just a touch of mayo and a scattering of chopped celery stuffed into that toasted bun. The fries and coleslaw were tasty and Upstreet’s Rhuby Social was the beer that matched it all perfectly. Only thing missing to finish off the meal as a summer taste of the Island was a scoop of Cow’s Ice Cream

Some brave – or stupid! – souls decided to test the waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence despite the cold and the swift undercurrents. Good luck to them says I!

And our opinion on the lobster rolls: two thumbs up – very high up!

*MIB – Missing In Blogging

June 23rd is National Pink Day. I’m not sure if it is the American singer-songwriter or the colour. If the later than I am in lucky that bit of sun I took today on my snowy white limbs is now sending of a pinkish glow.

Mercoledi Musicale

I think it is pretty obvious from posts over the past three years that this is a musical Island. I’m not just talking the almost nightly Ceilidhs at various clubs, pubs, and venues though that is a large part of it. Music here goes well beyond Irish/Scott/Maritime traditional. We have jazz clubs, blues clubs, punk bands, retro-rock bands, big bands, folk singers, pop singers, choral ensembles, wind, brass and string ensembles et al. Often the same double bass player you see thumping away at a jazz club also plays in the Mahler #3; one friend is an accomplished jazz saxophonist, a member of a professional women’s vocal ensemble and a classical vocal ensemble. The line between genres is often a very vague one even within the same group.

Last Sunday was the final concert of the season for the Atlantic String Machine a group of musicians who perhaps best represent the meshing (and mashing) of musical styles on the Island. As their name suggests they are a string ensemble comprised of Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello and Double Bass. Their composition may be traditional but the compositions can vary anywhere from Monteverdi to Metallica in arrangements by members of the ensemble. All the musicians – Sean Kemp, Karen Graves, Jeffrey Bazzet-Jones, Natalie Williams Calhoun and Adam Hill – have classical training and experience with major international orchestras and ensembles. But they also have the chameleon ability to change shape and colour in their approach to other genres as well as the classical repertoire.

And more often than not a new work will be thrown into the mix. Earlier this season they teamed up with baritone Philippe Sly to present the North American premiere of Jonathan Dove’s song cycle Who Wrote the Book of Love. That same evening they premiered Approaching Winter by Kathy Campbell, a music composition major at UPEI. At Sunday’s concert we heard a new piece by double bassist Adam Hill.

A summer concert at the Indian River Festival at historic St Mary’s Church.
Photo by Darrell Therialt.

They have also provided back up and arrangements for well-known Canadian artists both in concert and on disc. Sunday singer/songwriter Nathan Wiley made a guest appearance to do two numbers that I believe he has record with the ASM for their upcoming album. I’ve always loved Wiley’s Home but in Karen Graves’ arrangement I found a new poignancy. Here it is in a video recorded at the Trailside Music Cafe and Inn back in 2016.

When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold
I sailed ships with the cowboys
And I'd never grow old
And my father was strong
And my mother was young
Fell asleep in the backseat
'Till we got home
Pick me up take me back where I belong
'Cause I don't know, anymore
I want to go home
And the sea was my country
And the fields were my den
And I'd sail a thousand ships
To get back again
Tell me when did I grow old
Tell me where can I go
To run in the tall grass
And lay in the snow
(repeat chorus)
Where are the railroad tracks
Where are the summers I used to know
When I was a boy, I had everything
I had silver and gold

Nathan Wiley

Somehow this video says so much to me about music on our Island.

May 22 is Buy A Musical Instrument Day – now talk about your serendipity!

A Way With Words

Last evening was a busy evening in town for meetings, readings, and exhibition openings. Fortunately I was able to attend a portion of a poetry reading by Thomas O’Grady at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery hosted by Bookmark, one of our local independent book stores. Thomas is a member of a well-known Island family with strong Irish ties and is the Director of Irish Studies at the University of Massachusetts. His sister is a good friend and through her we have met Thomas and other members of the family.

It was a pleasure to hear him talk about his recently released poetry anthology Delivering the News and I was in time to hear him read several of the poems from it. “Seeing Red” the first part of the book is chiefly reflections on his childhood here in Prince Edward Island.

The second last piece he read came from that section and was the poem that gave his book it’s title. He introduced it with a reference to a Robert Harris painting in the collection at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery that hung behind him. In the undated portrait – Harris was active in the late 1800s-early 1900s – a young newsie stands at the corner of Queen St and Sydney St here in Charlottetown hawking what may be his last paper of the day. Save for the now paved street and cement sidewalks the view is exactly the same today.

Don’t Lose the News for Two Cents, Mister
Robert Harris – date unknown
Confederation Centre Art Gallery

Thomas recalled his own career as a less than willing paper boy that was the inspiration from the poem. And he wryly commented that anyone who ever had a paper route knew the truth of that last line. As well as the gentle humour of that line for me the poem also catches that time of our young lives when our troubles of the moment outweighed those of the wider world.


On wild March days that cotton canvas sack
held rain like a tent and hung so low it thumped

a sodden beat like a leaden weapon sheathed
against my thigh. Schoolboy short, I cinched the strap

up high in a knuckled knot (my collarbone
still sports a phantom bruise) and shouldered on.

From door to door I bore the soggy news,
street by street - Churchill Avenue, Spring Park Road...

War, Pestilence, Famine, Death. Was I deaf
to the headline roar of my unwieldy load?

Weight of the world. Art of the backhand toss.
The guileless messenger shot at and missed.

On Friday night I tallied my receipts
and somehow ended, always, at a loss.

DELIVERING THE NEWS - McGill-Queen's Press - March 2019
by permission of the author.

Over the next few days I intend to make my way slowly through the collection savouring his memories and the language. In a recent article Thomas quotes a remark of the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes: “The English language has always been alive and kicking, and if it ever becomes drowsy, there will always be an Irishman.” Fuentes might have added or an Islander with Irish roots.

Delivering The News can be ordered through the publisher McGill-Queen’s University Press here. An eBook edition will be available shortly.

May 16th is Waiters Day. Created by London Hilton Restaurant Manager Fred Sirieix, his goal is to stop people working in the food service industry from being perceived as unskilled, and instead as hardworking people doing jobs that require many skills and can lead to rewarding careers.