Span of Green Gables
From tomorrow, new bridges in Canada and Denmark mean the traveller can bid farewell to troubled waters.
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Saturday 31 May 1997
You could earn extra points in a pub quiz by pointing out that these are, respectively, Canada's smallest and the nation's only bilingual provinces (Quebec, of course, being monolingually French). But from tomorrow, life in the placid backwater of Canada's maritime provinces will never be the same again. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will suddenly appear on the inspired traveller's map.
The reason is a strip of concrete nine miles long and six lanes wide: the Confederation Bridge, arcing effortlessly across the Northumberland Strait. The tiny island province is about to get hitched to New Brunswick, tucked into a fold of the Canadian mainland.
The bridge itself is already a tourist attraction - not least because the 6,000 people who have built it over the past four years installed a deliberate meander. In order to counter the hypnotic effects of a 10- minute drive along a dead-straight road, the bridge has been built like an elongated "S".
As huge civil engineering projects go, it was pretty cheap: pounds 400m, about the same as the one-mile Limehouse Link tunnel through London's Docklands. Instead of having Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs at either end, the new bridge links two provinces which are as unspoilt as they are uncelebrated. But from tomorrow, they will be famous.
Prince Edward Island
You will be forgiven for concluding that the bridge was hypnotic after all, and that you've driven into a child's painting outfit. On PEI (as the locals always truncate it - often with a slur, to "pee-eye"), colours acquire a new intensity.
A strident stripe of yellow sand is squeezed between the sharp, primary blue of the Atlantic and the deep green that dominates this particular emerald isle. Human endeavours to compete with nature's bold, bright strokes are Fauvist in character: barns and boathouses cast in rich reds and blazing oranges, their angles leaping into the calm ultramarine of the sky.
The people are colourful, too. Almost everyone I met had roots on the Celtic fringe of Europe, many with hair the shade of the sun as it sets into the Strait - emulating the flaming curls of the most (or only?) famous Islander.
Anne of Green Gables is an entirely fictional creation, but her legend has been milked as assiduously as the plump cows that decorate the island's fields. Lucy Maud Montgomery's semi-autobiographical novel fuels an entire industry, and Anne's curly-ginger-haired visage is adored by thousands of young Japanese women. They home in on the handsome timber house known as Park Corner, where Ms Montgomery married - now the Anne of Green Gables Museum.
A fire 10 days ago caused some damage, and it is now closed for repairs. Luckily the museum's only real LMM relic, her battered typewriter, was saved from the flames ("as red as Anne's hair, as hot as her temper," etc) because it was in for repairs. But you can still enjoy the rustic serenity of the location, with lawns dancing lightly down to Campbell's Pond -"the lake of shining waters" - interrupted by the odd growling tour bus.
Some locals resent the intrusion. A correspondent complained to the island's newspaper thus: "Does PEI have nothing more to offer than the fact that it is the setting for an utterly beaten-to-death work of questionable literary merit?"
The island has plenty more to offer, not least its fun-sized capital. Charlottetown is an unassuming fishing village that accommodates institutions of state with elegance along the dignified, tree-fringed streets. One advantage that the layer of bureaucracy confers is a better range of restaurants than you could reasonably expect in a town of 50,000. I dined expansively but economically at the Gainsford, and washed the meal down with a pint of Murphy's Stout at the Claddagh - an Irish pub with more character than modern imposters.
The locals tell jokes about the supposed dullness of Canada's other provinces ("Scare away a dog in Saskatchewan, and you can still see it running four days later"), and worry about the loss of insularity. But for travellers, there is now a giant paintbox near the end of the Trans-Canada Highway. Just turn left for the new Span of Green Gables.
Other parts of the world, other Canadian provinces even, bombard the traveller with possibilities. But in New Brunswick, life is uncomplicated: what you see on the road atlas is mostly what you get.
And what you see is a gentle province rolling in from the Atlantic shore, wrinkled by river valleys and speckled with small, workmanlike towns. Look at the fine print alongside each dot, and the place names reveal a province where French and British settlers co-exist in towns called Notre Dame and Canterbury.
On the Acadian Peninsula, poking into the Gulf of St Lawrence between PEI and Quebec, live survivors of one of the world's lost nations. The Acadians, the first French settlers in Canada, occupied the maritime provinces until the end of the 18th century, when the British began mercilessly to oppress them - with the help of Loyalists fleeing post-revolutionary America. Half were expelled, moving south to Louisiana, where their name was corrupted to "Cajun".
Those who remained managed to cling to their culture and language - which remains much closer to Metropolitan French than the mangled dialect of neighbouring Quebec. Stay this side of the frontier, where controversy comes a distant second to countryside.
The best international airport for both Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick is Halifax, a short drive away in Nova Scotia. The only airline with direct scheduled flights from Britain is Air Canada (0345 181313), which flies daily from Heathrow. Lower fares are available through discount agents on Icelandair via Reykjavik and KLM via Amsterdam; these also give a choice of departure points outside London. In addition, charter carriers such as Bluebird Express (0990 320000) offer low fares.
From Halifax, reaching New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island will be tough unless you rent a car. Simon Calder paid C$59 (about pounds 27) per day to rent a small car from Hertz; lower rates may be available if you book in advance.
The toll for the Confederation Bridge is C$35 (about pounds 17) for a car; pedestrians and cyclists cross free, travelling in special buses.
Quiz note: Canada's provinces are, from east to west, Newfoundland (incorporating Labrador), Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The North West Territories and the Yukon are territories, not provinces.
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