Hospitality, Canadian Style Simply home: Prince Edward Island beckons

March 28, 1993|By Dan Klinglesmith and Patrick Soran | Dan Klinglesmith and Patrick Soran,Contributing Writers

Prince Edward Islanders have a popular greeting, "Come home from away?" The simple question reveals two key insights into islanders' psyches. First, that this is home -- not just a place, but a life with deep roots. Secondly, that everything else is away, for there is a sense of escape about this emerald isle adrift in the Gulf of St. Lawrence above New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Summer travelers to this diminutive Canadian province (only slightly larger than Delaware) can abandon their cares at homespun country inns set against a backdrop of misty shores, thick forests and leafy green fields.

Landlubbers and romantic sailors set a course for the historic 1873 West Point Lighthouse located at Egmont Bay. As Canada's only operating lighthouse and guest inn, the West Point shines uniquely.

Nestled along red sand beaches and kissed by the waves of the Northumberland Strait, the West Point rises as a square-cut black and white striped candle tipped with a revolving beacon. Nine rooms lie under its watchful gaze, two in the tower and seven in an attached cottage. Rooms are decked out with hand-stitched quilts, lace curtains and antique dressers. Framed photographs of locals' favorite coastal views line the walls.

The West Point is a community project. In 1984 the village nearly ran aground because of a diminishing fishing industry and the impending closure of nearby Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. The lighthouse saved the day.

Townsfolk rented the lighthouse from the Canadian Coast Guard for the monthly sum of a "loonie" -- one Canadian dollar -- and opened it as a non-profit guest inn. Carol Livingston, an effervescent islander of Scottish descent, headed up the development, which earned her the nickname "Mrs. Lighthouse." a moniker well-deserved. Her great-grandfather was the first beacon-keeper, and she optimistically carries on that glowing tradition.

"It was the seafood chowder that made the business," explains Ms. Livingston. In the evening, neighbors stop by for a cup of the creamy concoction and a bit of a chat. As Ms. Livingston puts it, "The inn has shone light back into the community, keeping some of the past for the future."

Ms. Livingston isn't the only Scot with an eye for a good deal. Back in the 1860s, Robert Bruce Stewart was the largest landowner on Prince Edward Island, with more than 67,000 acres in his estate. To oversee his holdings he built a fine manor high in the rolling Bonshaw Hills. Nowadays, it's the Stratgartney Country Inn.

The present lord and lady, affable Gerald Gabriel and his wife, Martha, refurbished the homestead. Under white-trimmed gables, eight comfy rooms speak of an earlier time. Appointments are simple and country elegant -- wingback chairs, straw baskets, hooked rugs and stencil-trimmed walls. Across a grassy knoll, time-worn barns and workers' quarters, now converted into rooms, recall that this was once a working farm.

Visitors explore the countryside, venturing perhaps to Green Gables House, a 30-minute drive away. More than 300,000 people travel here annually to pay homage to L. M. Montgomery's setting for her novels about a red-haired, freckled-faced orphan named Anne. It's the only crowded corner on Prince Edward Island.

Others avoid the throngs by strolling woodsy trails in neighboring Stratgartney Provincial park. Nature-loving Anne would be fond of these highlands. The only crowds here are stockades of beech sheltering feathery ferns, spongy mosses and sprightly lilies. Ridge tops afford bird's-eye views of rumpled vales thick with foliage.

Evenings find hungry diners gathered in the Stratgartney's cozy study. A piano recital sets the mood for gourmet meals of poached Atlantic salmon swimming in dill sauce or steak Diane. "God Save the Queen" toasts to Elizabeth II underscore the genteel surroundings and remind one that, for some, a monarch still reigns over Canada.

When slumber beckons, lodgers retire to rooms redolent with fragrant wisps of pine. While drifting off, imagine a lilting piper's skirl echoing through glens and hollows.

In 1988, two Bostonians, Linda Anderson and Emma Cappelluzzo heeded the call of a personal piper and embarked on a dream to open the Matthew House Inn.

The rambling Victorian mansion, set atop rough, red, sandstone cliffs in Souris, was once the home of Uriah Matthew. In the 1860s, Matthew reigned as the local merchant prince, operating a general store, the wharf, a lobster company and a shipping operation that carried goods to the West Indies. So it's no surprise he built a splendid residence overlooking the harbor.

The linden trees planted by Matthew still arch over the pebbly lane leading to the blue and gray mansion. Beyond their leafy boughs, layered shingles and ornate moldings drip like wedding cake icing over a breezy veranda. Inside, spacious rooms greet guests with rich wood paneling, cheerful watercolors and a gleaming maple floor cushioned with Oriental carpets.

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