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The capital of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown is a small bustling city, home to about 35,000 permanent residents. The site of the historic Charlottetown Conference, where Canadian statesmen met to first debate the Canadian Confederation, it is unsurprising that most of the city's premier sights and attractions hark back to this historical epoch, and that, to this day, the majority of locals are employed in the economy's public sector. Roundly celebrated for its clean air and sound urban planning policies, Charlottetown is easily navigable and picturesque, with Victorian-era buildings dominating the pretty downtown area, and an ongoing waterfront redevelopment project seeking to convert industrial areas into parks and outdoor hiking trails.
The city's maritime position exerts a moderating influence on its climate, with winter temperatures never dropping as low, or summer temperatures climbing as high, as other Canadian cities of similar latitude. The city's premier tourist drawcard is by far and away the Green Gables House, tucked away in the beautiful Prince Edward Island National Park, although there is plenty more to see and do in Charlottetown - a town which describes itself as 'busting at the seams with entertainment and culture'.
Nestled in the Prince Edward Island National Park in Cavendish is the charming and picturesque Green Gables House that, in the early 1900s, inspired author Lucy Maude Montgomery to create her much-loved story about precocious red-headed orphan Anne Shirley, entitled . Thousands of visitors flock here to enjoy a ramble around the famous house and its surrounds (originally owned by relatives of the author) that served as a setting for the treasured tale and also to drink in the sights and sounds of the beautiful park that houses Green Gables. The house itself is filled with displays (including audio-visual), a gift shop, the charming Butter Churn Café, a visitor's centre and restored rooms. There are trails to be explored (fans of the book will recognised Lovers Lane and the Haunted Wood), guided evening walks, children's activities, restored gardens and many other treasures to be enjoyed.
Founded in 1964 as a National Memorial to the Fathers of the Confederation, the Confederation Centre of the Arts is more than a tribute to those who formed the notion of a united country; it is also a celebration of the diversity, talent and character of Canada and its history. Situated on the site of the old Charlottetown marketplace, the centre takes up a city block and is home to an art gallery, several theatres, a gift shop and restaurant. The annual Charlottetown Festival, begun in the mid-1960s, is a firm favourite hosted by the centre and runs from late May to mid-October. A celebration of musical theatre and comedy, the festival has spawned several highly successful musicals, including the immensely popular Canada's longest running musical, now in its 42nd year. The Confederation Centre Art Gallery has more than 15,000 pieces of contemporary, modern and historical Canadian art work, and is well worth a visit.
Perhaps one of the best ways to explore Prince Edward Island is via the Confederation Trail. Following what was once the railway line, the trail stretches from tip to tip of the island, through forests, wetlands, villages and waterways, for 173 miles (279km). The trail is almost entirely flat, and has a finely crushed gravel surface, making it easy going; perfect for walkers, cyclists and those in wheelchairs. In winter, the trail is a favourite with snowmobilers and provides a picturesque route through the province, from Tignish to Elmira. Visitors can enjoy the natural splendour of the island, including its lush flora and abundant fauna, and experience its peace and tranquillity at a pedestrian pace. Entry points to the trail are marked by distinctive plum coloured gates, and the less adventurous can choose to follow the trail for some of the way and stop off to rest and grab a bite in one of the many villages connected by the trail.
Founder's Hall is one of Prince Edward Island's highly popular attractions, located on the Historic Charlottetown Waterfront. Also known rather grandly as Canada's Birthplace Pavilion, the hall is a well-designed heritage attraction set in a restored 1906 building that previously housed a CN rail car repair shop. The hall incorporates state-of-the-art technology with history, allowing visitors to enjoy interactive exhibits, holovisuals, various exciting displays and an absorbing 'Time Travel Tunnel' that allows visitors to trace the development of Canada and its provinces. The aim of Founder's Hall is to celebrate the spirit of co-operation shown by the Fathers of the Confederation, and to educate the public about Canada's heritage. Far from boring, the exhibits and displays continue to delight visitors, and for those tired of all the culture and history, a boutique selling island crafts, memorabilia and souvenirs is also within its walls.
The main allure of Prince Edward Island for travellers is the fact that the little province inspired and formed the setting for the beloved Anne of Green Gables novels; as a result Green Gables House is usually touted as the most popular attraction of Charlottetown even though the homestead is actually situated in the Prince Edward National Park, in Cavendish, and is therefore an excursion for those holidaying in Charlottetown. The Confederation Centre for the Arts, within the city, also owes some of its popularity with visitors to L.M. Montgomery's novels, as a number of Anne-themed musicals and plays draw fans into the theatres of the complex.
Other worthwhile tourist attractions in Charlottetown include St Dunstan's Basilica, a National Historic Site of Canada; Founder's Hall, which proudly traces the history of Prince Edward Island and the country as a whole; and Victoria Park, a lovely green lung. Charlottetown's appeal is its old-fashioned charm, and attractions like the Brackley Drive In, a 1950's-style drive-in theatre, thrill travellers.
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