The best food, shopping, sightseeing, arts & culture, and activities in PEI’s quaint capital
By Ellen Egan
Sure, we all know island summer has been ranked as Mother Nature’s favourite season for the last 1,000 years running, but I’ve come to believe that winter on Prince Edward Island has been severely underrated for far too long—especially if you happen to be staying in our downtown core.
I’ll admit, however, that it took a couple of years living abroad to realize this and truly appreciate the quaint city I’m lucky enough to call home. But after spending the past two winters living in the heart of downtown Charlottetown, I’ve grown to appreciate how the peace and quiet of winter (spontaneous snow day, anyone?) balances off with the town’s arts, food and entertainment scene—keeping locals and visitors alike buzzing from morning ‘til night.
Now, to help you sort through all the action, I’ve compiled a handy-dandy guide to making the most out of your next visit to our beloved capital city.
EATING & DRINKING
1. Indulge in local fare
As home to some of the finest natural bounty in the world and the celebrated Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown is a foodie haven—no matter what time of the year it happens to be. In fact, many top notch restaurants stay open for lunch and dinner during the winter months. And not to worry, the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market is still the place to be on a Saturday morning.
Since I tend to stay within waddling distance of home when going out to eat, a few personal favourites within the downtown core are Terre Rouge Bistro Marche for its use of fresh, local products and savoury combinations, Sims Corner Steakhouse for its fabulous Island beef program, and Sirenella’s Ristorante definitely takes the cake for some seriously drool-inducing Italian fare. And before we know it, April will soon be here and you know what that means: Burger Love! Oh yes, the month-long campaign that promotes island beef and sees our many chefs competing for the role of reigning champion is just around the corner. My waistband feels tighter already.
2. Discover your favourite watering hole
Like a warm hug, you’ll inevitably want to tuck into the inviting atmosphere of many of our local pubs at various points during your stay. The authentically British pub, Churchill Arms, offers a variety of delicious curries and is where many locals can be found hollering trivia answers over pints of lager on Saturday afternoons. And for those who like a side of live music with their cold brew, you’ll find local musicians playing evening acoustic sets at popular spots like the Gahan House, Marc’s Studio (above The Brickhouse), The Old Triangle and Next Door (beside Merchantman).
3. Bring on the java
I’m especially fond of this next one, particularly on chilly days when I want a cozy place to meet friends, read a book, or get some work done. The newest kid on the café scene happens to be my absolute favourite—Receiver Coffee Company (in the former Cafe Diem location on Victoria Row)—which, in my opinion, is doing a swell job of roasting Third Wave coffee and serving the most tempting breakfast and lunch options in town. For an extra dose of charm, I like to head to Leonard’s Café on University Ave. for a healthy and delicious lunch. Their baked goods are also to die for—just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
4. Learn the art of beer making (and drinking)
If you’re looking to find out where a lot of the tasty craft beer comes from that’s served at many of our restaurants, look no further than the PEI Brewing Company at 96 Kensington Road. Here, you can actually tour the facility for yourself and find out how the raw ingredients eventually end up as the refreshing pint you’ll be dying to try after the tour. The brewery is also home to a large event space, which sees many events roll through, like Art Battle, a live, competitive painting competition taking place monthly and drawing huge crowds.
ATTRACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
5. Embrace the great outdoors
We’re really lucky that island winters still stay bright and sunny, seeing approximately 22 days of sunshine during the colder months, even in January and February. So outdoor activities are totally doable, and a simple walk does wonder for the mind and body. Just beyond the quaint streets of Charlottetown are two popular walking trails: the Confederation Trail and Victoria Park boardwalk. And for a little ice skating action, head south towards the harbour at lower Prince Street where you’ll find the Founder’s Hall rink—a favourite ice skating spot for locals and visitors alike. For those with the kiddies in tow, the annual Jack Frost Festival takes place February 27th to March 1st, and offers a selection of both indoor and outdoor activities for the whole family.
6. Walk back in time
Living just a couple of blocks from Great George Street, I find it’s easy to take the many historic sites (and sights) for granted. But one structure that continues to amaze me is Saint Dunstan’s Basilica—from steeples to steps, the 100+ year old building just reeks of history and old world glory. Closer to Victoria Park and overlooking Rochford Square is All Soul’s Chapel on All Soul’s Lane. Built in 1888 of Prince Edward Island sandstone in the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture, it was design by architect William Critchlow Harris and its interior walls feature paintings by his brother, Robert Harris. Not far from there on the corner of Kent and West street is Beaconsfield Historic House, which brings back plenty of nostalgia from my days spent visiting it as a child. It’s a fine example of Victorian architecture open year-round with many original features intact and a fascinating story to tell.
7. Get your sweat on!
For those planning an extended trip, you may be interested in a bit of exercise at some point during your stay—especially after all of that eating and drinking you’ll have been doing, right? To cure what ails you, drop into a hot yoga class at Moksha Yoga near Founder’s Hall or hop on a spin bike at Dynamic Fitness on Queen Street. If exercise isn’t quite what you had in mind, you can get your sweat on via the dance floor at any one of our live music venues. I’m particularly fond of Hunter’s Ale House on Kent and Baba’s Lounge on University for their steady stream of talented East Coast musicians.
ARTS & CULTURE
8. Release your inner art enthusiast
By the time you’ve finished hiking our trails and sampling our local fare, you might be ready to admire the handiwork of some of Canada’s prolific artists. I suggest checking out some of our art galleries in the downtown core. Home to the largest Robert Harris Collection in the world, the Confederation Centre Art Gallery proudly displays the work of Canadian historical, modern and contemporary artists. I especially look forward to PEI painter Heather Millar’s solo exhibition, Heather Millar: Second Chances, which opens on February 7th. And just across the street on the corner of Queen and Richmond, it’s worth popping into the Gallery at The Guild (lower level), which displays self-curated exhibitions by many talented artists from all disciplines.
9. When in doubt, catch a show
Another great option for when the weather is truly miserable is catching a flick at either one of our two theatre options. Appealing to your artistic side, City Cinema is right in the heart of downtown and offers a variety of independent films that don’t always hit the big screen. Cineplex Charlottetown is the larger cinema in town, just a five-minute drive from downtown, and features a handful of Hollywood blockbusters. For live entertainment, Confederation Centre of the Arts’ winter programming, Live at the Centre, offers live music, theatre, and comedy on PEI’s finest stages from October until May. The Guild, on the other hand, offers a more intimate experience and remains a hub of activity for various styles of performances.
10. Find that special token
There’s nothing I love more than finding a unique treasure from a new place to keep the memories fresh when I return back home. Added bonuses go to those with killer back stories—like an artisan I met in Santorini, Greece, who custom-made a beautiful bracelet for me in less than 20 minutes. Those are the sorts of memories that really stick with you. And Charlottetown happens to be full of charming boutiques—yes, even in the winter—that have the best characters waiting to welcome you and swap stories. A few shops I can’t resist include: Moonsnail (the best soaps and treasures), Cordelia’s Artisan Boutique (such beautiful pottery), Overman Jewellery & Art (crazy unique pieces…now moved to a new location at 54 University Avenue), and ColourBlind (Cutest. Dresses. Ever).
And if all else direction fails, don’t be shy to ask a local for assistance. Trust me, they’ll be more than willing to help. You never know, it could even be yours truly you run in to…
Ellen Egan is a freelance writer, editor and curator who was born and raised in Charlottetown, PEI, and is happy to have returned just in time to see it blossom and thrive before her very eyes. You can see more samples of her work at www.ellenegan.com.