Trail in the Afternoon
were well into the fourth song when the man on my left side
turned to me and shouted into my ear.
got to get you up so you can daunce! You're going to daunce,
took a moment to consider this. The guitars and stomping feet
made it difficult to make out what he'd said, but after a few
seconds I realized I had stumbled upon yet another piece of
you mean dance!"
Potatoes! As far as the eye can see!
That's what I said! Daunce! We've only got a couple of songs
was wrong now. It was nearly 10:00pm - surely he didn't mean
lunch. Then I began to smell the fresh tea, tuna sandwiches
and baked desserts. They were being laid out on white plastic
patio tables lined up in a makeshift kitchen at the back of
the hall. Maybe he did mean lunch. How strange! What foreign
land had I ended up in? If this was lunch, then when was dinner?
reached the village of St. Peter's on the northern coast of
Prince Edward Island, and I was attending my first ceilidh with
my new friends of the PEI Circle Club.
see.. umm.. K.. A.. I.. L? no wait.. it starts with a C, I think!
No, maybe it doesn't. Oh, I don't know!"
- An islander's response when asked to spell
may be wondering what in the world a ceilidh is. First of all,
it's pronounced "Kay-Lee". Quite simply, a ceilidh
describes just about any type lively gathering in this part
of the world. Prince Edward Island is Canada’s smallest
province, situated in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and like the rest of the Maritimes, this tiny island has strong
Irish and Scottish roots. Most of the island's traditions trace
their way to the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean - including
the ceilidh. The word itself is derived from the Gaelic term
for 'companion'. Naturally, a lively Gaelic gathering involves
song, dance and finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I've
come for all three.
traditional ceilidhs are being supplanted by discos and nightclubs
among younger Maritimers, the Circle Club is keeping the party
going strong every night of the week. Club members organize
nightly ceilidhs across the eastern half of the island in a
weekly rotation of venues, gathering friends and local artists
in a non-stop -albeit miniature - music festival that runs all
Bike Touring at its Finest!
had hoped to watch the action quietly from a back corner of
the room, but in this town a stranger never goes unnoticed -
especially one wearing ripped nylon pants, cleated biking shoes
and sporting a bad case of helmet head. Being less than half
the average age of nearly everyone in attendance was also a
clue that I was new in town. Did I mention the Circle Club is
for senior citizens?
new friend introduces himself as Ian. "I'm a MacDonald
but I married a Johnson," he says, pausing for a moment
to allow this fact to sink in. I stare at him blankly, not understanding.
"They're rival clans!" he explains. I nod slowly and
he smiles back. Ian MacDonald seems to know everyone in the
room, but I'd be surprised if he didn't know most people on
the entire island. He has personally painted many of the murals
on the clubhouse walls, depicting typical scenes from the village's
past, including a fishing boat hauling a lobster trap, a steam
locomotive with the town train station, and a somewhat spooky
image of a smiling ticket agent staring into space.
to a Poutine Near You!
is an expert on the ceilidh - he typically goes to 3 each week,
though he used to attend up to 5. With the exception of being
stationed in Italy during World War II, he's spent his whole
life in the area. To Ian, the ceilidh is an important aspect
of social life on the island and a good opportunity to daunce
with his wife.
what's up with lunch at 10:00 pm?
asked Ian for some clarification, but he seemed confused by
my question, as though no one had ever asked him before. I had
to turn to Wikipedia for the answer to this one. It turns out
that in many parts of the Maritime provinces, the names of meals
are not used in the same way as in other parts of the country,
particularly among older speakers. "Breakfast" is
used for the morning meal, as it should be, but the rest is
all messed up. "Dinner" specifically refers to the
meal eaten at midday, "Supper" is the evening meal,
and "Lunch" refers to a snack eaten outside of regular
meal times – in this case, the one eaten just before bedtime.
A ceilidh lunch consists of various sandwiches and desserts,
along with a cup of tea. Going back for seconds is universally
tolerated, if not encouraged.
my partially-unrestrained appetite demolish 2 heaping plates
of food and leave a collection of crumbs around my chair, the
lady on my right side enquired how I came to arrive at the St.
Peter's ceilidh in such a hungry state. I explained how my cross
Canada bicycling trip was nearly over – I had travelled
about 7700 kilometres and was soon headed to Halifax to dip
my toes in the Atlantic Ocean, but not before exploring the
island's Confederation Trail.
Confederation Trail is a gem of the Trans Canada Trail –
it not only attracts bicyclists and hikers from across the country,
but it provides local residents with recreational opportunities
just a few steps from their front door. Best of all, though
there are isolated parts of the trail being damaged from motorized
use, the non-motorized designation seems respected by ATVers
and dirtbikers who for the most part stick to their own trails.
Confederation Trail stretches from tip to tip of the island,
following abandoned railway corridors in classic "rail
trail" fashion with smooth pea gravel (they call it "rolled
stonedust"), featuring rest stops and tourist information
centres (often situated in restored railway stations). The Trail
travels through several of the island's towns and villages with
convenient access to bicycle rentals and repairs. In late July,
the trail was bustling with locals and tourists who use the
trail to travel between towns – I even saw a couple of
elderly people riding battery-powered eBikes. Unfortunately,
I suspect very few cross-Canada touring cyclists are aware of
the Trail's existence and choose to ride on the Trans Canada
Highway instead, taking their chances with huge trucks and heavy
traffic in exchange for a more direct route eastward. Too bad;
it's a real shame to miss it!
back at the ceilidh, the woman sitting beside me got the attention
of the Club President, and after the next song ended he announced
my presence to the crowd.
young man is cycling across Canada - that's probably about 5000
miles! By now, he must be in better shape than most of us!"
- Circle Club President
could only hope so, but so after a kind lady dragged me onto
the dauncefloor, I wasn't so sure – those islanders really
know how to boogie!
Circle Club: Boogie Headquarters
the ceilidh, I had biked to the edge of town and visited Greenwich
Dunes National Park to dip my toes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and celebrate having come this far. It wasn't technically the
Atlantic Ocean, but it seemed like a wise idea just in case
my bike decided to pack it in before reaching Halifax. With
about 300 kilometres remaining in this journey, the final stretch
to the open ocean lies ahead!
date, the project has raised nearly $1200 in donations for the
Trans Canada Trail – and hopefully this blog entry will
motivate more people to get involved and sponsor the Trail's
development across the country. Time is running out!
you would like to place a donation to the Trail, you can do
on the Donate Now page on my
web site. You can sponsor a metre of trail for $50 (CAD) but
any donation amount is appreciated! Thanks in advance!