Lunch? At 10:00 PM?!
July 25, 2011 Charlottetown PE

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Confederation Trail in the Afternoon

We were well into the fourth song when the man on my left side turned to me and shouted into my ear.

"We've got to get you up so you can daunce! You're going to daunce, aren't you?"

"Daunce?"

"Yes, daunce!"

I 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 local dialect.

"Oh, you mean dance!"

The Money Crop
Potatoes! As far as the eye can see!

"Yes! That's what I said! Daunce! We've only got a couple of songs until lunch."

"Lunch?!"

"Yes, lunch!"

Something 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?

I'd 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.

"Let's 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 "Ceilidh"

The Island Plateau
Central PEI

You 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.

Though 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 year long.

Confederation Trail, PEI
Bike Touring at its Finest!

I 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?

My 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.

Coming to a Poutine Near You!

Ian 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.

So what's up with lunch at 10:00 pm?

I 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.

Island o' Plenty

Seeing 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.

The 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.

Bald Eagle

The 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!

Meanwhile, 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.

"This 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

I 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!

The Circle Club: Boogie Headquarters

Before 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!

To 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!

If 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!

It's Ceilidh Time
The Ceilidh Crooner
The Dauncefloor
Shake Your Booties!
Wheat as High as a Scarecrow's Eye
PEI Wheatfield
PEI Grassfield
There's the Green, But Where's the Gable?
Hustle Bustle, PEI Style
Greenwich Dunes .
Greenwich Dunes National Park
Official Toe Dipping
Dipped my toes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but there's still a long way to go til the Atlantic Ocean!
Gulf of St. Lawrence
Hooray for Salt Water!
PEI Freeway, 2 Lanes Wide
Come bike side-by-side with me!
The Good Life
The Island of Red Dirt
Don't bother wearing white..
Matt with Sir JAM
Anjali and the MacDaddy!
Canada's First PM and a certified chick magnet
Hey, looks like that bar is still serving Happy Hour!
This is Wild Rose Country
A Bug's Eye View of PEI
Cattails, PEI
World Class Bike Touring
Typical Confederation Trail, PEI
Marshland, PEI
Confederation Trail at Sunset
Mussel Farm at St. Peter's, PEI
PEI Carpooling
Trailside Chanterelle