In September of 1992 I spent 36 hours on Prince Edward Island. It was my first time here — a quick vacation on the way back from driving a friend from Ontario to Halifax. The flip of a coin sent my travel-mate and I to the Island rather than into New Brunswick. Coming off the ferry, we walked into the tourism information centre in Borden only to find that, given that the season was over, it had been re-purposed as a kindergarten. We visited Cedar Dunes Provincial Park and the lighthouse at West Point, came into Charlottetown for a night and stayed at Strathgartney, and did a little touring around in-between. I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been.

I loved PEI so much that six months later Catherine and I were living here.

We forgot to leave.

The CBC is reporting that the theme of this year’s PEI tourism marketing campaign is “P.E.I. isn’t just a nice place to visit – it could change your life.” My old colleague Greg Arsenault from Tourism PEI is quoted as saying “The trick will be to show how Prince Edward Island changes people.”

As someone whose life was dramatically changed by a visit to the Island, I completely agree with this thrust.

Above and beyond just the tourism economy, I think it’s high time Islanders stop being so timid about how special and different and transformative a place we live in. The world does need a little more Prince Edward Island.

Of course it’s entirely possible that the Grey Worldwide (the Island’s new agency) could screw this up entirely, and leave us with some wacky half-baked cartoon of a vision of the Island’s super-powers. But as a starting point, this is one of the better ideas I’ve seen, and if they do it right, it could be dramatic.

Out with “come play” and in with “come rock your world.”


Rob L.'s picture
Rob L. on February 9, 2006 - 02:36 Permalink

I trust you on this… but I still find it difficult to remove myself enough from the reality of life here to know exactly what is so unique. Having spent my entire life here — save for a decent amount of international travel and some time living in the big city — I sometimes wish I could visit here as a complete stranger. Everything is too familiar… the landscape, the people, the flora, the fauna, etc. I can’t see it with fresh eyes, but I still know it’s special. Sort of frustrating to not understand why though.

Ken Williams's picture
Ken Williams on February 9, 2006 - 03:36 Permalink

It’s an island, the water is a big part of the mystique. It’s quaint and no matter where you come from it is not intimidating because of it’s small scale. Off season is best, when the crowds don’t dominate everything nice about the place. It shines in summer, disappears into a white wastleland during winter. Except this year, this winter which is like an awakening due to the weather. It is going to be a strange summer.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on February 9, 2006 - 12:08 Permalink

Well PEI has certainly changed my life. It has been 10 years now. I am leaving only in a box.

I found that I needed a different pace and a deeper link to the natural world. I also discovered what it was like to live in say Athens at the time of Sophocles, London at the time of Shakespeare or Boston at the time of the Tea Party. All cities were like this where — you know everyone. This weekend I briefly chatted to a former premier on the plane and when my ride home was late was offered a lift. Where else in the world could that happen?

There is a dark dark side too that nearly drove me away after year three. Like a love affair, I think a lot of what drew me here was a projection. In my depression of seeing the dark side, a friend reminded me that like all people, all palces have a dark side. I realized that I disliked the dark side of the big city and aspiration more than PEI’s resembalnce to the “RES”.

I enjoy the the of relatioship I have with people a lot here. I love going into a shop and seeing people I know, walking down the street and having to stop and chat. I love the seasons — humping the wood, mowing the lawn, enduring mud season in the knowledge that summer is just around the corner, packing away the lawn furniture in the fall, seeing the first snow. It’s a banquet.

I also hope they don’t screw it up. If you are ready, PEI can transform you. It has saved my soul.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 9, 2006 - 12:38 Permalink

Both Robert and Peter have described my emotional attachment to PEI perfectly. It was June 1975 when I first visited, and I was lost. My vision of what the rest of my life was to be, was forever changed.

Rob L. also describes my experience. After 13 years, I left this place, thinking that life elsewhere offered something more. I was wrong, oh so wrong. It was my period of loss, 3 1/2 years of yearning for a return to my adopted home. I got a second chance to live someplace that I passionately (and sometimes irrationally) love. The promise I made to myself to never take this place for granted has been kept and each day reminds me why I love this place.

I will never leave.

Dave Mikolajczak's picture
Dave Mikolajczak on February 9, 2006 - 13:24 Permalink

Our first visit to PEI was the last summer before the bridge opened up. We stayed for 1 week at the Cavendish Beach Cottages and returned there three times.

It has been 6 years since we have been there and want to go back with our children. PEI is the perfect place to live, although I can’t imagine what the winters are like.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 9, 2006 - 14:21 Permalink

Rob says “There is a dark dark side too that nearly drove me away after year three…”. I know that darkness well, and it certainly afflicted Catherine and I. There appear to be two sort of immigrants to PEI — those that last through the third year darkness, and those that don’t.

And as a result of this, many of us are wary of those in year two or three — who wants to become friends with someone, bring them into your life, only to have them bolt in a year. Of course the irony is that this reticence only serves to reinforce the darkness, and make the prospect of bolting more likely.

I’ve become very adept at seeing the signs of the darkness coming in the eyes of others, and as much as I find it frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with, I try as best as I can to offer suggestions that there is life on the other side.

J's picture
J on February 9, 2006 - 16:51 Permalink

I’ve been here for 5 years…and can’t wait to leave! I guess I missed the mystique part.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 9, 2006 - 20:44 Permalink

Peter’s observations on ‘the darkness’ mirror my own observations. I have often referred to it as ‘a wall’. I have seen it often with friends from away. As did I, they reach a point where all that is negative (and there is a great deal) seems to take on a life of its own — seemingly overshadowing all that is good. Some break through that wall, as did I and many of my friends, to become, emotionally, more islander than most islanders. Others do not, and they leave. Those that leave make the decision that is best for them, and I have a great respect for that.

Those that leave, and then take pleasure at pointing out our failings, or belittle that which I love, merely make themselves look small.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 9, 2006 - 21:10 Permalink

Thank you, Craig, for wrapping a concise explanation around something that I’ve felt for a long time.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 9, 2006 - 21:15 Permalink

Well, I left and I see the campaign as problematic as it invites a comparison that cannot be won (or lost) as it is really more about the person than the place. Many places change many people and PEI is in no way unique in that respect — except for those in particular that it changes. That has as much to do or more with the sort of person who arrives as the place. Here is my math. If the world have given you X or taken Y and PEI dovetails that X and has that Y you lack, you will find your place of renewal on PEI and it will be real and good. But if the world has given you A and taken B, the Island will not do it for you. But another place might. That is what happened to me.

So, having seen what I call the dark of those who stay, having moved and now been changed and found my place only after leaving PEI (after five years of living and a decade of family residence) the ad turns me off as it makes no sense. But what would draw me? Not much except good friends having been made. So I am not the market. There are others, though and it may well attract those with that particular sort of need which Craig, Ruk and Rob had when they arrived in need of what PEI gave them.

But doesn’t that take explanation of what the Island actually does have in particular as opposed to what the branders would want folk to believe about its fictional restorative powers of general application?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 9, 2006 - 21:24 Permalink

You are correct, of course, Alan: there is nothing inherently (universally) magical about Prince Edward Island; it’s not a universal world-rocker.

But I would argue that the total PEI package — environment, lifestyle, geography, people, weather — is sufficiently distinctive enough from the predominant Canadian / northeastern North American urban experience that it is reasonable to claim restorative powers.

In other words, for large numbers of urban North Americans without access to anything resembling “the Island way of life,” looking to live (or visit) a place that is distinctly different from their everyday, PEI might just be just what the doctor ordered.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 9, 2006 - 21:33 Permalink

That could be true, Peter. My last point was based on what I read in the news about the campaign not really being about what PEI actually has/is. I think this is a mistake. I do also think it is a mistake to assume that there is a great deal distinctly different for the urban family. We now go to Maine primarily as we have very good pals there but also as it is half the drive to our PEI cottage. Maine has beaches, seafood and lovely locals who have a certain unique way. It may not be the same way as my old Rusticoville friends and neighbours but it is a way. If you want to find the real keepers in the market now I think you have to admit you are going after a sub-set of distinctly different being the actual. Then you have hope of finding those who will drive 6, 16 or 66 hours to get there year after year — your real market for expanding tourism.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 9, 2006 - 21:38 Permalink

…which raises an interesting question about whether tourism marketing should be about what PEI (or anywhere) is actually like, or should instead build castles in the air based on the assumptions, dreams and illusions that others might have about the Island (i.e. “a magical land of Anne,” etc.) I’m not sure.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 9, 2006 - 21:45 Permalink

I think you and I would agree on which way is better, Peter, even if it is not the thing that would draw me.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 10, 2006 - 00:38 Permalink

As often happens with conversations of our Island home, I find it hard to keep focused on where a thread really started. Of course, it started with thoughts about the new tourism campaign. As to if it will work, we will know when the dollars are counted at the end of the season. All said, it is the actual dollars earned that will be the measure. Is this place we call home unique? When one looks at the individual characteristics of this place, one quickly comes to the conclusion that our home is not unique. However, Peter’s approach of looking at our environment from a composite perspective, certainly points to something that in my experience, is rare.

Al is right about this being a personal decision. What is right for me, obviously did not fulfill Al’s requirements. For me, this place is where I want to be and I have many options as to where I could be.

A couple of years ago, when responding to a well-place (and good natured) poke in the ribs from Al, I wrote:


Alan's picture
Alan on February 10, 2006 - 02:05 Permalink

And, oddly, part of the place that gives me such joy here in the upper end of the same river valley is near where Craig grew-up. I think it has a lot to do with nice vista, good job but also what you have in the luggage when you show up. That is why Craig and I are both right. But I am happier being right for me and mine at the end of the St. Lawrence river that has better access to frozen custard.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 10, 2006 - 02:20 Permalink

Nothing odd with that, Al. If I was not here, I would be in the Adirondacks again. Substitute mountains for ocean, and there is little difference.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 10, 2006 - 02:22 Permalink

Odd for me, though, to have fallen into the dark secrets of your past.

Mo's picture
Mo on February 10, 2006 - 05:51 Permalink

My sweetie and I are honeymooning in PEI in August. We believe in the magic. Or at least we want our tourism dollars to go to Canada this year. It’s pretty dark here in Texas, even with all the sun.

Olle Jonsson's picture
Olle Jonsson on February 10, 2006 - 13:29 Permalink

Thanks for all the descriptions of the dynamics of island life. I long for trying that stuff out. Perhaps in another dimension/time-space, I have so much Europe to try on for size, as it is.

Craig: What an amazing story. It’s a personal edition of the manifesto of living well on (or is it “in”?) PEI.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on February 10, 2006 - 13:50 Permalink

What will happen to the people who come here this summer and leave unchanged? Will they feel gypped?

Oh I hope we can deliver…

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 10, 2006 - 14:57 Permalink

Cyn, those who come here and have an appreciation for what we have / are will feel better when they leave. Those who have an expectation of something we are not will leave disappointed. Really quite simple. We can’t be everything to everyone, but if more tourist dollars is the goal, then we should be presenting ourselves honestly — emphasizing what we have to offer.

I have often told people that if they want an exciting adrenaline filled holiday they should look elsewhere. If they want to relax, enjoy a small-town attitude, visit a place that is a little slower paced and feel a certain restored sense of well being, then perhaps PEI is a place to visit.

I also remind them that at the end of their holiday, and after we have emptied their pockets, we expect them to go home and leave our little corner of the world to us. :)

Cyn's picture
Cyn on February 10, 2006 - 15:50 Permalink

I fit into the Craig/Rob/Peter CFA experience, and at times think I am more of an Islander than most Islanders I know. (My parents call me an Islander)

We are talking about what makes us stay here. And there are other places, no doubt, that offer a similar way of life. There are other little corners where nothing is rushed, the air is somewhat clean, the people are peaceful, the life is simple.

It comes down to people for me. The people I love. Could I have found people to love in other places? Of course. But would I have the time and place to nurture these relationships? Not sure. We don’t ‘commute’ here like they do in other places. We save 2-3 hours a day by not commuting.
Sundays are for family on PEI, not grocery shopping. You can buy a house for under $150,000, you can buy a Family season’s pass to the National Park for only $75.00, or you can go to Blooming Point for free!!

We have lots of space and lots of time to nurture friendships.

I hope someone from the Dept. is peeking in on this thread. It’s all here, waiting to be spun into a magical visual of soft colours, warm misty filters and of the 1-800 number.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 10, 2006 - 16:22 Permalink

My two cents on a couple of things. Tourists are not residents and you will not exapnd tourism by that assumption. The experience of the same event, the same place are very different for the two sets of people. Tourist expectations of service, for example, must be met even if the theme of that experience through that service is what Craig describes. That is something — the big welcome and the little details — that Mainers and Newfs (and, perhaps oddly, the PA Amish) do so well for whatever reason.

Also what Cyn describes is available most places. Ontario’s provincial park pass, for instance, is comparable in price (at 70 bucks a summer) and covers a massively greater amount of amazing park experiences. Know your market and know your competition. It is not enough and it may not actually be relevant to explain and rely on the good things PEI offers to those happy to be resident there. But that does not justify Disnification either. It has to be authentic.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on February 10, 2006 - 17:21 Permalink

Agreed Alan. ‘Authentic’ matters. Most of us can sniff ‘fake’ a mile away.

Ken's picture
Ken on February 13, 2006 - 18:29 Permalink

This conversation has been very interesting. I enjoy understanding more about what people in PEI love about living in PEI. Isn’t marketing more about understanding the mindset of our potential tourists? What do they want in a vacation and what do they think of PEI now? From my own conversations with people I work with in the US there is about half who, of course, have never heard of PEI. My impression is they think of PEI like we think of Iqaluit, some remote northern place.

So, what would it take to get an islander to vacation in Baffin Island? Going to see the northern lights?

My idea for marketing PEI to the US: Original home of the Cajuns! That is a message people will remember, instead of being lost in the montage of all other tourism commercials (beaches, food, golf; bla, bla, bla).

I think islanders are the least equipped to understand what would appeal to a NY mindset. In fact, why doesn’t the Tourism department hire a New England advertising agency to promote the place there; and an Ontario agancy to promote it there?

sharron @ don hopey           's picture
sharron @ don h... on May 30, 2010 - 23:21 Permalink

I I cannot believe I am writing this to you,but I an so angry with whoever made the new rules for the provincial parks.We have been coming to “Your Island” for over six years and stay for a month at a time each year. We called to comfirm our reservations for

july-august [29 days] and was told that we were shifted out of our place by someone who booked 56 days. Doesn’t it count for someone who is loyal to your Linkletter Park year after year. Apparently Not!!! By the way,We are bringing 9 people with us. I don’t know about next year. I hope to hear from your dept. sincerely @ upset, Sharron @ Donald Hopey