Well, if it’s possible, I think we’ve found the nicest Canadians yet.
Everywhere we’ve been in this country, the people we’ve met have been very welcoming and kind. Now it seems the people of Charlottetown, PEI, have taken the cake.
From the moment we arrived at the Charlottetown Yacht Club, everyone we have met has greeted us with a welcoming attitude and a helping hand.
It started on the passage from Pictou when we noticed our mainsail had ripped. It must have happened on that awful flog from Havre Boucher, I thought.
Disheartened, we furled it away and resolved to motor across the Northumberland Strait and into Charlottetown without any help from the wind. In fact, it fought us again, throwing wind and waves in our face as yet another reminder of why we should be a downwind boat. Jocelyn was happy to finally set the anchor, her contribution to the start of the season complete. Now we could relax and play tourist in a new town.
Having been in this situation before, I was primed to have trouble finding a way to get the sail repaired – a runaround, perhaps, or difficulty even getting help finding the right person to call.
But here, it was smooth as silk. On the way across, I called Lisa, the yacht club manager, and learned of a guy named Ron White. Certainly Ron could help us with our ripped sail, she said.
Ron answered on the first ring and said he would greet us at the dock. With a cheery demeanor, he assessed the tear and said, “No problem. We’ll have it back to you tomorrow.”
Sure enough, Ron’s truck was already in the yacht club parking lot when we dinghied up to the dock bright and early the next morning. The repair job was well done, even autographed with an “RW” to mark his work. When I asked Ron how much it would be, he shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know. Whatever suits you.” (I pressed him and he finally said $40, which in my experience is very reasonable.)
Over the next few days, we got to know Ron pretty well.
He grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which made him somewhat of a kindred spirit, what with Plymouth only 15 miles down the coast from where I grew up in Cohasset.
He went to Bridgewater State University, then on to graduate work at Michigan State where he earned a PhD. When it was time to find a career, he had prospects in Virginia, Florida, New Brunswick, and Charlottetown. He chose the latter and moved here with his wife and four kids to start a career with Agriculture Canada.
That was in 1968. He has never left.
Retired now, and with his wife gone, he spends most days in the summer at the yacht club helping everyone with everything.
As we talked, he shared local lore.
There was the story about the lady who bore her baby on the ferry between Nova Scotia and PEI. Everyone asked, “Was the ferry coming or going?”
That was important, you see, because if the next ferry stop was PEI, then the baby would be an Islander. If not, s/he’d be a “CFA.”
CFA stands for “Come From Away,” which, once you’ve been here a while you realize is a moniker to distinguish people who were born on the island versus everyone else.
Well, Ron is not a CFA, but whenever someone points that out, he retorts, “That’s right. I’m not a CFA. I’m an HBC. Here By Choice.” That usually shuts them up, he says.
You might think the CFA business connotes discrimination. But that’s not the sense I get. It’s more about Islander pride. Here, as in Canada in general, people celebrate diversity. There’s even a Charlottetown office to welcome immigrants to PEI and help them get settled in. They don’t even call them immigrants. Rather, newcomers.
This started late in the last century when Pierre Trudeau, the current prime minister’s father, encountered a robust separatist movement among the Quebecois. The French speaking people of Quebec wanted to secede from Canada, creating an “Us and Them” with English speaking Canada.
To defuse the situation, Mr. Trudeau adopted a policy welcoming peoples of all tongues and heritages to Canada, which over time created such a diverse atmosphere that the “Us and Them” agitators faded into the background.
Now, as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, the country prides itself on its diversity and tolerance.
The week here in Charlottetown went by too fast, mostly dominated by relaxed days ashore exploring the town, biking the countryside, and taking in the sights. We celebrated our 32nd anniversary with a nice dinner out and taking in a play. Guess which one. Anne of Green Gables, of course!
The day arrived for crew change. I took Jocelyn to the airport in a car loaned to us by more helpful new Canadian friends, Don and Michelle MacKenzie, who wouldn’t hear of us using a cab or renting a car. We first met Don and Michelle in Souris where their boat was stored on-the-hard next to Windleblo. Turns out they live in Charlottetown, just a few blocks from the yacht club where we shared drinks and laughs with them.
As Jocelyn boarded her plane, disembarking were two new crew members, Jonathan and Jesse. Our mission? To deliver boat and crew safely to Quebec City over the course of three weeks.
Let the adventuring continue.