Tourism: An Islander's Perspective

New Glasgow, I would have to say, is one of the most stunning places on Prince Edward Island.  As you descend the long hill into the village of New Glasgow, you get a panoramic view of the quintessential Island landscape:  rolling hills, farm houses, a quaint church, golden fields, and the lazy River Clyde.  But New Glasgow is far more than just a feast for the eyes, it is also home to some of the best food in the province,  the New Glasgow Lobster Supper, which is where I could be found this past Tuesday evening.  The New Glasgow Lobster Supper is a third-generation family restaurant which opened in 1958.  A long-time Island tradition, the supper consists of fresh-baked rolls hot from the oven, bucket after bucket of fresh Island mussels, creamy seafood chowder, salad, lobster, and your choice from a slew of desserts (my favourite is the lemon-meringue pie with the sky-high meringue).  The reason for my indulgence in this delicious meal is that many of my friends are moving off-Island this summer for various pursuits, and have decided to make this the summer they do “Island things that Islanders don’t do.”  The first item on their to-do list was to go to a New Glasgow Lobster Supper, and I, being an appreciator of all things food, decided to join them.  

My friends' decision to do “touristy” things this summer got me to thinking about the part that tourism plays within our Island identity.  For me, tourism has all at once been a blessing and curse for this small province (and, admittedly, this may be due to the fact that I have red hair and live in the province where Anne of Green Gables is set).  Tourism has been integral to the Island’s economy since the early twentieth century.  The province has come to be known by many different names, but the most famous and long-lasting has been “the garden of the gulf.”  Although a wonderful slogan, I resent the way that tourism has packaged the Island identity into something palatable for tourists looking to have an “authentic Island experience.”  In this way, the Island’s economic dependence on tourism has watered down the reality of what it is actually like to live here, including the hardships we undergo, in order to sell an image.  Activities such as the lobster supper are recognized as an Island tradition; however, what is not mentioned is that lobster was for a long time a “poor man’s food” on Prince Edward Island.

Paradoxically, the fact that tourism has been such an integral part of the Island’s economy for so long also means that, in a way, it belongs to the Island way of life.  Tourism has brought money into this province when other industries were suffering, and thus, has allowed our culture not just to continue on unscathed, but to actually grow.  Tourists come to experience our heritage, our love of the arts, and for this reason we keep traditions alive.  Ceilidhs, community theatre, museums, heritage sites, festivals, literature, great food:  all of these things are commercialized in ways, but at the same time hold true to our history.  

So, as I was sitting in New Glasgow eating my pre-cracked lobster amongst a sea of tourists,  I felt torn.  Was I truly enjoying an “authentic Island experience?”  I believe the answer is yes and no.  It is undoubtedly true that the lobster supper is traditional Island fare, but Islanders rarely go to enjoy such a meal at a place like New Glasgow Lobster Suppers, and, if they do go, they are usually hosting guests from off-Island.  By the time dessert rolled around, then, I found that I could not make up my mind on how I felt about tourism.  The reality is that tourism will probably continue to hold an ambiguous place in the minds of most Islanders.  It is a way we can share our wonderful Island and our unique way of life with those from around the globe, but what only Islanders know is the true Island way of life, such as the hardships of seasonal work and the boredom of Prince Edward Island in mid-January.  Regardless of my jumbled thoughts, however, the lemon meringue pie was delicious.  

Stay tuned for my upcoming collection on the history of tourism in Prince Edward Island, available through the new Telling Island Stories iPad App.

For further information on New Glasgow Lobster Suppers visit their website:  

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