Experience P.E.I. takes visitors off the beaten Island path

Teresa Wright
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Tourists Sjoerd Ijzerman, left, and Eliane Vermeulen listen intently as P.E.I. oyster fisherman Erskine Lewis explains how oysters grow and take the shape of whatever they touch. Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Some tourists are just not interested in Anne.
Such was the case for Eliane Vermeulen and Sjoerd Ijzerman, a young couple who visited P.E.I. recently from Holland.
She wanted to experience the Island's natural beauty. He was carrying a diamond ring in his pocket - looking for just the right time and place to pop the question during their visit.
They questioned the owner of the bed and breakfast they were staying in, "What should we do? Where should we go on P.E.I.?''
Green Gables?
"No way. I have no interest at all in that,'' Vermeulen said.
"How about oysters?'' he suggested.
They were thrilled.
Bill Kendrick owns the Briarcliffe Inn bed and breakfast.
After seven years of having guests ask him time and again what they should do while on P.E.I., he and his wife Mary realized there was a gap in the Island's tourist market for those visitors not interested in the beaten path.
So they developed Experience P.E.I. to create unique opportunities to provide personal interaction between tourists and everyday Islanders.
"We started Experience P.E.I. primarily to provide a different way to see the Island for the independent travellers,'' Kendrick said.
"Because what is commonplace to us is unique and in some cases exotic to people who come here.''
So he and his wife designed 'experiences' for tourists that provide exclusive opportunity to interact with Islanders - and to share in what they're
doing.
"What we're trying to do is show people the real, the authentic P.E.I. by getting them out there and doing these things. Because if they do, chances are they'll stay longer and come back more often.''
The first experience the Kendricks designed was one called 'Tong and Shuck' where travellers could go out on a boat and fish for oysters with a real oyster fisherman.
This is the experience that peaked the interest of Vermeulen and Ijzerman.
On a sunny summer day they waded out into a tiny oyster boat in Salutation Cove, where Erskine Lewis told them everything he knows about oysters.
He took hold of two long wooden tongs and dipped them into the water, feeling around for a catch. As the tongs touched the bottom of the bay, a pleasant clicking could be heard.
"You can feel and hear them down there,'' Lewis said to Vermeulen and Ijzerman.
The couple leaned over the side of the little skiff. The iridescent shells of thousands of oysters waved from below as the water lapped beneath the boat.
"I know what to feel for,'' Lewis added proudly. "I've been fishing oysters for the past 20 years.''
He then used the tongs to pull a bunch of oysters out of the water and showed the Holland couple how the shells grow onto each other and how they take the shape of whatever they touch.
Ijzerman was especially interested in the oyster fishing process. As a restaurant manager in Holland, he welcomed the opportunity to be able to learn how oysters are grown, fished and packed so he can explain the process to his customers when he returns.
When the couple returned to shore, they were ushered into the processing warehouse.
There, Vermeulen and Ijzerman were shown by Ted Boutilier, co-owner of Future Seafoods, how his Rocky Bay oysters are separated into 'standard' and 'choice' varieties and how they are cleaned, packed and shipped to markets around the world.
And for the piÈce de rÉsistance, they got to shuck and eat as many oysters as they could handle.
Ijzerman slurped them down hungrily. Vermeulen just couldn't stomach eating the shellfish raw.
"I only like them cooked,'' she said.
Overall, they were thrilled with their Experience P.E.I. adventure. In fact, it was the second they had been on during their visit. Earlier in the week, on a lobster boat experience, Ijzerman proposed marriage to Vermeulen.
She accepted.
They said they're now considering P.E.I. as a possible future honeymoon destination.

Organizations: Briarcliffe Inn, Future Seafoods

Geographic location: P.E.I., Iceland, Holland Anne Green Gables Salutation Cove Rocky Bay

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Recent comments

  • Donnie
    June 21, 2010 - 20:40

    Make halibut a sport fishery. Instead of just a golf industry, why not a fishing industry. We are surrounded by water, and have some real great fishing. There's big bucks to be made.

  • West
    June 21, 2010 - 20:38

    This is what tourist love to do.. My husband fishes and every year it is the same thing. Tourist come to the harbour asking lots of questions about how and why.. etc.. We usually end up taking them our for a sail and showing them the things they want to learn about. We always get postcards from tourist that we have become friends with just by answering their simple questions.. What is that??? lol
    I love the tourist that visit our island.. but I totally agree.. there is more to the island then just cavendish and Anne..

  • way to go!
    June 21, 2010 - 20:37

    Great job... One question - how much government money did these folks get? Or did they use their own initiative, spirit, and good sense to provide an alternative experience and meet an unmet need?

  • Chester Field
    June 21, 2010 - 20:35

    Finally, there are people out there that realize that a lot of tourists that come here do not want to do the Cavendish thingy, except for Anne of Green Gables, everything else out there is man made and there are probably 3 or 4 of these exact same amusements in their home province, state or country. Tourists want to come and experience something that they wouldn't normally be able to do at home, we have a ton of stuff, everyday stuff, that we take for granted....like...a beach hike, hike the beach, collect firewood, have a fire, do marshmellows and hot dogs, have fun...this is very inexpensive but alot of fun for everyone. Use you imagination, there are a lot of things that we do but don't think that a tourist would be interested but they would be, very much so. There are a lot of small business options out there, go for it.

  • Bill
    June 21, 2010 - 20:34

    Thanks to all of you who commented so favourably on the article about our company Experience PEI. It's great to hear people believe we're on the right track. To the person who wanted to know how much government money did these folks get? None....although Tourism PEI has been very supportive of our initiative and has been encouraging the development of further experiential tourism products by ourselves and others.

  • Keith
    June 21, 2010 - 20:28

    Provide an alternative experience and meet an unmet need for tourist who want to spend money and experience how we live. Go sailing in Charlottetown or see how lobsters are caught, see the seals and smell the salt air. Life is good on Prince Edward Island and people who visit us know it and are very happy to be here.We sometimes take our Island for granted. Come March we often forget about the beaches and the ocean and keep our fires burning for the hot summer nights of August.

  • Eliane
    June 21, 2010 - 20:02

    Dear readers,
    I am the girl mentioned in the article and first hand experience, it is amazing!!!
    Like it said my fiance and I did 2 experiences and they were wonderful, especially the diamond ring on the lobster boat.
    I hope everybody will check out the website for all of the other interesting and fun things Bill and Mary Kendrick organize with their company. Thank you Bill and Mary!!!

  • Steve
    June 21, 2010 - 19:58

    Check out any wharf on any given day and you're bound to find tourists walking around enjoying the scenery, and asking questions. If it were legal to have a catch and release halibut sport fishery you would find a lot more tourists around rural PEI. There are a lot of people from away that would pay big bucks to land a big flat fella from the picturesque Gulf of St Lawrence.

  • Melissa
    June 21, 2010 - 19:48

    The correct word is piqued not peaked . The cliche is piqued their interest . If you really mean hit the apex then the phrase should be something like their interest peaked with the oyster...

    Anyway, it was a cute story. It would be nice to read more stories about non-traditional Island tourist activities, for those of us who host off-Island visitors in the summer and need fresh ideas.

  • Henri
    June 21, 2010 - 19:39

    I come to the Island annually and advise co-workers on things to see & do when they go there and this is the kind of activity people would really enjoy.

    I hope the tourism dept is reading this and getting some ideas on how to utilize unique island job and turn them into tourist experiences.

  • Former Islander
    June 21, 2010 - 19:37

    THIS is the type of thing that will bring the tourists back to the Island. Time to drop the Cavendish tourist traps and worshiping at the alter of the almighty red headed orphan.

    Once you've been to Cavendish once, you really don't need to see it again.

    Unfortuantely the Guardian chose to publish this article at the end of the tourist season.

    Perhaps they will re-publish it next May so everyont who reads it will be able to suggest it to potential visitors to the Island.