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One-tank trip: Guardian reporter visits Tignish, P.E.I., area to showcase local destinations and latest additions

Patrick Doucette, 5, listens to some Stompin' Tom Connors at the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond on July 29.
Patrick Doucette, 5, listens to some Stompin' Tom Connors at the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond on July 29. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
TIGNISH, P.E.I. —

Editor's note: We hope you enjoy this occasional series where journalists explore a destination they can reach on one tank of gas.


In my experience, heading "up west" is a three-part process.

First, you drive through Miscouche. It's here you'll find the farthest west set of traffic lights on P.E.I. – at least from what I know.

Second, Route 2 swerves you into Richmond. If you happen to need gas or a giant-sized woven basket, this would be a good place to make a pit stop.

Finally, you pass through a gauntlet of highway lined with trees, fields and the occasional ruins of a farmhouse, convenience store or water park. There's a quietness to this stretch of the Island – one steeped in a reserved history and, for many, one that gradually signals the transition home.

I was sent to the Tignish area as part of SaltWire Network's One-Tank Trip series. The idea is to showcase some local attractions that Islanders can check out on a single tank of gas – attractions they might not make time for if it weren't for pandemic travel restrictions. 

Attraction number one was the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond, where the quietness was shattered by an appropriate dose of foot-stompin' music. An ode to the famed folk singer's legacy was being presented live by local musician Kurk Bernard.

The Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond features a variety of displays. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond features a variety of displays. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

"He plays here most afternoons," said Anne Arsenault, CEO of Tignish Initiatives and town tour guide for out-of-town reporters.

Tucked away in a corner of the centre was a shrine to Stompin' Tom Connors, featuring some of his gold records, lore galore and signed strips of plywood that he would bring to his shows.

"He would have to bring his own plywood," Arsenault said. "(Otherwise) he would stomp right through the stage."

Nearby was the old schoolhouse that Connors grew up attending and an outdoor festival grounds that was recently built to allow for COVID-friendly shows. Apparently the stage was constructed and had musicians kicking its floorboards within just two weeks.

"Everybody came together and made it happen," Arsenault said.

Anne Arsenault is shown in front of the new stage at the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond on July 29. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Anne Arsenault is shown in front of the new stage at the Stompin' Tom Centre in Skinners Pond on July 29. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Monique Pendergast was checking out the shrine with her four kids. They live in the area, and she grew up on Connors' music, but they've been discovering tons of local treasures for the first time this summer, she said.

"We've never been in this section before."

As I was leaving, I asked her a more serious question.

"Where's the best place to get ice cream?"

"Dairy Royal," one of her kids replied, as they tugged at her so they could go there themselves. Duly noted, kid.

Try a bowl of Udderly Divine ice cream from Dairy Royal in Saint Anthony. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Try a bowl of Udderly Divine ice cream from Dairy Royal in Saint Anthony. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Arsenault and I made for our next destination, but along the way she took a notion and we pulled over at Clohossey Farms in Nail Pond. Its roadside vegetable stand that is popular with the locals, she said.

Well, I was there to get the up-west experience, so I figured I may as well buy something and claim it as a company expense (just kidding, boss).

"Go up to the farm," farmhand Maggie Eldershaw told me. "The ladies will make change for you."

I walked up as instructed, exchanged a bill for change, and returned to the stand to snag some veggies. 

Beans? 

Carrots? 

Onions?

Who am I kidding – I bought potatoes.

We continued along the coastal road and arrived at the Wind Energy Interpretive Centre in North Cape, the smell of seaweed almost as strong as the rhythmic whoosh of each windmill's propellers.

Fishing boats are moored at Seacow Pond Harbour in North Cape. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Fishing boats are moored at Seacow Pond Harbour in North Cape. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kyle Johnson, owner of Skyline Atlantic Canada, was there doing work on the centre's museum as it undergoes some upgrades. I was able to peruse some of the new history, culture and folk tale displays, and he teased some of the interactive content that'll soon be installed.

"It’s come a long way from when we first got here," some construction fella said to me.

I went down to the beach to see a collection of miniature stone inukshuks made by beachgoers, then headed out to our next stop – the 'nish.

These beach-side inukshuks are located on the shore at North Cape. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
These beach-side inukshuks are located on the shore at North Cape. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Joe Doiron, another construction fella, met us at the Tignish Heritage Inn & Gardens. He took Arsenault and I inside the four-star former convent to show off some of the renovations he's been working on.

One of the construction's biggest hurdles was adding a set of french doors to the living room – some hand-hewn beams from 1859 had to be removed from the load-bearing wall, but they made it work and decided to use the wood for a fireplace mantlepiece, he said.

"To hold onto a bit of history."

Actually, Doiron wasn't sure if the building was made in 1859 or 1868.

"Close enough," inn manager Colleen Handrahan told us.

This is the recently renovated interior of Tignish Heritage Inn & Gardens. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
This is the recently renovated interior of Tignish Heritage Inn & Gardens. - Daniel Brown/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

New stage, new museum, new bed-and-breakfast. Just like the fact that everyone I had met throughout the day was friendly, I was noticing a trend.

"Seems like everything's getting renovated around here," I said to Arsenault.

"When everyone else was taking a break through COVID, we were trudging through," she replied. 

We briefly strolled through the inn's gardens before parting ways. I still had half a tank of gas and Arsenault had confirmed my Miscouche traffic lights speculation, so I figured I'd call it a trip.

I started driving back down that long, quiet highway but not without stopping by Dairy Royal in Saint Anthony to see what had Pendergast's kids in such a rush to get there. 

And in the words of Connors, I was most definitely "goin' down the highway smiling" afterward.

Twitter.com/dnlbrown95

Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government.

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