Barenaked Ladies + 15,000 fans = Canada Day Done Right

Canada day finally arrived, and Charlottetown was feeling patriotic. The whole city was buzzing with tourists, small children clambering to get to the fair grounds, and we were on our way to the main stage. Tickets for the Canada Day show were free, but if, like us, you had failied to get yours online in May and June, a thousand or so tickets were being given away at the gates, on the day of the concert. I was convinced that everyone would be looking for a ticket, so I woke Rachel up earlier than she wanted, and we got our spots at the concert grounds. Due to my primo planning, we were fifth or so in line, a line which grew steadily throughout the day, even though we were four hours early for the ticket release, and only nine or so hours early for Barenaked Ladies. Rachel was not impressed. We burned our two day-old sunburns waiting in the sun, ran out of water again, and had to go to Tim Horton’s on the side of the road for a lunch break. But it was all worth it to be some of the first fifty to get tickets.

Because we were so early, we got to see all of the opening acts, including Drum!, Nova Scotian native Classified, and David Myles. Classified at Mr. Myles were up together for a couple of songs, but having seen them both in Nova Scotia in May, the real excitement was for Barenaked Ladies. Even without Steven Page, they rocked the classics, and some of their newer stuff off their recently released album, ‘Boomerang’. Of course, we also got patriotic and the whole band, plus the 15,000 fans packing the concert grounds sang ‘O Canada’, in unison, flags raised high. The fireworks that followed were spectacular, some of the best in Canada we learned later, perhaps only trumped by Parliament Hill. Charlottetown knows how to throw a party.

Getting out of there was a nightmare, and we had to hurry and get back on the highway. Rachel had to be back at work by 9 the next morning, so we joined the throngs of drunken party-goers and spent an hour crawling out of the city. The adrenaline from the music kept us going well past midnight, when we finally crashed at a motel just as we got back to Nova Scotia. The next morning by 6 we were driving again, stopping only for coffee, reminicsing about the awesome night we had.

There’s really only one way to trump Canada Day in the home of Confederation, so next year… Ottawa!

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oh, oh canada 2.0

Having exhausted ourselves, and ruined our hearing, at the Big Red concert, and having nowhere to stay for the night, we consulted our pathetic, smart-phone sized map of the province in search of a nearby beach. PEI is tiny. And, obviously, an island. In some areas, it doesn’t take much over a half hour to get from one side north to the other, so our plan to drive from Charlottetown (on the south coast of PEI) to Brackley Beach (on the north coast), was not so absurd.

Of course, the half hour drive that the map said it would be was clearly meant for people who were driving perhaps in the day light, people who had not spent eight hours getting their brains blasted in the sun, and who were perhaps departing from Charlottetown before 11pm. No matter. We pressed on. The roads were empty, the night was calm, the music was blasting – all was well. We even managed to find parking, and other vehicles, clearly it was a good night for beach camping for everyone. Unlike those sensible people, we did not have a tent. Or mats to put under our sleeping bag. Or bug spray. But, undeterred, we found a spot on the beach (not in the bog that we inadvertently waded into in the pitch night trying to find the beach), set up our pathetic camp, and stared up into the most perfectly clear night. Rachel announced she had never seen so many stars, and – more alarmingly – she had never seen fireflies. She, the girl of the tiny town. The well-lit tiny town, apparently.

The lapping waves lulled us to sleep, and but for the tiny flies who thought we were dinner, it was perfection. Until we were rudely awoken by the sun at five in the morning.

Good news: the sunrise was perfect. The beach was empty. It was warm, and dry, and beautiful. The classic red sand of PEI was in our toes, and had between the sand and the sunburn, we were both tinged a humorous red.

Bad news: there was no place on our bodies that had not been bitten by flies. A rodent had discovered our stash of granola. We had no water left. And, because of the colour of the sand, combined with our painful sunburns, we were red.

But walking down the beach, admiring the dunes and washing our faces in the fresh Atlantic Ocean… I do believe it was the most perfect morning I have experienced in my twenty-something years. We drove off down a deserted road, stopping every so often to admire the sun coming up on the water. Big farmhouses dotted the fields surrounding us, and cows stopped chewing to gaze at us. The air was fresh, and we were happy. This is what we had imagined.

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We found eggs and hash browns and french toast and coffee at a truck stop somewhere east of the beach. By the time the islanders were rising on that Sunday morning, we were already checking out a lighthouse – my first PEI lighthouse (we don’t have them out west…) – and sharing our travel tale with the woman tending the flower beds outside her house. We napped in the grass, drove some more, found ourselves in a pub in Montague and partook of the fish and chips. We had been given the name of a B&B owned by a friend of a friend, but after two hours of attempting to locate the thing, we gave up. From the parking lot of a church, I called various hostels to try to find us a room. I failed. Rachel, sensibly, avoided the disappointment and wandered the church’s meditation garden, where wooded trails, ponds, and gnomes abounded. Having established that there were no vacancies anywhere on the island, we got back on the road to Charlottetown, stopped for a supper of iced tea from a gas station, and found a room in a hotel on the outskirts of town. Although the waves were not lapping at our toes, there were also no bugs. I call that a win.

oh, oh canada

Canada Day in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, is a big deal. On the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it is a really, really big deal. Charlottetown and the Big Red Music Festival had paired up to provide a Canada Day weekend’s worth of real Canadian music, including, of course, Newfoundland rock stars Hey Rosetta, and The Barenaked Ladies. I snagged us tickets for Hey Rosetta, and Rachel booked the weekend off at work. The drive from the Annapolis Valley to Charlottetown takes approximately four and a half hours. Canada Day fell on a Tuesday, and we had planned to leave town on the Sunday before, heading out in the morning and getting there in time for the Sunday night line up. Of course, that would have been too easy. So instead, in a moment of spontaneity, we packed up the car on Saturday evening. No lists, minimal planning. Running from house to hatchback with sleeping bags, totes filled with clothes and beach blankets and matches, water bottles and snacks. A last minute stop at the store for marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, and another stop at Rachel’s house for her road trip music stash – an eclectic and not entirely Canadian collection of Fleetwood Mac, Great Big Sea, Hey Rosetta and Barenaked Ladies (in preparation for the concert), and Mark Knopfler. By 9pm, we were on the highway, driving off into the sunset. Having run out of driving snacks, we stopped in the thriving metropolis of Truro for the night. The blue-haired gent at the front desk of the cheap hotel was thrilled to have customers, and we crashed into a chocolate-filled, driving-induced sleep. As the money-less student travelers we are, we partook of the breakfast buffet with gusto, not only filling ourselves with cold waffles, but also packing bagels and packets of cream cheese, peanut butter, and jam into the snack bag (also known as Rachel’s Really Big Purse). Racing to the car with our somewhat-stolen stash, we hopped back on the highway, and followed the signs to the Confederation Bridge- a  popular spot on the anniversary of Confederation. We only drove 10 kilometers too far into New Brunswick before realizing it was not, in fact, the bridge, before getting back on track. We aren’t big fans of maps. All was well, however, when we finally arrived in Charlottetown. It was the most perfect summer day, almost too perfect, as our chocolate proceeded to melt all over the car seats in the heat. So much for s’mores. Driver got to pick the lunching spot, and I took Rachel to Young Folk and the Kettle Black, a cafe right downtown, and clearly the place to be. Rachel’s veggie burger was the size of her head, and I had a portobello mushroom melt, with an iced tea to share. We sat outside on the patio, under a huge, patriotic maple tree, and watched the little children climb on everything- including us. We only had a few hours to kill before the music started, most of which were spent begging various baristas around the city to fill our water bottles as we tried to stay upright in the hottest day of the season. Before we knew it, Adam Baldwin was entertaining the very small crowd from the main stage, and we were getting sun-blasted while eating pizza from kiosks. Rachel, as an almost-Newfoundlander, had waited desperately all day for Hey Rosetta to hit the stage, and as the sun went down we joined the throngs dancing to their French horn-playing, trumpet-wailing, Newfoundland-inspired brand of rock, followed too quickly by Sam Roberts Band, who impressed us all not only with his hits, but also a massive light show and a freakin amazing sax solo. Rachel – the saxophonist – had to stop dancing to listen. There were more people watching the show than we have in our whole town, but the crowd was nothing compared to what we had to look forward to on Canada Day!