What Makes Charlottetown, PEI, A Great City?

Naïve and uniformed. Those are the qualities I attribute to myself as I think about preparing a post to describe Charlottetown, the capital city of the province of Prince Edward Island. Betty & I have only been here a matter of a few hours, so how is it possible for me to accurately and legitimately assess the pulse of this place?  Of course, it is not, so I should just fold up my laptop and not further clutter the www with my simplistic characterizations.

Or not… If you end up reading this post, you will know which way I went. LOL.

My first impression is that size matters, and Charlottetown appears to be right-sized. The streets and sidewalks are busy with people, but not to the point where you can’t find a parking spot, or have to wait in long lines for any activity (except maybe ordering Cows ice cream. LOL). At the extremes, there are cities whose cores have died – you could shoot a cannon down the deserted streets and not hit anyone. Then there are cities that have become so bloated that every artery is a traffic jam, and every transaction requires a monotonous wait for others. Charlottetown is in a very pleasant space between those two extremes.

An honour system potato purchase on PEI: Take what you want and put your money in the box.

Personal safety is not simply a factor of size, but many of the desolate city cores seem to have been abandoned to dispossessed street gangs. And many of the oversized cities appear overrun with impatient people who become easily irritated by their neighbours.  It’s ironic that anonymity is more prevalent in larger urban areas. At both extremes, we seem to see a much greater police presence. I had to chuckle to myself that, while I did pass 2 RCMP detachments in the few hours of visiting the suburbs and the active core, I didn’t actually see one police car, or officer walking the beat. Some people might question their level of personal safety if there aren’t visible armed officers to protect them, but I think not on PEI.

Colourful sailboats ply the waters in the Charlottetown harbour.

In my last post I referred to the qualities of kindness and generosity as apparent locally inherent characteristics. That sense is sustained in this city, from easy lane merges on the highways to polite rotations at 4 way stops. At a local PEI liquor store, I asked the checkout clerk about local wineries. He and the clerk next to him gave me a quick rundown of where they are located, but he seemed

One of the many old character homes still standing and occupied in the downtown core

apologetic that he couldn’t tell me more. I almost felt he was about to say: “Come over to my place for supper tonight, and I’ll call my nephew, Bob. He has a good friend that works at one of the wineries, and he can tell you all about it.” That didn’t happen, but if I had lingered long enough, it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had! LOL.

In his important criminal justice work, entitled “The Lucifer Effect – Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo noted:

“Dehumanization is one of the central processes in the transformation of

ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of

evil. Dehumanization is like a cortical cataract that clouds one’s thinking

and fosters the perception that other people are less than human. It

makes some people come to see those others as enemies deserving of

torment, torture, and annihilation.”

Another well kept older home in downtown Charlottetown.

Ok, maybe that’s a little too heavy for this blog. When I served on the Federal Justice Minister’s Advisory Committee on Crime Prevention and Community Safety, we noted that block parties are an effective tool for preventing crime by building healthy neighbourhood networks. Charlottetown appears to have those networks in spades!

During our stay in the neighbouring town of Cornwall, we have been graciously welcomed by our Boondockers Welcome hosts Kevin & Ellie. They live in an 1830’s era farmhouse in the centre of town, on a beautifully landscaped property that provides a great home-base for us. Last night Ellie took Betty to yoga at a scenic spot by the

Parked near the second largest Linden tree in PEI, in our hosts’ yard.

water in Argyle Shore Provincial Park, and it was free! Kevin shared some of his travel experiences with us, and we have a sense that there are many more stories to be told.

In a province with an overall population of around 145,000, it feels like people know and respect each other with a genuine sense of caring. Naïve and uniformed. That is a legitimate critique of this post. We are off to the Confederation Centre of the Arts tonight to see a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and are scheduled to leave Charlottetown tomorrow. It is too short a visit to make a more accurate assessment. So I guess we’ll just have to come back!!!


Another great sunset over beautiful PEI.

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