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GiveLife.ca

    
Day 4: Wood Islands, PEI Judging by accent and skin tones, not everyone is welcome

JOHN STACKHOUSE

Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Beyond the emerald-green golf courses and rolling white beaches, away from the Charlottetown Festival and a thousand welcomes, Canada's seaside playground, the island that gave birth to the nation, has a secret well guarded from outsiders.

They're not welcome.

At least not all of them, and not always.

Sure, you can come for a visit, laze about and spend freely. But when it comes to migration, when it comes to non-Islanders actually staying, Prince Edward Island is not all open arms.

Why else has the island's population remained stable since the 1930s? Why else do the accents remain one and the skin tones all white?

Alec, a retired computer technician who was born in Scotland, grew up in Montreal and spent most of his working life in British Columbia, explained some of this as he drove me to the Wood Islands ferry, the island's gateway to Nova Scotia.

He loves his new life here: the gentle pace, the open spaces, easy access to the rest of Canada (30 minutes to the airport and he's gone) and the real estate that costs about one-tenth what it would on the West Coast. Five years on, though, he knows he's not an Islander, and will never be seen as one.

They often reject something because it hasn't been done that way here before, Alec said, following a column of out-of-province RVs to the docks. That's not unique to PEI or the Maritimes. "I have brothers and sisters in Cornwall -- you know, in Eastern Ontario," he said. "They've been there 30 years and are still considered newcomers. I think small-town Canada generally is very clannish. It doesn't like change."

John Stackhouse's Notes from the Road will appear daily in The Globe and Mail, and on globeandmail.com, until the Labour Day weekend. His conclusions will be published in September.


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