Pocket-sized CHARLOTTETOWN, the administrative and business heart of PEI since the 1760s, is the most urbane spot on the island, the comfortable streets of its centre hemmed in by leafy avenues of clapboard villas and Victorian red-brick buildings. In small-island terms, it also offers a reasonable nightlife, with a handful of excellent restaurants and a clutch of lively bars, though the best time to be here is in the summer, when the otherwise sleepy town centre is transformed by festivals, live music and street cafés.
Province House National Historic Site
The island’s most significant historical attraction is the Province House National Historic Site, a squat, Neoclassical structure completed in 1847 to house all three branches of the provincial government. Its primary tenant today is the unicameral legislature, yet its real claim to fame is as the location for the first meeting of the Fathers of Confederation in 1864, when representatives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, then-Canada (Ontario and Québec) and PEI met to discuss a union of the British colonies in North America. It took two more conferences before confederation was finally achieved in 1867, though PEI didn’t join for a further six years, and only then because it was bankrupt after an ill-advised splurge on railway construction. On the ground floor, a seventeen-minute film provides a melodramatic account of that original meeting, after which tour guides introduce some of its restored nineteenth-century halls, including the reverentially preserved Confederation Chamber on the second floor. You can usually peek inside the Legislative Chamber, or if it’s in session, walk up to the viewing gallery on the third floor to witness the vigorous but invariably polite debates within.
Confederation Centre of the Arts
Built in 1964, the Confederation Centre of the Arts may be housed in a glass-and-concrete monstrosity, but it’s the home of the Charlottetown Festival and Anne of Green Gables musical, the island’s main library, a couple of theatres, and an eclectic art gallery (mid-May to mid-Oct daily 9am–5pm; mid-Oct to mid-May Wed–Sat 11am–5pm, Sun 1–5pm; donation suggested), whose changing exhibitions always have a Canadian emphasis and often include a variety of nineteenth-century artefacts.