Observations on Sustainability from Our Vacation Down East


By Bruce Rhodes


July 25, 2005


Below is a summary of observations that my family and I made on a twelve-day vacation to Prince Edward Island this past June. Once we left Ontario, we drove through eight provinces and states, and learned something about the degree to which these different jurisdictions are creating a sustainable way of life.


On balance, when it comes to living sustainably, we were impressed with what we saw in eastern Canada, especially in PEI, whose population is smaller (135,290 as of 2001 census) than my hometown of Richmond Hill (160,000). Using the “Darts and Laurels” approach, I have summarized our observations below.


There is, no doubt, much more to the sustainability story than necessarily met our eyes. For example, CBC has reported on the damage done to PEI’s water by heavy use of chemicals on farms. I did not try to learn more about this; I was, after all, on our family’s big summer vacation, and tried to mix in some fun with the serious scrutiny of our holiday surroundings.


Laurel: to the motorists of Quebec City: informal observations from two days in the capital indicate that people typically drive smaller cars there than do people in the GTA. Systemically higher fuel prices in Quebec than Ontario may explain this.


Dart: To the levels of government responsible for maintaining the Trans Canada Highway, for not yet having installed sufficient barriers to prevent accidents involving moose and deer, and fatalities of various types of mammals. We saw two deer west of Cornwall, less than 100 feet from Highway 401, with nothing to stop them from leaping onto the highway. The volume of fox, coyote and raccoon road kill was distressingly high.


Laurel: To fuel retailers in New Brunswick, who sold Diesel for $1.031 per litre. Perhaps at this price motorists will practise conservation.


Dart: To the New Brunswick government, for instituting a 110 KM/hr speed limit on much of its share of the Trans Canada highway.


Laurel: To the governments of PEI and Canada, and the University of New Brunswick, for setting up an experimental farm for wind turbines at North Cape, PEI. This place is an inspiration, and the elaborate interpretive centre is highly informative. The 18 or so turbines at the farm already provide at least six percent of the province’s power.


Related laurel: To Parks Canada, for indicating at its North Cape interpretive centre that operating a motor vehicle at 100 km/hour uses ten percent more fuel per kilometer traveled than does driving at 90 km/hour. The poster did not even contemplate the inefficiencies of driving at 110 km/hour.


Dart: To PEI, for dismantling its elaborate railway lines years ago.


Laurel: To PEI, for converting the paths from its abandoned rail lines into a high quality, scenic bicycle and hiking path called the Confederation Trail. If you’re going to rip up the rails, you might as well do the next best thing with the paths that remain.


Dart: To PEI, for having virtually no public transit. Other than a bus loop in Charlottetown that operates for just five hours a day and takes passengers out to the Wal-Mart, and the Cavendish Trolley that takes tourists to Anne of Green Gables sites, one’s mobility depends on cars or, if weather and the season permits, bicycles on the Confederation Trail.


Laurel: To PEI, for allowing pop and beer to be sold only in returnable glass bottles, and not in cans or PVC bottles. Upon returning a 750 ml pop bottle to the store, my son received 35 cents.


Dart: To PEI, for allowing snowmobiles, but not cross-country skiers, on the Confederation Trail in the winter. Apparently this policy stems from a promise of financial support for the Trail from snowmobilers.


Laurel: To the PEI government, for instituting the sorting of compostable materials in fast-food restaurants by customers.


Dart: To the Comfort Inn in Cornwall, ON, for the “all or nothing” high velocity shower in our room. Just because the motel is near the St. Lawrence River does not mean that water is to be squandered.


Laurel: To PEI, for selling electricity at 10 cents per KwH, as compared to Ontario’s 4.7 cents. We stayed at a wonderful motel in St. Peter’s Bay that used compact fluorescent bulbs exclusively.


Dart: To the Hampton Inn at Bangor, Maine (and all of the other Hampton Inns at which I have stayed, for that matter) for its use of disposable plastic and Styrofoam dishes when providing guests with breakfast. Our family typically brings its own reusable plastic cups, plates and cutlery when staying at Hampton Inns, to minimize our contribution to the pile of petroleum-based waste generated by these Inns.


Laurel: To Hummer owners, for staying home. On our entire trip, we saw only one Hummer, from Illinois. (Am I being mean-spirited here?)


Dart: To the operator of a motor home the size of a Greyhound bus, observed driving at 130 km/hour. The kicker was that the bus was towing a Chevy Avalanche SUT that, on its own, is not known for getting great fuel economy.


Laurel: To Volkswagen, for making vehicles that get great mileage. We drove our Golf TDI from Toronto to Edmundston, New Brunswick, 1200 kilometers, on less than a tank of Biodiesel fuel.


Dart: To me and my family, for driving all the way from Ontario to PEI. We could have instead taken a VIA passenger train to Moncton and then rented car to get over to the Island.


Really big laurel: To Parks Canada, for buying land full of beautiful sand dunes from developers to thereby expand PEI National Park on the north shore. Prior to the purchase, the land had been earmarked for a housing development.




Copyright © 2005 Bruce Rhodes. All rights reserved.