All photos courtesy by Al Douglas

International Shellfish Festival

PEI’s Largest Shindig

By Kelly Louiseize
Editor Jennifer J. Lacelle
July 15, 2021

It’s a celebration from the sea, or in this case the ocean as Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island prepares for their 25th annual International Shellfish Festival beginning Sept. 16 to 19, 2021.

This shindig started in the banquet hall of Liam Dolan’s restaurant, Peakes Quay with a total of 300 guests. Now, the outdoor tent which holds 3,000 bursts at the seams on the third weekend in September.

“Prince Edward Island has some of the best oysters and mussels in the world,” says Dolan, chair and founder of the festival.

He came from Galway, Ireland, home to the world’s shucking competition and settled in Charlottetown when he was 19-years old. It was a long uphill battle to convince residents, and politicians to sponsor a food event, he says.

“But when you serve the best oysters and mussels, create food, drink wine and enjoy the entertainment, well, it’s a recipe for any (successful) festival.”

World renown chefs work their shellfish magic for a chance at a (CAD) $10,000 first prize. This year, it will be done a little different with competitions beginning online. Three top chefs will land a spot in the festival finals.

Awe Shucks!

An estimated 27 shuckers from Canada’s coasts, United States, Europe and Asia will also compete in oyster-shucking competitions.

Prince Edward Island cultures one kind of oyster, known as the Eastern oyster, the Atlantic oyster or the American oyster, Peter Warris, director of projects with the PEI Aquaculture Alliance says.

But this species packs a big flavour and can vary in taste depending on the salinity, where it’s cultivated and mineral content nearby. PEI Aquaculture Alliance partners with PEI Shellfish Association bring this festival to life.

Dolan affirms that, “I can give you 10 oysters and by the time we’re finished, you’ll know PEI oysters.”

To better appreciate the differences, Dolan suggest taking notes and offers a website to mark taste and description.

The event has grown 10 times the size of Galway International Oyster Festival, which surprised the heck out of Dolan who was only hoping to match overseas numbers. Between the chefs, shuckers and seafood chowder competitions, the gala steak and lobster supper, and the Caesar contest, one could see why organizers were looking for a larger tent to accommodate 12,000 visitors pre-COVID-19 years.

Once the tables are cleaned, it’s time for some good old Maritime entertainment with dancers, musicians from along the coast.

“We have one hell of a kitchen party! It’s the biggest kitchen party you’re ever gonna come to,” he says, laughing on the other end of the phone. “We love to have fun with good time entertainment.”

Dolan has seen people year after year show up without fail.

“They are real diehards.”

This year, the squeeze is on. Versatile Management Group usually has 12 months to prepare but because of COVID-19, Dolan cancelled their contract last year and it was dicey whether it was going to happen this year. With only five months to prepare, Tracey Singleton is ensuring a safe place for staff, volunteers, sponsors and guests.

“While we won't be able to offer the same festival as in previous years, this year's plan will include a showcase of amazing artists from Atlantic Canada, shellfish galore and a combination of in-person and virtual competitions,” says Singleton, president of Versatile Management Group. “We plan to release tickets in the summer of 2021 if all proceeds as planned.”

“With vaccines, there is a lot of optimism that the fall creates more opportunity to host events. We have expanded our team to allow us to plan, adjust accordingly and ensure the best experience for our guests.”

Schedule of Events

Tent opens 7 p.m. Sept. 16th
-Caesar Competitions, PEI Lobster’s Feast and Frolic

Friday Sept. 17th
-Eastlink Kitchen Party, Celebrity chefs, Shuckers Championships

Saturday September 18th
-Celebrity Chef demonstrations, mussel competitions, PEI Potato Chowder Competitions, Kitchen Party cont’d
-Raspberry Point International Oyster Shucking Competitions, Award Presentations

Sunday September 19th

Presentations International Chef Challenge Finals, PEI Potato Chowder Championship Finals, Chef Demonstrations featuring Lobster, Kitchen party closes 5 p.m.

What are you looking for?

Join Our Mailing List

Stay Informed! Monthly Tips, Tracks and Discount.

Your cart