A day with Anne of Green Gables
I couldn’t come to Nova Scotia and not detour onto Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province and the location for LM Montgomery’s books. I read Anne of Green Gables and all the sequels as a child and have reread the first book several times since, most recently a few years ago when a prequel (Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson) came out. I was pleasantly surprised at how close to the spirit of Anne that book was, and had to read the original again to check if Wilson had got her facts right. She had. It all dovetailed perfectly, and the story ended with Anne sitting on a station platform waiting to be collected – just where the “real” story begins.
Lucy Maud Montgomery (Maud) was born on PEI, and moved to live with her grandparents in Cavendish (Avonlea in the books) before she was 2. Her mother had died and her father eventually moved to Saskatchewan to start a new life. Her grandparents’ house, where Anne of Green Gables was written, is gone now, but their descendants still own the site and run a small bookshop there. The foundations of the house are visible, set in pretty gardens.
From there, you can walk to the post-office, which is not original, but has a display giving you an idea of Maud’s life as a young woman. Her grandparents ran the local post-office in their home, and when her grandfather died Maud gave up her job as a teacher to help her grandmother. She was thus able to send out the manuscript of her book to different publishers and deal in private with the many rejections she received before it was finally accepted. When it was eventually published in 1908 it was an instant success, but Maud said she might not have persevered if she’d had to take her parcel anywhere else to be posted.
Behind the post-office is the church where Maud was organist and where she met her future husband when he came to be minister there. They are both buried, along with her mother and grandparents, in the cemetery across the road.
The main event, of course, is Green Gables itself. This house belonged to relatives of Maud’s and she was there frequently. There’s an excellent visitor centre, two informative films and displays in the reconstructed farm buildings about life in the community at the turn of the last century. I think, going by John’s reaction, that it’s possible to be interested in this from a historical point of view without ever having read the books. The house is laid out as closely as possible to the descriptions in the novel. Maud confessed that she herself found it hard to admit that Anne wasn’t real so I don’t feel too bad about being sad in the kitchen and thinking to myself “This is where Matthew died”.
Outside, you can walk two trails of about 1 km each, both of which Maud knew and which she used in the books. “The Haunted Woods” is the route to her grandparents’ house and the Balsam Hollow trail begins in “Lovers’ Lane”. There are also other museums in the area connected to LM Montgomery which we didn’t have time to visit, and we gave the Avonlea theme park a deliberate miss. However, we did go to Anne of Green Gables: The Musical in Charlottetown that evening. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was very well done – faithful to the story, although it could only deal with a selection of the events in it of course. There were perhaps too many large song and dance numbers for me – I preferred the more intimate scenes between Anne and her guardians, Matthew and Marilla, in the Green Gables kitchen, but it was great fun and the three main actors were excellent. “Anne” in particular threw herself into the role with gusto, and the other two were great at showing how much they loved her without, in their different ways, being able to express it in words. And, of course, I knew it was coming but I still had to bite my finger to avoid sobbing at Matthew’s death.
I want to read the books again – all of them – now that I can see the parallels between some of the events in the story and Maud’s own life (though so much, of course, is due to a vivid imagination.) I’d also like to read Maud’s journals, but they go on for volumes and I wasn’t about to carry them back home! I bought a slim memoir she wrote mid-career instead. All in all, for an Anne fan, this was a day not to be missed.
Practicalities: there are two ways of getting to PEI by car: over the Confederation Bridge, which was built in 1997 and stretches for 13km, or by ferry. We arrived by bridge (which involves a detour into New Brunswick, adding a fourth province to our tally this holiday) and left by boat.
We stayed in Charlottetown, the provincial capital, which is a lovely little place to which we didn’t have time to do justice. Our B&B was again to be recommended – the Cranford Inn – and we had two good meals, in the Brick House and in Mavor’s, which is part of the complex that houses the theatre, public library and other Arts venues. We tried out some PEI wine, Rossignol Estate’s Isle St Jean, but missed out on the beer this time. On the way back from Cavendish, we drove along some lovely coastline and it is obvious that there is so much more to PEI than we saw. However, I guess the locals are used to a certain kind of tourist coming for one thing, and one thing only. Anne. With an “e”, of course.
There are a few more pictures on my PEI Pinterest board.