On June 20, 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery received a copy of her first book, Anne of Green Gables, from the publishers, fresh off the presses. Little did Maud, as friends and family knew her, realize the impact of her story, and the delightful character she created, would have on the world. Anne Shirley went on to become a beloved literary character and a role model for millions of young girls. Anne of Green Gables, and Maud, gained renewed fame when the mini-series, Anne of Green Gables, was released in 1985. The series earned countless awards, including an Emmy for Best Children’s Movie of 1986 and a George Peabody Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting. A sequel quickly followed in 1987, and in 1990, a weekly series entitled Avonlea, based on four of Maud’s other books, was introduced to the world. In the United States, Avonlea was shown on the Disney Channel and won three Emmy Awards. In Canada, where the series originated under the title Road to Avonlea, it proved to be a very popular series, securing millions of viewers each week and winning various awards, including fifteen Geminis, the Canadian equivalent to an Emmy. At the end of the 1990s, a third and final mini-series was made, wrapping up the Anne of Green Gables trilogy on television. The three mini-series and the television series may not have been completely faithful to Maud’s work, but they kept alive the spirit of her writing and her characters.
A whole new generation was introduced to Anne Shirley, myself among them. I became a fan of Anne of Green Gables when my mother purchased the book for me to read after I saw the original mini-series. This mischievous orphan who welcomed me into a world of imagination and natural beauty forever touched my life. I was left with a hunger for more and I quickly devoured the other seven Anne books, as well as every other novel Maud had written. Her other characters, like Emily Starr from the Emily of New Moon series and Sara Stanley, the title character of The StoryGirl, danced into my life and showed me a whole other world, but it was always to Anne I returned. Nineteen of the twenty novels Maud wrote take place on Prince Edward Island. Each year Prince Edward Island receives thousands of visitors, many of whom are on a pilgrimage to see the land made famous in the Anne of Green Gables series. It is Canada’s smallest province, just off the coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Maud spent thirty-six years on the island and her spirit is still felt there. I knew I would one day visit Prince Edward Island, and I did, ninety years after Anne of Green Gables was published. Before leaving home I did my research. I found out about the Green Gables House, where it was located and the best time to go. I also found out about Maud’s birthplace in the small town of New London and her Uncle John’s home in Park Corner.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born on November 30, 1874 in a little yellow house in the town of Clifton (now New London) on Prince Edward Island. Her mother was Clara Woolner Macneill, a pretty young woman of twenty-one, and her father was a thirty-three year old merchant named Hugh John Montgomery. Not long after giving birth, Clara came down with tuberculosis. When it became apparent that his wife was too ill to care for a child, a new home, and herself, Hugh John moved his family into the Macneill homestead with his in-laws. They lived in Cavendish, a small farming community on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, where they ran the town post office out of their home. Even with medical care and her mother acting as her nurse, Clara succumbed to the illness on September 14, 1876 at the age of twenty-three. Maud was not yet two years old when her mother died; yet she carried a strong memory of Clara with her. According to Maud, she could remember her mothers wake. She could see Clara lying still and, while her father held her, Maud reached down and felt the coldness of her mother’s cheek.
Hugh John sold his business in Clifton and spent much of his time traveling between Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. The pull of the Canadian West proved to be strong and in 1884, Hugh John settled permanently in Saskatchewan. Maud was left in the care of her grandparents, Lucy and Alexander Macneill. Maud’s grandparents were an elderly couple who had raised their own six children and by the time Maud came along they had little patience for a rebellious, emotional child. She had no parents to turn to for protection and comfort and often felt like an outsider within her extended family. She was teased and criticized by aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her grandparents loved and cared for her, but from a distance. Maud often felt that they had taken her in more out of a sense of family duty than anything else.
There are quite a few similarities between Lucy Maud Montgomery and her most famous creation, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. Although Maud’s father was alive for the first twenty-six years of her life, she was virtually an orphan who was raised by her elderly grandparents. Anne was also an orphan. Her parents had died when she was a baby, and she lived with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elderly brother and sister. Both Maud and Anne had a deep love of nature, they would both talk to flowers and hug trees. Many of the places that existed in Maud’s world existed in Anne’s. Maud and her friends played in the Haunted Wood, a wooded area near Green Gables inhabited by tall, thin spruce trees and full of deliciously scary noises. Anne and her friend, Diana Barry, had many adventures wandering through the Haunted Wood. There is a beautiful pathway called Lovers Lane that leads from Green Gables to a small meadow. Maud enjoyed many an evening stroll down Lovers Lane and she passed this joy onto her creation.
When she was in school, Maud had a close friend by the name of Nate Lockhart. Education was very important to Maud and she and Nate competed regularly in class for top honors. In the Anne books, Anne and Gilbert Blythe were always in competition, particularly on Anne’s end. Cavendish is the small town in which Maud grew up and she used it as a model when she created the fictional town of Avonlea in the Anne books. Like Avonlea, Cavendish is a pretty village. Fields of wildflowers run along side the road. Acres of potato plants, each one topped with delicate white flowers, surrounded by homes and farms. And just beyond the emerald fields, past the ruby roads and dunes, lay the bright sapphire ocean. Green Gables existed in both Cavendish and Avonlea. Green Gables had actually been the home of Maud’s grandfathers cousins, David and Margaret Macneill. Maud and her grandparents lived nearby and she spent many days exploring the grounds surrounding the Green Gables farm. When she came up with the idea of writing a story about an orphan girl who was sent to a brother and sister by mistake, instead of the boy they wanted, Maud decided to have it take place at Green Gables.
The house and surrounding land, including the Haunted Wood and Lovers Lane, has been a part of Prince Edward Island’s National Park since 1936. Stepping over the threshold is like crossing a portal of time into the 1890s. Green Gables has been furnished and restored based on descriptions in the Anne books, the details are amazing, and nothing was overlooked.
We arrived at the Green Gables house early in the morning to avoid any crowds. The white farmhouse rose before us, surrounded by flowering bushes and gardens. We saw life, as it might have been lived by Anne, and her guardians, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Bonny, the apple-scented geranium, sat on the kitchen windowsill just as Anne had described. The slate she had broken over Gilbert Blythe’s head lay in pieces in her bedroom, not far from the treasured dress with the puffed sleeves that hung on the closet door. Marilla’s sewing room was set up, awaiting her busy hands to finish a half-completed quilt. The infamous amethyst brooch was attached to a pincushion on the table beside Marilla’s bed. In the kitchen was the wood box where Matthew sat to remove his boots while he planned how he was going to get Anne the dress with the puffed sleeves. And the spare room was made up and waiting for a welcomed guest to rest within.
As we walked through the surrounding woods, we discovered why Maud and Anne had christened them the “Haunted Wood”. The sea breeze forever blowing inland caused the slender spruce trees to sway and creak, creating an eerie, ethereal sound. As we next meandered down Lovers Lane, I half expected to see Anne and Diana around the next bend. It was easy to imagine Matthew walking up from the barn, weary with exhaustion, yet never once regretting adopting Anne instead of a boy who could help with the farm work. I couldn’t help but getting lost in the moment and forgetting that they were all fictional characters who had never set foot on Green Gablessoil.
We continued to retrace the steps of Maud’s life. A large sign hanging beside the door on a tiny, yellow house in New London proclaimed it to be Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace. The house is a tribute to Maud’s life beyond her writing. The rooms are furnished, as they might have been when Maud was born, some furnishings were even donated by members of the Montgomery family. Her wedding dress and traveling outfit she wore as she and her husband, Reverend Ewen MacDonald, left for their honeymoon were displayed in the front parlor along with a few of her scrapbooks.
Once or twice a year Maud made the twelve-mile trip to Park Corner, the ancestral settlement of the Montgomerys. She went to visit her paternal grandfather, the Honorable Donald Montgomery, a former Senator, and his wife Louisa. Just up the road from her grandfather’s home was the place Maud once called The wonder castle of my childhood. Her uncle John Campbell and his family lived on a farm Maud had affectionately named Silver Bush after the silvery undersides of the silver maple leaves that became visible when the wind blew. The farm was the setting of the Pat of Silver Bush books which Maud had written. Park Corner was also transformed into the King farm for two of her other books, The Story Girl and The Golden Road.
We saw the parlor in which Maud had exchanged wedding vows with Reverend Ewen MacDonald and outside a man dressed as Matthew Cuthbert offered wagon rides around the house and beautiful gardens covered the gently sloping side yard that led to the road. When I first read the Pat of Silver Bush books, I couldnt quite understand her intense love and attachment to the house. After touring the provincial, cozy home, I was fully able to appreciate her devotion. A warm contentment surrounded me as soon as I crossed the threshold. In the book Mistress Pat, the sequel to Pat of Silver Bush, Maud described the house as a house from which nobody ever went away without feeling better in some way… It was a house where you felt welcome the moment you stepped into it. It took you in, rested you. To enter a home in which thousands of visitors enter each year and feel truly welcomed, as though they were expecting you, is a wonderful feeling. The warm reception makes it an enjoyable experience to explore the house that was once happily haunted by a young Maud Montgomery.
Most of the characters and objects Maud would describe in her books really existed and she mentally collected all the stories she heard from her family and turned them into delightful stories to share with her readers. I found mementos of so many of Maud’s stories within and around Silver Bush. The bookcase in the front parlor was the one in the Anne books where Anne met Katie Maurice, who was really Anne’s own reflection and the only friend she had when she had lived with the Hammonds, the family who had taken her in before she arrived at Green Gables. Below the Silver Bush farmhouse is the Lake of Shining Waters which Anne had seen as she rode with Matthew on her way to Green Gables from the Bright River train station. On a fence post near the pond is a sign which reads: “They had driven over the crest of a hill. Below them was a pond. I shall call it let me see The Lake of Shining Waters. Yes. That is the right name for it. I know because of the thrill.” In the kitchen sat a large blue chest, which belonged to Eliza Montgomery, a distant relative of Maud’s, it was fictionalized in The Story Girl where it had belonged to Rachel Ward. Both women had been left at the altar on their wedding day and both women had filled their trunks with the mementos they had collected for married life and ordered them to be left locked up until they decided otherwise.
For a year when Maud was fifteen, she lived with her father and stepmother and their two young children in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It was a difficult time for Maud. She did not get along well with her father’s young wife, Mary Ann and she was forced to give up her schooling for two months so that she could care for her half-brother and sister. But it was while she was in Saskatchewan that she was published for the first time. She sent a poem to the Daily Patriot, the newspaper of Prince Edward Island’s capital, Charlottetown. It was a piece called On Cape Le Force based on a local Prince Edward Island story. Homesickness drove her back to Cavendish after a year with her father, but in that time she had had pieces published in the Montreal Witness, as well as the local Prince Albert Times,and another one in the Charlottetown Daily Patriot. When she returned home to Prince Edward Island, her grandfather urged her to write an article about her trip to Saskatchewan that was published by the Daily Patriot.
Maud attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown for a year before accepting a teaching job in Bideford, Prince Edward Island, a small north shore fishing village. While at Bideford she met and agreed to marry Edwin Simpson, a man she did not love, but whom she found intelligent and handsome. They shared a love of literature and she respected him as an equal. The following year Maud moved on to a teaching position at Lower Bedeque. While there, she boarded with the Leard family. Herman Leard was their oldest child and the first man Maud truly loved. She kept her engagement to Edwin a secret and, although she knew it was wrong, she spent a lot of time with Herman. The closer they became, the more Maud loved Herman, but she also knew she could never marry him, because he was not worthy of her, he was not the romantic ideal she had as a young girl. Their life together would be a struggle to survive, she saw him as an uneducated farmer, beneath her station.
In March of 1898, Maud returned to Cavendish to help her grandmother run the post office after the sudden death of her grandfather. That same month she wrote to Edwin and officially broke off their engagement.
Convinced she was over Herman, Maud took a trip to Lower Bedeque to visit the Leards. As soon as she saw Herman she knew immediately that her feelings had not changed and she still loved him deeply. Maud returned to Cavendish and eight months later Herman died after a long bout with influenza. When Maud heard of his passing, she was so distraught she wished for her own death. Maud lived an unhappy existence in Cavendish over the next few years. Pensie Macneill, one of her close friends from school, died of tuberculosis and she grew apart from her other friends. She hid her feelings well, worked hard and dedicated at least an hour or two a day to her writing.
In late 1901, one of Maud’s cousins, Prescott Macneill, agreed to live with Grandmother Macneill so Maud could pursue a career as a newspaperwoman in Nova Scotia. For the next year Maud was truly happy working for the Halifax Echo as a proofreader and editor of the society page. June of 1902, Maud returned to Cavendish where Grandmother Macneill was miserable with Prescott. Maud resumed her role as postmistress and continued writing. By 1906, four publishers had rejected Anne of Green Gables. Maud hid the manuscript away in a hatbox and continued writing poetry and articles. Reverend Ewen MacDonald became minister of the Cavendish Presbyterian Church in 1903, but he lived in the nearby village of Stanley until 1905 when he moved to Cavendish. Over the next year, Ewen and Maud grew close and in 1906 he proposed. Maud accepted, under the condition that they wait until her grandmother passed away. Two years later, L.C. Page Co. in Boston published Anne of Green Gables.
On March 9, 1911 Grandmother Macneill died, leaving Maud free to marry. It was in front of the parlor fireplace at Silver Bush that Maud and Ewen were married on July 5, 1911. Their first born son, Chester Cameron MacDonald was born on July 7, 1912. In August 1914, their second son, Hugh Alexander, was stillborn, leaving Maud devastated. The MacDonald family was completed with the birth of Ewan Stuart MacDonald on October 7, 1915. All three children had been born while they lived in the Leaskdale Manse in Uxbridge, Ontario. Ewen served as minister there from 1911 until 1926. During this time, Maud wrote and published The Story Girl, her favorite book, and its sequel, The Golden Road; a collection of short stories called The Chronicles of Avonlea, four more Anne books, the first two Emily of New Moon books, and her first adult novel, The Blue Castle. Success in the writing world did not mean an easy life for Maud. She experienced anxiety and fear over the arrival of the First World War. There were court battles with L.C. Page Co. over reprint rights and their withholding of royalties. Her husband Ewen suffered from mental relapse and bouts of melancholia. In February 1926, Ewen accepted the offer to be minister for Norval and Union, Ontario. His health continued to deteriorate and he was forced to leave the ministry in 1935. Maud and Ewen bought a home in Toronto and settled there.
Anne of Ingleside, Maud’s final completed novel, was published in 1939. She tried to put together a collection of short stories in 1940 and attempted to write a sequel to her 1937 book Jane of Lantern Hill, but on April 24, 1942 Lucy Maud Montgomery died. Her funeral was held at Green Gables and she was buried in the Cavendish cemetery. In her lifetime, Maud saw twenty novels published and wrote hundreds of poems, articles, and short stories. Her husband, Ewen, died the following year on December 18, 1943.
Maud and Anne are highly visible throughout Prince Edward Island. There is the Anne of Green Gables store that sells only products relating to the Anne books, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and her other works. There is even an Anne Chocolates Store, selling fudge and chocolate that is made on site. Anne of Green Gables The Musical is in its 37th season at The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. And every August since 1993 there has been the L.M. Montgomery Festival in Cavendish. It lasts for three days and is full of activities to help visitors better relate to L.M. Montgomery and her work. There is an old-fashioned ice cream social, readings from her works, traditional music, dancing, and games. The festival is closed with a memorial service where historians discuss the impact of L.M. Montgomery’s work.
The most recent addition to Cavendish is the Avonlea Village. It is a small village based on the descriptions in Maud’s books and what life was like during the late nineteenth century on Prince Edward Island. There are stores and bakeries with architecture, furnishings, interior designs, and products just as they would have been during Maud and Anne’s time. Visitors can also see the schoolhouse where Maud taught and the Long River Church she attended. Staff, including Anne and Diana, walks throughout the village telling stories and playing games, dressed in period costumes.
The line between reality and fiction is happily blurred on this island. Lucy Maud Montgomery created a world full of beauty and fun as seen through the eyes of a mischievous orphan. Prince Edward Island is a beautiful tribute to a great writer and characters she created.
More on the Web
Absolutely everything you need to know about Prince Edward Island, including links to everything that has to do with Anne of Green Gables and planning an Anne vacation
Green Gables – www.parkscanada.gc.ca/pei
Parks Canada, 2 Palmers Lane, Charlottetown, C1A 5V6. Prince Edward Island
Off Rte 6, west of Rte 13.
Avonlea Village – www.avonlea.ca, (902) 963-3050
101 Watts Ave., Charlottetown, P.E.I, C1E 2B7
On Rte 6 across from Rainbow Valley
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace – (902) 886-2099/436-7329
Intersection of rtes 6 and 20, New London, P.E.I
Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush – www.annesociety.org/anne
Anne of Green Gables Museum, P.O. Box 491, Kensington C0B 1M0, P.E.I.
Anne of Gree Gables Store – www.anneofgreengables.cc,
110 Queen St., Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Anne of Green Gables the Musical –
Confederation Centre of the Arts www.confederationcentre.com
telephone (902) 628-1864
fax (902) 566-4648
145 Richmond St., Charlottetown, C1A 1J1, P.E.I.
Joanne Murphy is a production assistant and audio operator for the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She has always enjoyed writing, and reading her favorite authors L.M. Montgomery and Charlotte Bronte.
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