A trea­sure turns 50

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE STEWART

The birthplace of Is­land literary leg­end Lucy Maud Mont­gomery marks a half cen­tury of telling her story

The birthplace of an Is­land literary leg­end will celebrate a ma­jor mile­stone this week­end.

The house where Lucy Maud Mont­gomery was born in 1874 will mark 50 years in busi­ness as a mu­seum on Satur­day, Aug. 1.

As a Guardian re­porter moves from room to room in this tiny Is­land farm­house, nes­tled into the cor­ner of Route 6 and Route 20 in New Lon­don, a group of Chi­nese tourists comes in the front door. None of them speak English, but words aren’t nec­es­sary to un­der­stand what be­ing in this house means to them.

They touch the walls softly, clos­ing their eyes for a brief sec­ond as though they’re try­ing to imag­ine what it must have been like in 1874 when Mont­gomery was born. One woman in the group at­tempts to con­vey the emo­tion by ges­tur­ing to the re­porter, say­ing “hal­lowed ground’’.

This is the kind of emo­tion the tiny mu­seum evokes in visi­tors of all ages — some­times up to 600 per day.

“They want to see a part of history; where it all be­gan,’’ says Made­lyn Mac­Don­ald, one of the on site tour guides who greets visi­tors. “It’s about a love of history, a pas­sion and a love of the Anne se­ries (of books).’’

Mac­Don­ald, a self-pro­claimed history buff at the age of 17, seems to get it.

“She did some­thing that inspired them.’’

Mont­gomery wrote the novel that de­fined her — “Anne of Green Gables” — sev­eral kilo­me­tres east on Route 6 in Cavendish. It was pub­lished in 1908, but her birthplace was fixed up decades later af­ter the landowner, who used to run a gas sta­tion at the New Lon­don cor­ner, gave the rights to the province. The ceil­ing had to be re­in­forced while a stone foun­da­tion was put in to give the struc­ture sta­bil­ity. To­day, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, that in­cludes de­scen­dant Ge­orge Camp­bell and Fa­ther Fran­cis Bol­ger, watch over the mu­seum. The 50-year an­niver­sary will be marked on Satur­day at the New Lon­don Women’s In­sti­tute Hall, 2-4 p.m.,

with a cer­e­mony and light re­fresh­ments. Ad­mis­sion to the birthplace mu­seum will be free from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Among the mu­seum’s at­trac­tions are a replica of Mont­gomery’s wed­ding dress (the real one was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing and is now be­ing stored at Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre of the Arts), as well as scrap­books de­pict­ing her life as a stu­dent at Prince of Wales Col­lege and her years as a writer and teacher. The ac­tual shoes the au­thor wore on her wed­ding day and on her hon­ey­moon are also on dis­play. The small mu­seum is open un­til Thanks­giv­ing, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., ev­ery day. When it’s time to close for the sea­son, all the mer­chan­dise is re­moved with some of the pre­cious an­tiques put away in proper stor­age.

De­spite the in­for­ma­tion on dis­play, peo­ple still get con­fused, Mac­Don­ald ex­plains, about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Green Gables house in Cavendish, which is the site that inspired the set­ting for her fa­mous novel, the birthplace, which, by the way, is also painted white with green trim, and the lo­ca­tion where Mont­gomery ac­tu­ally wrote the first story, which was on her grand­par­ents’ farm, also in Cavendish.

“Some peo­ple get con­fused so we give them in­for­ma­tion and they come up with more ques­tions. Peo­ple look at the old pic­tures more than any­thing. It’s want­ing to be a part of where it all started.’’

Mac­Don­ald said she has been asked some odd ques­tions by visi­tors, some of whom take the char­ac­ters de­picted in the nov­els quite lit­er­ally.

One tourist asked her if Mont­gomery had a split per­son­al­ity dis­or­der and ac­tu­ally thought, at times, she was Anne Shirley, the char­ac­ter from the book.

One woman from Bos­ton wanted to know if Anne and Diana Barry, Anne’s best friend, were more than just friends.

Mac­Don­ald said this kind of in­ter­est sim­ply speaks to the im­pact Mont­gomery’s writ­ings had on the world.

And while the his­toric house gets set to blow out the birth­day can­dles on a half cen­tury, it will most cer­tainly con­tinue to hal­lowed ground for gen­er­a­tions to come.

How­ever, as vivid as Mont­gomery’s imag­i­na­tion was, it’s doubt­ful she ever ex­pected to have this kind of im­pact.

“I doubt she would have thought Cavendish would be what it is to­day and that peo­ple would be walk­ing through this house.’’


This is where it all be­gan, where P.E.I. literary leg­end Lucy Maud Mont­gomery was born on Nov. 30, 1874. Made­lyn Mac­Don­ald is one of the tour guides on hand to an­swer ques­tions from the hun­dreds of tourists who go through the house ev­ery day. The birthplace will celebrate 50 years in busi­ness as a mu­seum on Satur­day, Aug. 1


Made­lyn Mac­Don­ald, a tour guide at the Lucy Maud Mont­gomery birthplace in New Lon­don, ad­justs one of the many, many re­minders through­out the small house that Mont­gomery’s imag­i­na­tion cre­ated Anne Shirley, the beloved char­ac­ter from “Anne of Green Gables”.

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