A treasure turns 50
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”.