ANNE and the IS­LAND

One hun­dred years af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of a book that is syn­ony­mous with his na­tive prov­ince, PETER SIMP­SON con­tem­plates the life of Lucy Maud Mont­gomery and the legacy of her red-haired hero­ine

Ottawa Citizen - - Saturday Observer -

There’s an oft-told tale down on Prince Ed­ward Is­land about twin brothers who were born on a ferry boat a few me­tres from shore. Or rather, one brother ar­rived just off­shore, whereas the other made his de­but af­ter the boat had docked. The lat­ter was there­fore “an Is­lan­der,” while the for­mer, born barely a potato’s toss from land, was “from away.”

It’s a rather sub­lime irony that the most fa­mous Prince Ed­ward Is­lan­der of all — the per­son who for many peo- ple is P.E.I. — is not an Is­lan­der at all. For Anne Shirley was “born” in Nova Sco­tia, and is as “from away” as any can be.

“Cer­tainly the Is­land has claimed Anne, and I don’t think they’ll ever let her go,” says David MacKen­zie, CEO of the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre for the Arts in Char­lot­te­town, where Anne of Green Gables: The Mu­si­cal is about to launch its 44th sea­son. “For some rea­son, that typ­i­cal thing that you have to be born here to be an Is­lan­der doesn’t ap­ply to Anne,” he says, and laughs.

The cynic might sug­gest that no prov­ince could be dumb enough to spurn its own lit­tle mon­ey­maker, es­pe­cially one that seems im­mune to the pas­sage of time. But 100 years af­ter the re­la­tion­ship be­gan, it’s clear that Anne could not ex­ist with­out the Is­land, and the Is­land would be dif­fer­ent with­out her. Even those Is­lan­ders who weary of Anne-Anne-Anne 24/7 have to un­der­stand, down in the deep­est red soil of their hearts, that the Is­land would be a lesser place with­out her. Less prof­itable, for sure, but also less sto­ried. Less ro­man­tic. And less “the Is­land.”

She ar­rived on the Is­land on June 20, 1908, not in a car­riage from the train sta­tion, but in a small par­cel post­marked “Bos­ton.” In it was the first copy of Anne of Green Gables, and as Lucy Maud Mont­gomery held it in her hands, she could not have fore­seen how her life, and her beloved Is­land, would be changed by the book. Nor could she have fore­seen how the fic­tional lit­tle girl she had cre­ated would turn her into an idol for women a cen­tury later — not fem­i­nist, but cer­tainly pro­gres­sive. Maud — as she pre­ferred to be called — did things that women just didn’t do in rural Canada at the start of the 20th cen­tury.

Though Anne’s im­me­di­ate suc­cess gave Maud the means and op­por­tu­nity for in­de­pen­dence, she still felt the weight of so­cial ex­pec­ta­tion, and died “mis­er­able” 34 years later. Her life is its own great story, full of tri­umph, tragedy, and the in­evitable col­li­sion of dreams and re­al­ity. Just like Anne’s.

But as Maud un­wrapped that first copy of

Anne, the fu­ture was ripe with prom­ise. “There, in my hand, lay the ma­te­rial re­al­iza­tion of all the dreams and hopes and am­bi­tions and strug­gles of my whole con­scious ex­is­tence — my first book,” she wrote in her jour­nal that day. “Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, some­thing which I had cre­ated.”

Not a great book? The crit­ics begged to dif­fer. “Anne is one of the im­mor­tal chil­dren of fiction,” wrote Cana­dian poet Bliss Car­men in a re­view. Most U.S. and Bri­tish pa­pers sim­i­larly fawned.

Read­ers sent piles of let­ters, “not only from chil­dren, but from sol­diers in In­dia, mis­sion­ar­ies in China, traders in Africa, monks in far­away monas­ter­ies, and from trap­pers in the Cana­dian North,” wrote Hilda M. Ri­d­ley, breath­lessly, in The Story of L. M. Mont­gomery, pub­lished in Bri­tain in 1956. Among the let­ters was one from Mark Twain, who wrote to Maud that Anne was “the dear­est, and most lov­able child in fiction since the im­mor­tal Alice.”

It’s no stretch to sug­gest that Anne was the Harry Pot­ter of her day, says El­iz­a­beth Ep­perly, au­thor of many books and ar­ti­cles on Anne and Maud, and founder of the Univer­sity of Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s Lucy Maud Mont­gomery In­sti­tute. “It’s quite a le­git­i­mate com­par­i­son be­tween Anne of Green Gables and the Harry Pot­ter books and the level of pop­u­lar­ity in their own time,” Ms. Ep­perly says in an in­ter­view. “Be­cause of the dif­fer­ences in the mar­kets and the dis­tri­bu­tion and the avail­abil­ity of the kind of mar­ket­ing that Harry Pot­ter had ... I think that’s a fair com­par­i­son.”

Much of Anne’s story was cribbed from Maud’s own past, as in­ci­den­tally as the two china dogs that Anne trea­sures, and as fun­da­men­tally as the or­phaned feel­ing that Maud must have felt. She was a tod­dler when her mother, Clara, died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, and was five when her fa­ther, Hugh, moved to Saskatchew­an and later re­mar­ried. Maud grew up in the strict house­hold of her grand­par­ents, Alexan­der and Lucy Macneill, in Cavendish.

Maud was ec­static when, af­ter years of re­jec­tion let­ters from pub­lish­ers, Anne was ac­cepted by Bos­ton’s L.C. Page and Com­pany. She also re­al­ized that suc­cess came with its own de­mands.

“Anne seems to have hit the pub­lic taste,” she noted dryly in a let­ter to a friend, Ephraim We­ber, dated Sept. 10, 1908. “She has gone through four edi­tions in three months. As a re­sult, the pub­lish­ers have been urg­ing me to have the sec­ond vol­ume ready for them by Oc­to­ber — in fact in­sist­ing upon it. I have been writ­ing ‘like mad’ all through the hottest sum­mer we have ever had.”

The books came quickly, in­clud­ing nov­els fol­low­ing Anne and other young fe­male char­ac­ters. Anne of Avon­lea was pub­lished 1909, when Anne of Green Gables saw its first of many trans­la­tions, in Swedish. Then came Kil­meny of the Or­chard in 1910, The Story Girl in 1911, The Chron­i­cles of Avon­lea in 1912, and The Golden Road in 1913. Anne of the Is­land fol­lowed in 1915, The Watch­man and Other Po­ems in 1916, Anne’s House of Dreams and The Alpine Path: The Story of My Ca­reer in 1917, and Rain­bow Val­ley in 1919. By then, Maud was an in­ter­na­tional lit­er­ary star. But even stars don’t al­ways get what they want.

“ The Story Girl ... was the last book I wrote in my old home by the gable win­dow where I had spent so many happy hours of cre­ation,” she said in The Alpine Path, a short au­to­bi­og­ra­phy from 1917. It was the last book she wrote in Cavendish be­cause, at 36, she was be­trothed (and se­cretly had been for sev­eral years) to Ewan Macdon­ald, a Pres­by­te­rian min­is­ter, and his col­lar called them to Leaskdale, Ont. She was leav­ing her Is­land, which had al­ready be­gun to be changed by Anne.

“Peo­ple started com­ing to Prince Ed­ward Is­land as early as 1909, and seek­ing out Cavendish,” Ms. Ep­perly says. “The tourism in­dus­try in Cavendish had be­gun, and by the time they were mar­ried, in 1911, it was in full swing.”

Self-doubt fol­lowed Maud across the Northum­ber­land Strait. She didn’t much like her sec­ond book, Anne of Avon­lea, she had ear­lier told We­ber. Maud felt the ma­tur­ing Anne wasn’t in­ter­est­ing. “The pub­lish­ers wanted this — and I’m aw­fully afraid if the thing takes, they’ll want me to write her through col­lege. The idea makes me sick. ... If I’m to be dragged at Anne’s char­iot wheels the rest of my life, I’ll bit­terly re­pent hav­ing ‘cre­ated her’.” She wrote th­ese words three months af­ter Anne of Green Gables was pub­lished.

She had long suf­fered bouts of what to­day could be di­ag­nosed as de­pres­sion. Her jour­nals were full of dark ref­er­ences prior to her suc­cess, notes Jan­ice Fi­a­mengo in an es­say in the 2005 col­lec­tion The In­ti­mate Life of L.M. Mont­gomery, and just be­fore Christ­mas, 1909 she wrote: “I feel so bit­ter and vin­dic­tive — I can’t even cry. It would be a re­lief if I could.” There would be no en­dur­ing re­lief. In­deed, her hus­band’s own prob­lems would take her to the point of de­spair.

Af­ter a three-month hon­ey­moon in Scot­land and Eng­land — paid for with Maud’s roy­al­ties — they moved into the manse in Leaskdale and started a fam­ily. Ch­ester was born in 1912. Hugh died at birth in 1914, but Stu­art was born healthy a year later.

Her hus­band was deeply trou­bled, and the de­mands of prop­ping him up — ever dis­creetly — and the pub­lic de­mands of lit­er­ary suc­cess must have been tremen­dous. She strug­gled, Ms. Fi­a­mengo writes, “first as a young wo­man fight­ing to re­sist emo­tional break­down, then as an au­thor striv­ing to keep per­sonal sad­ness out of her art, and fi­nally as a wife cov­er­ing for her mor­bid and sui­ci­dal hus­band.”

Still, says Ms. Ep­perly, the years 1911 to 1914 were Maud’s hap­pi­est: she had her own home, a fam­ily and lit­er­ary suc­cess.

Her an­nus hor­ri­bilis was 1919: her best friend died of Span­ish flu, and Maud saw the depths of her hus­band’s “re­li­gious me­lan­cho­lia” — which, she wrote in her jour­nal, he had hid­den from her be­fore their mar­riage. “A dark cloud be­gan to settle on Maud’s do­mes­tic hap­pi­ness, as the del­i­cate bal­ance of ro­man­tic, fam­ily, and pro­fes­sional life be­gan to crum­ble,” writes Cana­dian scholar Irene Gam­mel in her re­cent book Look­ing for Anne: How Lucy Maud Mont­gomery Dreamed Up a Lit­er­ary Clas­sic.

Ms. Ep­perly de­scribes his fits: “When he was ill he thought he was one of the damned, and he’d get this look: his eyes would bug out of his head, as she de­scribes it, and he would sing hymns to him­self and he looked like he was look­ing into the depths of hell. He would rock and moan, and he was be­side him­self.”

Then Hol­ly­wood em­braced Anne, with a silent film. Maud didn’t see it un­til 1921 and was aghast at the “sug­ary sweet” Anne played by Mary Miles Min­ter, who was “not a scrap like gin­gery Anne.” More irk­some was the U.S flag fly­ing over Anne’s school­house, but she had no say in the film. She had left L.C. Page over dis­puted roy­al­ties, and launched a nine-year le­gal bat­tle that she even­tu­ally won. (“They had de­vel­oped into reg­u­lar scamps,” she wrote to We­ber.)

She re­al­ized her fame would out­live her, and be­gan to re­vise her early jour­nals (to the per­plex­ity of schol­ars decades later). “Af­ter 1922 she’s de­lib­er­ately leav­ing things,” Ms. Ep­perly says, “so some­one, like me, would find them.”

More books fol­lowed: Rilla of In­gle­side in 1921, Emily of New Moon in 1923, Emily Climbs in 1925, and The Blue Cas­tle — her only novel not set in P.E.I. — in 1926. There were plenty of awards, in­clud­ing mem­ber­ship in the Royal So­ci­ety of Arts in Lon­don (the first Cana­dian wo­man to be so hon­oured), the Lit­er­ary and Artis­tic In­sti­tute of France and the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire (as an of­fi­cer).

In 1926 the fam­ily moved to Nor­val, north of Toronto. Ewan con­tin­ued his de­cline. “They had to hide him from the con­gre­ga­tion,” Ms. Ep­perly says. “I think of what that did to her chil­dren, that their fa­ther had to be hid­den away in their house and (be­ing told) don’t talk about it.” Still, Ewan was “friendly and jovial with most peo­ple,” says Ms. Ep­perly, who be­lieves Maud en­joyed her hus­band’s com­pany dur­ing the good times, even though she had long re­al­ized “they were not soul mates.”

She met the pow­er­ful and fa­mous, went on speak­ing tours, and pub­lished more books. There were vis­its ev­ery two or three years to her beloved P.E.I., and there was an­other movie.

“Dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son of 1934, Hol­ly­wood’s new Anne of Green Gables lit up the screen of the Up­town Theatre on Toronto’s Yonge Street,” Ms. Gam­mel writes in a re­cent edi­tion of Cana­dian his­tory mag­a­zine The Beaver. Maud liked this “talkie” more than the first Anne film. (The young star, Dawn O’Day, was so taken with her suc­cess that she changed her stage name to Anne Shirley.) Maud also main­tained a sharp, Wilde-es­que sense of hu­mour. Once, when asked about equal­ity for women, she said: “I have no de­sire to be equal to men: I pre­fer to main­tain my su­pe­ri­or­ity.”

Yet the pres­sure built. Ewan was look­ing into the depths of hell again, and spent sev­eral months in an in­sti­tu­tion. Then there were the shenani­gans of her first-born son, Ch­ester, who “had all kinds of trou­ble with money and the law,” says Maud’s grand­daugh­ter, Kate Macdon­ald But­ler, in an in­ter­view. Her mar­riage was “un­ful­fill­ing,” her hus­band was un­bal­anced, and the two sons both “gave her a run for her money.” Ms. Macdon­ald But­ler’s fa­ther, Stu­art, found the straight path, but Ch­ester con­tin­ued to stray.

By 1935 there was too much mut­ter­ing in the con­gre­ga­tion, and Ewan had to re­tire. The fam­ily moved to Toronto. Maud gave in to pres­sure from her pub­lish­ers and fin­ished an­other Anne book ( Anne of Windy Poplars), and vis­ited the Is­land in 1936 to see the fed­eral gov­ern­ment

de­clare Cavendish — in­clud­ing Green Gables, the dis­tant cousins’ house that in­spired her books, and which later adopted the fic­tional name — a na­tional park.

She had a ner­vous col­lapse in 1938, but fin­ished the last novel to be pub­lished in her life­time, Anne of In­gle­side. The next year she vis­ited P.E.I. for the last time. Her health con­tin­ued to de­cline. In 1940, Anne Shirley (the ac­tress) starred in the film Anne of Windy Poplars, which, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­net Movie Data­base (, “re­ceived very lack­lus­tre re­views.”

Two days be­fore Christ­mas in 1941, Maud wrote a fi­nal let­ter to long­time friend Ge­orge MacMil­lan. “I am no bet­ter and never will be,” she wrote. “Re­mem­ber me as I used to be, not as I am now.”

On April 24, 1942, the heart that gave birth to the in­ex­tin­guish­able ef­fer­ves­cence of Anne gave out. Lucy Maud Mont­gomery was dead.

A year later, Ewan joined her, and for 65 years they’ve lain side by side in Cavendish Ceme­tery, just a short walk from the house the world knows as Green Gables.

In a TV spe­cial last New Year’s Eve, comic Ron James re­counted a visit to Green Gables. “I said to the guide, ‘I guess this is where Anne sat at the kitchen ta­ble do­ing her home­work, is it?’ She looked at me and said, ‘She’s not real.’ I said, ‘You mean to tell me this lit­tle prov­ince has built a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar tourism in­dus­try around a fic­ti­tious lit­tle girl? Geez, hats off. I’m open­ing up Spi­der-man’s cot­tage’.”

It’s a tes­ta­ment to Maud’s cre­ation that some peo­ple be­lieve Anne was real. Camp­bell Web­ster, pro­ducer of the mu­si­cal Anne & Gil­bert, re­called a pub­lic dust-up a few years ago over a nud­ist colony near Green Gables, and a defence mounted in the lo­cal pa­per. “One of the peo­ple who was de­fend­ing it had this fan­tas­tic quote,” Web­ster says in an in­ter­view in a Char­lot­te­town cof­fee shop he owns. “ ‘If Anne Shirley was alive to­day, she would ap­prove.’ ”

That Anne is now ubiq­ui­tous in P.E.I. — sum­moned even from the dead to take po­si­tions in pub­lic de­bates — is un­de­ni­able, though not ir­re­sistible. When the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment re­moved Anne from Is­land li­cence plates in 1997, to make room for an im­age of the new bridge to the main­land, some Is­lan­ders qui­etly cheered. Enough al­ready, they said, she gets too much at­ten­tion.

The skep­ti­cism of a few An­neg­nos­tics counts for lit­tle against the in­dus­try the girl has be­come. One walk through The Anne Store in Char­lot­te­town gives some per­spec­tive; there are Anne light switches, drinks, hats, dresses, book­marks, tea­spoons and Anne dolls of ev­ery size. There are cards, Christ­mas or­na­ments, DVDs, CDs, song­books, books by Maud, books about Maud, books about Anne, and enough Anne can­dies and choco­lates to keep all 135,000 Is­lan­ders on a sugar high un­til the end of sum­mer, when the tourists will be gone again.

All of this bric-a-brac, and a thou­sand busi­ness names across the prov­ince that re­fer ex­plic­itly or im­plic­itly to Anne’s world, re­flect an in­ter­est that con­tin­ued to grow af­ter Maud died.

The very next year, in 1943, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­clared Maud “a per­son of na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance” (a sim­i­lar dis­tinc­tion was given to Green Gables in 2005).

In 1956, the CBC hired a young On­tario en­ter­tainer, Don Har­ron, to di­rect an adap­ta­tion of Anne of Green Gables for the net­work. It sparked new in­ter­est in Anne, but it would be 20 years or so be­fore TV re­ally gave Anne a boost. For now, her big mo­ment would come on the stage, and Har­ron would be a key player.

In 1964, the cur­tain rose on Anne of Green Gables: The Mu­si­cal, at the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre in Char­lot­te­town. Writ­ten by Ma­vor Moore, Norman and Elaine Camp­bell, and Mr. Har­ron, it was a hit. It has since been seen by more than two mil­lion peo­ple across Canada, in the U.S., Ja­pan and in Lon­don’s West End.

Mr. Har­ron vis­its the Is­land ev­ery sum­mer, and never misses the mu­si­cal. “It’s faster,” he says, when asked in an in­ter­view in a Char­lot­te­town ho­tel room if the mu­si­cal has changed. “There are no black­outs in the segues now. I guess they’re try­ing to make it run quicker for young au­di­ences. The Amer­i­cans think it’s too long, and they’ve been cut­ting things down, cut­ting di­a­logue. Direc­tors never cut the dances,” he says, in a time­less writ­ers’ lament. “They al­ways cut the di­a­logue.”

Mr. McKen­zie says the mu­si­cal is a bit tighter than it used to be, but it’s the same show writ­ten by Har­ron et al, and he’s not about to mess with a good thing. “We’ve, frankly, been blessed for 44 years,” he says in an in­ter­view in his of­fice in Char­lot­te­town. “It’s been re­ally a god­send ... Ev­ery­thing sort of re­volves around the fact that Anne is our trea­sure.”

The mu­si­cal put Anne back in the head­lines. “More than that,” Mr. Web­ster says, “it reignites the con­nec­tion be­tween this novel and this is­land.”

Still, even a wildly suc­cess­ful mu­si­cal in lit­tle Char­lot­te­town could do only so much to pop­u­lar­ize Anne. It was the ’70s, and if you wanted to be big, you had to be on television.

In 1972, the BBC pro­duced and broad­cast Anne of Green Gables, a five-part minis­eries, fol­lowed three years later by a four-part Anne of Avon­lea. Ja­pan got in on the act in 1979 with the an­i­mated se­ries Ak­age no An ( Red-Haired Anne).

The big year for Anne, and Maud, was 1985. Sul­li­van En­ter­tain­ment re­leased the four-hour minis­eries Anne of Green Gables, star­ring Me­gan Fol­lows as Anne, which was broad­cast on CBC to great ac­claim. It was a world­wide suc­cess in syn­di­ca­tion. Two years later came Anne of Green Gables: The Se­quel, on CBC in Canada and the Dis­ney Chan­nel in the U.S.

The first se­ries was seen in Canada by al­most six mil­lion view­ers, “mak­ing it the most pop­u­lar drama ever shown on CBC,” writes Eleanor Hersey in the 2008 es­say col­lec­tion Mak­ing Avon­lea: L.M. Mont­gomery and Pop­u­lar Cul­ture.

“In the United States, too, the film quickly be­came a house­hold name ...”

Maud’s grand­daugh­ter, Kate Macdon­ald But­ler, who rep­re­sents the in­ter­ests of the Mont­gomery heirs, says that af­ter the Sul­li­van films, “in­ter­est started to swell, and par­tic­u­larly in terms of mer­chan­dise.”

The in­ter­est sparked many years of le­gal bat­tles be­tween the heirs, the prov­ince, and Sul­li­van En­ter­tain­ment. First, the P.E.I. gov­ern­ment and the heirs talked about li­cens­ing, and set­tled into a part­ner­ship. Though the books are in the pub­lic do­main in most of the world, the Anne of Green Gables Li­cens­ing Author­ity uses reg­is­tered trade­marks to “main­tain some sort of con­trol over this prop­erty,” says Ms. Macdon­ald But­ler, who works full-time rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests of the heirs.

Then came a pro­tracted le­gal dis­pute be­tween the heirs and Sul­li­van En­ter­tain­ment over roy­al­ties. “I can’t talk about it, be­cause I’m bound by a con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ment, but all I say is that it’s over and done with,” she says. “We’ve set­tled ... It was such a re­lief to have that be­hind me. It was in­cred­i­bly stress­ful.”

In­ter­est was also grow­ing on an­other front. The first full bi­og­ra­phy of Maud had been pub­lished by Mol­lie Gillen in 1975, but the sen­sa­tion in 1985 was the pub­li­ca­tion of the first vol­umes of Maud’s jour­nals. Vol­ume 2 fol­lowed in 1987.

“Read­ers were shocked to learn that their beloved Mont­gomery had never loved her hus­band, had hated her so­cial du­ties as min­is­ter’s wife, and in fact had scorned many of the peo­ple who thought she was their friend,” writes Ms. Gam­mel in The In­ti­mate Life of L. M. Mont­gomery. The jour­nals are much de­bated among aca­demics, given the many re­vi­sions Maud made.

TV dealt Anne an­other strong hand in 1990, when the se­ries Road to Avon­lea de­buted. It was a Sul­li­van/ CBC/Dis­ney co-pro­duc­tion, and it ran for six years in Canada and in the U.S. It re­mains pop­u­lar 12 years later, with web­sites such as www.avon­ main­tain­ing busy fan fo­rums.

Ja­pan’s love for Anne grew again in 1991 with the open­ing of Canada World, a theme-park on the is­land of Hokkaido. The main at­trac­tion is “Avon­lea,” with an ex­act replica of Green Gables. A few years later, a P.E.I. com­pany be­gan sell­ing com­plete kits to build Green Gab­lesstyled homes in Ja­pan that, with ma­te­ri­als and ship­ping, cost about $250,000, not in­clud­ing land.

Tourism wasn’t the only front that was grow­ing. In 1993 Ms. Ep­perly founded the L. M. Mont­gomery In­sti­tute at U.P.E.I. The in­sti­tute dis­sem­i­nates reams of in­for­ma­tion, tar­get­ing aca­demics and fans, and ev­ery two years hosts a con­fer­ence in Char­lot­te­town. The eighth con­fer­ence is later this month and will see pre­sen­ta­tions by re­searchers and oth­ers from around the world, in­clud­ing one pa­per ti­tled “Teach­ing Anne in Is­lamic Iran.”

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment gave Anne a sig­na­ture, if tran­si­tory, hon­our by putting her on Is­land li­cence plates in 1993. You could hardly see one in Cavendish, where plates “from away” pack the two-lane roads, park­ing lots and camp­grounds. It was get­ting hard to imag­ine Matthew’s car­riage clat­ter­ing back from the train sta­tion on th­ese roads.

There were two more TV se­ries in 2000, Anne of Green Gables: The Con­tin­u­ing Story on CBC, and Anne of Green Gables: The An­i­mated Se­ries on PBS in the U.S. Then, in 2005, an­other Anne mu­si­cal was born.

Anne & Gil­bert is based on the sec­ond and third Anne books, and it was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, says Mr. Web­ster. It sold ev­ery seat dur­ing its first sea­son in Vic­to­ria-by-the-Sea, and now, hav­ing moved to a larger, 500seat theatre in Sum­mer­side, con­tin­ues to sell more than 20,000 tick­ets each sum­mer at $46 and up.

Mr. Web­ster knew the show had to over­come Anne skep­ti­cism among the lo­cals. “There’s a tremen­dous fa­tigue about the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of Anne,” he says, “so the ex­pec­ta­tions were some­where be­low the gut­ter for open­ing night of the show. ‘ Anne & Gil­bert? Oh, for Christ’s sake.’ ... And that ac­tu­ally helped us a lot. Peo­ple sort of went with their heads down out of duty to see it and had a good time.” Later this year, Anne & Gil­bert will tour the­atres across On­tario, in­clud­ing a stop in Ottawa.

Ear­lier this year an of­fi­cial pre­quel, Be­fore Green Gables, by Budge Wil­son, was pub­lished, and more ti­tles are be­ing added to the pile of books about Anne and Maud. Events are be­ing held in many places around the world. This week, an ex­hi­bi­tion opened at Li­brary & Archives Canada. On June 20, Canada Post will re­lease a stamp. In P.E.I., two new theatre pro­duc­tions will de­but — one in Cavendish that will mount plays that were con­tem­po­rary to Maud (such as The Wind in the Wil­lows), and one in Ge­orge­town, The Nine Lives of L. M. Mont­gomery, which will tell her story through char­ac­ters play­ing Maud and the eight key fe­male char­ac­ters she cre­ated. A large ex­hi­bi­tion of Maud’s pho­tos, scrap­books and other items, cu­rated by Ms. Ep­perly, opens Thurs­day at the Con­fed­er­a­tion Cen­tre, and a new se­ries, Anne of Green Gables: A New Be­gin­ning, airs next year on CTV.

There’s no em­pir­i­cal fig­ure for what this means to the Is­land eco­nom­i­cally, but sur­vey af­ter sur­vey shows that many tourists — es­pe­cially those from out­side Canada — cite Anne as a key rea­son for their visit to the Is­land. A 2007 study showed that one in four tourists to the Is­land vis­ited an Anne-re­lated site.

“It is amaz­ing ev­ery year to see Ja­panese peo­ple, male and fe­male, come into Anne and the light in their eyes when they’re com­ing in here,” says Mr. MacKen­zie of the orig­i­nal mu­si­cal, go­ing strong in its 44th year in Char­lot­te­town. “It’s like they’re com­ing into a place of wor­ship.” And how long will the mu­si­cal last? “Well,” says the 80-some­thing Don Har­ron, “it’ll last longer than I will.”

There are chal­lenges ahead. The strong Cana­dian dol­lar and soar­ing fuel costs don’t bode well for tourism, and Anne is not im­per­vi­ous.

“Anne gen­er­ally fol­lows the tourist pat­tern to the prov­ince,” Mr. MacKen­zie says. “If tourism is up a lit­tle bit you’ll see Anne is up a lit­tle bit, and that’s been pretty much his­tor­i­cal. ... 9/11 was bad for tourism and it was bad for Anne. About 80 per cent of our ticket sales are from off-is­land, so as tourism goes, Anne goes.”

In­creas­ingly, Anne is get­ting a boost from Maud her­self. Maud has long been the sub­ject of schol­arly de­bate, and her life is in­creas­ingly in­spir­ing in­ter­est out­side academia. “Women didn’t re­ally have ca­reers in those days, and she had a re­ally hap­pen­ing ca­reer,” says Ms. Macdon­ald But­ler. “I think of what she ac­com­plished as a wo­man and I think, ‘Wow.’ We could all take a page out of that book, that’s for sure.”

Ms. Ep­perly agrees. “More peo­ple have caught on now that Mont­gomery is as in­ter­est­ing as Anne, if not more in­ter­est­ing than Anne, and Mont­gomery’s own writ­ing about life is fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Mr. Har­ron, in the fad­ing light of a win­ter af­ter­noon on Char­lot­te­town’s wa­ter­front, leaves no doubt to the ex­tent of his ad­mi­ra­tion. “Peo­ple knew about Stephen Lea­cock be­fore they knew about Canada — now that’s fame. I think with Lucy Maud it’s the same. She’s not just Cana­dian, she’s a uni­ver­sal fac­tor.”

The road from Char­lot­te­town to Cavendish weaves through the Is­land coun­try­side like a stitch in a gi­ant quilt. There are patches of green, gold, and rusty red, with the blue of the ocean all ’round. A me­mo­rial to fallen Cana­dian sol­diers at Cavendish Beach reads: “They will never know the beauty of this place, see the sea­sons change, en­joy na­ture’s cho­rus.” Maud walked among th­ese dunes, and their beauty in­spired her to set Anne among them too. “Were it not for those Cavendish years,” Maud wrote, “I do not think Anne of Green Gables would ever have been writ­ten.”

Up the road at Green Gables, tourists come even on a cold, crisp day in win­ter. A ran­dom sam­pling shows the breadth of Maud’s reach. Travis Murray and Lau­rie Gon­salves are visit­ing from Burling­ton, Ont. Mr. Murray stands out among Anne tourists be­cause, un­like most, he’s wear­ing a Har­ley-David­son owner’s patch. “I think the group would prob­a­bly be pretty in­ter­ested in see­ing it,” he says of his fel­low bik­ers. “Com­ing up here would just be a beau­ti­ful ride, through the green fields and all.”

Kana and Yuki Mak­ishima are sis­ters who live near Tokyo, and as chil­dren they watched the an­i­mated Anne on Ja­panese TV. A stilted con­ver­sa­tion, through ad hoc trans­la­tion and hand ges­tures, proves in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to all, but it’s clear enough why ev­ery­body is here: for Anne.

You can walk from the house to Cavendish Ceme­tery, where Maud lies with her hus­band in a plot that, be­fore nearby trees grew tall, had a com­mand­ing view of the ocean. “She pur­chased the plots dur­ing a visit to the Is­land in 1923,” writes James De Jonge in an es­say in Mak­ing Avon­lea, “so that when her time came, she could, ‘lie among my kin­dred in the old spot I love so much bet­ter than any other spot on Earth.’ ”

Still her spirit lives on the Is­land, in the shape of an ir­re­press­ible or­phan girl. Anne came to this place as fiction and turned into some­thing real, some­thing that en­dures a cen­tury af­ter she was born.


Green Gables: This home at Prince Ed­ward Is­land Na­tional Park in Cavendish (now re­stored) was in­spi­ra­tion for the beloved books.

Lucy Maud Montgomery had a ner­vous break­down in 1938, but fin­ished the last novel to be pub­lished in her life­time, Anne of In­gle­side. The next year she vis­ited P.E.I. for the last time. She died three years later.

As a young girl, Kate Macdon­ald Butler, now 51, grand­daugh­ter of Lucy Maud Montgomery, set­tles down with a favourite book.

Above, Mary Miles Min­ter from a 1919 poster of Anne of Green Gables.


Ja­panese and Korean pho­to­jour­nal­ists snap pic­tures of Lucy Maud Montgomery's gravesite for their mag­a­zines back home. Montgomery is buried be­side her hus­band, Ewan Macdon­ald, in Cavendish Ceme­tery, P.E.I., not far from Green Gables. Montgomery...

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