CAVENDISH, Prince Edward Island — Canada’s Prince Edward Island is the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s famous 1908 novel, “Anne of Green Gables,” which captures the essence of 19th-century agricultural life in this remote, but beautifully rural part of the world.
It all comes to life at Green Gables Heritage Place, part of Canada’s Prince Edward Island National Park, at Cavendish. This is the setting Montgomery used for her series of “Anne” books.
At the site, visitors may explore the original house, farm yard, a large barn that’s home to a museum filled with antique agricultural implements, and walking trails including the Haunted Wood and Lovers Lane, which are referenced in Montgomery’s writing.
Driving there, it’s easy to see how the author drew inspiration from the setting.
Since May 1993, PEI has been accessible from the New Brunswick mainland via the 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge, a $1.3 billion engineering marvel.
From that point, roads to Cavendish on the north shore pass through endless miles of rich farmland. It’s surprising that such topography, surrounded by the sea, could be so suitable for agriculture purposes. But it is, as evidenced by the fields filled with long rows of crops that stretch to the horizon in every direction.
Green Gables farm was owned by Montgomery’s cousins, the McNeil family, and was named for the rich dark green paint on the farmhouse gables. The main outside walls are white.
Montgomery, who lived nearby, would visit her cousins frequently, and used their farm as the setting for her books.
The house she grew up in, attached to a post office, is no longer there. But the site is only a few minutes’ walk from Green Gables farm. Today, visitors may purchase Montgomery’s books at a quaint bookstore there and learn more about her life through fascinating old photos and displays.
“It is and ever must be hallowed ground to me,” Montgomery once said about the homestead. It’s where she lived from 1876 to 1911 and did her actual writing.
Montgomery, through her books, brought fame to PEI much the way American author Mark Twain immortalized the Mississippi River with his novels, “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Just as his works became part of the American fabric and its literary history, Montgomery’s “Anne” novels draw thousands of people annually to PEI, to experience the site’s quaint peaceful atmosphere.
The international acclaim of her books made Cavendish into a popular tourist destination beginning in the early 20th century. This led to the establishment of Prince Edward Island National Park in the 1930s. The park’s boundaries encompassed the Green Gables homestead and the building became the property of the Canadian government.
In addition to being located within park boundaries, the Green Gables farmhouse is designated a National Historic Site for its importance in literary history, and is one of the most-visited historic sites in the country. The farmhouse exterior has not changed over time, and its interior decor and artifacts depict the late Victorian period in rural Prince Edward Island. Guided and self-guided tours may be taken of the house and surroundings with interpretive staff. All visitors should start by viewing a 15-minute biographical film about the author called, “A Celebration of Imagination: The Life of L.M. Montgomery.” Various rooms in the house have been named according to the “Anne of Green Gables” story.
The barn is filled with antique implements that explain agricultural practices in the late 19th century — everything from churning butter to the importance of cows and horses to the workings of a self-sufficient family farm. Entering the huge structure is like taking a step back in time.
Overhead, a large hayfork hangs from the rafterrs, an implement that saved countless hours of work because it could grab and move large amounts of hay. A set of large tines hung from a pulley on a metal track. Horses pulling a rope could easily hoist a loaded hayfork to the loft, where it was pulled inside to drop its load. A hayfork could make short work of a loaded wagon.
The site is closed in the winter, but for those planning ahead, a trip in the summer includes special events such as the L.M. Montgomery Festival which features special events tied to the author and her most famous fictional character. It’s easy to see why she once wrote, “I think that Cavendish just now is one of the prettiest spots on earth. Everything is so green and fresh. And beyond the green fields and slopes was the blue girdle of the gulf, forever moaning on its shining shore.”
For information go to: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/pe/greengables/visit/visit1.aspx.