Anne of Green Gables: a book, a movie and now a cultural landmark and museum
by Elizabeth Willoughby
In 19th-century Canada, a red-haired orphan girl, Anne Shirley from Nova Scotia, arrived at the Green Gables homestead on Prince Edward Island to help out an aging brother and sister on their farm. They had asked for a boy.
Author Lucy Maude Montgomery (1874-1942), a person of national historical significance in Canada, wrote her stories of Anne of Green Gables based very much on her own childhood environment. Montgomery was brought to Cavendish, PEI as an infant when her mother became ill. After her mother's death from tuberculosis, her father gave up the 21-month old child to her maternal grandparents, Alexander and Lucy Macneill. There, Montgomery grew up near the very Green Gables farm, the Haunted Wood and Lover's Lane that she wrote into the fictitious Anne's community of Avonlea.
Today the "Green Gables" historical homestead, located in the national park in Cavendish PEI, has been preserved as a cultural landmark. It is a patchwork of the real and imagined. Although Montgomery never lived at Green Gables, her grandfather's cousins, Dave and Margaret Macneill, did, and Montgomery visited them often during her childhood. This farm is now a museum dedicated to the beloved novel. The farmhouse rooms are outfitted with late-Victorian period furniture that would befit Anne, as well as spinster Marilla Cuthbert and her bachelor brother Matthew, the pair that adopt the 11-year-old girl.
Visitors walk from room to room through the 1830s house, observing the details mentioned in the books. Just as Montgomery described, the kitchen has a Waterloo #2 stove with cooking tops, warming units and an open smoking chamber for fish, meat, cheese and nuts, and the bottom chamber, though designed for coal, would have been wood fed in PEI. Matthew's room is off the kitchen. There's a dairy porch for sloppy chores, a pantry, parlor, dining room, staunch bedroom to suit Marilla, and Anne's room with her puffed-sleeve dress, school slate board and apple blossom wallpaper. Outside is a restored barn, chicken coop (now a bakery), woodshed and granary.
In real life, Montgomery went to Prince of Wales College in the capital, Charlottetown, and obtained her Teacher's License in 1894. She taught for three years until her grandfather died, an event which brought her back to Cavendish to live with her grandmother. For the next 13 years, the two operated the community post office together out of their kitchen. It was during this period that Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables, which was published in 1908. At the time of her grandmother's death, Montgomery had been secretly engaged to Reverend Ewan MacDonald for five years. They were married in 1911 and moved to Ontario, although Montgomery returned occasionally to PEI to visit when it was possible.
Anne Shirley, "whose fiery temper is as red as her hair," is a chatty, imaginative character, who has captured the hearts of Avonlea's citizens, but also of countless readers. The book is published in over 17 languages and 30 countries. It was also turned into a popular television mini-series.
This article was originally published in October 2015 here on Examiner.com.
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