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Prince Edward Island preserves sites connected to the beloved red-haired heroine — Anne of Green Gables
You don’t have to love Anne of Green Gables to enjoy Prince Edward Island in Canada, but it certainly helps. And if you’re a fan of the L.M. Montgomery books, visiting the island is likely the fulfillment of a long-held dream. It certainly was for me when I recently visited the 140-mile-long island that’s one of the Maritime Provinces of eastern Canada. Anne of Green Gables was my favorite childhood book and seeing the real sites behind the story brought every wonderful memory flooding back.
I began my literary pilgrimage at the Green Gables Heritage Place in the town of Cavendish, which in the L.M. Montgomery books is known as Avonlea. Managed by Parks Canada, the site serves as an introduction to All-Things-Anne. Its visitor center describes how Lucy Maud Montgomery was born on the island in 1874. After her mother died of tuberculosis when she was 21 months old, Montgomery was raised by her maternal grandparents. She grew up to become a schoolteacher and postmistress on the island, until at the age of 37 she married a Presbyterian minister. Though the two moved to Ontario, Prince Edward Island remained her spiritual home for the rest of her life, and her trips to the island sustained her throughout their troubled marriage.
I was especially interested in the exhibits describing Montgomery’s lifelong passion for writing. Anne of Green Gables was her first novel, published in 1908. Nineteen other books followed, all but one set on Prince Edward Island. A wall filled with books in many languages shows the worldwide reach of her most famous heroine Anne, whose story has been told in many films and TV series.
Next it was time to visit the park’s main landmark: the green-gabled house where Montgomery’s cousins once lived, which the author turned into the fictional home of Anne. Wandering through its homey rooms filled with late-19th-century furnishings, it was easy to imagine Anne interacting with Matthew and Marilla, the elderly brother and sister who took her in as an orphan.
After leaving the house I followed the leafy trail that winds through the Haunted Wood and Lover’s Lane, sites featured in the Anne books. Arriving at Montgomery Park, I admired a bronze statue of the famous author that shows her with eyes closed and chin raised in a moment of inspiration. My literary pilgrimage continued at the nearby site where her childhood home once stood, its location marked by quotations from her works. “The incidents and environment of my childhood had a marked influence on my literary gift,” Montgomery wrote. “Were it not for those Cavendish years I do not think ‘Anne of Green Gables’ would ever have been written.”
After paying my respects at the cemetery where Montgomery is buried, I drove seven miles to the small home where she was born. Its exhibits include selections from her journals and scrapbooks (which prominently feature pictures of her beloved cats) as well as a replica of her wedding dress. As I left, I met a red-haired Irish woman who was on her own Anne pilgrimage. When I told her that her hair was like Anne’s, her face lit up, and it felt like we belonged to a secret society of kindred spirits, to use a term from Anne herself.
The Anne of Green Gables Museum was next on my list. Montgomery’s cousins had lived here and she and her husband were married in its parlor in 1911. I was amused to see the nearby pond that was the inspiration for the Lake of Shining Waters, evidence of Anne’s sometimes overactive imagination.
Then it was on to Prince Edward Island National Park, which preserves 25 miles of pristine sand beaches, grassy bluffs and red cliffs, all of which are richly described in Montgomery’s books. I was struck by how much gentler the landscape is than in nearby Nova Scotia, where rocky coasts predominate. In contrast, Prince Edward Island is mostly gently rolling farmland bordered by peaceful beaches that provide a perfect escape for lazy afternoons. I watched as groups of families and couples enjoyed the sun and sea, a modern echo of the many hours Montgomery spent at the shore with her friends and family.
After a full day of touring that had taken me to the most significant of the Anne sites, it was time to explore the island’s capital of Charlottetown. A narrated trolley ride gave me an overview of the picturesque city, which is named after Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Our guide explained that the city is known as the Birthplace of Confederation because it was the site of an 1864 meeting that led to the formation of modern-day Canada. We passed blocks filled with charming clapboard homes and Victorian redbrick buildings, and then toured the harbor where floating docks house restaurants. Our last stop was Victoria Park, where a wide sidewalk next to the sea was filled with walkers and bicyclists.
After enjoying a meal of locally caught fish on the patio at Merchantman Fresh Seafood and Oyster Bar, I ended my stay on the island with a performance of “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical,” which is the world’s longest-running annual musical. After seeing all the sites connected to her life, I was grateful to see Anne in the flesh, the friend who had been such an important part of my youth.
Prince Edward Island can be reached by taking a flight into the Charlottetown airport, boarding a ferry from Nova Scotia, or driving the eight-mile Confederation Bridge that connects to New Brunswick.
Charlottetown has a wide variety of accommodations and additional lodging can be found in smaller towns on the island.
For dining, try Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster Bar for outstanding seafood, The Pilot House for locally sourced dishes, and the Churchill Arms for British pub food. And don’t miss the ice cream at Cows. The company is based in Charlottetown and is said to serve Canada’s best ice cream.
For more information on Prince Edward Island tourism, see tourismpei.com.