You never know what peace is until you walk on the shores or in the fields or along the winding red roads of Prince Edward Island in a summer twilight when the dew is falling and the old stars are peeping out and the sea keeps its mighty tryst with the little land it loves. You find your soul then. You realize that youth is not a vanished thing but something that dwells forever in the heart.
-Lucy Maud Montgomery
I think it’s an unwritten Canadian bylaw that anything that has to do with Prince Edward Island must include a quote from it’s most famous islander. Before I go on, I must confess (I’m catholic, I can do that) I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time one week before my PEI trip. I only knew Anne from that excellent t.v. mini series that everyone watched in the 1980s.
The book paints a bucolic picture of a rural island with red soil, farms, presbyterianism and small town relationships (and everything that entails.) Twenty first century PEI is about the same (except the presbyterianism – they became United Churches). Today’s population totals 138,000, so it’s possible that locally grown PEI potatoes outnumber people like 100,000 for every 5 PEI’er. In the touristy stores, not only can you buy Anne stuff, but also a sack of potatoes. Don’t believe me?
Back to Anne…Seeing how rustic the islands is still, I was excited to see Cavendish, Montgomery’s town which was the model for Avonlea. In her time, Cavendish boasted a library, meeting hall, two churches, a school and a number of families who all seemed to be related to each other. Driving north up Route 6, I passed an oyster farm and a number of agricultural farms. Besides the town line sign, Cavendish was announced by the Shining Waters Water Park and Avonlea Village (a recreation of Anne’s Avonlea/Cavendish).
Green Gables itself is now a National Park surrounded by the Green Gables Golf Course. While walking through the “Haunted Woods” Hubby and I made our way around golf carts and while wandering down “Lover’s Lane,” I noticed a golf ball in the babbling stream. The actual Green Gables home was owned by her grandparent’s cousins and, according to Montgomery, it was the model for Anne’s home. The place was cute and crawling with young, female park wardens wearing dirty fleece jackets. Hubby and I were able to explore the building unhurried. We exited just as a bus tour of retirees arrived. Phew!
Today’s Cavendish has lost it’s school, a church, the meeting hall and most of the families. As our breakfast waitress told us one morning, “No one lives in Cavendish…maybe 50.” Even in Montgomery’s time, the Anne books brought loads of tourists to the island. Montgomery’s own childhood home was torn down because her uncle (who inherited the place) was sick of the tourists peeking through the windows (it stood empy for a number of years and was falling apart), trampling his crops and knocking on his door to ask questions about his niece whom he didn’t particularly like.
Even Montgomery’s own life didn’t live up to Anne. While on the island I bought a copy of Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, by Mary Henley Rubio. Her grandfather (not the model for Matthew) was a sh*t, her husband suffered from severe depression and was dependent on bromides and barbituates (as Maud did herself). Her oldest son was a clinical psychopath and, to top it off, there’s reason to believe that Montgomery committed suicide.
During her lifetime, Montgomery liked writing books with happy endings and always treasured her time on PEI (she moved to Ontario when married in her late 30s). It’s no wonder that she wanted to be buried in Cavendish, a short trek through the Haunted Woods where her beloved Green Gables stands.
Though I think she would be saddened to see what her novels have done to her hometown.