The last two houses-turned-museums related to Lucy Maud Montgomery that we visited bookend Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island life in a way. The first is the house she was born in. The second, the home of her Aunt and Uncle, where she spent time during her childhood, and eventually held her wedding. After her marriage she accompanied her husband to Ontario, from which she never returned to PEI full time until after her death. Her body was returned to her beloved Cavendish (Read about Maud’s Cavendish home).
Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace
From Avonlea Village (read about Avonlea Village here) we drove to the house where Lucy Maud Montgomery was born. As we drove the paved roads through farm land and rolling hills I got the distinct impression that the cars and roads felt all wrong! Aside from the modernization of cars and roads, PEI overall looks like it never left the 1800’s. It really seemed there should still be red dirt roads and horse carriages.
The Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace is hard to miss. It has a huge sky-blue sign, and just like all the other Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables heritage sites, the house is white with green trim. I began to wonder if these really were the original colors of each of these houses, or if they’ve been repainted to match Green Gables. Either way, I really love this white and green house look and kind of want to do this at home. You don’t think Micah would mind if I took paint and brush to the house, do you?
Maud’s birth house, like her Cavendish home site (read more about that site here), is a small independent museum. There were only two older ladies manning the front desk, running the till for entrance fees and gift shop items, and providing their version of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s history and attempting to answer any and all patrons’ questions.
The lobby/gift shop must once have been the sitting room. Behind the small desk is a case containing a replica of Maud’s wedding dress. The original dress had been on display in this case until about 12 years ago, when it was determined that light and temperature were damaging the dress and it was deemed no longer advisable to leave it on display. Therefore a very nearly identical replica now takes its place. Why the wedding dress is on display in her birth house rather than at the Anne of Green Gables Museum, the house where Maud held her wedding, I’m not sure. I did not want to ask the very nice old ladies who seemed to be doing their utmost to keep the doors of this small house open to the public.
The two story house is rather small and only took us the better part of an hour to tour. The downstairs rooms contained display cases holding original papers in Maud’s own hand as well as articles relating to Montgomery’s writings. Framed items on the walls provided insight into the lives of her parents, who had been the actual inhabitants of the house. Maud only lived in the house until she was 21 months old. Her mother, at age 23, passed away from TB, at which point Mr. Montgomery took Maud to live with her grandparents. Sadly, he could not both work and care for the child alone.
Whether it was because it was the end of the day, or not that many people visit this site in general, we were lucky there were only a couple other tourists besides ourselves. The stairs are only wide enough to allow one person up or down at a time and there isn’t much more room in the upstairs hall. The upstairs rooms were furnished in the manner they might have been during 1874. Unfortunately the rooms were blocked at the doorways so you can only look at all the furnishings from afar. I tried to imagine the young 21 year old birthing a daughter in the upstairs room while the nervous father proceeded up and down these stairs. Then I tried to imagine the 23 year old mother again in bed, this time struggling for her life against the fatal TB. I had a hard time, however, imagining people really living in such a creaky house with skinny halls, steep stairs, and using the spindly looking furniture.
I found it interesting that this museum (and the Anne of Green Gables Museum) had exhibit descriptions in the doorways that explained where the bed quilts were donated from and who made them. One of the two in the Birthplace was made as part of a WWII benefit effort, meaning furnishings were similar to those found in houses in 1874, but not exactly from the time period.
By the time we finished with the Birth House it was too late to continue to the Anne Museum so we finished with Anne and Maud for the day.
Anne of Green Gables Museum
We started the next morning with the Anne of Green Gables Museum at Sugarbush. This is yet another small, independent museum. The house is still owned by the Campbell family, the descendants of Maud’s Aunt and Uncle Campbell. It is at this property with a house, barn, and lake, you can find physical items that appear clearly in the pages of Maud’s books. For example, the lake became Anne’s “Lake of Shining Waters.”
“I shall call it–let me see–the Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that is the right name for it.”
(Anne of Green Gables, Chapter II)
In the sitting room, where later as an adult Maud was wed, is a cabinet with glass windows in the doors. Young Maud used to pretend her reflection in the glass was other little girls whom she befriended. She would sit and chatter at these girls, due to lack of real life friends. The author wrote this into Anne of Green Gables.
“I used to pretend that my reflection in it was another little girl who lived in it. I called her Katie Maurice, and we were very intimate. I used to talk to her by the hour, especially on Sunday, and tell her everything. Katie was the comfort and consolation of my life. We used to pretend that the bookcase was enchanted and that if I only knew the spell I could open the door and step right into the room where Katie Maurice lived, instead of into Mrs. Thomas’ shelves of preserves and china.” (Anne of Green Gables, Chapter VIII)
There is also a blue chest in the entrance. The contents of which were in a display case in Maud’s room. The chest once belonged to a girl abandoned at the altar on her wedding day. She sorrowfully folded her dress and other wedding accessories into the blue chest, locking it and stating that nobody should open it ever again. Many years later the family received permission to open the chest and view the items. Maud later wrote the sad tale, “The Blue Chest of Rachel Ward”, into her book The Story Girl, apparently Maud’s favorite of all her books.
Last summer I thought Enid Blyton had effectively used the old adage “write about what you know” by taking the setting of Dorset and representing it in a slightly more romanticized way in her books (Read more here). L. M. Montgomery it seems, had taken the items around her and put them directly on the page. As a firm believer in writing about what you know, I felt the museum very inspiring. Based on the properties we had visited and the little of PEI we had see so far, it is not hard to see why Maud needed no embellishment in her descriptions.
Maud’s Married Life
The house also contained some of Maud’s first edition books published in many different languages. It still amazes me that Maud spread so much happiness and optimism worldwide and yet was so unhappy while writing these books. According to the Life and Times of L. M. Montgomery video I found on Youtube (Read about preparing for the trip), the journals of L. M. Montgomery indicate that the author was secretly unhappy with her marriage. She had prior proposals from men whom she had loved but could not provide the means or station in life which she wanted. The Reverend she married provided the perfect rank in society, although to her journal she admitted on her wedding day that she was unhappy with the match. Sadly, as the years progressed, her husband developed serious mental problems. Maud then had to raise her two young boys while attempting to keep secret her husband’s issues so that he would not loose his parsonage. Naturally, this put a strain on the author. She began to hate Anne and her happy optimism, but her publisher insisted she continue her series. During WWI Maud played the part of the Reverend’s wife, visiting families that had lost sons in the war. This further depressed the author. She wrote her last book in the Anne series, Rilla of Ingleside, which takes place during WWI, and then refused to write any more. Interestingly, this book is the only portrayal of female Canadian life on the home front during the war.
Matthew’s Carriage Rides
From the windows of the museum we could see the “Matthew’s Carriage Rides” circling the property. For those unfamiliar with Anne of Green Gables, this is based on Anne’s guardian, old Matthew, who picked up the young orphan at the train station and delivered her to Green Gables by horse carriage. Disappointingly, I felt the carriage rides were a total let down. First, the two drivers we saw were a female and a young male. Neither REMOTELY Matthew like, not even if I used my imagination! Also the carriages were those several people tourist carts. (Kind of like the ones in Amish Country) We elected to skip even the $8 5-minute ride.
The Craft and Tea room next to the museum house was only a gift shop containing the same merchandise as all the other heritage places we had visited. I had planned to do lunch there but it didn’t look like much of a lunch spot, so instead we hopped back in the car and headed out to explore the more exciting eats the island had to offer.