Orwell Corner Historic Village gave us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a living rendition of L. M. Montgomery’s time, and that of Anne of Green Gables. The village has been preserved to reflect the look and feel of a Prince Edward Island community during the 1800’s. This is the same time period during which Montgomery lived on the Island and based her fictional village of Avonlea on her own PEI community. None of the sites we had visited thus far, especially Avonlea Village, had felt quite as authentic. I had assumed that this Village too was a curated exhibit, with buildings that had been moved to their current locations. I was happily surprised to learn from the young village shopkeeper that these buildings were naturally built where they stand now.
In its heyday Orwell Corner was a hub where people would pass through on their way to elsewhere. The historic village includes a church, school, store with connected residence, a couple halls, a blacksmith shop, and barn buildings. Within several of the buildings you’ll encounter historical reenactors willing to tell you about their station and life in the 1800’s. You may also take up your place in this time capsule by taking a seat in a school desk, or a church pew, or as a customer at the Black Smith or the local goods store.
The Village hosts daily activities, most aimed to entertain children. These range from watching farm animal feedings to making candles. Unfortunately we visited too late in the day to catch any of these. If you plan on visiting, especially with children, I would suggest making a day of it.
By the time we arrived, we only had an hour until it closed, but we’d driven so long, we decided to see what we could in an hour. We drove up the long dirt drive, parked, payed our entrance fee in the museum/gift shop, and ran out the other side directly into an archeological site. While the explanation of the site, a former house site where they had been finding items of every day importance, was interesting we had to cut the archeologist off so we still had time left to enter the village.
We walked through a gateway on a red dirt road that to me looked very much like the tree lined, red-dirt road that Anne might have ridden on during her first ride to Green Gables. Here, in our last hour of sightseeing on the Island, we had finally found a place that was closer to what the fictional Anne and the very real L. M. Montgomery would have seen and experienced in the 1800’s than any of the heritage museums had evoked.
Orwell School & Church
The school house and church seemed like a good place to start, since so many of the scenes in Anne of Green Gables center around school and church life. I was pleased to find a small blackboard on one of the desks, although Micah wouldn’t let me break it over his head as Anne did to Gilbert.
From inside the church I could see cows grazing just outside the windows. With a view like this, I could see how children like Anne and her peers could get easily distracted from the daily sermon. I was definitely more interested in watching the cows than sitting quietly and respectfully in the pews even for a few moments of pretend.
Orwell Corner Store & residence: DeClarke & Co. & Royal Household
Although the work day was almost over, the Historic Village inhabitants/employees were still very willing to talk with us. We walked into the store, where we were able to learn from the shopkeeper in period costume, but thankfully not in character, all about the history and people of Orwell Corner as well as about the village’s more recent appearance as film settings. When we asked the young man if he would be breaking character to tell us more about the place he laughed and replied, “They don’t pay me enough for that.” After inquiring if he would severely disappoint us if he told us the Village of Avonlea never existed, and we assured him he wouldn’t (apparently some of his young visitors find this fact distressing), he revealed that part of the Anne of Green Gables films, as well as Rebecca of New Moon, were filmed at Orwell Corner because its buildings are accurately historically preserved.
The shopkeeper was also very informative about the history of PEI as it related to certain items within the shop. He showed us tools and toys and clothes. A pair of fur work mittens led to a story about the disappearance of PEI’s big game animals. They lost their habitat due to the Island being clear-cut not just once, but twice. An effort to reintroduce deer failed, so today there is nothing wild bigger than a raccoon. As we listened and asked questions about the history of PEI in relation to what we had experienced during our vacation, this young local of PEI stressed that progress on PEI moves VERY SLOWLY. He was not the first during our trip to inform us that other than the modern conveniences of paved roads, cars, and cell phones, life on PEI is much the same as it was in the 1800’s.
Orwell Corner Blacksmith Shop & Barn Buildings
From the Blacksmith we learned that today there are classes and conferences in his craft, but in this day and age the trade of being a blacksmith is mostly a hobby. He prided himself on his position at Orwell Corner where his finished products are not only sold in the gift shop, but used around the property.
As our hour was dwindling, we quickly peeked in the barn buildings at the animals before heading back for a quick run through the museum & gift shop as the place shut down. At the gift shop Micah bought some forged hooks for our kitchen, made by our new acquaintance, the blacksmith.