Everything had changed, and nothing had changed.
Gone was the sweet white house with green trim that had served as the ticket office for Green Gables Heritage Place when I last visited. In its place was a much larger, brand new, visitor center.
Last time I visited I had purposely timed my trip to be before the release of two new Anne of Green Gables film adaptations, Anne of Green Gables (2016) and Anne with an E (2017). I figured these shows would cause a renewed interest in Anne of Green Gables and I wanted to visit Green Gables before it became so popular a destination that it was just unpleasantly crowded. I had not expected that the renewed interest would be so great as to result in Parks Canada updating the Green Gables Heritage Place site with a large, modern, brand new building!
Now I’d returned to see the full effect of the renewed interest in Anne of Green Gables created by the new shows. Standing in the parking lot, hugging my worn copy of Anne of Green Gables, it seemed the entire place had changed and I had mixed feelings. Part of me was excited about the new building with its large new exhibit space. I was thrilled this place was thriving while so many literary related house museums are struggling to make ends meet. I was happy knowing that there are so many like myself out there traveling to this island because they too fell in love with Anne either by book or by screen. But part of me was sad the quaint little house with one room housing a dated intro video was gone. And was it wrong to feel a little smug that I had visited “before it was cool”?
Inside at the ticket window I received the same little round sticker as before that indicated payment and allowed entrance into the historic house situated out the back door of the visitor center. This time I smartly placed the sticker on the cheek of my face mask rather than the breast of my shirt. Perhaps we should all start wearing entrance stickers on our cheeks from now on, it seemed a good place for it.
Glancing around, I felt my eyes grow wide at the size of this place. Now the gift shop was in the same building as the ticket window, and there was so much exhibit space, which I proceeded towards now. The exhibit area was done in such a way that it reminded me of the Hogwarts Castle at Universal. It wound the audience back and forth with displays to look at while waiting in line for the main attraction.
Except, here tourist season hadn’t started, so we had the place mostly to ourselves. We could take as long as we wanted to read all the text and gaze at the photographs on the walls depicting the history of L. M. Montgomery’s life, her connection to the house we would soon enter, and the history of her most famous book that had brought us to be standing here in the first place. As Canada is bilingual with English and French, all the text in the display is presented in both languages. As I wasn’t being shuffled along by a crowd, I tried to practice my French by reading some of the translations. Since Montgomery wrote in English originally, it seemed translators had done their best to capture in French the sentiment of some of her written passages. Not being fluent in French myself, I could be wrong, but some of the translations seemed a little funny to me.
Besides the text and images, there were also interactive exhibits, but the heritage place was clearly not entirely ready for tourist season yet. Buttons on the walls were taped over and screens weren’t on. And the largest feature in the space was a giant Green Gables House replica made entirely of Legos! Around this glass-encased structure was a table with empty bin holes which would hold Lego pieces. I was excited by what I saw and figured later in the season when all the displays were on and working and children could let their imagination run wild with the Legos, this place would appeal to visitors of all ages and genders.
Winding my way through the new exhibit space, enjoying every quote and photo picked to show the life of the woman who had decided not to give up on her dream of being a writer, I felt a kinship with the author.
Thank goodness Montgomery didn’t give up after her first 5 rejections of her manuscript, or the world would never have known Anne! I wonder if the 6th publisher Montgomery sent her manuscript to ever thought the book they chose to publish would stay in print for over the next 100 years!
Reaching the end of the exhibit space, it was time for the main attraction. Or not yet. Between the visitor center and the Green Gables house there is another building, a gray shingled barn. Last time I was here it was used as exhibit space to educate visitors on the farming community the occupants of the house would have been part of when they lived here. I also remember there being a life size plastic cow where I stopped to take a silly photo pretending to milk the cow.
Now there was no cow, no further exhibits, and the building had been expanded! From the looks of it, a cafe, not yet in operation for the season, had been added to the property. It was warm enough now that I could have gone for a nice cool drink and a snack, but it wasn’t to be. I can’t wait to come back next year when the place is in full operation mode.
Finally, there was “Green Gables”, or the former home of L. M. Montgomery’s MacNeil relatives. It was exactly as I remembered it, at least from the outside. It had the same white picket fence surrounding the yard with a vegetable garden off to the side of the house; and the white house with green trim still matched the image on the cover of the book I now held in my hand. Did you know- at the time Montgomery was visiting her family, this house was gray like their barn building and it was the green ivy clinging to the gables of the house that led Montgomery to nickname the house Green Gables! It was later painted by Parks Canada to match the book description after much outcry from visiting fans!
With a slight trepidation at finding the inside of Green Gables changed as much as the visitor center, I stepped through the front door, where a park guide warmly greeted us in the refreshingly cool entrance hall. I inquired if changes had been made in the home and was assured that I’d find it just the same. And it was true, nothing here had changed! The dining room still had wallpaper that looked like vine-covered walls. This time I learned this wallpaper, my favorite in the house, is a reproduction of the original paper pattern from this room.
Nothing had been moved, down to the stereoscope I had noticed the last time on a corner table. Matthew’s clothes were still laid out on a bed just off the kitchen, awaiting his return. Upstairs, Anne’s puffed sleeved dress hung on her closet door, and Marilla’s craft room sat still frozen in time.
That feeling you get from a comfort food desperately needed, or a much needed night in of pampering yourself, was how I felt now. It felt comfortable and familiar and like a much needed hug from a favorite book. I slowed my pace, savoring the experience. I remembered last time it was over too quickly. This time we had the house almost to ourselves, so we weren’t jostled along, being elbowed out of the way by other tourists attempting to stick their cell phones into rooms over everyone’s heads to snap a photo before moving on.
Interestingly, after chatting with the Park interpreters in the kitchen, we learned that the two funny nooks upstairs beyond the craft room are doorless because at the time this part of the house was built, more doors in a house meant higher taxes! And this part of the house might have been heated by the small portable stove found in one of the nooks. During Montgomery’s life with her cousins, she saw this house expand from a small house with a kitchen downstairs and loft upstairs for everyone to sleep in to the larger house it is today, except for the addition of two rooms closed to the public because they did not exist when Montgomery knew the house.
And then like last time, we were at the back door, too soon opening the portal that broke the magic. We were once again back in the modern world and there was the shiny new visitor center, a reminder that
“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ~ L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
Have you visited Green Gables Heritage Place? Do you want to? What would you expect it to look like? Let’s discuss in the comments below!
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