Friday, August 22, 2014

A L.M. Montgomery pilgrimage

(c) Ruth Latta, 2014


Many Canadian women, and Canadian writers, read Anne of Green Gables and other novels by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Some years ago a girlhood dream came true for me when I visited Prince Edward Island and toured Green Gables, the tangible creation of the fictional home of Montgomery's best known character. Unfortunately, for many Montgomery fans, distance makes a trip to P.E.I. an infrequent pleasure.

Montgomery devotees in central Canada, however, can make a literary pilgrimage to Leaskdale, Ontario, a village north of Uxbridge, where "Maud" Montgomery moved as a bride in  1911 and lived for fifteen years. Her husband, the Rev. Ewan Macdonald, had been called to the ministry of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church there. In Leaskdale, Montgomery's sons were born, and there she wrote 11 of her 22 books.

This past August 10, 2014, when my husband and I were driving north of Toronto, we made an impulse detour in the direction of Uxbridge to find the Montgomery historic sites in Leaskdale. The verdant hills and woods were as beautiful as those described in Montgomery's novels. On reaching Leaskdale, we spotted the church on our left, where the signage indicated that there were tours, teas and theatrical performances based on Maud's Leaskdale years - but not on Monday. I quietly resolved to be content with having my picture taken on the church steps. Then, as we drove slowly down the hill I glimpsed on the opposite side a gracious old house with a blue and gold historic site plaque on the lawn.

As we were approaching to take a picture, a young woman planting some perennials along the fence got up and greeted us.
"Hello. Are you local people, or from far away?" she inquired.
"From Ottawa."
"Would you like a guided tour of the house," she asked. "It's closed on Mondays, but I have my key."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed.

Clearly she was a "kindred spirit", to use one of Maud's terms. We followed her into the front hall where a portrait of "Maud", in her thirties, hung above the guest book. Our guide's keen interest in Montgomery was apparent as she toured us through the house. She showed us the study, where Maud wrote, and recounted what I knew from Montgomery's published journals, that her little boys used to push notes and flowers under the door to get her attention when they were supposed to be in the care of the hired girl, allowing their mother to do her writing uninterrupted. All the rooms have been carefully recreated as to period details and layout. A photo shows Maud seated in the kitchen, and there, in the same location, a chair is positioned so that a visitor can sit in her place.

Although most of the furnishings were not used by the  Montgomery/Macdonald family, they are "of the period" and show a dedication to detail.  Two china dogs in the parlour remind us of Maud's china dogs, Gog and Magog, which she wrote of in her journals and used in one of her novels. A white crocheted bedspread upstairs was lovingly created in recent times in the same pattern as one that Maud made.

In the upstairs sewing room, our guide turned to the window, indicated the landscape of rolling hills, and said, "That's Rainbow Valley." Rainbow Valley, one of Montgomery's novels, is set in P.E.I., but it is very likely that Maud used a beauty spot of Leaskdale, where she was living when she wrote this novel, as inspiration for her setting. In a letter she described the village as "a very pretty country place - would be almost as pretty as Cavendish if it had the sea."

Montgomery is a novelist of the "sunshine school"; her books encouraged loving kindness and favour happy endings. The charm of her Leaskdale home and of our guide made our impulse visit a very "Maud" experience. Someday we'll return, first checking the website of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario to see what events are scheduled. For further information, contact or phone 905-862-0808

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