just a site…

In Cavendish, PEI, heart of Green Gables country, with its bus tours, souvenir red braids, Anne Shirley motels and carriage rides with Matthew Cuthbert himself, there’s a scruffy little path off an unassuming parking lot with a simple sign telling you the path leads to the site of the house that Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up in and lived for most of her time on the island. Where she wrote her earliest books. It’s where Anne of Green Gables was rejected a number of times and the only reason Montgomery didn’t give up submitting was because the post office was very near by.

A gem of a place.

dsc00232The path, all brambles and apple trees, leads to a garden and the foundation of the old farmhouse. Montgomery has written, in her journals or letters, about coming around this very corner, seeing the lights on in the kitchen and the feeling of comfort that gave her.

dsc00228 dsc00216-copyThere’s no hoopla. No Matthew, no Lake of Shining Waters.

What there is is a small humble building, part bookstore (thankfully no gift shop) with an excellent selection of Montgomery’s work, and others, mostly about PEI… and part collection of things to look at, photos and letters, etc., that belonged to Montgomery. And there’s a woman named Jennie Macneill who’s eighty something and whose husband is related to the grandparents who raised Lucy Maud. He grew up on this acreage and together they’ve preserved the site and put up signs and built the bookstore and Jennie gives brilliant and heartfelt talks on Montgomery’s life here.

She does this as a labour of love. She’s Montgomery’s biggest fan.

dsc00218-copyNot a whiff of faux Avonlea. No green gables. This is the real deal.

dsc00207-copydsc00205-copyAnd it’s this realness that may be why there are no crowds here. A few people wander in and then out again… One young woman even walks away from Jennie’s talk claiming she’s a fan of Anne Shirley, not the author. There’s a sense of wanting entertainment or to be whisked from one thing to another.

The faux Avonlea a few minutes drive away is busy; I saw it coming in. A bus tour was disembarking.

dsc00221dsc00204-copyNearby are woodland trails Montgomery walked to school, to the post office, to hang out with friends. Only a few people bother to walk them and those that do, speed through. One couple asks me if there’s anything to see up ahead. When I say, well, forest… they turn around and say they’ve already seen enough of that.

But first they ask me to take a picture of them smiling big, hugging. Then they hightail it out of there.

dsc00203-copydsc00202-copy dsc00196-copyJennie says that one of the apple trees is over a hundred years old, that it would have been around in Montgomery’s day. It’s still producing a few apples. She thinks that maybe its enduring nature is because the tree approves of what they’re doing here, that it feels their heart.

dsc00231 dsc00215-copyOn the way out I overhear a woman complaining that there’s nothing here, that it’s just a site… and I wonder what she’s looking for.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask.

8 thoughts on “just a site…

  1. I so wish I’d known about this when we visited PEI. We found the faux Avonlea with its parking lot full of tour buses. I felt queasy and we left, because that wasn’t what I wanted, it was this. Thank you, Carin. Maybe one day I’ll go back.

    1. I nearly didn’t follow that little sign and that scruffy path. There’s another way to get in, by car, but I wasn’t aware of it. Not super well advertised. And Jennie, my god, she’s a dream. Her eyes actually sparkle when she talks about Montgomery. It’s a perfect bundle of what appears to be nothing, and everything. One of those places where the longer you stay the more you feel it. I used to love visiting old ‘sites’ with my dad. I think it was him that taught me the magic of imagining the past, and appreciating it through the tiniest things… I hope you get back one day.

  2. I love imagining LMM there as a child, her imagination running wild with stories to come. while walking the haunted wood. A few years ago, we got a good picture of our kids on that crooked tree. :)

  3. My kind of place. I must visit one day. Glad it is not overrun with sightseers, only folks who appreciate what it is. I felt the same when I visited Jane Austen’s cottage. I almost had the place to myself.

  4. Carin, your account is so beautifully written. We saw the faux version with our children years ago. Wish I could return again to seek out the paths you travelled in this piece.

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