Local Treasure: Maud of The Manse

Lucy Maud Montgomery lived in small-town Ontario when she wrote many of the stories set in Prince Edward Island.

BY: JAYNE MACAULAY

Alas. Sometimes even a duchess’s wish doesn’t quite come true. For her first trip to Canada, the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, asked to visit Prince Edward Island, but her heart’s desire to see Green Gables House, which inspired the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s classic story, Anne of Green Gables, went unfulfilled. But at least Tess Benger, who plays Anne in the long-running musical based on the novel, presented her with a copy of the book that Kate had so loved as a child when they met at Dalvay-by-the-Sea, the handsome historic resort that served as one of the locations for the Road to Avonlea television series and the Anne of Green Gables film.

Nearly 100 years earlier, exhausted by the long trip from Prince Edward Island, Lucy Maud Montgomery swayed in the buggy as the horse trotted through the damp night toward her new home, seven miles north of the railway station in Uxbridge, Ont. It was Sept. 30, 1911, and the already famous author (Anne of Green Gables had been published in 1908) and her new husband, Reverend Ewan Macdonald, were heading for the St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church manse in the farming community of Leaskdale, where he was the minister.

Over the next 15 years, Montgomery would bear three boys (one stillborn), support her husband’s work in the church and write 11 of her 22 books, including the Chronicles of Avonlea series. Her journals reveal that she knew her neighbours were curious about her, notes Barbara Pratt of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario. “I think she felt like a stranger in a strange land,” she says.

Films, television series and the Anne of Green Gables musical contribute to the current popularity of Montgomery’s stories here and abroad. (Check grandma’s bookcase – first editions of that 1908 classic have sold for as much as US$30,000.) Ironically, her engaging stories belie a private struggle with depression – her own and her husband’s ultimately crippling fear of Hell, known then as religious melancholia.

Ultimately, Montgomery was proud of her home, and her many photographs have helped the society restore the manse (now a National Historic Site) to its 1920-era condition. It opens every May, when the society holds its annual Festivals of Antiques and Artisans in and around the manse and across the road in the church, and tours begin in June.

The society bought the old St. Paul’s when its growing congregation built a larger church up the road. Later this year, a ceremonial burning of the mortgage will be part of an international conference and celebration (Lucy Maud Montgomery at Home in Leaskdale: A Centennial Celebration) at the old church from Oct. 13 to 15. lucymaudmontgomery.ca

(October 2011)