Pilgrimage to the Land of Anne: One Hundred Years after Its Publication, Lucy Maud Montgomery's Book, Anne of Green Gables, Continues to Draw Enthusiasts and Adventurers Alike to Canada's Prince Edward Island

By Snow, Mike | Americas (English Edition), January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Pilgrimage to the Land of Anne: One Hundred Years after Its Publication, Lucy Maud Montgomery's Book, Anne of Green Gables, Continues to Draw Enthusiasts and Adventurers Alike to Canada's Prince Edward Island


Snow, Mike, Americas (English Edition)


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Canada's Prince Edward Island has no Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building, or Big Ben to help attract tourists. But its own homegrown literary phenomena, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, stands as an invisible beacon that lures visitors in droves from all over the world.

The capital of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Charlottetown, is the place where the Fathers of the Confederation conceived the nation of Canada in 1864. According to recent statistics, however, roughly 30 percent more visitors go to the fictional home of Anne Shirley, Green Gables's heroine, than to the historic meeting place of the founding fathers at Province House.

There are no billboards or other loud forms of advertising on this green island of endless farmhouses, pastoral settings, and occasional lighthouses, rimmed by blue coves and a red shoreline that glows orange in the evening light. But even the island's striking surroundings and its role as one of the world's leading exporters of seed potatoes are overshadowed by Anne, a fictional eleven-year-old chatterbox with a penchant for big words and complicated sentences.

Montgomery's 1908 story of a lovable adolescent girl's search for independence from the adult world won the author an international reputation, underscored by seven later novels describing Anne's career and marriage. Montgomery based her character on her own childhood experiences caring for her ill grandmother on PEI, where she worked as a teacher and wrote short stories and poems for children's magazines. The Green Gables farmhouse at Cavendish, believed to be the scene of Montgomery's famous novel, is now a national museum.

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The local fixation with Anne becomes apparent as soon as we set foot in Charlottetown, where every fourth or fifth car features license plates embossed with the girl's toothy countenance and trademark red braids. For the past 39 years, "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical," has been a hot ticket at the Charlottetown Confederation Center. This is the favorite hangout of Anne-look-alikes who show up prior to performances to pose for pictures and sign autographs as Anne of Green Gables.

One need venture no further than the local food store to find Anne of Green Gables chips and raspberry cordial, two of the many Anne products sold on the island. Souvenir-central is actually a couple of blocks away at the Anne of Green Gables Store, where Anne-enthusiasts can load up on everything from Anne of Green Gables dolls to Anne of Green Gables mouse pads. They can dine at the Bright River Cafe, tee off at the Anne of Green Gables Golf Course, stay at the Anne Shirley Bed & Breakfast, snack at Marilla's Pizza, and shop at Matthew's Mart--all named after people or places from the novel.

Residents of the island look upon the Anne phenomena with mixed feelings. Some are frankly sick and tired of the fictional girl. One store posted a sign declaring itself "95 percent Anne free." And a satirical musical--Annekenstein--played five years to the acclaim of local audiences before finally closing in 1997.

"Some people see all the commercialism and go auughhhh!!!!" said Mary Fisher, a graduate student who works as a part-time waitress at the Lucy Maud Dining Room. "But most of us appreciate the fact that the tourism it attracts has been pretty good for the economy."

Charlottetown is only the first stop for most visitors. The 30-minute drive to Cavendish (Avonlea), the setting for the novel, takes Annaphiles past endless purple lupines and lush forests where, as Montgomery put it, "the greenness of everything is something to steep your soul in." The biggest drawing card in Anne Land is the refurbished Green Gables house and barn that served as the main setting for the novel. Now part of Prince Edward Island National Park, the two-story house features turn-of-the-century furnishings and roped off sections that include "Anne's room" along with the supposed rooms of Marilla and Matthew, the novel's elderly brother and sister who adopted the young orphan girl. …

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