In a sometimes forgotten nation, it’s fitting that a humble farmhouse in Cavendish — a hamlet of 94 people — inspires pilgrimages.
Green Gables is a modest dwelling treasured throughout much of the world, thanks to author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s stories. The Prince Edward Island native fashioned her intimate knowledge of this loving home, owned by elderly cousins, into the fictional setting for Anne of Green Gables and several popular sequels. A century later, Anne — an articulate, imaginative, spontaneous, red-headed orphan — still impresses children with her honesty and enthusiasm.
Wisely, Green Gables is nestled within the confines of Prince Edward Island National Park, so little has changed in the Victorian home immortalized by Montgomery. “Kindred spirits” can still amble down Lover’s Lane, or hazard a journey through the Haunted Woods.
My mother has always cherished Green Gables, remembering Anne’s infectious good humor as the perfect antidote for the realities of the Great Depression. Most Japanese share her passion. For Kumiko Azetsu — a sophisticated Japanese friend researching her PhD thesis at Dalhousie University — our Cavendish trip fulfilled a childhood dream. She spent an hour memorizing the house, every detail lovingly preserved, another hour absorbing the ambience.*
Like many tourist destinations, the island’s north shore has unwanted development. But the elongated 40-kilometre National Park is pristine, boasting lovely white sand beaches, red sandstone cliffs, secluded salt marshes, and thick woodland for the less bookish among us. In 1534, the natural beauty inspired French explorer Jacques Cartier to call the island “the fairest land ’tis possible to see.”
On a warm spring morning, sauntering among red sand dunes, it’s hard to disagree. But my island memories always begin and end with Green Gables. Stripped of symbolism, it’s a simple farmhouse, mildly diverting. But add literary emotion and meaning, and Green Gables becomes a small, enchanting cathedral honoring a fictional girl whose sweet disposition and indomitable spirit still resonate today.**
* During this visit, Kumiko, my artistic friend Tom Ward, and I were interviewed by Princeton professor William Howarth for his book, Traveling the Trans-Canada: From Newfoundland to British Columbia for National Geographic. Amusingly, Kumiko comes across as brilliant and refined (and she truly is), but he suggests that we’re hardly the sharpest tools in the shed, and perhaps not very well read. “Not exactly literary chaps” might have been the phrase.
**We heading to PEI in September for my godson’s wedding. It will be Kristina’s first visit, and I’m truly looking forward to it.