August 27, Cavendish, PEI — My partner Michael and I had caught up with our daughter, Angela, a student at the Nova School of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax, early on day 1 of our East Coast Escape after a late arrival and short sleep at our Airbnb in the Bedford area. We were up and off early the next day for the 4 hour drive into PEI. For me, every turn evoked the descriptions by Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery (L.M.M.) of the island’s charm and beauty: the land of “ruby, and emerald, and sapphire,” or woodlands, sea and shorelines where the sun is often “like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle”. I was wary of the tourist insurgence thatL.M.M. had railed about in some of her journal writings but was open to what this first phase of our Eastern tour would unveil.
Our Charlottetown Airbnb was exactly as described – a cosy apartment in a vintage home. We spent our first day wandering around Cavendish after dropping Michael off for what, unfortunately, was a somewhat disappointing round of golf at Eagles Glenn of Cavendish. Angela and I immediately partook in the local fare, having an orgasmic breakfast of Lobster Eggs Benedict at Chez Yvonne’s. Yes it was that good! After breakfast, we abandoned ourselves to the local tourist trappings, starting at Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace and then the Ann of Green Gables Museum. While charming, I found both to be a little too much ‘look but don’t touch’ for my taste, but still a great way to get some of the context for our next stop, which was the Macneill Homestead where Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up and wrote the Ann books. This site is painstakingly maintained by her Macneill descendants and it’s here that I could happily have spent the rest of my time in PEI.
I didn’t mind paying the $6 to walk through the “hallowed grounds” in the steps of such a worthy storyteller; to pause alongside the trees under which she’d sat and imagined the many memorable tales she would tell.
As I wandered along and read the placards placed alongside her favourite flowers and trees and the paths she took to do her chores or walk to school or church, I was struck by how her stories were even more impressive because of some of the difficulties of her own life; how she had written past these to capture the gems she embedded in all of her writing. This of course is the foundation for great fiction that writers like LMM create – something that’s been unfolding in my writing mind more and more and in particular during this day. In her journal LMM described it this way: “amid the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never quite draw it aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I seemed to catch a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond-only a glimpse-but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.”
Back at the house of her birthplace (a tiny structure with mostly closed off rooms) there was an article that described L.M.M.’s worry that the popularity of the Ann books would attract flocks of tourists to her little town. It’s a biting prediction that has come true but fortunately, the idyllic countryside and secluded island charm she described – and in which Anne found heaps of trouble – are still very much in existence.