7 Nov 2017

Fact and Fiction-Our House Magazine

This story appeared in the Fall issue of Our House Magazine

The restored Green Gables property in Prince Edward Island is a blend of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s real childhood home and the one of her fertile imagination. 

Stepping into the house at 8521 Cavendish Road in Cavendish, P.E.I., is like walking back a couple of centuries and into the imagination of Lucy Maud Montgomery. While the famed Canadian author wrote Anne of Green Gables more than 100 years ago at the turn of the 20th Century, her beloved masterpiece lives on in real life at a heritage site in the rural Maritime town.

The folks who look after the Green Gables, officially known as the L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site, want visitors to feel like they’re a part of the novel.

“When they arrive and they step into the barnyard or the house, or when they look at Anne’s room on the second floor, they really feel like they’ve stepped into that story,” says Ocel Dauphinais-Matheson, the visitor experience manager for Parks Canada National Historic Sites for Prince Edward Island. The idea was to recreate the location described by Montgomery in her novel, he explains, even though the actual site was originally a little different back in 1908.

While the Green Gables house and property were the inspiration for Anne of Green Gables, the author added elements that weren’t literally in front of her. For example, the original farmhouse, built back in 1831, actually never had a green roof. It does now. And Montgomery in fact grew up on a property next to the home with her grandmother. The Green Gables property belonged to David Jr. and Margaret Macneill, who were cousins of Montgomery’s grandfather. She came to know her cousins’ farm through her explorations of the surrounding woodlands and places she discovered and named, such as Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood.

“That’s why when she [Montgomery] wrote Anne of Green Gables, she used it really as the inspiration for the main setting in her book,” Dauphinais-Matheson told Our House magazine. “That’s the uniqueness of the site: it’s a real place and it really served as an inspiration. The way we present it is really true to the description she makes of the site in her novel.”

And people from all over the world have been coming to the province and site ever since the book was published. Last year, Green Gables welcomed 180,000 visitors between May and the end of October. At its peak in the summer, the property can expect up to 3,000 daily.

Dauphinais-Matheson suggested there are generally two types of people who visit the site: ones who don’t know much about the book but know its historical importance, and those for whom the site is a real pilgrimage. And to understand just how far reaching Montgomery’s novel has traveled, hundreds of thousands of people from abroad have come to the site, including from Japan, France, Australia and the U.S.

However, to keep a home approaching 200 years old in tip-top shape takes a lot of work and hands. There are two people responsible for cleaning the home and the 3,000 or so artifacts therein from top to bottom every day. There is an entire maintenance team responsible for the physical upkeep of the property, which includes any repairs that are authentic to the time period.

“It’s a big job. There are thousands of artifacts in the house. Lots of people come through, so we have a team of people who look after the upkeep and longer-term maintenance of the artifacts and the house itself,” Dauphinais-Matheson says.

But the effort is necessary to maintain such an important Canadian historical site, according to people with Parks Canada. Dauphinais-Matheson suggests Green Gables is important to protect because the site represents the inspiration and imagination the author had in creating one of the most well-read novels of all time.

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