Monday, August 13, 2012

Living "Anne of Green Gables" in Prince Edward Island

Visiting Prince Edward Island has been a dream of mine since I first read the "Anne of Green Gables" books some 20 years ago.

Maybe "dream" is too strong of a word. I've long known it was possible -- after all, it's only a two hour flight away; it's not like going to the moon. In any case, it's always been in the back of my mind as one of those trips I'd take someday when the time was right.

And this year was the time when we needed a peaceful, scenic destination instead of one that was a headache to plan and resulted in miles of walking. Don't get me wrong. I love those two-week trips that take me hours to plan. But that just wasn't happening this year.

And so Anne country it was.

If you're not familiar with "Anne of Green Gables," it's the story of a red-headed orphan girl who was sent to live with a spinster woman and her bachelor brother after they had originally sent away for a boy to help with the farm. They decide to keep her, and she promptly wins a place in their hearts (aww!) and in those of the members of the small, fictional community of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island.

Author L.M. Montgomery based Avonlea on settings in and around Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, where she grew up. "Green Gables" proved to be popular in the U.S. and abroad, and it was followed by seven sequels. The third in the series, "Anne of the Island" remains one of my favorite books to this day.

Prince Edward Island is a popular vacation destination, and I'd be interested to know if the beaches or the Anne spots are more of an attraction. We didn't visit all of the Anne locales (a re-creation of Avonlea, for example, just seemed like an expensive version of any of your re-created old-timey towns or, to my fellow northwest Ohioans, Sauder Village), but we went to quite a few.

First on the list was Green Gables itself. Yes, it was fictional, but the home was based on a relative's house that is now open to the public. It is furnished inside as it was described in the books, with three special bedrooms set aside and decorated as they would have been for Anne, as well as the siblings who adopted her, Marilla Cuthbert and Matthew Cuthbert.

"Anne's room"

Green Gables Heritage Site

The grounds included walks that inspired the book's Lovers Lane and the Haunted Wood -- both shady and pleasant. The latter led to what is left of the L.M. Montgomery home, where she spent most of her life with her grandparents. Not much is left -- literally just a foundation, with a small bookstore a short walk away.

Green Gables had a tiny cafe, where we finally tried a bottle of Raspberry Cordial, sold pretty much anywhere on PEI where tourists gather. If you don't know what Raspberry Cordial has to do with Anne, then I demand that you read the book!

We also drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush. We didn't actually go into the museum, but we did see the pond that supposedly inspired the Lake of Shining Waters.

Lake of Shining Waters

The night before our day of Anne, we went to the popular "Anne of Green Gables: The Musical." It was cute, it was fun, but it wasn't the book. Why the needless changes, such as setting the musical some three decades after the book actually takes place? But it obviously wasn't meant to be a historical piece (hah!), and it was rather endearing.

All in all, I'm glad Anne lured me to Prince Edward Island, but not for the reasons I anticipated. I enjoyed the beaches, the scenery, the food of Atlantic Canada (more on that in the future), but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in the Anne sites.

This is completely and utterly my own fault, and I even suspected that it would be the case. When you read a book, of course you create certain images in your mind, and those can't be lived up to. That's especially true when it comes to a book set in the latter half of the 1800s. As I told Paul when we were driving to the island's biggest city, Charlottetown, it's difficult to reconcile the Anne in my head as visiting any town that now has a KFC.

When Paul responded by saying that Anne would probably have brought Matthew Cuthbert home a bucket of chicken, I kind of wanted to cry.

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