It was my friend Julie who talked me into reading Anne of Green Gables. We must have been 13 or 14, I can’t quite remember. What I do know is that the story of that outspoken orphan forever captured our imaginations.
As we headed for Green Gables in Cavendish, I was thinking of Anne, but also of Diana, Gilbert (how could anyone forget him), Marilla and Matthew. These characters had always seemed so real to me; I almost expected to see them around the corner of Lover’s Lane (where you can still go for a stroll). I was also thinking about my friend Julie; how was it possible for two teenagers who had vowed to be best friends forever, like Anne and Diana, to have been out of touch for so many years?
These thoughts continued to run through my mind as I watched Anne of Green Gables — The Musical at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. “Don’t give up all your romance, Anne,” Matthew tells the redhead with his dying breath. Staying true to yourself, despite the passage of time is one of the messages that continues to strike a chord with me from this tale that has been translated into 36 languages.
“Many couples tie the knot here, the same place where Lucy Maud Montgomery was married,” Maureen Campbell, co-owner of the Anne of Green Gables Museum, informs us. “Especially Japanese couples.”
I have heard about their fascination with Anne, and seen busloads of Japanese tourists at Green Gables and Avonlea Village (tourist sites recreating the period of the novels), but do they really GET MARRIED in the same setting as the author?
“Absolutely. In fact, there’s a wedding here tonight. I play the wedding march that was played at Lucy Maud Montgomery’s wedding, on the very same organ, in the very same room…”
I still can’t get over it.
Flight AC1138, July 4, 2008. It is after midnight but Maya is running all over the place. We brace ourselves for another hectic flight.
“We’ve decided to put you in Business Class,” the boarding agent tells me.
I almost kissed him.
A journalist perk? Whatever the reason, we accept this unexpected offer. Between Edmonton and Montréal, the three of us doze comfortably in our roomy seats. Nothing could have convinced us to stay awake, not even Air Canada’s state-of-the-art entertainment system (I am totally hooked on the multi-function, individual seatback screens — available even in Economy! — that let you pause, advance or replay a movie or program).
At Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport, we get lost speeding through the maze that leads to the departure gate. They do not call our names on the intercom (as I had always imagined it), but we are the last ones to board the plane that will take us to Charlottetown.
Less than an hour later, we are greeted by Grant MacRae from Tourism PEI. On today’s schedule: a visit to Avonlea Village, the site of numerous activities celebrating the 100th anniversary of the famous redhead. When we arrive, I give in to temptation and head straight for Anne of Green Gables Chocolates, where fudge, chocolate-covered caramels and chocolate-covered potato chips (I kid you not) beg me to indulge. I spot a pile of straw hats with red braids attached. I will be seeing THIS souvenir everywhere over the next few days, both in stores and on tourists’ heads (including Japanese tourists — an incongruous image that amuses me for days). I fight the overwhelming urge to buy one for myself (okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit), and settle instead for four little chocolate caramels. A more subtle way of expressing my admiration for the character (Maya approves of my choice).
Avonlea Village in Cavendish has a line-up of activities spanning the entire summer: plays, potato sack races, musical performances, magic shows, etc. A petting zoo along with a horse and wagon ride bring smiles to the faces of even the most unruly children. Actors play various characters from Lucy Maud Montgomery books and mingle with the crowd, to the delight of the little ones. It is an ideal spot for a family outing.
The presence of the beloved orphan is felt all over PEI. In Charlottetown I find a branch of Anne of Green Gables Chocolates. At Cows, a shop known for its ice cream as well as its t-shirts and knickknacks bearing the image of a cow, I come across a Holstein sporting a straw hat and red braids. Anne beverages and potato chips are also sold everywhere. Excessive? Not for diehard fans.
True Anne enthusiasts must include a visit to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner on their agenda. This is the house where Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved cousins lived. Now owned by one of their descendants, George Campbell, it is full of information about Montgomery’s life as a woman and a writer. The rooms have remained nearly intact since the turn of the last century, and the many photographs provide an idea of the “real-life characters” that inspired the novelist.
Maybe I should call my friend Julie…
Did you know that…
… Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tale became (and still is) so popular in the land of the rising sun because it was one of the few novels to be translated into Japanese during the Second World War? Anne’s extroverted and sometimes insolent nature clashed with traditional Japanese ideals, which may also account for her popularity.
… Tokyo is currently hosting an exhibition on Anne?
… stamps bearing the image of the redhead heroine were issued by Canada Post to celebrate the centennial of her birth on paper?
… about 50,000 Japanese tourists visit PEI each year (according to Wikipedia)?
… a silent film, Anne of Green Gables, was produced in 1911, followed by a black-and-white feature film (a talkie) in 1934? Since then, there have been numerous series, movies and cartoons. Probably still the most popular of all is the series produced in the 1980s starring Megan Follows, who many people still identify with the main character.
… Anne of Green Gables —The Musical has been seen by over two million people? The first performance was in 1964. Since then, it has been performed every summer at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown.
For more information:
Air Canada – In-flight entertainment: www.aircanada.com
Official site of Prince Edward Island: www.gentleisland.com
Anne 2008: www.anne2008.com
Avonlea – Village of Anne of Green Gables: www.avonlea.ca
Anne of Green Gables Museum: www.annesociety.org
Anne of Green Gables Store: www.annestore.ca
Anne of Green Gables Chocolates: www.annechocolates.com
We would like to thank Air Canada, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism PEI (especially Grant MacRae), and Julie Gagnon at the Montreal Office for making this trip possible.