As a young girl growing up in Nova Scotia, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Anne of Green Gables, my famous fictional neighbour in adjacent Prince Edward Island. Like many Canadian children, Anne’s misadventures punctuated my childhood and her enchanting, imaginative spirit was a motivating factor behind many of my own flights of fancy.
Like thousands of other annual visitors I had made the pilgrimage to Green Gables National Historic Site in Cavendish to indulge myself in all things Anne but it wasn’t until I moved to Ontario as an adult that I realized that Anne had roots here as well. In fact, Anne, Emily, Jane, and many more classic Lucy Maud Montgomery heroines were shaped by her life right in Leaskdale!
Lucy Maud Montgomery arrived in Leaskdale in 1911, the new bride of the local minister and already a well-known author, having published Anne of Green Gables just three years earlier. Against a backdrop of rolling green farmland hills, a small country church, and a comfortable home with a garden she took considerable pride in, Maud would write 11 of the 22 books that would go on to change the face of Canadian literature.
Today, passionate Anne fans and Maud devotees don’t have to travel to Prince Edward Island to connect with their favourite author. The Leaskdale manse and church, both lovingly restored by the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario, welcome visitors and provide critical conservation and heritage work to keep Maud’s legacy alive.
Leaskdale Church no longer functions are a regular house of worship, although it does host special services and weddings. The shining wooden pews, the beautiful stained glass, and historic documents on display speak to the vibrancy of the small community. It’s the perfect setting for village gatherings, special performances, and meetings. The attached church hall serves as the tea room for the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society and they have several well curated displays relating to Maud’s life and her work, including some early and rare translations of Anne of Green Gables. A video presentation provides an excellent summary of Maud’s life in Leaskdale and there is a very reasonably priced selection of souvenirs and books available for purchase.
Looking around the pretty church, quiet and peaceful on a Monday afternoon, I could easily imagine it humming with activity under Maud’s tenure as the minister’s wife. When she arrived in 1911, the church was the heart and soul the community, providing both spiritual comfort and social bonding. It was inspiring to see the church so carefully maintained in an era when many small community churches are falling into disrepair.
Just a few short steps down the road is the Leaskdale manse, where Maud lived and wrote. Her journals are full of references to the home, which provided the Society volunteers with priceless tidbits of information on how to restore it to its former glory. Having been used as just a regular residential home for decades, the interior appearance had completely changed and needed extensive repair and restoration. Like a group of literary CSIs, the Society volunteers combed through letters and diaries, picking up clues and tantalizing tidbits on what the house must have once looked like.
Fortunately the volunteers weren’t alone in this labor of love and the community rallied behind the Society, donating time, money, and skills, and sponsoring the restoration of specific rooms. In a true testament to Maud’s international influence, fans from faraway places around the world have donated antiques and even tracked down original copies of the books that once sat in the Leaskdale bookshelves. Having learned what a proud homemaker Maud was, I can’t help but think that she’d approve of their diligent efforts to make sure everything is just in its perfect place.
As a devoted Anne fan, I thought myself an expert on all things Lucy Maud Montgomery, so it came as a very pleasant surprise to learn so much at the church and the manse. I was amazed to learn that her husband, the Reverend Ewan MacDonald, had never read any of her work, despite sharing an office with back to back desks. On a more cheerful note, Maud was passionate about setting a good table and being a good hostess. She loved cats, especially her adored Daffy, and they were occasionally used to help indulge another of her interests – photography. Lucy Maud had a keen interest in this budding art form and, today, her photographs provide another point of reference for those researching her life.
A visit to Leaskdale is an absolute must stop for Lucy Maud Montgomery fans, but anyone who enjoys literature, history, architecture, and restoration will love it as well. Maud lived a robust, intriguing, complex life and there is so much more to learn beyond the pages of her most famous books.
Vanessa Chiasson is an Ottawa based travel writer. Her blog, TurnipseedTravel.com, focuses on getting great value – where to save, when to splurge, and how to make every moment count.