She is the author of the beloved Anne of Green Gables series. She has published 20 novels, 530 short stories, 500 poems and 30 essays. She was a teacher, a minister’s wife, and an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Lucy Maud Montgomery, who was born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, spent fifteen years in the community of Leaskdale in the Township of Uxbridge, Durham Region. Today, her home is a National Historic Site of Canada and the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario is dedicated to promoting the portion of this prolific author’s life that was spent here in York Durham Headwaters.
Just about every Canadian child knows about the little orphan girl Anne (“with an E”) Shirley, of her life in the fictional Prince Edward Island town of Avonlea, of her search for a kindred spirit and of her love for Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. But many, if not most, don’t know that Leaskdale was the site of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s most prolific writing. These include novels, journals and essays. It is from Leaskdale that Anne’s adventures were extended through further books, though Prince Edward Island is largely their setting. Due to the volume of writing that Lucy Maud Montgomery completed in our community, the Township of Uxbridge purchased her home, the manse, from the church where her husband ministered, and the Canadian government bestowed upon it its national historical recognition.
This October, the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario celebrates its 25th anniversary as an organized committee of council, and claims more than 50 years as an organization in its various stages of development. In 1965, the lobbying efforts of local woman Wilda Clark (who in 1997 co-authored the first large-scale academic work of Montgomery’s selected journals) resulted in a sign being erected in front of the manse where Lucy Maud Montgomery—casually called Maud—lived to provide visitors with a recognized site that they could cherish. The purpose of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario is to promote the life of the author in Leaskdale, including her writing, her ministerial work, her work with the community, and raising a family since Leaskdale is where her children were born. The LMMSO now owns both the manse and the church where Maud’s husband ministered.
Of the legendary author herself, Melanie Whitfield, president of the LMMSO says, “She never gave up her love of the island [Prince Edward Island], and visited it many times while she lived in Leaskdale. But she also came to love the manse and the Leaskdale sideroad. When she arrived here, the manse was the first place that she could call a home of her own.” Prior to this, Melanie explains, Maud had lived on the homestead of her grandparents, the Macneills, all of her life. And in the very Scottish Presbyterian, male-dominated family in which she grew up, she knew that once her grandmother died, she would be without a home of her own.
From the age of 16, Maud had already written poetry and short stories for magazines. By the time she married the Reverend Ewen Macdonald, she was independently wealthy. She could therefore afford a maid the whole time she was in Leaskdale. Melanie says, “This was important because, in her line of work, she was so busy with the church. Her most important thing was to try to find time for herself to write, and having a maid gave her that opportunity.” It was in the parlour of the manse that Maud set pen to paper, and she describes in her journals how wonderful it was to have a place of her own to set up her writing tools.
Because of the income she earned as a writer, Maud was able to afford things other for the family that they wouldn’t have been able to afford on a minister’s salary alone. “Their first car, for instance,” Melanie points out. “Or their two-week holiday to Bala. That visit in the Muskokas inspired her book The Blue Castle, which is significant because it’s the only book she wrote that is based in Ontario. The others were all part of the island.”
Her time in Leaskdale was certainly met with some unique challenges. Maud’s husband, it is now known, suffered from mental illness. At the time, those kinds of things stayed behind closed doors. It fell to Maud to keep her husband going, get him motivated to preach, and help him finish his sermons. “People don’t know what a strong woman she was,” Melanie states.
The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario continues its work to promote the author and her life in Leaskdale. It is certainly a life worthy of the honoured place in history it currently holds. She was a woman of humour and of great intelligence, and though she never found her kindred spirit in Uxbridge (a yearning about which she wrote in her journals), she did find many close friends. Her contemporary critics in Toronto referred to her work as fantastical children’s stories when it was released. Yet none of her novels have been out of print, and they have been published in over 40 languages.
“Those fantastical children’s stories,” Melanie says, “continue to delight and inspire people around the world 100 years later. That’s quite the testament to such an extraordinary woman.”
For more information on Lucy Maud Montgomery and her life here in York Durham Headwaters, visit the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario online at www.lucymaudmontgomery.ca.
Story by Katherine Ryalen