The Cavendish of yesteryear

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Sleigh Ride

By Mabel MacKinnon (guest opinion)

Cavendish, or “Avonlea,” the name given by L.M. Montgomery in Anne of Green Gables, was all farmland when I grew up there in the 1920s and 30s, quite different from today. It was a great place to grow up, with two churches and a one-room schoolhouse.

I loved the winters. We had our chores to do. Every evening the wood box had to be filled to keep the home fires burning.

On Saturday mornings we helped thresh grain so the cattle would have feed and straw for bedding during the week. The sheaves were stored in the barn in September. It was fun to tramp the straw.

In the afternoon I filled the lamps with oil, cleaned the chimneys and trimmed the wicks. I also made sure the boots and shoes were cleaned and polished for church on Sunday.

Mother would be busy baking. What aromas were coming from the pantry and kitchen, where pies, cookies, cakes and homemade bread were cooling on the racks. The roast was also cooked on Saturday for Sunday’s dinner.

The days that were too stormy for school, we had to shell beans and pick over cranberries, which were grown on the farm. We always hoped that those days would be few and far between.

We had lots of enjoyment too. When we had bright moonlight on either Friday or Saturday night, Dad would hitch a horse to a large sleigh, fill the bottom with straw, cover us with buffalo robes, and we would go to visit some of the neighbours.

I imagine I can still hear the sleigh bells ringing. What a joyful sound!

When we grew older, young people from other communities would come to Cavendish and we would gather to skate on the Lake of Shining Waters, or go coasting in a large box sleigh on a long hill. We didn’t even mind pushing or pulling the sled back up the hill to the starting point.

There were no electric fridges in Cavendish then, so when the ice was thick enough on the lake the farmers would cut blocks of ice, haul them home and cover them with sawdust for iceboxes in summer, also for homemade ice cream. Delectable!

For entertainment, the community would put on plays, have box socials and suppers, also school concerts, which caused a lot of excitement among the children, especially at Christmas. On Sunday evening the young people would meet in the homes and have a wonderful time singing hymns and socializing.

When L.M. Montgomery visited Green Gables we would be invited to spend an evening with her. That was a special time.

In summer we had six weeks vacation from school. We would help weed the garden, hoe the turnips, mow the lawn and rake the grass. We would also help with the haying.

Did you ever go for a ride on a wagon filled with hay? What fun!

We spent a lot of time on the beach. The farmers living on the north side owned their own stretch of beach until the National Park came.

I guess you would call my mother a pioneer because she was the first in Cavendish to open up her home to tourists. We were kept busy for two months during the summer. We met some interesting people from across Canada and the United States.

There weren’t many cars on the road then, so it was a joy to go for a ride in a buggy. Dad owned one with two seats, which made it comfortable for us. Mother and I would sit in the back; Dad was the pilot and my brother the co-pilot.

In the fall we had an additional two weeks of vacation to help pick potatoes and turnips.

The potatoes were stored in the house basement to be graded later for sale, and the turnips would be put in a pit in the barn for food for the pigs and cattle.

The dry wood was then stacked in a shed, the house was banked with seaweed and we were ready for another winter.


Mabel MacKinnon of Charlottetown grew up in Cavendish. She and her late husband, Hugh, farmed in Pleasant Valley for many years and raised seven children. She is 94 and this is her first submission to The Guardian.

Geographic location: Green Gables, Lake of Shining Waters, Canada Charlottetown Pleasant Valley

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