BY HUGHENA MATHESON
“Prince Edward Island … is really a beautiful Province — the most beautiful place in America." Islanders will no doubt agree with Lucy Maud Montgomery who had a special window onto the Island’s beauty.
Her eye on the Island included the upstairs gable window in the Cavendish home where she lived with the Macneills, her maternal grandparents. Her poem, “The Gable Window,” will be inscribed on a plaque on the Macneill Homestead, now a National Historic Site. Islanders and visitors to P.E.I. are invited to the official unveiling of the plaque on Sunday, June 24, 4 p.m., at 8521 Cavendish Rd, Cavendish.
The poem describes the view as it was in 1897 when 23-year old Montgomery had her poem published in The Ladies Journal. “It opened on a world of wonder,” she writes, “When summer days were sweet and long, a world of light, a world of splendor, A world of song.”
you will be able to read the entire poem in the spot Montgomery imagined while writing it. Maybe, you will get “a crinkly feeling up and down your back,” the sensation Anne Shirley, her famous fictional redheaded Islander, got when reading poetry.
The Montgomery plaque will become the 21st Bookmark on Canada’s literary trail, along with those for the writing of our nations’ best writers, such as Michael Ondaatje, Anne Michaels, Carol Shields and Dennis Lee. In 2007, author Miranda Hill founded Project Bookmark Canada, a cultural innovation that places plaques or Bookmarks with text from stories and poems in the exact location where literary scenes are set. She wanted readers to step right into the stories, experiencing the authors’ visions and the real locales simultaneously. Hill imagined we would read our way across Canada.
LMM would be proud that Islanders worked together to extend the trail to P.E.I. Laurie Murphy, a North Shore girl from Dalvay, is the executive director of Project Bookmark. Organizing this event is special to Laurie, for Lucy Maud Montgomery has been a large presence in her life.
Her family lived in both Cavendish and Dalvay in the P.E.I. National Park, as her father was a chief park warden. Her days were filled with the red dirt roads and apple blossoms that Montgomery describes so well. When Laurie graduated from UPEI, she was awarded the L.M. Montgomery Award for Creative Writing. She was publicist for the Charlottetown Festival where the Anne of Green Gables – The Musical is produced, and she was project manager of the Dr. Elizabeth Epperly-curated Virtual Museum of Canada LMM Exhibition at the Confederation Centre of the Arts Gallery and Museum.
Islanders may also remember Laurie in the comedy sketch show, Annekenstein III – V, a loving send up of the province’s connection to Montgomery and cultural tourism.
Dr. Elizabeth Epperly, a Montgomery scholar and founder of UPEI’s LMM institute, suggested “The Gable Window” poem to Project Bookmark. Why this poem? Epperly writes: “There are so many lush and beautiful passages describing the Macneill place in the Anne and indeed Emily books. And right there is where the Montgomery fan experiences that ‘I know this place’ feeling and a sense of awe. The poem describes the exact fields outside her window.”
Epperly made the suggestion for a Montgomery Bookmark in consultation with Jennie Macneill, who with her late husband John, are part of a long line of Macneills at this property in Cavendish since the 1700s.
Kate Macdonald Butler, president of the Heirs of L.M. Montgomery (Inc.), is also very supportive of the Cavendish Bookmark: "The Heirs of L.M. Montgomery are delighted that the first official Bookmark on Prince Edward Island will honour L.M. Montgomery, and be on the Macneill site in Cavendish she loved so much — where she wrote hundreds of short stories and poems in addition to Anne of Green Gables and three other novels."
Want to expand Canada’s literary trail in P.E.I.? Include local authors in your summertime reading. One writer might take you to the exact spot for another Bookmark. Then simply fill out the suggestion form at www.projectbookmarkcanada.ca. You may be adding one more attraction for visitors to “the most beautiful place in America."
- Hughena Matheson is a member of the board of directors of Project Bookmark Canada. She was raised on Cape Breton and is a graduate of Mount Allison University.