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Lucy Maud Montgomery is famous for telling the story of P.E.I.’s most beloved fictional character.
Now, Parks Canada is getting ready to tell the author’s story.
A new exhibit is scheduled to be unveiled to the public on Canada Day (but could be ready by this weekend) at Green Gables Heritage Place, the site where countless visitors from around the world have come to see the house made famous by the 1908 novel “Anne of Green Gables’’.
The exhibit is housed in the new $1.2 million interpretive centre, which has given the site a whole new feel. The Green Gables house is not visible from the parking lot, so sthat “a-ha’’ moment now comes once people exit the new Montgomery exhibit.
“It’s where we encourage people to leave reality behind and start to use their own imaginations and imagine the land of “Anne’’,’’ said Chantelle MacDonald, project manager with Parks Canada. “This exhibit focuses more on L.M. Montgomery than (the site) did before.’’
At a glance
The new L.M. Montgomery exhibit includes:
- A visual biography of her life
- How she came to write “Anne of Green Gables’’ and what the editing process looked like
- An illustrated version of the 1908 novel for those who aren’t familiar with the story or don’t speak English or French
- Various “Anne’’ book covers from around the world to show how different languages and cultures interpreted the story
The tour begins with a visual biography of the author. Parks Canada worked with various stakeholders, including the Lucy Maud Montgomery Institute, Elizabeth Epperly, founding chairwoman of the institute, people from the area and Montgomery fans, to pick out images of people, places and things that were important to the author and that showcased different phases of her life.
It includes a tumultuous part of her life where the exhibit details the struggles Montgomery and her husband had with mental health issues.
“We haven’t sugar-coated anything,’’ MacDonald said. “Those things are part of her story, and we wanted to ensure that those things, that all parts of the story were told.’’
There are also some examples of Montgomery’s scrapbooks, which have been carefully reproduced.
As people move along the exhibit, they’ll learn about the author’s writing process and how she went about writing her famous first novel.
There is also a sound wall where people can listen to audio of different reviews, good and bad, that came out following the book’s release in 1908.
A colourful illustrated version of “Anne of Green Gables’’ has also been created for the exhibit for visitors who don't know the story or perhaps don’t speak either English or French.
“We don’t give anything away, but (people) will get the gist of major plotlines in the story.’’
Towards the end of the exhibit, a wall is covered from top to bottom with various book covers, showing how different languages and different countries told the story of “Anne of Green Gables’’.
“There are so many different interpretations of “Anne’’ and everyone sees “Anne’’ differently. Everyone has their own image of “Anne’’. We talk about how the story and Montgomery inspired the world.’’
The exhibit even pays tribute to the actresses who have played “Anne’’ on television, such as Megan Follows, Ella Ballentine and Amybeth McNulty.
Next to photographs of the actresses are the vibrant colours and textures Montgomery’s words brought to life — the patchwork of red soil and green grass, blue skies, the golds of the fall and the whites of the cherry blossoms.
Hanging from the ceiling are six banners, all featuring themes pulled from Montgomery’s works — imagination, friendship, sense of self, connection to natural beauty, freedom and belonging.
Also featured is a model of the Green Gables house and property built entirely out of Lego pieces. It took Ben MacLeod of Northam 100 hours to complete it. For kids who want to give it a shot, there will be Lego blocks on the table that surrounds the display where they can use their own imaginations to create something.
Emily Woster, a visiting scholar with the L.M. Montgomery Institute, said she is thrilled that both the physical space of the exhibit — self-guided, curving paths and nature themes — and the content of the new space — biographical notes and connections to P.E.I. — seem to reflect Montgomery’s style and honour her legacy.
“I also really appreciate that the new centre invites visitors to actively engage with Montgomery’s story, not just passively receive information,’’ said Woster, an assistant professor in the Department of English, linguistics and writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “In particular, I look forward to the ways that the exhibits will invite people to visit both Green Gables and the homestead as we owe our fictional “Anne’’ to both places.’’
The homestead Woster refers to is the site of Montgomery’s actual Cavendish home just up the road, next to the post office.
It has taken two years to develop the exhibit and the visitor’s centre. Construction on the building started in January following a report in 2015 from Parks Canada that recommended improvements to the visitor flow. The old visitor centre and gift shop were demolished to make way for the new development.
MacDonald has been on hand to see a lot of changes to the site over the years. She started as a guide and worked her way up the ladder to the projects office where she’s at today.
“It’s been amazing,’’ MacDonald said, pausing to find the right words.