By Agatha Krzewinski
With the surmountable amount of time that has passed from the life and death of Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 – 1942), what has happened to the houses Montgomery lived in? Do they still exist or have they moved or changed?
Lucy Maud Montg – 6461 PE-20, New London, PE CA 1M0
This 1850s one-and-one-half storey house was built by Senator Donald Montgomery (1870 – 1893) in approximately 1875 for his son Hugh John Montgomery and his wife Clara Woolner MacNeill. Clara gave birth in the house to Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 – 1942), on November 30th, 1874.
In the village of ‘Clifton’, New London, it is located at the corner of Route 6 & Route 20 in PEI, overlooking the New London Harbour and near Cavendish beach and the sand dunes, of which Montgomery wrote about in later years.
When Montgomery was 21 months old, her mother died of tuberculosis, and her father left her in the care of her maternal grandparents. He moved and settled in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan while Montgomery was taken to the MacNeill Homestead in Cavendish.
The place was owned by several owners after Hugh sold the house following Clara’s death. In 1964, a New Brunswick entrepreneur, K.C. Irving, generously gave it back to the province of Prince Edward Island. In 1965 the L.M. Montgomery Act was passed to provide operation and maintenance of the birthplace, and a volunteer foundation continues to operate the site. The house includes special exhibits, such as the replica of Montgomery’s wedding dress, original shoes, and personal scrapbooks.
The birthplace has been incredibly preserved and very little has changed of its original architectural features. An ell wing was added in 1890, windows were changed and a concrete foundation was added in 1965. A store was on the property, and once operated by Hugh John Montgomery, but was destroyed in a 1938 fire.
For more information and tour bookings visit: LM Montgomery Birthplace – New London, PE
Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home – 8521 Cavendish Road, Hunter River RR#2, Cavendish
The MacNeill Homestead where Montgomery lived with her grandparents, Alexander and Lucyoolner MacNeill as well as Aunt Emily MacNeill, is the home in which she spent the first 37 years of he
The homestead consisted of a kitchen which also served as the Cavendish Post Office for the community, a farm, and fields with a forested path, that you can now take to Green Gables, known as the ‘haunted wood’ and ‘Lover’s Lane’ (behind Green Gables).
During this time Montgomery also attended and taught at several schools. She spent one year in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan with her father and his new wife for one year (1890 – 1891), studied for a teacher's license at Prince of Wales College (1893-1894), and studied English for a year at Dalhousie University (1895 – 1896).
Montgomery taught at three Island schools: Bideford, Belmont, and Lower Bedeque. When she was teaching at Lower Bedeque in 1898, her grandfather suddenly died and she returned immediately to Cavendish to take care of her grandmother who would otherwise have to leave her home. Montgomery would live there for the next 13 years except for nine months in 1901-1902 when she worked as a proofreader for The Daily Echo in Halifax.
Montgomery grew restless living alone with her ailed grandmother and was also secretly engaged to Reverend Ewan MacDonald, but she still had an appreciation for the place, and it would prove to be the most formative years of her life. She spent her days working as the assistant postmistress to her grandmother, while spending time writing in the evenings in the kitchen. She completed her first novel Anne of Green Gables in 18 months with the following books after Anne of Avonlea, Kilmeny of the Orchard, and The Story Girl.
When Grandmother MacNeill died in 1911, Montgomery had to leave the house quickly because it was owned by her uncle John Franklin MacNeill (1851 – 1936) who lived nearby. She moved to the home of her Aunt Annie MacNeill Campbell in Park Corner where she married Ewan and shortly after moved to Leaksdale, Ontario.
The MacNeill house was left empty and eventually taken in about 1923 after Montgomery became famous. John MacNeill (1930 – 2017), who was Uncle John’s grandson, lived on the property with his wife Jennie Moore MacNeill. John’s father Ernest (1884 – 1969), was Montgomery's 1st cousin. In a journal entry on August 7, 1930, Montgomery wrote “A letter from Myrtle came today, saying Ern MacNeill’s wife had a son. So perhaps the old place may remain in the MacNeill name yet. I hope so anyway” (Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol 4. P. 63)
In the 1920s the house had actually fallen in, but the kitchen/ post office remained intact. Montgomery’s Uncle John removed the kitchen portion of the house and used it for shelter for some of the farm animals and then as a storage shed for Ernest.
In the late 1960s, the late historian Father Francis Bolger asked John MacNeill if he could use the building while he was researching and writing a biography about Montgomery. John gave it to him with the understanding that when he was done with it, it would come back to the MacNeill's.
Bolger became interested in the house because he was contacted by an islander to evaluate some letters written by Montgomery to his mother Penzie MacNeill. He used the house as a writing cottage and relocated it to his summer home. Bolger replaced the damaged floors from his family barn and carefully cleaned and repaired it. He ended up writing the book The Years Before Anne (1974).
In the 1980s, shortly after Montgomery’s journals became published for the very first time, John and Jennie began reading her journals. They learned about the importance of the kitchen, how she loved the Homestead and how she called it the ‘hallowed ground’. John and Jennie wanted to honor the life and works of Montgomery, and worked for three years clearing the woods, planting gardens, and adding longer fences as seen from archived photos.
Meanwhile, Bolger and the MacNeils had remained great friends, but in the summer of 2016, John was still not ready to see the sacred kitchen yet. He sadly passed away in 2017, and as well as Bolger in the same year, but the house was finally returned back to the MacNeill property. It was moved back in the winter of 2018.
While the building no longer had the actual kitchen, David MacNeill, the son of John and Jennie, still had the old desk and scales from the Post Office. He placed it back in the building, as well as moving artifacts from the bookstore on the homestead site into the building, and set it up as a museum.
Montgomery’s time living at the Cavendish home, would truly be the underlying foundation and inspiration for writing Anne of Green Gables. As Montgomery once commented, “The incidents and environment of my childhood... had a marked influence on my literary gift... Were it not for those Cavendish years, I do not think that Anne of Green Gables would ever have been written." - Spirit of Place: Lucy Maud Montgomery and Prince Edward Island
For more information and tour bookings visit: Site of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home (lmmontgomerycavendishhome.com)
Green Gables Heritage Place – 8619 Cavendish Road, Route 6, Cavendish PE C0A 1N0
While Montgomery did not actually live at the Green Gables House, it is still recognized as one of the most iconic and popular attractions in the National Park Site of PEI. It is what inspired the fictional home of Anne.
The farmhouse was originally owned by David and Margaret MacNeill, cousins of Montgomery’s grandfather. It was built in several sections in the 1830s and 1870s, and finally obtained the L shape in the 1920s with the kitchen in the wing; typical of the many rural farmhouses in PEI.
Montgomery came to know the area by living in proximity with her grandparents, and exploring the nearby wooded areas which she would later call as ‘Lover’s Lane’ and the ‘Haunted Wood’. She became close friends with Myrtle, David and Margaret’s niece. In 1905 Myrtle married Ernest Webb, with the ceremony being conducted by Montgomery’s future husband Reverend Ewan MacDonald. Myrtle and Ernest ran the farmhouse and took care of David and Margaret until they passed in 1914 and 1924 respectively.
Shortly after the publishing of Anne of Green Gables in 1908, people actually began coming to Cavendish in search of the Green Gables house. In the 1910s a Cavendish resident, Leta McCoubrey, was a child walking to school when tourists would approach her asking where Montgomery’s home was. In the 1920s, many visitors would stroll through Myrtle’s gardens searching for the Green Gables house. The Webbs decided to make a tea room and sell Montgomery’s books, where they would host and give tours to their guests.
In March 1936, following the great depression of the the1930s, the PEI government asked the Federal government to make a national park in PEI in hopes of attracting more tourists. In June, a new act was created respecting the establishment of a national park, which allowed the provincial government to acquire property. The plans included Dalvay-by-the-Sea a a park hotel for wealthy visitors and much of the Cavendish area including the beaches and red rock cliffs. In April 1937, the properties were officially proclaimed a park. The Webb family was offered $6500 for their Green Gables home with the terms that they were allowed to live there and Ernest would be the park warden of the property. They had little choice but to agree.
The house already had whitewashed walls and green shingles which is why Montgomery dubbed the name Green Gables, but new windows and green shudders were added for preservation and for emphasizing ‘Green Gables’.
In 1938 there were plans to convert the house into a clubhouse for the new golf course being built. The sport had an upper class which would make the park a more desirable destination. The government was supposed to even build a new home for the Webbs, but pressure and outcry from the public caused the government to cease the plans, and a separate clubhouse was built instead.
In 1945, when Ernest turned 65, he was forced to retire and he and Myrtle were told by the park authority to move. They relocated to the old Baptist parsonage down the road, which had actually been the former house of Montgomery’s first beau Nate Lockhart. Ernest passed away in 1950, and Myrtle moved to Norval Ontario with her son Keith, where she later passed away in 1969.
In 2017, the federal government unveiled a massive 3-phase rehabilitation project, with $23 million for upgrades for the PEI national park, and $9.5 million reserved for the Green Gables Heritage House. It included renovations to existing structures and the construction of new buildings. In April 2021, it was finally open for visitors.
The Green Gables House to which people from all over the world come to visit, is really more of a product derived from Montgomery’s imagination rather than the actual house itself, as Montgomery testified in her journal entries:
"Cavendish is, to a large extent, Avonlea. Green Gables was drawn from David MacNeill's house, though not so much the house itself as the situation and scenery, and the truth of my description of it is attested by the fact that everyone has recognized it."
- L.M. Montgomery, The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. II, Friday, Jan.27, 1911.
Green Gables House in Kevin Sullivan’s classic film
While some exterior filming did take place in PEI, the majority of filming for Anne of Green Gables took place in several areas of Ontario. The Green Gables house in Kevin Sullivan’sAnne of Green Gables was filmed at the Butternut Farm on Steeles Avenue in Scarborough.
The 1850s house was owned by the Ontario Government which had acquired great tracts of land in northeast Scarborough, in hopes of building a vast airport that would be accessible by the Pickering area.
The house was chosen because it was plain with very few modern touches, but still had the green lattice frame in the front. The verandah railings and white fences were added later for filming and were taken down afterward.
While the exterior shots for Green Gables were filmed outside of Butternut farm, the interior shots were filmed on sets on a sound stage in Scarborough; within driving distance of Butternut Farm.
Meanwhile, the Green Gables fields, barn, and the back of the house were filmed at a completely different location near Coppins Corners west of Uxbridge. The location stood in so well for the vistas seen in PEI that the full property also became used as the exteriors in Road to Avonlea.
The muddy field in the scene in Anne of Green Gables The Sequel, where Anne was chasing the cow Dolly, also belonged to the farm and the lane leading to Green Gables in the movie was just the driveway down the road from Butternut Farm. The large Japanese walnut tree in front of the house is actually what gave the Butternut Farm its name.
The plans for building the airport never went through but it allowed many properties like Butternut Farm to remain unscathed. The farm is now abandoned and no longer rented out, but the gingerbread trellis that was added to the Main Gable for the Sullivan productions is still there, thus allowing it to still stay in a very special and nostalgic location.