While staying at the cottage at French River, we drove a few minutes down the road to the Birthplace of the author Lucy Maud Montgomery in New London. This is NOT the house every tourist will visit in Cavendish connected with the Anne of Green Gables story. The old house which is quite modest and small and in keeping with the standard of homes in 1860 is set in a field at the intersection of two roads in New London. Her grandparents lived just a short ride away and their barn is now used as a museum to the author and her works, their home where Lucy Maud lived as a child is no longer in existence. It is interesting to visit the Birthplace because it tells you more about the author and her parents and family and how they lived before Lucy Maud ever became an author, you could say it is more personal, more intimate.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in November 1874, her father was Hugh John Montgomery and her mother Clara MacNeil. PEI had just joined the Canadian Confederation in 1873 and so the new Province was now part of the Dominion of Canada. Within 20 months of her birth, her mother Clara died of tuberculosis and her father decided to send baby Lucy Maud to his parents down the road to be looked after, he left the Island and moved to the North West Territories, which later in 1905 became the Province of Saskatchewan in Western Canada, truly frontier country back then, vast grassland prairies still mostly populated by Natives and the buffalo herds. Lucy Maud would not see her father until the age of 15 when she then migrated West, her father had remarried by then and Lucy Maud did not get along with her new Step-Mother and so returned to PEI within one year.
Picture below, her parents bedroom and Lucy Maud’s crib
Lucy Maud would later attend Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and marry a Presbyterian Church Minister and move with him to Ontario to live mostly in Southern Ontario and finally in Toronto. Not a happy married life, in fact the marriage was a mistake, he was a manic depressive, given to hallucinations and hearing voices, ranting and raving. Lucy Maud would famously remarked one day that Women God wanted to destroy he married to Church Ministers. They had 3 sons and to this day the grandchildren live mostly in Ontario with some remnants of the family in PEI. She died in 1942 from what was said at the time to be heart failure but in 1974 on her centennial it was revealed in a CBC radio interview that she had committed suicide. She too suffered from depression, was obsess with her social standing and depressed that in Toronto the literary circles did not take her seriously as a writer despite her enormous success. Her son Chester also gave her many problems and was engaged in a life of petty crimes. Both her and her husband the rev. Ewen Macdonald used barbiturates and sleeping pills heavily.
Few knew the depth of Montgomery’s problems. She alluded to them in letters. “Remember me as I used to be, not as I am now,” she wrote.
“I envy those who die in their sleep,” she wrote in another letter. “I have a horrible fear that I’ll die by inches.”
Her final known journal entry was dated March 23, 1942. “My life has been hell, hell, hell. My mind is gone — everything in the world I lived for has gone — the world has gone mad,” it read. “I shall be driven to end my life. Oh God, forgive me. Nobody dreams what my awful position is.”
Montgomery’s Toronto home at 210 Riverside Dr. was indeed her journey’s end. She was found dead in her bed on April 24, 1942. Her son and her physician believed it was a suicide.
Next to Montgomery was a written page. It was dated and had a page number. It is not clear if it was a suicide note or belonged to a journal.
“My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it,” the page read. “What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best in spite of many mistakes.”
Today, Lucy Maud Montgomery is immortal, her many books, poems, the Anthem to PEI, and the Anne of Green Gables series has guaranteed her place in Canadian literary pantheon. Her family and personal problems are all forgotten and only her skills at presenting Island life as a social comment to the era remains.
I enjoyed the visit to her birthplace because of the peace of the place and on offer are several of her books including 2 biographies. It is certainly not the commercial amusement park Green Gables in Cavendish has sadly become.
In reading about her life you see that much of her inspiration comes from her own personal life, Anne like Lucy Maud is an orphan, living with relatives, deceased or distant parents, going to school and the adventure of living in a rural setting. The small minds and pettiness of isolated surroundings and the hypocrisy of keeping up appearances, religious intolerance. It is in many ways a portrait of society in early days Canada.
Junction of Road 20 and road 6 in PEI about 45 minutes from Charlottetown.