I have been a fan of Anne of Green Gables since my Mom gave me her battered old copy when I was in grade four. L. M. Montgomery’s Anne, written before she got married (which was 100 years ago on July 4), was relevant in my life growing up near Grand Bend, Ontario in the 1960s and I’m sure still relevant for girls around the world today.
In fact, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge says she loved reading the book when she was young – it touched a young English girl, who will someday be a queen. It was Kate’s enjoyment of Anne of Green Gables that prompted Prince William and Kate to visit PEI last week.
And it was my lifelong love of Anne that prompted our visit of PEI last week, as well. But there was a special bonus in our trip—Tess Benger playing the lead role of Anne in the iconic Charlottetown Festival’s new “re-imagined” production. (Please read my review in “Now Playing” on this website.) Tess is a former classmate and friend of our son, Thomas. She is a graduate of Sheridan College’s Music Theatre Performance Program, and at 23 has an impressive resume. We got to know her in the summer of 2009 when she stayed at our house while performing in Camelot with Thomas at Huron Country Playhouse.
So when we learned that Tess had landed the lead role in Charlottetown’s Anne, we counted up our Air Miles and booked the trip. Thomas could only go for a two days in early July between shows at Huron Country Playhouse this summer. Mom and Dad decided to join him there, packing a lot into our four-day visit.
For an Anne fan, Prince Edward Island is wonderful. The leafy dark green potato plants around Summerside were just up, hilled into neat rows of bright red soil. The white sandy beaches contrasted against the red cliffs are beautiful. The people are pleasant and every server in every restaurant was friendly and cheerful.
After we had the flights booked and the plans made, we learned that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were going to be in PEI at the same time! So our first morning, we drove to downtown Charlottetown and yes, in the drizzling rain, we caught a glimpse of William and Kate as they rode by in the Landau carriage, accompanied by the Mounted Police of the musical ride.
We weren’t as ambitious as one young man, Aaron Hastelow, whom we met in Charlottetown. He got up at 5:00 a.m. to get a place on the sidewalk for William & Kate’s walk-about. He met up with others who had camped out all night on the sidewalk. His efforts paid off: he chatted with Kate, took several close-up photos, and asked to see her ring. He showed me a photo of Diana’s beautiful sapphire on Kate’s finger.
We also caught a glimpse of William and Kate in Summerside as they went by in a limo after the Coast Guard demonstration. Summerside is a charming resort, and in some ways reminded me of Grand Bend or Bayfield.
The highlight of my trip, next to seeing the musical Anne of Green Gables live on stage, was travelling to Cavandish to see Green Gables, the house that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book. The house is, of course, an historic site in a national park, crawling with tourists, but despite that, it still has a wonderful tranquillity about it. Lucy’s cousins actually lived in the house – she was raised down the road at the Macneill homestead, where visitors can see the old stone foundation and walk around the yard and down the trails.
I must give a shout out to Shirley and David Crews, our hosts at The Boathouse Bed and Breakfast in Stratford, PEI, just across the Hillsborough River from the Charlottetown harbour. In fact, is was only a five minute drive to downtown Charlottetown. We sat on their lovely deck at their beautiful waterfront home and saw a huge cruise ship depart. See their information at http://www.bbcanada.com/11490.html?showpage=1
Those who know me, know that my maiden name was Mary Blewett. When I first read Anne at age 9 or 10, I was horrified to learn that Mrs. Blewett was an evil woman who abused her children. Marilla says she wouldn’t give a dog she liked to that Blewett woman, and she wouldn’t turn the orphan Anne over to her – resulting in Anne being allowed to stay at Green Gables. Imagine my embarrassment – I went straight to my Mom to complain that she should have prepared me for this horror. Of course, my mother had read Anne long before she was married, prior to changing her name to Blewett, and hadn’t made any connection. In the musical version, it’s always fun to see how that actors handle the role of the terrible Mrs. Blewett. Despite my mortification at the use of the name Blewett, I still loved the Anne book. It is has been a thrill to re-read it this summer, and especially to see Tess Benger bring my friend Anne to life!
This trip to PEI reinforced my being a great Anne fan, but it has also made me a Kate fan, as well. Tess had the opportunity to meet Kate in character as Anne, and gave her a copy of Anne of Green Gables. Both William and Kate told Tess they were sorry they didn’t have time to see the show. Let’s hope they return soon to take in the Charlottetown production!