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‘When did Anne of Green Gables visit Prince Albert?’

A few years ago I was visiting the Prince Albert Downtown Improvement Office, just off Central Avenue on 11th Street West. Jane Remenda was the Executive Administer of the office at that time. I told Jane I was trying to think of an idea for an historical skit to be performed the day of the Street Fair. Jane said she had  witnessed a unique situation that morning. A woman was kneeling alongside the building scraping bits of gravel into small sample bottles. A  bewildered Jane inquired if she could be of assistance. 

The lady explained she was Japanese and that she was visiting Prince Albert on behalf of an Anne of Green Gables Fan Club back in her home city of Osaka. She pointed out that Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green gables, had lived in Prince Albert when Lucy was a teen, and that the house she lived in was built on the site of Jane’s present office. Hence the visitor was collecting samples from the site as mementoes of the past. 

This unique story led me to create a vignette involving Lucy Maud Montgomery making an ethereal return to our fair city. It was somewhat based on history, but was quite far stretched.

However, a few days ago, at the Prince Albert Historical Museum, the essence of Lucy Maud Montgomery did return to us. Melanie J. Fishbane come from Toronto and read to those gathered at the Museum from her recently published novel MAUD,  an historical fiction of Lucy’s teen years.

I have read the book. It captivated me. My wife, Fay, will tell you I am somewhat of a romantic, drawn to tales of human emotion. When they are well written, such tales have the ability to carry one away. Fishbane’s MAUD is just that - well written. 

Lucy Maud Montgomery was born November 30, 1874, and passed away April 24, 1942.  Her mother died when Lucy was 21 months old, and her father, Hugh John Montgomery, overcome, fled, leaving Lucy, who preferred to be called Maud, to be raised by her maternal grandparents in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.  

Hugh Montgomery found his way to Prince Albert. He remarried, became involved in real estate, local politics, and later was appointed Warden at the City Jail. 

In 1890, at age 16, Maud travelled  to Prince Albert to live with her father. She spent but a year in our city. 

Melanie Fishbane dedicates over 40% of her book to that year in Maud’s life. Obviously it was significant.

The year did not bring all that Maud hoped for. Her Stepmother proved difficult, treating Maud more like a servant than family. Her father deferred to his wife, leaving Maud saddened and often feeling unloved. Maud had looked forward to attending high school in Prince Albert, hoping it would open the doors to College, something rarely available to young women at that time. The school and her teacher proved to be another blow.  The teacher, Mr. Mustard, was not meant to be a teacher, often given to meanness. Moreover, Mustard took advantage of his position to pursue amorous intentions toward Maud. This was repulsive to Maud. 

But, the year in Prince Albert was not all bad. Many sites in the city were attractive, in particular the river. The surrounding parklands were rich in natural beauty, and, Maud made dear friends. One in particular, Will Gunn Pritchard, was captivating. Maud  fell in love.

Melanie Fishbane’s story of the love Maud found is spellbinding in its simplicity and realness. Yet, it could not be. Maud dearly wanted to be a writer. The local paper was her publisher - the Presbyterian Church her venue for poetic verse, but it was not enough. Maud missed her beloved Cavendish. 

She returned home, finished high school, entered College, and did find the key to success as an author.

It lay in what her teacher in Cavendish advised -  Maud must create from her own inner feelings.

Maud was a girl, who full of romance, found the dictates of society far too restrictive. She then created a character, Anne of Green Gables, who broke through the bonds of social expectations.

One of Maud’s characters, Gilbert Blyth, may well, in part, have been Will Pritchard of Prince Albert.

In revealing this to us, here in Prince Albert, Melanie Fishbane in her novel MAUD, did bring Anne of Green Gables to Prince Albert - in a real and amazing way.

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Wednesday November 22, 2023