During our trip to PEI, we visited Green Gables, of course. Although L.M. Montgomery never lived there, her cousins’ house and farm was the inspiration for the setting of her famous book Anne of Green Gables. The property has been designated as a National Historic Site of Canada and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.
Our friend and hostess Polly (yes, a real life person!), Rob and I were glad to be there on a less crowded week day and freely roamed around the lovingly restored house, inside and out. After perusing every possible Anne themed souvenir in the gift shop, Polly (doll above) sighed with relief when she came across a stack of books.
Green Gables is set up as if the character Anne Shirley and her adoptive family of Matthew and Marilla lived there in the late 1800’s. The rooms are furnished with a wonderful collection of period pieces and Anne’s room includes important book related items, like her carpet bag and puffed sleeve dresses.
This is where the family tie to Anne of Green Gables comes in. But, first a little family history. Growing up, I heard about our relatives in Toronto, the “Canadian Cousins”. We were the only branch of the family to move to America, where my grandfather followed his career in biology. My father’s grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins in Canada seemed so much more interesting than the few family members we knew at home. The stories of their lives emphasized an unconventional and creative spirit, full of drama and public service. I never met them in person and that may be why they still loom large in my mind as colorful characters who were celebrated for their leadership and vision (at least in Canada).
Doukhobors arrive in Canada
CANADA – NOVEMBER 30: Grande Dame of Canadian theatre; Mrs. Dora Mavor Moore (left) chats with Mrs. Frank V.C. Hewett at St. Lawrence Centre Town Hall last night where testimonial was held for Mrs. Moore. Friends and professional actors paid tribute to lady who singlehandedly has done more than any other for Canadian theatre. She was a moving force behind Stratford Festival and inspired actors. (Photo by Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
I heard about my totally eccentric great-grandfather, James Mavor, who through his connections with the Canadian government and Russian Tolstoyans, helped arrange the mass immigration of the Doukhobors from Russia to Saskatchewan in 1898. I’ve never met an American who knows about the Doukhobors, but I think most Canadians have at least heard of them or know their descendants. There were also stories about James Mavor’s daughter, my great-aunt Dora Mavor Moore who is considered the Grand Dame of Canadian Theater. My father talked about Dora and her son, his first cousin, Mavor Moore who was a multi-talented creative force in CBC radio and television and the arts. These relatives and my parents are gone, but the family remembrances live on through stories, creating narratives beyond mere names and dates on a genealogy chart.
In Charlottetown, we saw the last performance of the season of “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™”, which I really enjoyed. I already knew that Mavor Moore had been involved from the show’s beginning in 1965 and was Co-writer of the lyrics.
What I didn’t know was that his daughter, Charlotte Moore was on stage, playing the leading role of Marilla. During intermission, I read the program and couldn’t believe it when her name and picture popped out. We had not met, but I was aware that she was a professional actress and singer, carrying on the family theater tradition.
After the show, it seemed almost impossible to send a message back stage, but another actor told us that the cast sometimes gathers in the bar at Mavor’s Restaurant (named after Mavor Moore) in the same theater complex. We only waited a few minutes in the bar before I heard the name “Charlotte” being called out behind me. I turned around and there she was, my real life “Canadian Cousin”. After some quick introductions, we had a great chat about the family. I also got to meet Mavor Moore’s widow, opera singer, Alexandra Brown Moore, who was visiting PEI from Victoria, BC.
We were all so delighted to finally meet each other! I felt connected to the Canadian branch of my family in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Our interaction made me realize that sometimes just showing up, taking notice and making a little effort can make all the difference in how life unfolds. It’s daunting to think that I am the older generation now. How could that possibly be? After all, I still play with dolls, for goodness sake!