Chapter 5
Real Houses and Imaginary Characters
in Brantford, Ontario and Cavendish, P.E.I.

by D.M.R. Bentley



[They] heard so often, “There shall stand our home–
“On yonder slope, with vines about the door!”
That the good wives were almost made to see
The snowy walls, deep porches, and the gleam
Of Katie’s garments flitting through the rooms;
And the black slope all bristling with burn’d stumps
Was known amongst them all as “Max’s House”.

– Isabella Valency Crawford
, Malcolm’s Katie
a Love Story 2:247-53

Of whatever it is constructed, except it be solely of fantasy, a house transforms its portion of space into a place. As a fixed entity, it is permanently there unless and until it is demolished. As a building in a location, it enters the virtual reality of surveys, maps, postal directories, address books. As a solid but holey enclosure, it separates its inside from the outside while permitting entrance, egress, and vistas. As a place, an entity, a location, an address to visit, stay, leave, live at or in, it acquires distances to and from, engenders associations, enters and even inspires literary texts. Much of this is captured by Martin Heidegger when he writes in “Building Dwelling Thinking” that, “by virtue of constructing locations,” “building ... is a founding and joining of spaces” (158) and by Wallace Stevens when he writes in “Anecdote of the Jar” that, when “placed ... upon a hill,” a jar “ma[kes] the slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill” and “takes” dominion everywhere” (21). Much of it was also understood by the settlers and builders of early Canada and by the writers who, like Isabella Valancy Crawford, responded textually to the buildings and settlements, villages and cities, that they saw or imagined around them as aspects of space in the process of being made into a home place.

    What might have been more difficult for Canada’s early settlers, builders, and writers to imagine is the way in which subsequent Canadian history would sometimes blur the distinction between real and imagined houses to produce amalgams of the two in which a physical house is to a lesser or greater extent adapted or even constructed as a dwelling for the literary imaginary – constructed, that is, not in the virtual space of a writer or reader’s mind, but in the material world of the bricks and mortar. When Adam Hood Burwell “summon[ed] dark futurity to light” (546) in Talbot Road he, like Crawford in Malcolm’s Katie, drew on the houses that he saw around him to envisage “mansion[s]” that, for all their resemblance to actual structures built then or since, exist only in the mind’s eye of the reader:

Blest spot! Sacred to pure domestic joy,
Where love and duty find their sweet employ!
On every farm a stately mansion stands,
That the surrounding fields at once commands,
Where, oft, the farmer contemplates alone,
The little Eden that he calls his own.

When Henri Lefebvre writes in The Production of Space of “representational spaces” that they are “alive” and possessed of an “affective kernel or centre” because they are known to have been the “loci of passion, ... action, and ... lived experience” (42) he is referring, however unspecifically, to real places and people. Beginning in the realm of which Burwell and Lefebvre write, the chapter underway will move by degree towards a discussion of houses that have gone beyond the logic of real imaginary in which they originated to become the realized imaginary.

    As may easily be predicted from the preceding chapters, textual responses to houses as home places or “representational spaces” possessed of an “affective kernel or centre” began in earnest with the arrival of the Romantic sensibility in Canada in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Thomas Moore’s “Ballad Stanzas” (1806) is a seminal document in this regard, for by expressing a strong, emotional response to the possibilities afforded by a “cottage” concealed in a “‘lone little wood’” in Upper Canada (61) it both imagined a locus of “passion [and] ... action” and called into existence a “representational space” with an “affective kernel or centre”: the oak tree between Niagara and Queenston where Moore was supposed to have composed the poem was dubbed “Moore’s Oak” and became an object of poetic and patriotic veneration. “Moore’s visit was long remembered at Niagara,” William Kirby would recall in 1897; “a year or two before his assassination [in 1868],” “Thomas D’Arcy McGee ... made a pilgrimage to ‘Moore’s Oak’ while he was here” (Annals of Niagara 128-29).1 Some forty years after Moore’s visit, Sir Francis Bond Head would make a pilgrimage to another site with an “affective kernel”: the “lone shanty” or “hut” near the Rideau Canal where the Duke of Richmond had died of rabies on August 28, 1819. After seeking out the hut, Bond Head recalls in The Emigrant, he “remained for a few minutes on horseback before the hovel which commemorates, on the continent of North America, the well-known facts [of the Duke’s illness and death] [and] deeply felt ... that there exists in the British peerage no name that is recollected in Canada by all parties with such affectionate regard” (98, 105, 107).

    Nor did the “affective kernel” of a place necessarily derive from the presence or death there of a famous poet or statesman. While travelling from the Talbot Settlement to the head of Lake Erie in 1819, John Howison took shelter from a snow storm in “the remains of a large Indian wigwam” and, as “the flakes of snow fell in noiseless succession among the boughs of the leafless woods” beneath a “sombre” sky and in “a calmness that amounted to solemnity,” observed and pondered his surroundings:

Several fragments of Indian utensils, and likewise the skull of a deer, lay near me, while the blackness of one spot of ground showed where a fire had once been. It seemed almost inconceivable, that human beings should be permanent inhabitants of this wilderness, – that domestic ties and affections should often brighten the gloom of such a solitude, – and that those leading passions, which agitate the hearts of all men, should be elicited and brought into action amidst the appalling loneliness and depressing monotony of the boundless forest. The decaying vestiges of human existence, which the wigwam exhibited, made the scene appear more desert and affecting than it would otherwise have done. (185-86)

With Howison’s “decaying vestiges of human existence,” as with Bond Head’s “lone shanty” and Moore’s hidden “cottage” (and, indeed, “Moore’s Oak”), either one or both of two factors are at work in the apprehension and creation of a “representational space” with an “affective kernel”: a “knowledge” of “what happened at a particular spot or place and thereby changed it” (Lefebvre 42, 37) and a disposition to regard it as for some reason – intellectual, political, literary – as significant (for Howison, the evidences of “leading passions,” for Bond Head the death of a “British peer,” for Moore the attractions of British North America after a disillusioning visit to the United States, and for Kirby a poem that had its genesis in these very attitudes). In all four cases (and in Lefebvre’s words once again), “imagination ... overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects” so that they become texts even as they remain objects (39).

    A similar process can be seen at work in the chapter on “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge” with which Thomas Chandler Haliburton begins the third series of The Clockmaker (1840). The Lodge in question – an ornate structure on Bedford Basin near Halifax whose only surviving component is a circular neoclassical music pavilion (see Kalman 1: 132-33) – was not in fact “owned” by the Duke of Kent, as Haliburton asserts (Sam Slick 285) but leased to him during his sojourns in Nova Scotia during the 1790s by the then lieutenant governor, Sir John Wentworth (MacNutt 297). Nor was it merely “the scene of [the Duke’s] munificent hospitalities” (Sam Slick 284), but the residence that he shared with Thérèse-Bernadine Montegnet (Madame de Saint-Laurent), his beloved companion for twenty-seven years prior to his marriage in 1818 to Victoria Mary Louisa, the mother of Queen Victoria. A Burkean Tory bent, as observed in the previous chapter, on strengthening Canada’s ties with Britain as a bulwark against the United States, Haliburton both elides the scandalous history of the Prince’s Lodge (as it is more commonly known) and emphasizes its royal associations. It is “the only ruin of any extent in Nova Scotia, and the only spot either associated with royalty, or set apart and consecrated to solitude and decay” (287). By virtue of “the long and close connection ... between them [and Queen Victoria’s] illustrious parent,” Nova Scotians “feel a ... lively interest in, and a devoted attachment to,” the Monarch and “flatter themselves [that] her Majesty ... will condescend to regard them as ‘the Queen’s own’” (288). “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge” is, indeed, as Haliburton’s biographer, V.L.O. Chittick remarks, a “rhapsody to royalty” and “a creditable example of the graveyard school of composition” that constitutes an early phase of British Romanticism (470, 308).

    Because the Prince’s Lodge is a visible sign of “the bonds of affection” between Nova Scotia and Britain, its rapid “decay” can only be for Haliburton a dismaying sign of the disintegration of the imperial relationship. This is not stated directly in “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge” but it is clearly evident in the elegiac tone of the sketch. Everything about the “ruin,” from its “tottering fence” to its “silence and desolation,” “bespeak a rapid and premature decay ... and tell of ... the transitory nature of all earthly things” (284-85). “[M]ost depressing” is the speed with which the wood of which the Lodge was constructed has decayed. Unlike the “massive” brick and stone ruins of European “antiquity,” which “exhibit the remains of great strength, and though injured and defaced by the slow and almost imperceptible agency of time, promise to continue thus mutilated for ages to come,” “a wooden ruin shows rank and rapid decay, concentrates its interest on one family, or one man, and resembles a mangled corpse rather than the monument that covers it. It has no historical importance, no ancestral record. It awakens not the imagination” (285). Of course, Haliburton’s own imaginative response to the “historical” and “ancestral” implications of the Prince’s Lodge have already belied these assertions. Wooden it may be, but in The Clockmaker “the only ruin ... in Nova Scotia ... associated with royalty” becomes a bleak memento mori, a resonant symbol of the mutability and demise of all earthly things, including “the first and fairest empire in the world” (287).

    “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge” begins with the hopeful assertion that “[t]he communication by stream between Nova Scotia and England will form a new era in colonial history” (283), but the present and projected condition of the Prince’s lodge are an architectural narrative with a very different ending. Not only has the “vegetable decomposition” of its wood made it “deformed, gross, and repulsive,” but “[th]e forest is … reclaiming its own so fast that in a “few years ... all trace of it will have disappeared for ever” (285). Already in 1828, less than ten years after the Duke of Kent’s death, the eaves of the Lodge are full of “luxuriant clover” and “coarse grasses,” and its wooden “portico ... present[s] a mass of vegetable matter, from which ha[s] sprung up a young and vigorous birch-tree, whose strength and freshness seem ... to mock the helpless weakness that nourishe[s] it” (285-86). The near-bathetic bathos of these statements and an accompanying note stating that between 1828 and 1840 both “porch and tree ... disappeared” (286) indicates the depth of Haliburton’s dismay at the “relapse into nature” (286) that he continued to find at the Prince’s Lodge. What future could there be for the British presence and the imperial connection “in a climate where the living wood grows so rapidly, and the dead decays so soon,” where the residence of the “commander-in-chief of the [British] forces in th[e] colony” could so quickly have become the “mouldering” abode of “the ill-omened bat” (286, 184, 287)? Small wonder that in 1856 Haliburton emigrated to England and, as a Tory parliamentarian and pamphleteer, continued to argue “for the development of a colonial empire with an improved communication system” (Cogswell 355).

    More important than this proleptic aspect of “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge,” however, is its rôle in giving the Prince’s Lodge a virtual existence that has persisted long after all but a portion of what the sketch describes, interprets, and theorizes. Of course, the prominence if not the persistence of Haliburton’s sketch as a component of Canadian literature and culture is contingent on its literary merit, the esteem in which its author is held, and, hence, on the vicissitudes of taste and reputation. To Archibald McMechan, writing as a conservative and anti-Modernist in the nineteen twenties, “The Duke of Kent’s Lodge” was the “finest essay in serious prose” of one of the world’s great humorists (see 39 and 188), but to R.E. Rashley, writing in the ’fifties after the Modernist cry for newness had reverberated through Canadian culture, it was remarkable only for a “feeling of inferiority [that] helps to account for the absence of real feeling from immigrant verse” (10). When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited Canada in the early ’twenties he was delighted by the “villages and villas” that “adorn[ed]” “the beautiful shores of the St. Lawrence” but dismayed to discover the “small house of stone ... in which Tom Moore dwelt and where he wrote the ‘Canadian Boat Song’” bore “[n]o medallion” to commemorate the event (qtd. in Colombo 99). When John Robert Colombo collected material for Canadian Literary Landmarks in the early ’eighties the house had been transformed by the Victorian Order of Nurses into a restaurant called Au P’tit Café. Today, Haliburton’s house in Windsor, Nova Scotia is a heritage building, but it is unlikely to draw as many visitors as it did in the eighteen eighties and nineties when the Windsor and Annapolis Railway was touting tours of “The Land of Evangeline” that included a “visit [to] the home of the immortal ‘Sam Slick,’ known at his own fireside as Judge Haliburton.”2 As will shortly be seen, this would not be the last time that a house became home to a literary character for the purpose of attracting tourists and boosting the local economy.

    More common than houses that have been written into some degree of cultural permanency by authors who are otherwise not associated with them (The Prince’s Lodge) and houses that are associated with characters created by celebrated authors who actually lived in them (the Haliburton House) are houses in which such authors resided either before or during the creation of an important literary work. Like “Moore’s Oak,” such houses are sought out by cultural tourists for three primary reasons, all of which stem from a knowledge of what (in Lefebvre’s sense of the term) they “represent”: (1) a desire to pay homage to an author, (2) an urge to “connect” with him or her by spending time in the same “space,” and (3) a wish to see the place that is reputed to have inspired the virtual place of a written work. Almost certainly a combination of these reasons (as well as Irish patriotism) motivated McGee’s “pilgrimage” to “Moore’s Oak,” and when the Sara Jeannette Duncan (1861-1922) scholar, Thomas E. Tausky, travelled from London, Ontario to Duncan’s home town of Brantford in 19723 he doubtless did so in a similar spirit and with the specific intention of seeing the original of “Elgin” and “the ‘Plummer Place’” (14) in The Imperialist (1904). In the latter instance, he found a bitter-sweet example of adaptive re-use: the house at 96, West Street where Duncan was born and lived until 1885 had become the Thorpe Brothers Funeral Home.

    Although, as Tausky observes, “the Plummer Place” resembles Duncan’s childhood home more in “character and distinction” than in “architectural details” (322), it is an extraordinarily rich component of a novel that makes consistent and sophisticated use of elements of the built environment. Generally known in Elgin by the name of the immigrant from England who built it some twenty-five years earlier, “the Plummer Place” is home in the novel’s present day (circa. 1902-03) to Mr. and Mrs. John Murchison, more recent immigrants from Scotland whose six children include Lorne, “the imperialist” of the title. Situated in “an unfashionable outskirt” of the town, it is nevertheless “a respectable place” for a hardware-store owner and his family to live; indeed, its “ornamental grounds,” physical fabric, and, especially, its large coach barn require more money and manpower than the Murchisons can provide: “a fountain ... with a plaster Triton” in the “middle of the lawn” is “difficult to keep looking respectable,” “the cornice ... in the library” is but one of a number of things that continually need attention, and “the barn [is] ... outside the radius of possible amelioration” and “pass[ing] gradually, visibly, into decrepitude” (14, 22, 23). To Haliburton all this would have been dismaying evidence of the decay in Canada of the English upper-class traditions that the house embodies, but to Mrs. Murchison, who shares her husband’s middle-class liberal values, it is a regrettable but necessary result of the family’s financial situation that is consistent, moreover, with the value of Elgin – which is to say, English-Canadian – society. She “often wishe[s] [that] she could afford to pull … down” the coach barn, not just to remove a useless eyesore, but also because, like most people in Elgin, she recognizes the incongruity between the class-system represented by “the Plummer Place” and the more democratic values of early twentieth-century Canada:

The house was admired – without enthusiasm – but it was not copied. It was felt to be outside the general need, misjudged, adventitious; and it wore its superiority in the popular view like a folly. It was in Elgin, but not of it; it represented a different tradition; and Elgin made the same allowance for its bedroom bells and its old-fashioned dignities as was conceded to its original master’s habit of a six o’clock dinner, with wine. (23-24)

    What Mrs. Murchison does find attractive about “the Plummer Place” is “the large ideas upon which it ... [was] built and designed” (23). As Duncan prepares to register the impact of the house on John Murchison, she places it in relation to the social strata and eclectic tastes that are evident elsewhere in Elgin’s built environment:

The architectural expression of the town was on a different scale, beginning with ‘frame,’ rising through the semi-detached, culminating expensively in Mansard roofs, cupolas and modern conveniences, and blossoming, in extreme instances, into Moorish fretwork and silk portières for interior decoration.4 The Murchison house gained by force of contrast: one felt, stepping into it, under influences of less expediency and more dignity, wider scope and more leisured intention; its shabby spaces had a redundancy the pleasanter and its yellow plaster cornices a charm the greater for the numerous close-set examples of contemporary taste in red brick5 which made, surrounded by geranium beds, so creditable an appearance in the West Ward. John Murchison in taking possession of the house had felt in it these satisfactions, … the more perhaps because he brought to them a capacity for feeling the worthier things of life which circumstances [in a northern Scottish town] had not previously developed. (24)

The architectural forms, interior decorations, and floral adornments of the other houses in Elgin betoken the conventionality, fashion consciousness, and constricted lives and minds of most of the town’s residents. In contrast, “the Plummer Place”/“Murchison house” was conceived and built, Mrs. Murchison imagines, by “a person of large ideas,” and its effect on her husband is expansive and inspiring: he takes “acute pleasure … [from] seeing the big horse-chestnuts in flower”; he derives continual satisfaction from feeling the “weight” of the hall door; and he resolves to “supplement the idiosyncracies” of the house by filling the bookcase in its “library” with “English classics” (22, 24).

    The house also has a positive effect on the Murchison children, especially Lorne and his older sister Advena, for it stimulates their imagination and thus strengthens the faculty that will enable them to see beyond the horizons of Elgin and, indeed, Canada:

… the place … was pure joy to the young Murchisons. It offered a margin and a mystery to life. They saw it far larger than it was: they invested it, arguing purely by its difference from other habitations, with a romantic past. “I guess when the Prince of Wales came to Elgin, mother, he stayed here,” Lorne remarked as a little boy. Secretly he and Advena took up boards in more than one unused room, and rapped on more than one thick wall to find a hollow chamber; the house revealed so much that was interesting, it was apparent to the meanest understanding that it must hide even more. It was never half lighted, and there was a passage in which fear dwelt – wild were the gallopades from attic to cellar in the early nightfall, when every young Murchison tore after every other, possessed, like cats, by a demoniac ecstasy of the gloaming. And the garden, with the autumn moon coming over the apple trees and the neglected asparagus thick for ambush … – these were joys of the very fibre, things to push ideas and envisage life with an attraction that made it worthwhile to grow up. (25-26)

“[I]f I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house,” writes Gaston Bachelard as he embarks on his phenomenological “topoanalysis” of the house and its components in The Poetics of Space, “I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace…. If it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams” (6, 8). There can be little doubt that Duncan’s lengthy description of the responses of the Murchison children to the house and garden of “the Plummer Place” contains elements of memory and daydream (reverie) or that she would have accepted Bachelard’s claim that the house occupies a central place in “the metaphysics of consciousness” and the “phenomenology of the imagination” (7, 17). In the Duncan house at 96, West Street in Brantford lay seeds of “the Plummer Place” in The Imperialist and in “the Plummer Place” the seeds of Lorne’s capacity to envisage imperial unity and Advena’s willingness to become the wife of a missionary in White Water, Alberta (258).6 In both cases lies the fundamental truth that to imagine a house is always in some sense to (re-)create it and, for better or worse, to change a part of the world from what it is or was to what it might be or could become.

    The architectural form as well as the geographical location that Duncan gives to “the Plummer Place” are further indications of its rôle as an encouragement to ideas and vision. “[A] dignified old affair, built of wood and painted white,”7 it has “wide green verandahs compassing … [its] four sides” (22) that allow the Murchisons and their children to look east (towards Britain), south (towards the United States), and north and west (towards the sites of Canada’s burgeoning prosperity such as Alberta).8 Situated in the West Ward (and thus oriented towards Canada and the future) and, more precisely, where “the plank sidewalk finishe[s]” and the “wheatfields” begin, it occupies a liminal – and therefore creative – position “betwixt and between” different realms, a site of “possibility” where cultural gives can be “deconstruct[ed]” and “reconstructed” into new units and combinations (Turner 159-60). That the house is indeed such a site of creative destruction is abundantly evident, not least in the “frayed air of exile from some garden some garden sloping to the sea” exuded by the “plaster Triton” on the lawn and by the Murchison’s early attempts to find a practical use for the horse barn: “at one time [they] kept a cow in [it], till a succession of ‘girls’ left on account of the milking, and the lane was useful as an approach to the back yard by the teams that brought the cordwood in the winter” (22-23). (Perhaps the “cornstacks … [that] camp … around [the house] like a besieging army” in the “autumn” [22] are to be read as figures for the forces in the Canadian environment that militate against persistence without adaptation of upper-class British traditions in North America.) When Duncan’s narrator later discloses that she has “embarked ... upon an analysis of the social principles in Elgin” the “clue or two more” that she “leave[s] … for the use of the curious” confirm that “the Plummer Place” is paradigmatic of British Canadian society:

No doubt [Elgin’s social] rules had their nucleus in the half-dozen families, among whom we may count the shadowy Plummers, who took upon themselves, … by the King’s pleasure, the administration of justice, the practice of medicine and of the law, and the performance of the charges of the Church of England a long time ago. Such persons would bring their lines of [class] demarcation with them, and in their new milieu of backwoods settlers and small traders would find no difficulty in drawing them again. But it was a very long time ago. The little knot of gentry-folk soon found the limitations of their new conditions…. They took, perforce, to the ways of the country…. Trade flourished, education improved, politics changed…. The original dignified group broke, dissolved, scattered…. It was a sorry tale of disintegration with a cheerful sequel of rebuilding,9 leading to a little unavoidable confusion as the edifice went up. Any process of blending implies confusion to begin with; we are here at the making of a nation. (40-41)

With “wheatfields ... billow[ing] up to its fences” in the summer (22), “the Plummer Place”/ “Murchison house” is Duncan’s architectural microcosm of the edifice of British North America/Canada. “Building and thinking are, each in its own way, inescapable for dwelling,” writes Heidegger, but they are also “insufficient for dwelling so long as each busies itself with its own affairs in separation instead of listening to one another” (160-61). In The Imperialist, as will be seen again in the next chapter, “building and thinking” most definitely listen to each other and “belong to dwelling.”

    Four years after the appearance of The Imperialist in book form in 1904, the novel that has done more than any other to change a portion of Canada was published in New York. Anne of Green Gables (1908) by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942) contains an interlocked trio of elements whose impact on the perception, landscape, economy and “image” (not to say “brand”) of its setting was to prove immense: Anne herself, the red-haired orphan whose power to transform people as well as landscapes in and through her imagination prefigures the effect of the numerous novels in which she would eventually appear; Green Gables, the house of Anne’s adoptive parents Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert which and whom Montgomery based on the house of her cousins, the Webbs; and the landscape and seascape of the area around Cavendish, which figures in the novel as Avonlea. As indicated by the opening description of it, Green Gables is as inseparable from its environs as it becomes for its imaginative young occupant:

the big, rambling, orchard-embowered house where the Cuthberts lived was a scant quarter of a mile up the road from Lynde’s Hollow…. Matthew Cuthbert’s father, as shy and silent as his son after him, had got as far away as he possibly could from his fellow men without actually retreating into the woods when he founded his homestead. Green Gables was built on the furthest edge of his cleared land and there it was to this day, barely visible from the main road along which all the other Avonlea houses were so sociably situated. (3-4)

Located at a point of balance between the human and the natural realms on the “edge” of a field and the forest, Green Gables recalls “the Plummer Place” in its liminality, but with some important differences: whereas the Murchison’s house is a part of the built environment that is undergoing a process of “disintegration” and “rebuilding” in response to its Canadian circumstances, the Cuthberts’ house is apart from the built environment and represents the persistence across generations of a bucolic – indeed, pastoral – harmony between human beings and the natural world that will prove utterly congenial to Anne’s post-Romantic sensibility. Not only are its gables green, but the east window of its kitchen, “whence you g[e]t a glimpse of the bloom white cherry-trees in the left orchard and nodding, slender birches down in the hollow by the brook, [is] greened over by a tangle of vines” (4-5).

    Encouraged by the appearance between 1909 and 1920 of several sequels to Anne of Green Gables as well as a movie of the novel (1919), tourists eager to visit the house and landscape in which it is set were already visiting Prince Edward Island in considerable numbers in the nineteen twenties, but the transformation of the novel’s settings into tourist sites did not begin in earnest until the mid-’thirties. Perhaps inspired by the thriving tourist industry that had been developed in late nineteenth-century Nova Scotia around Longfellow’s Evangeline: a Tale of Acadie (1847) and, to a lesser extent, Haliburton’s Sam Slick, the federal government began to expropriate the seashore east and west of Cavendish for the Prince Edward Island National Park, which is configured so as to embrace the town and include the Webb house. This too was acquired by the federal government and, in a curious (even uncanny) mixture of authenticity and inauthenticity, equipped with green gables, an Edwardian girl’s bedroom, and other period accoutrements as an appropriate physical dwelling for Montgomery’s fictional character so that it became a there (or here) inhabited by the materialized spectre whose presence (presumably) can be felt by visitors.10 As employees of Parks Canada have been known to observe wryly, Green Gables is “the house in which the girl who never lived never lived” (qtd. in Struzik 3). By 1973 when Green Gables was opened to the public, there had been two more Anne movies (1934, 1941) and Anne of Green Gables: the Musical (1965 and almost every summer thereafter). Further encouraged by the alluring 1985 television series directed by Kevin Sullivan and starring the brilliantly chosen Megan Follows, the transformation of north-central P.E.I. into an Anne of Green Gables theme park was virtually complete: the saddle of the Island is now known as the “Land of Anne” or “Anne’s Land” and, much to the horror of many tourists and residents, now contains everything for the Anne fan from “The Enchanted Castle” in “The Enchanted Lands” and “Avonlea, Village of Anne of Green Gables” to “The Anne of Green Gables Store” and “Anne’s Tea Party.” “This area needs no introduction,” reads the Prince Edward Island Handbook for tourists (2000 edition); “it is the region that has made P.E.I. famous around the world through Lucy Maud Montgomery’s feisty fictional character, Anne of Green Gables … plan to stay for a while” (50).11 In part a consequence of the tourist industry in which Anne of Green Gables looms so large, the construction of the Confederation Bridge (1993-97) between the Island and New Brunswick can only add further impetus to the Annification of a province in which tourism comes second only to agriculture in economic importance.

    Although the creation of a representational space on the basis of what happened there to a fictional character rather than a real person is not unknown in other countries (39, Baker Street quickly comes to mind), it is relatively unusual and appears all the more freakish in light of the fact that the actual house in which Montgomery lived and wrote in Cavendish is a subterranean ruin that attracts only a small fraction of the touristic interest generated by Green Gables. A pilgrimage to the ruin is worthwhile for at least two reasons, however: like a journey to Saint-Marie among the Hurons as described by E.J. Pratt (1883-1964), it brings the visitor to “the exact spot where [Montgomery] wrote and read” and may engender “an emotional experience … akin to the feeling which a parent would receive standing near the soil under which a child had been buried” (121); and for those who have had this experience of its “affective kernel or centre,” it deepens the realization that the treatment of Montgomery’s fiction as if it were reality – indeed, the embodiment of it in material forms – constitutes a gross violation of the Victorian principles whereby the excesses of fancy to which Anne is given are methodically chastened by experience until her Romanticism is aligned with a mature sense of duty and responsibility. Perhaps an even stronger sense of presence and infidelity may result from a visit to Montgomery’s grave in a small cemetery adjacent to the Royal Atlantic Wax Museum, which contains “109 life-size wax figures” of movie stars, British royals, American presidents, and the like (Prince Edward Island Handbook 58). Little wonder that Cynthia Brouse has invoked Jean Baudrillard’s McLuhenesque concept of the “simulacrum” (36) – the likeness that becomes more real than the thing it purports to represent – in relation to all but a few elements of “The Land of Anne.”

    But why, it may be asked, has “Anne” of all literary characters become the centerpiece of the largest assemblage of simulacra in Canada? Why was she rather than Montgomery herself chosen as a primary means of attracting tourists to Prince Edward Island? The very obvious answer – that a widely known and loved character has eclipsed her somewhat colourless creator – should not be allowed to obscure other factors, including the preference in popular culture for easily identifiable (and thus marketable) characters and images over the writers and texts from which they spring, and the absence in Prince Edward Island of appealing (and again marketable) alternatives in such realms as history, folklore, and archaeology. No doubt, similar factors lay behind the constitution of Evangeline and Sam Slick as real figures in late nineteenth-century Nova Scotia, the result being a continuity of incarnating the literary imaginary in the Maritime provinces that, once recognized, can be seen to include two other examples: that of La Segouine, the literary character created by Antonine Maillet (1929- ) in her 1974 novel of the same title, who now has the “House of her Dreams” in a mock village that was created around her in the early ’nineties on an island in New Brunswick’s Bouctouche River12 and that of The Lone Shieling, a Scottish cattle or sheep herder’s summer hut that was built in Cape Breton, not as a home for a fictional character, but to give physical form to three words in a stanza of a poem whose author is unknown.

    That poem is the “Canadian Boat-Song,” which was first published anonymously in the “Noctes Ambrosianae” section of Blackwood’s Magazine (Edinburgh) in September 1829 and has since generated more scholarly discussion than any other poem written in or about Canada.13 One reason for this is that the poem’s anonymity has prompted numerous authors to suggest and defend candidates for its authorship, a roster that includes John Galt and William “Tiger” Dunlop. The other is its second stanza, four lines whose poignant expression of “the regret of the immigrant at the loss of his familiar home” (R.E. Rashley 4) have led to its inclusion as an independent poem in numerous novels and anthologies such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters (1883) and Field Marshall, Lord Wavell’s Other Men’s Flowers (1945). Spoken as if by the collective voice of an exiled community, the “Lone Shieling” stanza of the “Canadian Boat-Song” speaks of enormous physical barriers transcended by feelings and imaginings whose origins lie deep in the identity of Scottish exiles and emigrants:

From the lone shieling of the misty island
    Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas –
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
    And we in dreams behold the Hebrides….
(qtd. in Bentley, “‘The Canadian Boat-Song’” 69)

Whatever its authorship, this stanza makes masterful use of rhythm, diction, and imagery to reinforce its themes and moods. Particularly notable is the shift from somewhat irregular rhythms that accompany the expression of division in the opening two lines and the more regular rhythms in which the transcendence of division is expressed in the lines beginning with “Yet.” So, too, are the evocative vagueness of “the misty islands,” the desolate expansiveness of “the waste of seas,” and the confident affirmation of “the heart is Highland.” And, of course, at the imagistic focal point of the poem is the affective and, for many readers, mysterious figure of “the lone shieling.”

    Although “The Lone Shieling” stanza must have had its effect on men and women of numerous national and ethnic groups it has inevitably exerted an especially powerful influence on people of Scottish extraction, one of whom initiated the architectural project that Ian McKay has described as the “oddest event” in the construction of Nova Scotia as an essentially Scottish province in the years surrounding the Second World War (“Tartanism Triumphant” 34), namely, the construction of the Lone Shieling that now stands beside the Cabot Trail in northern Cape Breton. As McKay records in “Tartanism Triumphant: the Construction of Scottishness in Nova Scotia, 1933-1954,” the project was instigated in 1934 by a bequest to the Crown of a hundred acres by a former Dalhousie University professor named Donald S. MacIntosh, who requested in his will “‘that the government of [Nova Scotia] maintain a small park [on the property] ... and ... build there a small Cabin which will be constructed in the same design or plan as the lone shieling on the Island of Skye, Scotland’” (33). (The echo in MacIntosh’s request of W.B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” [“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made” (44)] is but one indication of its participation in the pastoral yearnings of antimodernism.)14 Because the premier of Nova Scotia at that time was Angus L. Macdonald, a Liberal with a conservative bias and a regional vision who, in McKay’s neo-Marxian (Foucauldian, Gramscian) terms saw “pre-Capitalist Highland culture” as a bulwark against modernity, MacIntosh’s bequest was accepted by the Province and used to strengthen the case for the establishment in 1937 of the park whose very name – Cape Breton Highlands National Park – attests to the “naturalization” of Macdonald’s belief in Nova Scotia’s “inherently Scottish” identity (“Tartanism Triumphant” 34). The fact that Macdonald had earlier alluded to “The Lone Shieling” stanza in a speech at the “Memorial to the late Bishop MacEachern of Prince Edward Island, 1929”15 makes his enthusiasm of MacIntosh’s bequest especially understandable. A bronze plaque carrying details of the bequest and an unlineated version of “The Lone Shieling” stanza was unveiled in Cape Breton in 1947 by Fiona McLeod of McLeod (see McKay, “Tartanism Triumphant” 34).

    McKay’s research into “the Construction of Scottishness in Nova Scotia” is brilliantly illuminating, but not everyone will agree that the project that helped to establish a large national park on Cape Breton, to secure a lasting source of tourist revenue for Nova Scotia, and to enhance the economic prospects and local pride of many Maritimers (and, indeed, Canadians) was quite as sinister and risible as he suggests.16 (The “tartanization” of Scotland itself has been similarly ridiculed and denounced by critics of the Left, but it, too, has had many positive effects.) It is true that the Lone Shieling that stands in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is inauthentic (“Tartanism Triumphant” 33), but, as argued elsewhere, this does not prevent it from having educational value or serving as a reminder of past events and past conceptions between Canada and Britain.17 Moreover, it joins Green Gables as an extraordinary instance of the imaginary realized in such a way as to create a “representational space” and a visitable space – indeed, to “found … and … join … spaces” and to make “the slovenly wilderness / Surround” the place on which it stands.


  1. For further discussion of “Ballad Stanzas” and the other enormously influential poetic product of Moore’s visit to Canada, “A Canadian Boat Song” (1806) see Bentley, Mnemographia Canadensis 1:70-77 and 408-11 and Near the Rapids: Thomas Moore in Canada.” [back]
  2. The advertisement for the “Land of Evangeline” route of the Windsor and Annapolis Railway from which these quotations are taken appears in Charles G.D. Roberts’s The Canadian Guide-Book: The Tourist’s and Sportsman’s Guide to Eastern Canada and Newfoundland (1891). See also my “Charles G.D. Roberts and William Wilfred Campbell as Canadian Tour Guides” 85-86. [back]
  3. Information from personal conversation. [back]
  4. The OED defines, “portière” as “[a] curtain hung over a door or doorway, to prevent draught, to serve as a screen, or for ornament.” [back]
  5. As Tausky notes, when The Imperialist was serialized in The Queen (London, England) in 1903 the “bricks” were not “red” but “white” (322), white being the term for the yellow clay bricks that are common n southwestern Ontario. [back]
  6. “The Murchisons were all imaginative” declares the narrator in the opening chapter of the novel, adding later that “[i]magination ... is a quality dispensed with of necessity in the practice of most     professions, being that of which nature is, for some reason, most niggardly” (10, 82, and see 109, 124, 135, 147, 188-89, and 216). [back]
  7. There are, of course, the colours of the houses favoured by Loyalists in John MacTaggart’s taxonomy (see previous chapter), but there is no indication that the Plummers were other than what they are several times implied to be: emigrants who came directly to Canada from Britain. Duncan also observes of “the Plummer Place” that its spacious wooden verandahs reflect a time in which “the builder had only to turn his hand to the forest” for materials (22). [back]
  8. A study of the metaphysical geography of The Imperialist remains to be written, but would be supported by a large amount of evidence in the novel, including the locations of houses and characters in various wards and, as will be seen in Chapter 6: The Centre in the Square, by Duncan’s description of Elgin’s town square. As indicated by her later depiction of Lorne “on the top of an omnibus lumbering west out of Trafalgar Square” in London, England (114; emphasis added), Duncan’s metaphysical geography at times makes itself apparent even in her choice of verbs. [back]
  9. See my “Breaking the ‘Cake of Custom’: the Atlantic Crossing as a Rubicon for Female Emigrants to Canada” for a discussion of the transformative effect of trans-marine migration. [back]
  10. In “Anne of Red Hair: What Do the Japanese See in Anne of Green Gables?” Calvin Trillin writes that “[t]he houses visited by Anne fans look pretty much the way they did when … Montgomery was visiting them, and they look like the houses down the road. All this may make it somewhat less likely that someone who is shown ‘Matthew’s room’ at one of the Anne sights will respond by saying, ‘Matthew was imaginary. He didn’t have a room’” (217-18). “The fact that … Montgomery is sometimes difficult to distinguish from her heroine adds to the commingling of fiction and reality which is part of celebrating Anne of Prince Edward Island,” he adds, “so that being married in the parlour where Maud was married almost seems to put a couple into the book” (218). [back]
  11. See Carole Gerson, “‘Dragging at Anne’s Chariot Wheels’: the Triangle of Author, Publisher, and Fictional Character” 50-52 for a well-nuanced account of the economics of the Anne phenomenon. Trillin observes that in “a survey taken by a Japanese travel magazine in 1992 “Prince Edward Island ranked with New York, Paris, and London as a place that the Japanese most wanted to visit. See also Yoshiko Akamatsu, “Japanese Readings of Anne of Green Gables” for an analysis of Anne’s status in Japanese popular culture. [back]
  12. In “Le Pays de la Sagouine,” Bernard Poirier provides a succinct account of the genesis and components of the theme park, concluding that New Brunswick now has its equivalent of Anne of Green Gables as a legendary character and tourist attraction. See also International Contract Magazine, “First Nations Design and the Quiet Revolution,” July 1993, for a discussion of the work of the project’s architect, Élide Albert, as a manifestation of Native sensibilities. [back]
  13. For a sampling and bibliography of this discussion, as well as a reprinting of the portion of “Noctes” in which the poem appeared, see my “‘The Canadian-Boat’: a Mosaic.” [back]
  14. See also McKay’s The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism in and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia where “Tartanism Triumphant” is incorporated into a discussion of the larger cultural phenomenon of which the construction of the Lone Shieling was a part. [back]
  15. “We spring from the same soil, you [the residents of Prince Edward Island] and I ... we honour the same heroes, we venerate the same names.... The call of the blood is strong and our hearts are still Highland” (qtd. in McKay, “Tartanism Triumphant” 26). [back]
  16. “Over a million tourists were welcomed [to Nova Scotia] in 1980,” observes James H. Morrison in “American Tourism in Nova Scotia, 1871-1940,” and “tourism is now [in 1982] recognized as Nova Scotia’s leading resource industry. In a province of just over 800,000 people, tourism [in 1980] provided more than 24,000 jobs and contributed over $500 million annually to the provincial economy” (40). Many of those tourists were welcomed to Nova Scotia by bagpiper who was installed for that purpose as part of the “tartanization” of the province that McKay places on view (see “Tartanism Triumphant” 30). [back]
  17. See Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 262-63 for evidence of it serving these functions. [back]


Works Cited