Lucy Maud Montgomery / Canadian World / Anne of Green Gables

For 30 episodes and counting now, I’ve closed out every podcast episode of mine with this quote: “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” Today, I’m here to tell you about the person who said that. Along the way, of course, we’ll find ourselves in a theme park, located in Japan, themed around a plucky Canadian redhead called Anne. This week, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Canadian World.


Today, I’m going to start with the story of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the person behind Anne. Then I’ll talk about Anne of Green Gables and her international fame, particularly in Japan. Finally, I’ll go over the theme park: Anne of Canadian World. 

Lucy Maud Montgomery

You know her name. I’ve said it at the end of every episode of The Abandoned Carousel. But who was Lucy Maud Montgomery?

I’m so glad you asked. Did you know that she’s an incredible person who did a lot of interesting things? It’s been so delightful to research such a strong and brilliant woman, making her own way (to paraphrase another woman, one of my favorite Tweets of all time from the exceptional Blair Braverman about her amazing sled dog Pepe). 

We all know Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables. But how did she get there? Who was this ineffable being? “To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself,” Maud wrote in her 1917 autobiography.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was the writer who wrote Anne of Green Gables, and all associated books. She was born in a small village on Prince Edward Island (Canada) in November 1874. 

In her 1917 autobiography, Maud includes a section from a poem called To The Fringed Gentian, describing it as the keynote of her every aim and ambition from childhood onwards:

“Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep
  How I may upward climb
The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
  That leads to heights sublime;
How I may reach that far-off goal
  Of true and honoured fame,
And write upon its shining scroll
  A woman’s humble name.”

How much do we want to get into it? Well, Maud’s life was filled with difficult situations from a young age. Her mother, Clara Woolner Macneill Montgomery, died of tuberculosis when Maud was almost aged 2. Her father, Hugh John Montgomery, was a bit of a flake by many accounts, and gave Maud into the primary care of her maternal grandparents. He slowly moved himself away bit by bit in search of “business” to Prince Albert (North-West Territories, now Saskatchewan) some 44h by car in the modern era. He fully awayed himself after Maud survived a bout of typhoid fever around age 5.

1884 portrait of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Public domain.

And before I go further, I hear you saying, but why are you calling her “Maud”? Though she was born as “Lucy Maud”, in nod to her maternal grandmother Lucy Macneill, Maud herself once wrote “my friends call me ‘Maud’ and nothing else”; later, she wrote ““I never liked Lucy as a name. I always liked Maud—spelled not ‘with an e’ if you please.””. Maud with no e, she was very firm, and so who am I to go against her stated desires?

Maud had a lonely childhood. As I said, she’d been given into the care of her grandparents, the Macneills, who had never approved of their daughter Clara’s marriage to Hugh John in the first place. Her childhood was a constant tightrope between the “passionate Montgomery blood” and the “Puritan Macneill conscience”. Tall, thin, severe old Grandma Lucy loved her daughter in her own way, and Maud back, but it was never well-expressed. Only later, in the fictional character of Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables, does Maud ever truly celebrate her grandmother. 

In the face of her father leaving, Maud let out her anger only towards her grandparents, never saying a word against the flaky absent parent Hugh John. Grandma Lucy had to play peacemaker in the house: between her husband, anti-social Grandpa Macneill who did not want to parent another child after already raising several to adulthood, and the angry semi-orphan Maud, desperate for socialization. Grandma Lucy pleased neither in the process. 

Maud’s Childhood Friends

Maud’s “ancient” aunt Emily, the Macneill’s daughter, got married off, leaving Grandma and Grandpa Macneill alone with Maud. As the Dictionary of Canadian Biography puts it, “their stern Scottish Presbytarianism became more rigid as they aged”. Think about living in a remote area, 11 miles from the railways and 24 miles from the nearest town, population about 1000, at the turn of the 1900s, and you might begin to see the scope of Maud’s isolation, especially as an outgoing tween and teen. It was a constant cycle between Maud’s flights of fancy causing town gossip, which her strict grandparents then agonized over.

However, Maud had it relatively good – a nice roof over her head, plenty to eat, clothes to wear. Her family was considered high status in Cavendish at the time. And despite the small population, there was a school and two churches and a meeting hall, there were cousins and friends throughout her early years.

Her grandparents boarded two orphan boys for four glorious years, when Maud was between 7 and 11 years old: Wellington and David Nelson, or Well and Dave, both around her age. These were incredible years for Maud, having siblings like she’d always dreamed, built-in playmates to roam and adventure with. They had free range of the world, to create and imagine and dream, telling stories, foraging for apples, and fishing. Summers were spent wandering the shorelines, collecting shells and talking with the mackerel fishers. 

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last. One morning, with no explanation, Well and Dave vanished, their room cleaned up, possessions gone. Perhaps the Macneills realized Maud was getting too old to be spending so much time with boys, or perhaps they simply thought it was kinder this way. 

Maud had the occasional schoolfriends, but nothing and no one gave her the companionship she craved. She constantly perceived feelings of being an outsider, orphaned and alone, however. As she herself said to her journals, “Materially, I was well cared for … it was emotionally and socially that my nature was starved and restricted.” In her autobiography and other public-facing forums, Maud remained neutral, calling her childhood “very quiet and simple” and saying “Some might think it dull. But life never held for me a dull moment. I had, in my vivid imagination, a passport to the geography of Fairyland.

Her journals are a subject I should mention, as they are often referenced when talking about Maud’s life and Anne of Green Gables. Maud wrote ten volumes of journals over the course of her life. As she gained fame in the 1910s, she began to edit and type up her journals. Maud was savvy, and she knew that the journals would eventually be published, so she began to shape them to reflect her life in the way she wanted to be perceived.

Here, then, is a biased source, an unreliable narrator. We do get insights into the private reality of Maud. However, Maud rewrote and retyped her journals, burning items that didn’t fit her desired image, so clearly Maud always had a public audience in mind. 

The other interesting thing is that unlike contemporaries Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott, Maud’s journals were kept private for several decades. It took until 1985 before abridged versions of the journals were published, and prior to that, only a handful of scholars even had access to the unedited versions.

From these journals, we get a deeper sense of the person. Maud was lonely. She felt like an outsider in the small town of Cavendish, though Maud herself was forever fervently passionate about the place, calling it “hallowed ground”. She invented imaginary friends, who lived in the glass doors of a cupboard in the Macneill’s parlor: Katie Maurice, a girl her own age; and Lucy Gray, an elderly widow who told “dismal stories of her troubles”. Maud had free range of the beautiful natural environment of Prince Edward Island, where she learned to make fun and merriment everywhere, out of the personalities of even the trees and the cats. Everything had a name, everything had feelings.

Writing and art were not seen as appropriate for well-bred ladies of the time in Cavendish, marking Maud, with her constant habit of writing and journaling as an oddity at best. And unfortunately, Maud’s extended family ridiculed and disparaged her early interest in writing, as mere “scribbling”, and later with harshed words. These were comments that she would perpetually remember and resent. 

Harsh comments were the ones Maud dwelled on forever. Her autobiography recalls a time when she was perpetually called by a boys’ name, much to her anger. “That experience taught me one lesson, at least. I never tease a child. If I had any tendency to do so, I should certainly be prevented by the still keen recollection of what I suffered at Mr. Forbes’ hands. To him, it was merely the “fun” of teasing a “touchy” child. To me, it was the poison of asps.”

At age 15, Maud received a summons from her father, Hugh John Montgomery, who’d gone and remarried and had children with his new wife. He invited her out to stay with him for a year, and she jumped at the chance to spend time with her father, whom she still idolized. Her paternal grandfather, John Montgomery, accompanied her on the six-day-long train trip out to Saskatchewan, for propriety’s sake.

Things weren’t great in Prince Albert, and Maud wasn’t welcome with the open arms she’d expected. Her stepmother Mary Ann MacRae wasn’t much older than Maud herself (she was 23 years younger than Hugh John Montgomery, her husband!). Maud spared no kind words for her, saying that she was “a woman whose evil temper and hateful disposition made [Hugh John’s] life miserable.” Maud was essentially treated as hired help. In fact, wicked stepmother Mary Ann pulled Maud out of school, setting her to tend the house and care for her stepsiblings, including the prodigal son and heir to the family name. 

There were few bright spots, all writing-related. Maud had her first works published: a poem “On Cape LeForce”, and an article discussing a visit to a First Nations camp on the Great Plains. Of the experience, she wrote: “ The moment we see our first darling brain-child arrayed in black type is never to be forgotten. It has in it some of the wonderful awe and delight that comes to a mother when she looks for the first time on the face of her first born.” Maud later claimed that the days she spendt sending out her poetry around this time were where she learned “the first, last, and middle lesson — Never give up!” 

What she had hoped would be a wonderful time in Prince Albert ended up being far from it, given all this, and Maud was grateful to return to Cavendish and her maternal grandparents, to her private bedroom where she could write in peace. With no accompaniment from Grandfather Montgomery on the journey home, Maud had to travel alone, finding her own accommodations in the evenings every time the train stopped. This was quite the feat as a young single female, not socially acceptable, but Maud handled it with aplomb.

Maud’s Higher Education

Maud was desperate to escape from the bleak path that lay ahead for unmarried women of that time, and knew she had to get out of town, despite her love for Cavendish. She applied to Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, in order to obtain her teacher’s license. With money having long run out, Grandma Lucy stepped in, loaning Maud her own money to help her attend school. With only enough money for a single year, Lucy Maud Montgomery was forced to complete the two-year program in a single year (1893-1894). She graduated with honors and described it as “the happiest year of my life”. I did tell you this was a story about a kickass woman, right?

She immediately began to teach. This was the days of one-room schoolhouses, where there was a teacher for an entire town, poorly-paid and exhausting work in (usually) rural communities. Maud taught at Bideford, Belmont, and Lower Bedeque: schools of 20-60 students between 6 and 13 years of age. The sense that I’ve gotten is that Maud Montgomery was a beloved teacher. She also spent part of each day writing fiction and poetry for submissions to the rapidly expanding newspaper and magazine market.

In 1895-1896, she took a break from teaching and studied literature at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was quite the rarity for a woman, especially of her means, to seek higher education at this time; women were expected to teach until they married and then raise families and tend house. Grandmother Lucy Macneill came through for Maud yet again, scraping together her personal funds to set Maud through a year of school, but only a year. While Maud’s male cousin Murray Macneill received familial financial support to continue university, there was no such support for a female.

Starting in 1897, you really regularly see Maud publishing poetry in the Canadian papers [name them]. It was only in 1895 that her first payment for a published poem came: $5 Canadian, and with it, Maud bought a multivolume book set of poetry, people like Tennyson and Byron and Milton.

Maud’s Love Life

Here’s something I didn’t expect when I began researching this topic. I never would’ve guessed that Maud had the varied love life that she did. Apparently in a January 1917 journal entry, she sat down and ranked the men she’d had love affairs with, though she was careful to remind the reader that most of them held no sway over her affections.  

Childhood Loves

Nate Lockhart was one of the boys Maud knew in her tween years. On the cusp of womanhood or some other flowery phrase, Nate developed feelings for Maud, and proposed (at age 14!). Maud didn’t feel the same way, and “retreated”, trying to maintain his friendship. 

In Prince Albert, she had two suitors. John Mustard was actually her school teacher, and he spent much of the year delivering unwanted advances to Maud. He went so far as to regularly call at her stepmother’s house against Maud’s wishes, and stepmother Mary Ann let him in every time! Will Pritchard was Maud’s friend, or the brother of her close friend there, to whom she complained about John Mustard. Both men proposed to her, and she rejected both of them.

Edwin Simpson

In 1897, Maud was working in Bideford when she received a proposal from a distant cousin, Edwin Simpson, who was off studying to be a Baptist minister. She accepted, as she later wrote, out of a desire for “love and protection”. Maud felt her prospects were slim, she felt herself lonely and trapped in her rural teacher’s position, and thought she wanted the family life. Edwin was attractive and her intellectual equal.

However, though Maud was initially attracted to Edwin on a physical level, her opinions shifted, and she began to feel trapped and repelled by him, finding him self-centered and vain. It’s reported that she felt physically nauseated by his presence. 

(George) Herman Leard

The next school year, 1897-1898, Maud moved to Lower Bedeque to teach. Here, she boarded with the Leard family. And here, Maud had a passionate affair with the man she later said she loved the most out of all her suitors: Herman Leard. He was the opposite of Edwin – a salt of the earth farmboy type, a “himbo” in modern parlance. And 23-year-old Maud was smitten.

1897 portrait of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Public domain.

Her diaries are filled with Maud’s descriptions of their affair, which, like I said, was unexpected. “our lips met in one long passionate pressure – a kiss of fire and rapture such I had never experienced or imagined. Ed’s kisses at the best left me cold as ice – Hermann’s sent flame through every fiber of my being”. 

As the school year rolled into the springtime, Maud took herself to task, resolving in her diary that she must stay faithful to her fiance Edwin Simpson, but it was to no effect. Yes, both Maud and Herman behaved badly this summer. Maud was still secretly engaged to Edwin, and Herman was publicly courting a local girl named Hattie, squiring Hattie about during the day and sharing secret kisses with Maud at night. Maud’s journal entries that year were filled with her feelings for Hermann Leard: “wild, passionate, unreasoning love that dominated my entire being and possessed me like a flame – a love I could neither quell nor control – a love that in its intensity seemed little short of absolute madness.”  

And though it’s perhaps not the topic for this particular podcast, Maud definitely reached multiple bases with Herman Leard, as we might say. Despite the strict Presbytarian upbringing, Maud still did plenty of “preliminary lovemaking” with Hermann when they were alone in the house. Maud’s words, not mine.

It was not to last. 

In an unfortunate set of coincidences in spring of 1898, Maud broke it off with Hearmann. Soon after, he died from the flu. Maud wrote about it in her diary, saying Herman was “all mine in death, as he could never be in life, mine when no other women could ever lie on his heart or kiss his lips.” Around the same time, Maud broke her unhappy engagement with Edwin Simpson, too.

Not only that, but Grandpa Macneill died suddenly. All of this change and chaos happening at the same time! 

With her engagement and affair broken off, Maud chose to move back in with her widowed Grandma Lucy Macneill. Under the guise of taking care of her elderly grandmother (age 74, so certainly elderly for the time), Maud was able to avoid any more male entanglements or shenanigans. She was done with romance, she’d decided. Instead, she took care of Grandma Lucy, who in her own way had cared so much for Maud in her childhood, and ran the post office, still in the farmhouse kitchen. In doing so, Maud won respect from the Cavendish community. Professionally, Maud was able to write full time, getting the gossip from the townspeople coming and going from the post office, which she could then write into her books. And since she was postmistress, she could send items off to publishers without anyone being the wiser, avoiding the negative comments she so dreaded. 

Between 1898 and 1911 when Grandma Lucy Macneill finally passed away, Maud published like mad: stories, articles, poems, and her most famous book, Anne of Green Gables. She also worked for a brief period of time as the only woman at the Halifax-based Daily Echo, but gave this up in order to do battle when her uncle (John Macneill) attempted to evict Grandma Lucy, his mother, from her house where she and Maud lived. 

Ewan Macdonald and Oliver Macneill

During these halcyon days, a new minister moved to town, in 1903, the Reverend Ewan Macdonald (spelled both Ewen and Ewan). Ewan spoke Gaelic and was smitten by Maud conversation, sense of humor, and charm. In return, Maud too found him attractive, kind, and pleasant. There was never a language of passion for Ewan the way Maud had written of Herman Leard, but there was at least fondness.

For the first few years of their acquaintance, they were friendzoned. 

Around 1906, however, Ewan was heading off to study in Scotland, and proposed to Maud before he left. She accepted, one one condition: the engagement had to stay a secret until Grandma Lucy Macneill died. They lived far away from one another for the intervening years, due to Ewan’s remote posting after his studies concluded.

Maud wasn’t entirely faithful during the engagement, perhaps weighing a second possible future with a different man. Following the success of Anne of Green Gables, Maud had a brief and secret fling in fall of 1909 with second cousin Oliver Macneill, recently divorced farmer on the rebound. “I am again playing with fire,” she wrote in her journals. Whether the townsfolk were setting them up or not was unclear (her engagement to Ewan was secret, after all), but it’s clear the two held passion for one another. Oliver proposed multiple times during his short six-week stay on Prince Edward Island, but ultimately gave up. 

Oliver and Maud stayed in touch via letters, with Oliver even sending Maud a book of love poems. Summer of 1910 saw Oliver visiting again, with another set of “frantic scenes” that went nowhere, as Oliver quickly found and married another Cavendish local, one of Maud’s former students. 

Maud later ranked him second after Herman Leard in her journal a decade later, of people to whom she responded with “power of the senses”. (This passage in her journal was apparently directed towards her children and grandchildren, so that they would see her as a woman, that she had not always been “old and gray-haired and hug-me-tighted”.)

Not until her grandmother’s death in 1911 did she marry Ewan, some five years later at age 36.  This was an incredibly smart move on Maud’s part, in my opinion. She knew that Uncle John was going to get the house, at which point she’d need a new place to live. She also wouldn’t have the postmistress job, and would need a better financial situation in order to keep publishing. Thus, the good minister with his solid prospects: a pragmatic choice. 

They married in July of 1911, and moved to Leaskdale, Ontario, where Ewan had obtained a church position. Maud described what she felt upon marriage, sitting there at her wedding feast: “I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner—a hopeless prisoner. … But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married—and I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.”. A son Chester quickly followed in 1912; son Hugh was stillborn in 1914; and son Stuart was born in 1915. 

Life for Lucy Maud Montgomery was Not Easy

I suppose my section title is a bit on the nose, as life is difficult for everyone, but married life wasn’t what Maud expected, it seems, and things got contentious as the years went on.

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Journals

The first few years of marriage likely went by in a flash, with babies and honeymooning and moving to a new town and starting a new church congregation. (“Those women whom God wanted to destroy He would make into the wives of ministers,” she once said.) 

Not only that, but Maud didn’t stop writing. The Story Girl and its sequel, The Golden Road, came out in 1911 and 1913, respectively. Anne of the Island came out in 1915. A short story collection, Chronicles of Avonlea, came out in 1912, as well as at least fourteen different short stories that had been published individually in newspapers and magazines during the early years of her marriage. 

As I mentioned earlier, Maud journaled throughout her life. Though abridged and edited versions of the journals were published between 1985 and 2004, it’s said that 50% of the material was edited out, including much of the darker side of her private life. These more negative parts were kept under wraps even until very recently, available only to a select few. Lucy Maud Montgomery historian Mary Rubio at the University of Guelph began publishing the unabridged journals starting in 2016, available under the title “The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery”. 7 out of 10 unabridged volumes have been published at the time of this recording. 

Basically, Maud was a minister’s wife, as well as a famous writer at this point. She couldn’t tell people what she actually thought – she could only tell her journals. And what she told her journals was that this was a dark time in her life. Her increased writing pace was at least in part a form of escapism. 

World War I and Lucy Maud Montgomery

With the onset of war in 1914, the relatively settled pace of small Leaskdale life was destroyed. Most of the young men in the community went away to fight, causing terrible social upheaval, both locally and globally.

Maud became outspoken politically, a passionate supporter of the Allied war effort. She published articles and essays appealing for volunteers to join the forces, and began campaigning for women’s suffrage, stating that women on the home front were also crucial to the war effort. (The federal government granted women suffrage between 1918 and 1922.)  

Mary Rubio, one of the pre-eminant Lucy Maud Montgomery scholars and biographers, observed: “Increasingly, the war was all that she thought of and wanted to talk about. Her journals show she was absolutely consumed by it, wracked by it, tortured by it, obsessed by it — even addicted to it.”

Depression and Disease

In topical history, 1918 and 1919 saw the Spanish Flu pandemic, killing 50-100 million people over two years. This was actually the first H1N1 pandemic, though we associate that term with the 2009 “swine flu” outbreak. 500 million people (27% of the world’s population at the time) were infected, and between 3-5% of the world’s population died of the disease – one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. It’s said that poor medical conditions and government misinformation contributed to the high mortality rates. 

Maud contracted Spanish flu, nearly dying of it. She later wrote “I was in bed for ten days. I never felt so sick or weak in my life,”” about the ordeal. Her friends helped care for her through the disease, but not, it’s said, her husband, who had been indifferent to her throughout her illness. 

Maud considered divorce after this, which was very difficult to obtain in Canada before 1967 – only 263 divorces out of 6 M people between 1873 and 1901. Ultimately, she decided that it was her duty to God to make the marriage work.

Maud eventually realized that she could not find intellectual stimulation from her husband. For much of her adult life, she carried on regular correspondence with other men, such as Scottish journalist George Boyd MacMillan and teacher Ephraim Weber. She also enjoyed the company of other men in person, though I’m sure it was proper, spending time with the “dashing” Reverend Edwin Smith, who taught at a different denomination in town.

1919 portrait of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Public domain.

1919 was the year Maud described as “a hellish year”. Her dearest kindred spirit, Frede McFarlane, who I haven’t had time to talk about, died of the Spanish flu. Frede lived with Maud for many months out of the year, and helped Maud raise her children. Her death was a huge blow to Maud. Other things weren’t great either. Locals were gossiping about Maud, who had the audacity to hire a maid. Maud’s troubles with her publisher, which I’ll get into, came to a head. And church politics in Canada at that time sharted shifting, which would eventually result in the creation of a new denomination from several old ones, known as the United Church of Canada. (Maud was indifferent to the church by this point, writing a very modern sentiment: “the Spirit of God no longer works through the church for humanity.… Today it is working through Science.… The [church] ‘leaders’ are trying to galvanize into a semblance of life something from which life has departed.”) 

And Maud’s husband Ewan didn’t make life easy, though not entirely his own fault. Throughout his life with Maud, Ewan had suffered from mental health problems. During his professional training in Scotland, Ewan had a nervous breakdown, and was forced to leave the program early without obtaining any further degrees. He was only able to find a preaching position in remote communities where they didn’t have much choice. And his mental health was never stable, which Maud didn’t understand the scope of until well after their marriage, due to the limited time they’d spent together. Ewan’s mental health symptoms increased at the beginning of the 1920s, with signs of schizophrenia and clinical depression. 

He lashed out at Maud, telling her that he wished she and the children had never been born, and that she was going to Hell. Ewan saw women as of no intellectual importance and not “worthy of a real tribute”. He refused to do housework or any form of childraising, and increasingly spent his time staring off into space for hours, shouting, or driving recklessly. Indeed, in 1925, he nearly ran over a Methodist minister who was promoting the United Church of Canada; had he not been a minister, this would certainly have been labeled attempted murder.

It was decided that in 1926, a change of pace was in order, possibly as a result of this incident, and the family moved to Norval, a Toronto suburb. Maud continued to be involved in the church events, as well as continuing her popularity as a public speaker and a presence at literary events. She was increasingly famous, her books as popular as ever, and spent time with the literary scene there. Ultimately, she won the nearly decade-long battle with her publisher, as well, which again, I’ll get to shortly. Maud saw Norval as a place with the charm of her beloved Cavendish, and hoped to stay there permanently.

They would not.

Maud’s dear son Chester was causing Maud headaches, with behavioural problems and poor grades, not to mention a secret marriage and the birth of his full-term child after only six months of marriage. Stuart was less of a handful, although he did court girls Maud didn’t approve of.

More than anything, it was Ewan’s mental health causing familial stress. More often than not, he was unable to fulfill his church duties, requiring heavy doses of barbiturates to even stumble across the lawn to give a sermon, according to Maud’s journals. In 1934, he was committed to the Homewood Sanitarium and spent two months there as a result. He became paranoid, catatonic, and physically abusive towards Maud in turns. After arguing with the church elders about his salary in 1935, Ewan resigned from his post and retired in a fit. 

Journey’s End

With both Chester and Stuart studying in Toronto, Maud and Ewan tried to find happiness by moving closer to their sons. Maud purchased a house she called “Journey’s End” there in Toronto in 1935, the only house she ever truly owned. And for a few years, things seemed good again, with slight child-related hiccups here and there. She was named to the Order of the British Empire by King George V, a great honor.

Portrait of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Public domain.

Maud continued to promote Canadian writers through the primarily-female Canadian Authors’ Association, and continued to publish and speak. However, critics, especially male critics, began to disparage Maud as being out of style by this time, examples of Victorian sentiment that wasn’t right for modern Canadian literature. Maud was ousted from the CAA board in 1938 as a result of this tide of sentiment.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Combined with the Great Depression, with extended family borrowing money and not returning it, with her sons’ personal and professional failings, and with her unhappy marriage and Ewan’s mental illness, Maud was diagnosed with a heavy clinical depression. She’d suffered from depressive periods throughout her life, but this was a big one.

Medication at the time for both Ewan and Maud was barbiturates and bromides, both strong medications whose damaging secondary effects were not understood at the time. (Read: addiction.) Barbiturates are mostly out of favor today, but you might be aware of names like phenobarbitol and sodium pentothal. Husband and wife relied on ever increasing doses of the drugs, resulting in a downward spiral of anxiety and depression from the late 1930s onward. 

As a result, heer writing, her one constant form of enjoyment, was something she could no longer concentrate on. Being cut off from that fundamental joy and emotional support also cut her off financially, and in her last years Maud would constantly worry about finances. Not only that, but the second World War had begun, causing Maud incredible anxiety. She wrote only one journal entry in 1941, including the line “Such suffering and wretchedness.” In a letter to a friend in late December of 1941, she wrote of her family struggles: son Chester’s wife left him, husband Ewan’s “attacks” which had “broken me at last”, and the fear that son Stuart would be conscribed to war, leaving Maud with “nothing to live for”.  A month before her death, Maud wrote in a letter to her friend that she “had doubts that she would still be there in a week”.

On her last afternoon in April of 1942, Maud packaged up her last manuscript and mailed it to her publisher, went to her bed, and died, a heartbreaking end to an often difficult life.

Today’s scholars are divided on the manner of Maud’s death (whether the presumed drug overdose was intentional or accidental), which has only come to public discussion since 2008. The family, as described by granddaughter Kate Macdonald Butler, Stuart’s daughter, came forward on the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables’ publication with a new piece of information, previously kept secret within the family. The intent was to bring the information to light in order to help lift some of the stigma surrounding mental illness. A piece of paper was dated two days prior to her death, discovered on her nightstand by her son Stuart, and is considered by many to be a suicide note, kept private for almost a century. 

In this last note, Maud wrote: “I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare to think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best in spite of many mistakes.” 

Anne of Green Gables

Let us pause here, then, and return to consider the point of all of this, that book, Anne of Green Gables, which inspired so many. 

If you’re at all familiar with English-language literature, then you’ve at least heard of the Anne of Green Gables book series, about the life of a plucky red-head named Anne Shirley. You might also have a sense for how generally beloved this book and series is. It will not come as a surprise to you the reams of paper, real and digital, that have been covered with text analyzing these seminal novels.

I’m about to say something controversial, then. I’ve never read Anne of Green Gables. I’ve watched literally only five minutes of any show or film adaptation of Anne prior to the start of my research for this episode. (The five minutes of televised Anne content I watched prior to this were when Netflix suggested “Anne with an E”. I found it inoffensive – simply not to my taste in TV. If I recall correctly, at the time, I moved on to the next episode in my Star Trek first-time watch, TNG’s “Darmok”. It was a great night of TV.) As of the start of this episode’s research, I literally had no personal opinion about Anne of Green Gables.

I can sense the letters coming in already. Don’t stop listening, don’t stop reading! 

You might think that this background makes me ill-suited for this topic, but what my theory presupposes is … maybe it makes me the perfect person?

We shall see.

Writing Anne of Green Gables

As mentioned in passing earlier, Maud began an intense period of writing around 1901, after she moved back to Cavendish to care for widowed Grandma Lucy when none of Lucy’s children would care for their mother. Short stories, articles, poems, and books – all went out in secret through Maud’s position at the post office, thus avoiding the negative comments from the townsfolk, who disapproved of such an “old” unmarried woman, especially a (gasp) writer. “The dollars have silenced them,” she wrote in 1905 of her judgy neighbors, “but I have not forgotten their sneers. My own perseverance has won the fight for me in the face of all discouragements.”

It is naive to think that a single source could be pointed at, to say “ah, here it is, the source of inspiration for Anne of Green Gables”. Maud was an excellent writer, taking bits and pieces from her own tribulations, from family stories, from news reports, and so on. Still, we’re all human. Like many writers, Maud kept a notebook with story ideas – words and phrases, interesting articles or clippings, pictures, etc. In her own words: “In the spring of 1904 I was looking over this notebook in search of some idea for a short serial I wanted to write for a certain Sunday School paper. I found a faded entry, written many years before: ‘Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent to them.’ I thought this would do.

Indeed, this probably sounds familiar to an Anne fan, as it is the basic premise of the story. The concept was said to be a fairly popular one at the time, called “formula Ann” stories, since one would know the formula of the story right off. (The same holds true with many stories today – if you’re into transformative fanworks and fanfiction, you will immediately know what happens in a story I describe as a “coffee shop AU”.) Maud distinguished her character from others by calling her “Anne with an e”. Ah, there it is! (I will say that I was only able to find references to “formula Ann” that were primarily about Maud and Anne of Green Gables, so take that as you will.)

The story idea was not from a newspaper clipping, as some have claimed, but from a family happening, a routine adoption notable for the “mistake” in requested gender. In 1892, one of Maud’s local extended family members, Pierce Macneill, requested an orphan boy to help on the farm. A three-year-old girl was sent by mistake, and was summarily adopted into the Macneill clan anyways. Maud knew her, this distant cousin: Ellen picked up the family’s mail at Maud’s post office, Maud often borrowed a buggy from the family’s house, and Maud may have even taught Ellen at the local school on occasion. However, Maud was frustrated by suggestions during her life that Ellen had played even the slightest role in sparking the character or story of Anne. Maud was later quite judgemental about her cousin, saying “there is no resemblance of any kind between Anne and Ellen Macneill who is one of the most hopelessly commonplace and uninteresting girls imaginable”.

Maud began as she always did (“Write a book. You have the central idea. All you need do is to spread it out over enough chapters to amount to a book.“). She wrote in the evenings after her day’s work was done, up at the window desk in her little gable room. She wrote and wrote, and began to know that the story she was telling was too big for a short story serial in a Sunday School paper. She wrote it up into a full-fledged book between spring 1904 and October of 1905.

I’ll let Maud herself tell the story of the publication, quoted from her public domain 1917 autobiography, The Alpine Path.

Well, my book was finally written. The next thing was to find a publisher. I typewrote it myself, on my old secondhand typewriter that never made the capitals plain and wouldn’t print “w” at all, and I sent it to a new American firm that had recently come to the front with several “best sellers.” I thought I might stand a better chance with a new firm than with an old established one that had already a preferred list of writers. But the new firm very promptly sent it back. Next I sent it to one of the “old, established firms,” and the old established firm sent it back. Then I sent it, in turn, to three “Betwixt-and-between firms”, and they all sent it back. Four of them returned it with a cold, printed note of rejection; one of them “damned with faint praise.” They wrote that “Our readers report that they find some merit in your story, but not enough to warrant its acceptance.”

That finished me. I put Anne away in an old hat-box in the clothes room, resolving that some day when I had time I would take her and reduce her to the original seven chapters of her first incarnation. In that case I was tolerably sure of getting thirty-five dollars for her at least, and perhaps even forty.

The manuscript lay in the hatbox until I came across it one winter day while rummaging. I began turning over the leaves, reading a bit here and there. It didn’t seem so very bad. “I’ll try once more,” I thought. The result was that a couple of months later an entry appeared in my journal to the effect that my book had been accepted. After some natural jubilation I wrote: “The book may or may not succeed. I wrote it for love, not money, but very often such books are the most successful, just as everything in the world that is born of true love has life in it, as nothing constructed for mercenary ends can ever have.”

Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, 1917

On June 20th, 1908, Maud wrote the following in her journal: 

To-day has been, as Anne herself would say, ‘an epoch in my life.’ My book came to-day, ‘spleet-new’ from the publishers. I candidly confess that it was to me a proud and wonderful and thrilling moment. There, in my hand, lay the material realization of all the dreams and hopes and ambitions and struggles of my whole conscious existence – my first book. Not a great book, but mine, mine, mine, something which I had created.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, 1917
George Fort Gibbs portrait of a Gibson girl on the cover of an early edition of Anne of Green Gables. Public domain.

Inside Anne of Green Gables

Anne was an orphan who was mistakenly sent to live with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, in the fictional town of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island. Beyond that, the novel is sort of plot-light, mostly a series of vignettes showing Anne settling in to her new home. Clearly we can see influence in the basic structure from Maud’s own life, straight away: Marilla and Matthew draw from the grandparents Macneill, Avonlea is heavily based off Cavendish, and so forth. 

Anne’s trials were drawn from Maud’s own. Imaginary friend Katie Maurice, who existed solely in the reflection “in the fairy room behind the bookcase”, was dropped full cloth into the book. Anne’s love of nature was heavily influenced by Maud’s own childhood wandering through Cavendish. The rough structure of Anne’s life is Maud’s own: getting a teaching license at age 16 in one year instead of two, pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a fictionalized version of Dalhousie University, the sudden death of paternal figure Matthew requiring Anne to return to Avonlea and stay with the aging Marilla…the bones are all Maud’s. 

Other influences came from magazines of the time, such as the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book. Anne’s image was drawn from a 1903 photograph Maud had clipped from New York’s Metropolitan Magazine, pasted on the wall of Maud’s bedroom to remind her not of Anne’s physical looks, but of Anne’s “youthful idealism and spirituality”. (The image is gorgeous, showing a radiant young woman with a floral headband, gazing upwards innocently into dramatic, gorgeous lighting. Evelyn Nesbit was a Gibson girl, a “glittering girl model of Gotham” in the first years of the 20th century. Before Anne of Green Gables was published, though, Evelyn became the star witness of the first “Trial of the Century”, a sensational case where her millionaire husband shot and killed her rapist and lover, architect and socialite Stanford White. Absolutely beyond the scope of this podcast, but I’ll include links to some relevant reading and listening on the topic in the shownotes for the interested.)

Maud’s inspiration photo for the youthful qualities of Anne: Evelyn Nesbit. Photo by Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr, public domain.

It would not be a discussion of Anne if I don’t mention her looks, because what I’ve learned is that the character of Anne is obsessed with them, and much of modern Anne culture too. She despises her appearance, her thin frame, her pale skin with freckles, and of course, the iconic red hair. Originally her hair was brighter shades of red, later dulling to descriptions of Titian red, like later fictional characters Nancy Drew and Dana Scully. (And as I’ll get to shortly, in Japan, the series is known as Red-haired Anne. Iconic!) This hit the zeitgeist of the time it was published – red hair was all the rage that year.

Reception of Anne of Green Gables

Having no personal experience with Anne (where was I the day that the Anne books were read?) I reached out to some friends to get a sense of their feelings towards the Anne books in general. To no one’s surprise, reactions were almost universally positive. My friends expounded with much praise in particular for the themes of female friendship found in the books, for the sense of optimism and positivity that Anne brought to her challenging situations. Indeed, gallons of real and digital ink have been spilled about the beauty of the relationships in Maud’s books, which I cannot distill here without cheapening them.

It’s hard to collapse what makes the book so beloved into any brief space. The book still retains its popularity and eternal nature, even now, 112 years after its original publication. Though the book is firmly ensconced in the time period in which it was published, it speaks to readers on an intimate, emotional level, with the trappings of a fairytale. The sense in Anne was that even if things are bad now, they will get better. 

I love too this comment that I found: Anne books are feminist texts, even if they’re outside of the standard “empowering” literary tropes, because “they insist that the lived experience of women matters, across class and georgraphy and age”.

Anne of Green Gables was an instant success in 1908. It sold over 19,000 copies in its first five months, and was reprinted ten times in its first year. Not only were Canadians interested in the book. It had a broad reach, and notable people like Mark Twain himself liked the book. Twain is quoted as saying that Anne Shirley was “the dearest, most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice.” A typical newspaper review at the time called Anne of Green Gables a “sweetly simple tale of childish joys and sorrows of a diminutive red-haired girl” and declared it “the literary hit of the season with the American public.” The Toronto Globe reviewed the book at the time with another typical review, saying “Anne of Green Gables is worth a thousand of the problem stories with which the bookshelves are crowded today.”

Maud Battles Her Dishonest Publisher

Earlier, I talked about how the mid to late 1910s were a tough time for Maud. Much of this was related to her battles with her publisher at the time, L. C. Page & Company. I read an excellent essay entitled “The Robber Baron of Canadian Literature”, and I think that’s an apt description for Lewis Page. 

Page was not a good guy, we’ll start there. He was ruthless, hacking apart author’s texts without shame, taking massive shares of the profits without distributing to authors their dues, and other dishonest publishing acts. Page took and took and took, with an attitude of “so sue me”, knowing that then as now, lawsuits were a long and costly business out of the reach of many poor writers.

Maud was somewhat desperate by the time she shopped her book to L. C. Page. Based on her journals, she had some indication when she met with Page that he was a shady guy. But she signed the contracts without any apparent negotiation within three weeks, in May of 1907. The contracts were wild, with their requirements for sequels and their low royalties (10% on the wholesale price “over and above the first thousand”) and the five-year binding clause. 

Maud did get a small concession, for the books to be published under the gender-neutral “L. M. Montgomery” as opposed to Page’s preferred “Lucy Maud Montgomery”. She did not get her way with the illustrations, which she apparently disliked for how they suggested an ending that the book had only hinted at. 

The final illustration in Anne of Green Gables, by MA & WAJ Claus. Public domain.

Maud went to work on the contracted Anne sequels, though she was already falling into a love-hate relationship with her most famous character. 

By July of 1915, things were coming to a head. Page had threatened to stop promoting her books unless she signed another five year contract, which she did, begrudgingly. He published an unsanctioned book of “castoffs” called Further Chronicles of Avonlea. He gambled away the profits her books had made, his personal life was full of sexual immorality, and the payment of royalties based on wholesale pricing rather than retail pricing made the process more opaque, and therefore made it nearly impossible to track how much Maud should’ve been making. It turned out she’d been getting 7 cents per dollar on each book, instead of 19 cents per dollar on each book. Beginning in 1917, she switched publishers and sued Page. He tried to get her back by selling the rights to one of the sequels, Anne’s House of Dreams, but Maud stood firm. Those rights didn’t belong to him to sell, and he’d withheld the royalties she was actually due. She was going to get her own. 

“There is something in me that will not remain inactive under injustice and trickery”. She went on to say that Page and his company had “traded for years on the average woman’s fear of litigation.” Finishing with a bang, she said “very few authors can afford to go to law with them, especially when they can’t expect to get money out of the result. They have done the most outrageous things to poor authors who can’t afford to seek redress.””

It took almost a decade to get that redress, and five different lawsuits. Page fought Maud at every turn, trying to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court (they were not interested). Maud stopped writing about Anne in her journals, saying that although she’d made money, “it’s a pity it doesn’t buy happiness”. 

Page, meanwhile, had sold the film right to the Anne books back in 1908. Maud had no say in either the 1919 or 1934 film versions of Anne of Green Gables, and the money made from them went to Page and not to “Mr. Montgomery”, as one foolish American journalist reviewing at the time said. Maud was furious over the 191 film in paritcular, saying “I think if I hadn’t already known it was from my book, that I would never have recognized it.” She went on to slam the New England setting, saying “A skunk and an American flag were introduced – both equally unknown in PE Island. I could have shrieked with rage over the latter. Such crass, blatant Yankeeism!”

The Massachusetts courts ruled in Maud’s favor in 1925, finding that she had been cheated out of money she’d been owed. Page used every trick in the book to continue to try and avoid his fate, even saying that Maud’s lawsuit had caused his brother’s 1927 heart attack and harassing Maud via constant negative telegram. (Page and his brother were not close.) Finally, however, he had no choice, and in 1928, finally, Maud received the check for $15,000, the sum the courts decided was owed to her. This ended up being only about $4,000 after paying her lawyers, and Maud sensibly invested the money in the stock market. However, of course, the stock market crashed the next year, and Maud lost much of her recovered savings.

Ironically, of course, today the rights to Anne are incredibly profitable, held jointly by Maud’s heirs and Prince Edward Island through a licensing corporation. 

It’s very much beyond the scope of the podcast, but Anne of Green Gables has become a licensing and merchandising magnet. There were 1952 and 1972 BBC adaptations, a 1956 and 1958 CBC TV musical. The premiere in 1965 of “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical” in Charlottetown marked the beginning of the longest-running annual musical theater production, per Guinness book of world records. Kevin Sullivan’s 1985 CBC miniseries is perhaps the best-known adaptation, winning an Emmy amongst many other awards. Sullivan did three more sequels in 1986, 200, and 2008. There have been PBS versions and the most recent CBC adaption, distributed by Netflix, Anne with an E. Anne is big money, and a popular draw for audiences of all ages in all decades.

Anne in Japan

Nowhere is Anne’s popularity more striking than, of all places, Japan, and the story of how Anne of Green Gables became popular there is well worth hearing.

Loretta Leonard Shaw

We begin by considering Loretta Leonard Shaw, a contemporary of Maud’s, and a fellow Canadian, though the two never knew one another personally. Loretta was a decorated, highly-educated student from St. John, with a BA in English, French, and German, and a teaching certificate with the highest possible marks. However, it was missionary work and not local students that she was most passionate about. 

Loretta was accepted for missionary service in Japan, and in less than a year, Loretta learned Japanese and moved to Osaka. She taught young girls there for a number of years, and although education of girls was not considered important in society at that time, enrollment at her schools increased tenfold over the course of her teaching tenure, partially due to her skills and curriculum. Loretta sensibly commented that it was “unwise and unmoral” for women and girls to be given lower educational standards based on outdated cultural concepts of gender inferiority.

Throughout her life, Loretta was instrumental in representing the two cultures to one another as much as she could, bringing items and ideas from Japan to Canada and likewise from Canada to Japan. In 1932, Loretta became the head of the women’s and children’s literature department at the Christian Literature Society of Japan, where she brought translations of “wholesome” Western literature to Japan. 

Here is where a friendship made an incredible difference larger than they’d ever have guessed. In the late 1930s, just before Loretta’s health-related furlough back to Canada, she gave a copy of a favorite book to a friend of hers, in memory of their friendship. This was Anne of Green Gables: hardcover, with a cream cover, green-shaded portrait of a beautiful young girl on the front cover.

Hanako Muraoka

This friend, of course, was named Hanako Muraoka. She was born from a small, impoverished farming town, and with luck, attended the prestigious school in Japan founded by the Women’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of Canada, known as Toyo Eiwa. There, she studied Japanese subjects in the morning and English (Canadian) subjects in the afternoon. This foundation gave her the skills and interest to begin translation as a career and passion, publishing a collection of translated short stories soon after her formal education was completed. This was not only a difficult task, but it was a challenge for a time when women were not encouraged to have independence or careers.

Her life became difficult after World War I; her husband’s publishing company was destroyed in an earthquake, and her son died suddenly at a young age. Her translations were her solace and coping strategy, starting with Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” in 1927.  

1953 portrait of Hanako Muraoka. Public domain.

Loretta and Hanako met in the early 1930s, when they were both working as editors at the Christian Literature Society of Japan. There, they worked on a magazine “Children of Light”. Loretta Leonard Shaw published a 1936 article entitled “Utopia” in this magazine, in both English and Japanese, discussing how she and her fellow editors saw themselves as ambassadors for their respective cultures, and that the best and fastest way to do this was “by introducing the best books of each nation to the other”. 

In 1936 (some sources say 1939), Loretta left Japan. Before she did, she gave Hanako Muraoka a copy of Anne of Green Gables, with the hopes that she would translate it to Japanese. Hanako is said to have been “enchanted” by it, and began translating it shortly thereafter in her leisure time. The book resonated with Hanako’s early childhood – the pastoral natural setting, the love of poetry, words, and literature.

Hanako used her language skills in other ways, as well. Beginning in 1932, she presented a daily five minute news program plainly explaining the news to children over the radio. She was incredibly popular, and was known as “Aunty Radio”. She also participated in simultaneous translating, for instance translating speeches by FDR live on air. With the start of the war approaching as the decade came to a close, however, English-language content began to be seen seen ever more as the enemy. Hanako quit her job at the radio, not wanting to read the hostile war-centered news to children, as well as not wanting to speak badly of the Canadians, many of whom she considered friends.

And at the same time, Hanako had to hide her translation efforts of Anne of Green Gables. The world was at war, and Canada was now the enemy of Japan. English was the language of the enemy, and it could get you arrested. But Hanako carried on, secretly translating Anne of Green Gables from English to Japanese as the war went on. Her translations were so precious to her that she reportedly took them with her into the air raid shelters.

Post-war, people could once again hope for Utopia. It took until around 1950 for the publishing houses to recover from the physical damages of the war, and Hanako Muraoka published her Japanese translation of Anne of Green Gables in 1952 as “Akage-no-An” or “Red-Haired Anne”. The book, unsurprisingly, became a bestseller. Hanako published the subsequent Anne translations between 1954 and 1959. By the 1970s, her translations were added to the curriculum in Japanese schools.

Hanako intended to visit Prince Edward Island in 1968. Unfortunately, this never happened. She passed away after a sudden stroke in October of 1968, never having visited the place, embodying the spirit of Canada, that had occupied so much of her time throughout her life. In the end, said her granddaughter in an interview with a Japanese news source, “it may have been for the best that the island she knew was the perfect one she had created with her translation”

Hanako Muraoka is today closely twined with the story of Anne coming to Japan, and has become a figure of some legend and renown, it seems, based on the articles I read. Her granddaughter, Eri Muraoka, published a biography about Hanako entitled “Anne’s Cradle: The Life of Muraoka Hanako”. A dramatized version of the biography was made into a serialized TV drama in 2014, and was a ratings success, keeping the love alive for both Anne and those who had a hand in her development.


Red-Haired Anne, as can be evidenced then by this tale, was and still is an incredibly popular figure in Japan. Anne of Green Gables is sort of an expected childhood book here from the US where I write – a passing, common reference, a generic childhood book here that’s perhaps seen as a little out of date. Did you read Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or Call of the Wild as a kid? Did you read Hatchet or Brighty of the Grand Canyon or Where the Red Fern Grows? Etc. But none hold the place in the US, in my opinion, that Anne appears to hold elsewhere, in both Canada and Japan. In Canada, Anne is sort of a national icon, up there with maple syrup in terms of souvenir popularity. But it’s more unexpected that Anne would be so incredibly popular in Japan. (If I type “why is anne of green gables” and let Google autocomplete that phrase, the top search terms are “why is anne of green gables an orphan”, “why is anne of green gables an orphan”, and “why is anne of green gables popular in japan”.)

The popularity started of course with Hanako Muraoka’s translations in the 1950s. It was sort of a backlash against the wartime strictures against Western language and literature. 

But why was Anne popular? From what I’ve read, it is as simple and complicated as this: it was a good book with a good message. The message of Anne resonates very strongly with the messages of Japanese culture: basic morality of life and examination of life’s questions in a simpler setting that is so attractive. Anne is about finding happiness, and presenting lessons applicable to all in a straightforward setting. Not only that, but Anne’s world is very kawaii – cute. 

From a 1998 essay by Judy Stoffman, too, we have this interpretation of why the Anne books took off in 1952: “The book’s success was due in part to there being almost no realistic Japanese children’s literature, particularly for girls. A female in traditional children’s stories usually turns out to be a ghost or a malevolent spirit.” Anne also fits with the Japanese cultural lessons of filial devotion, and parallels the tale of Momo-taro, about a boy raised by an elderly couple. And at the time, the first wave of Japanese readers were quite poor after the war, so they could feel at one with Anne when she described puffed sleeve dresses and layer cakes. 

In today’s Japan, Anne is used by some teachers as a way of discussing gender roles, long considered a taboo topic. Nowadays, Anne is seen as a “safe bet” by publishers, and has been translated by multiple translators in Japan. Early translations have been criticized for their omissions both large and small. Modern translations have been set as “complete” translations, including notes and explanations on the translated text, literary allusions, and so forth.

Not only is Anne popular in translated books, but in ancillary works, children’s books, and more. A musical version has been in operation since 1980. There have been travelling museum exhibits.

Perhaps the most famous and most innately Japanese are the anime. The first of the two is the most famous – 1979 series, 50 episodes, called Akage no An. The people involved are noteworthy in the right circles: directed by Isao Takahata, and scene setting/layout/animation from Hayao Miyazaki. These two names are notable across the globe for cofounding the incredibly popular Studio Ghibli, known for critically acclaimed works like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. Like their other works, Akage no An is full of characteristic charm and whim. You can watch all 50 episodes for free, legally available on YouTube, right now. A prequel, Konnichiwa Anne, came out in 2009. The anime increased Anne fever to a new high, and helped continue the waves of Anne obsession in Japan for decades to come. 

Canadian World (カナディアンワールド)

Anne is so popular in Japan, then, we can finally hit the theme park for the day. Yes, there is an Anne of Green Gables theme park in Japan. 

Now, of course Green Gables is a huge tourist destination on Prince Edward Island in Canada, as it has been for most of the last century. Anne is spread throughout the bones of Prince Edward Island. You can visit Green Gables, the real Macneill home that inspired Anne’s Green Gables. You can see the foundations of the original Cavendish home, you can walk down Anne’s Lovers’ Lane, you can visit the birthplace of Maud, and so forth.

About a half hour away in the big city of Charlottetown, you can find the Anne of Green Gables musical, lauded for being Canada’s longest running musical, and the Guiness world record holder for “longest running annual musical theatre production in the world”. Queen Elizabeth herself has seen the show during the 1964 season. 

But just as the Canadians are not the only nation to have a deep fascination with Anne, so too it is that another country also devotes some tourism resources to Anne. This, of course, is Japan. Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, the sister city to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, since 1993. Home to Canadian World, the Anne of Green Gables replica park.

Canadian World (1990-1997)

In 1984, the city of Ashibetsu in Hokkaido, Japan was looking to revitalize. Ashibetsu, or “village where the stars fall”, had previously been a prosperous coal-mining town. However, the closure of most of the town’s coal mines throughout the 1960s led to a population decrease, as people moved elsewhere to find new jobs. 

With population moving out, Ashibetsu sought a new way to bring people to the town in either the short or long term. It was decided that tourism would be the way, with a theme of stars, celestial objects, and so on, and a “restful village concept”. By late 1987, a proposal had been floated to create an Akage no An themed park, including a massive indoor water park, to be located in the valley on the site of one former coal mine. Of course, costs being what they are, the next year saw the water park proposal withdrawn, and a new proposal for Canadian World as it stands today was put out in its place.

Why Anne? Reportedly once of the officers who was in charge of development had visited PEI and seen the climate similarities between it and Ashibetsu. “The fact that he was a fan of this led to this proposal,” goes the quote.

The project is reported in the Japanese-language Wikipedia entry to be on the order of between $37-48 M USD, including mining site preparation, an Anne of Green Gables themed park, and a giant lavender field.  

2004 image of Canadian World Park. (Image: Ozizo, via Wikipedia, used under CCBYSA.)

Lavender planting was begun in June of 1989, and Canadian World officially opened in July of 1990. The park was “Japan’s largest theme park with a Canadian theme”, logical considering I couldn’t find any other Canadian-themed parks out there. It was less of an amusement park and more of a leisure park or a historical recreation park. Prince Edward Island was faithfully reproduced there in Ashibetsu: Green Gables, Mrs. Lind’s House, the clock tower, and so forth. An artificial lake was dug, Anne’s Lake of Shining Waters, and spruce trees were planted to make the Ghost Forest and Lovers Lane. Next to the lake, a central plaza and curving walkway, lined with dozens of Canadian-style buildings in a row, looking out across the water and the beautiful landscape. A train station on either end of the park, a field of lavender, and of course, the Green Gable house, set back on its own among a beautiful garden. 

Words don’t do the scope of the park justice. The place is absolutely huge: 450,000 m2. The main central plaza is located in the bowl of the old mine pit, and then other buildings scattered throughout the grounds. Getting down to the central plaza is easy – walk down a long downhill path. Getting back up – harder. Each little house looks like anything you’d find in Canada: clapsboards painted white and cream and blue, brightly colored shutters, pointy roofs, porches suitable for rocking chairs. Inside most are little shops and activities – the quiltmaker’s shop, the woodcarver’s shop, the chapel, the kids’ playground area. Different zones are present: Kensington Zone, Colts Zone, Craft Village Zone, Avonlea, Terrace du franc zone, Bright River Zone. This is a link to where there are many photos.

The CD artwork for the Anne omnibus CD, with art by Ryoji Arai. (Amazon link)

A CD was released by EMI Music Japan as the official park soundtrack, and a picture book for children featuring photos of the park was also produced. Crosspromotions occurred with local transportation systems to encourage visitors. And of course, as noted earlier, Charlottetown PEI and Ashibetsu became sister cities to mutually encourage tourism.

However, Canadian World didn’t take off. Despite the continued success of Anne as a Japanese cultural icon, and the new 1990s translations of Anne of Green Gables and related works, Canadian World floundering, unable to be tied into the success of the brand.

The park carried on. 1991 saw the highest number of yearly visitors: about 270,000, well below the target estimate of 400,000. New features were added to the park: a large restaurant called “Heartland” in 1991, a miniature SL (steam locomotive – choo choo, it’s The Abandoned Train!) called “Canadian Rocky” in 1992, painted green and gold, with a 2-4-4 wheel configuration. There was also a museum for antique music boxes in 1995, and so forth. Guests could rent rowboats or ride horses from the Canadian Riding Club. 

Despite the beauty of the natural landscape and the faithfully reproduced Canadian-style buildings, it seems there was some dissatisfaction about how well Canadian World reproduced Prince Edward Island. The location of the park meant that when winter came, it was difficult to get to and not necessarily a pleasant experience to visit (snow!) so tourism numbers in the winter seasons were low. The park is set on an incredibly hilly patch of land, so it’s actually a little difficult to get around the park, and elderly people were discouraged from visiting. There was very little for small children to do, though a small playground with a slide was added at one point. Outside food was not allowed to be brought in, making repeat guests unlikely.

And internally, the Japanese Wikipedia says that there was poor management and various internal management conflicts. The translation on the Wiki page isn’t great, but it seems that the way the assets and souveniers and goods were managed was done so poorly, which contributed to high costs.

Plans were made to expand Canadian World to better position it as a year-round business. The most major of these was Canadian Sports World, a project planned for 1994, to feature a ski resort, hotel, and golf course on site. Unfortunately, the economy struck. As I talked about in my Takakonuma Greenland episode, the economic bubble collapse in Japan in the late 90s caused problems across the country, especially for the many theme parks which had popped up. Here in Ashibetsu, it meant that there would be no more plans for Canadian Sports World. 

At Canadian World, employees were laid off, but the financial problems snowballed, and it seems from the translation I was reading that the park went bankrupt, shuttering in fall of 1997. The location was poor, the economy was poor, and there were other (some might say “better”) theme parks out there, competing for visitor attention. 

Ashibetsu Municipal Canadian World Park (1999-2019)

With the park closed, the community met to figure out what to do. Through a series of public meetings and financing agreements, the park became a public, free, municipal park, and reopened in July 1999. 

While there had originally been 34 buildings or facilities, not all were reopened. Anne’s Green Gables reopened as a museum, with photos of Maud, vintage Anne books, and a complete setup from Anne’s Green Gables, just like back in PEI. and the post office and Mrs. Lind’s house also reopened, managed by the city. Ten other buildings were occupied by separate tenants. 

Unfortunately, this was not enough. Maintenance costs on the site were huge, amounting to almost $1M USD annually. And attendance was low – 50,000 people in 1999, 70,000 people in 2001, and then nothing but decreases – 30,000 in 2012. 

Sign for Canadian World. Reikow on Flickr, CCBYND.

By 2007, the city had to renegotiate the bankruptcy agreement to reconfigure the debts owed on the Canadian World site. The mediation allowed the reduction of the operating costs for the park, but this “free” public park was still costing the city a ton of money. 

Canadian World served as a background for several productions, including several movies. 

2013 saw a number of closures and vacancies. The tenant at the Kensington Station building vacated. The SL miniature steam train was noted as “gone” as of 2011 (though I can still see train cars on the tracks in 2019 videos, the green and gold engie is long gone). Several of the buildings by the north entrance of the park were completely closed due to structural instability, being simply unsafe to occupy or use. Public transportation to the park was slowly reduced, requiring visitors to come by private car or taxi. And of course, Canadian World was located where a coal mine had originally been, and is located in the mountains, not near a city. Distance was a factor.

2014 saw the end of a 20-year “Candle Art” event, held annually each August. No more would there be displays of flashlights, candles, laser beams, and fireworks – there simply weren’t enough funds or enough workers. The 2014 release of the Hanako and Anne anime did start to boost tourism, slightly, and Universal Music rereleased the omnibus Anne CD. 

However, it still was not drawing in the crowds. Local committees began to meet to discuss the future for the park. Here, the translation from the Japanese Wiki again makes complete understanding a bit unclear, but it seems as though the city decided to stop having the park be a municipal park. The debts continued to pile up, and something on the order of $19 M USD was estimated to be needed in order to renovate the aging facilities, which had apparently weathered poorly. Most of the tenants had pulled out, leaving only the city-run buildings.

An October 2019 newspaper article quotes and official who blames the theming, saying “the content did not match the climate and temperament of Ashibetsu”. Take that as you will. 

2004 image of Canadian World Park sign. (Image: Ozizo, via Wikipedia, used under CCBYSA.)

Canadian World (2019 – ?)

A new organization was set up called the “Canadian World Promotion Association” to take over operation of Canadian World, beginning from its 2019 winter closure. This group is an organization of volunteers, comprised of the tenants occupying the park as well as private sector members. The group requested to rent the facilities for free, with 2020 operation only on weekends and holidays (and weekdays during the school summer vacation).

The group also immediately began crowdfunding opportunities online, on, a crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter. A March 4th newspaper article highlights the project and their crowdfunding efforts to date, bringing additional attention to the cause. This announcement is particularly interesting, detailing some of the buildings and the repairs needed for each of them. Walls are falling down, some doors don’t close, and the general air is one of disarray.

2004 image of Green Gables at Canadian World Park. (Image: Ozizo, via Wikipedia, used under CCBYSA.)

Fundraising has been quite successful, and the group has raised enough money to operate the park in 2020 and to begin basic repairs on the buildings, starting with Anne’s Green Gables house. The hope, based on the text in the crowdfunding updates, is that the operation will be self-funding from this point on through membership dues and fundraising activities elsewhere. Canadian World Promotion Association is quite transparent on their crowdfunding page about the costs involved with the park – reportedly the electric bill is the largest part of the operation, about 1 M yen or just under $10,000 USD for the half year when the park is open.

“Abandoned” Canadian World

Based on this history, you can see that Canadian World has never really been “abandoned” in its history, although some might consider the non-operational year in 1998 to be so. Rather, I think why Canadian World is often considered abandoned is because of its limited operational time period. During its most recent operation as a municipal park, Canadian World operated from the ended of April to the end of October, with limited hours (10 am to 5 pm). Most of the shops and tenants only operated on weekends, leaving the appearance of an abandoned site. Too, maintenance has been an ongoing struggle, and many of the buildings and park features were poorly maintained, giving the appearance of being much older than their actual years. 

Today, Canadian World is unfortunately only popular in the Western world through abandoned and urbex tourism videos. People like “Exploring with Josh” create some incredibly cinematic videos of places like this, but then they use clickbaity titles like “Fake Town of Horrors – What Happened Here?” Obviously that title has no actual bearing on anything related to Anne of Green Gables or Canadian World. Josh’s video is respectful enough, but the title. I don’t like the title.

The park looks abandoned though, in every video I’ve ever seen of the place. The park is so spread out that even if there were many visitors, it would be hard to feel crowded. (A few videos exist online from the mid-90s, and even then, the park wasn’t crowded, though it was more populous than it is today.) The maintenance now is a huge issue – fences at an angle, getting close to falling in the lake. Lampposts tilting over, held up by ropes instead of being repaired properly. Illegible signs, faded and weatherworn. A long-abandoned chain swing, missing its swings, sits in the middle of the central plaza, rusting.

The sign at Canadian World Park, with its beautiful artwork, in snow. Image courtesy of Florian @ Abandoned Kansai.

It’s exceedingly surreal to view the footage available of Canadian World. Operational, yet empty, it’s like being a part of a dream. One has the entire park to themselves, it seems like, this huge open-air vista of Western-style buildings right there in Japan. 

Only a character so powerful as Anne of Green Gables, I have to think, would be able to keep pulling this off, dragging along this failing theme park and stil enticing tens of thousands of people to visit each year. What a legendary character. 


Although I began researching this episode solely to talk about the theme park, I have to say that I’m grateful to have learned about Maud and Anne. 

The introduction of Anne of Green Gables to Japan, it’s safe to say, had an outstanding effect on Japanese culture for such a small children’s book. The female Canadian missionaries like Loretta Leonard Shaw, who taught students like Hanako Muraoka, the first Anne translator, helped educate a generation of Japanese girls with increasingly modern ideals. Maud’s writing changed and developed with the times she lived in, a time of rapid growth in technology, wars, the roles of women, and so on. Yet she always knew that Anne would be her ultimate, enduring legacy: hopeful but fierce, in the face of all strife and struggle. Maud built for Anne a found family, sculpted out of her own hopes from the ashes of the nuclear family she herself never had, and this is a theme many still relate to today. 

Beyond her characters and her prose, Maud’s mental health struggles and addiction problems are incredibly resonant today, the better part of a century later. The opioid crisis is a major societal issue today, though at least it’s more socially acceptable to discuss, and doesn’t have to be confined to private journal entries. 

None of this was what I expected to find when I sat down to learn about this strange, not-really-abandoned theme park in Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, Japan. I wasn’t expecting to become fascinated by this strong, brave, brilliant woman, a person who has a gift for words reaching across the decades to talk with me. What a refreshing research topic, focusing on the lived experience of women. Not only that, but it was also refreshing to hear so much about the women Maud knew and the women who have since written about Maud. While I may not yet have the personal affection for the character Anne that so many do, I most certainly now have a deep admiration and respect for her creator, Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Maud’s first piece of writing she ever sought feedback on was a poem, which she considered her masterpiece at the age of 12. I thought it was beautiful, and a fitting end to today’s story.

“”When the evening sun is setting
Quietly in the west,
In a halo of rainbow glory,
  I sit me down to rest.
I forget the present and future,
  I live over the past once more,
As I see before me crowding
  The beautiful days of yore.””


Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Abandoned Carousel, where I talked about Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, and Canadian World, in Hokkaido, Japan. There are more Anne and Maud books out there than you could possibly imagine, but I’ll suggest the two that grabbed me: House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg, and Looking for Anne of Green Gables, by Irene Gammel. Both are engagingly written and fun to read, and contain far more detail than I could possibly present here. 

My theme music is Aerobatics in Slow Motion by TeknoAXE. As always, you can find a rough transcript, images, and complete list of references at my website. For this episode, visit Thank you to Florian from Abandoned Kansai for allowing the inclusion of a photo; check out their great site.

I do have a Patreon, and I’ll shortly be publishing a complete behind-the-scenes podcast episode there, detailing the creation of this episode. You can find that at If you haven’t done so already, please leave a rating and review in your podcast app, especially on Apple Podcasts – just click the show name, click ratings and reviews, and drop five sparkly stars. It really helps others find the show. Finally, I’m going to be releasing a Q&A episode in the next few months, so now is a great time to send in a question you might like answered on that. For all questions, comments, corrections, and concerns, please visit my Contact page on my website, or simply email [email protected].

Remember that what you’ve read is a podcast! A link is included at the top of the page. Listen to more episodes of The Abandoned Carousel on your favorite platform: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RadioPublic | TuneIn | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Castro. Support the podcast on Patreon for extra content! Comment below to share your thoughts – as Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it.


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1 comment on “Lucy Maud Montgomery / Canadian World / Anne of Green Gables

  1. Leanne Freund

    Hi! I just found your podcasts. Wow, these are truly amazing, descriptive and educational. I’m recommending them to my friends as an additional educational component. You’re wet and wild episode was of particular interest to me because I grew up 30 minutes from that town and frequented that water park consistently. Keep up the good work and I’m looking forward to future podcasts


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