Home: Cavendish KOA
Kampgrounds of America (KOAs) tend to be expensive, and full of energetic children, but they do often have a lot of amenities that can make them feel more worth it. So we decided to just make breakfast at the “Kamp Kitchen” this morning rather than setting up our own stove. Only problem was that once we brought all our food and cooking gear over to the shelter, the electric stovetop didn’t turn on. Ugh. Luckily, Rett’s call to the office brought a quick response from the owner who came to flip on a breaker. Turns out they keep it off because they found that those aforementioned lovely children would turn the burners on. Even with that delay, our now-standard breakfast (coffee plus toasted bagels with cheese and precooked bacon) was still faster and easier than staying at our site, especially since we could then clean the dishes in the sink right there.
We walked the long drive back to the main road from our campsite, and then turned east towards today’s Anne of Green Gables sites. We made a preview stop at Avonlea Village, which is a set of historical buildings turned (somewhat garishly) into commercial/retail operations to part ‘Anne…’-tourists with their money. We only did a quick loop, got some Cows Ice Cream (a PEI specialty), and continued on our way, past vacation dwellings with ‘Anne…’-names like “Kindred Spirits Inn” and “Avonlea Cottages”, until we made it to Green Gables Heritage Place.
Green Gables Heritage Place, unlike commercial Avonlea Village, is a National Historic Site, and thus a unit of Parks Canada, the National Park system. The United States has some National Historic Sites associated with writers of fiction (such as Edgar Allen Poe), but I’m not sure if it has anything that so strongly commemorates the writer’s fictional inventions. But I think that’s a pretty good reflection of the importance that L.M. Montgomery’s novel and character holds to the identity of the province of Prince Edward Island, and to the whole nation of Canada.
It’s a bit confusing to understand what the various sites we’d be visiting over the next days represent, and which relate more to the fictional Anne vs. her creator, but that’s also what was the most interesting thing for me to explore: how much of Anne was L.M. Montgomery? Regarding Green Gables Heritage Place, it was a house owned by Montgomery’s cousins, about a kilometer from where Montgomery herself lived and was raised by her grandparents. So while she didn’t live there, she was very familiar with it and it served as the inspiration for the Green Gables of her novel. But then reality and fiction become oddly blurred, as the interior of the house was re-decorated by Parks Canada to match not the historical Macneill family’s usage, but rather the fictional world of the novel, with rooms dedicated to Anne, Marilla, and Matthew.
More interesting to me was walking the path through “the Haunted Forest”, a place where Anne’s wild imagination runs free in the novels. I was curious how much of Anne’s inimitable character came from Montgomery’s interior life, vs. just being a money-making invention. And at least when walking these paths, and reading notes from Montgomery’s journals posted on informational signs, it was clear that Anne’s uninhibited passion for small things in the natural world that go unnoticed both most others, had autobiographical origins. Her love of the forest matched Rett’s, which matched Anne’s. And it was nice to know that Montgomery’s love for this land was deep and genuine, and not just a business decision turned into a tourism campaign. Given what we’ve already seen of Prince Edward Island, I know that such cynicism would have been completely unnecessary, but some of Montgomery’s statements from later in her life (perhaps when the hard realities of the world had finally ground down her passion and optimism) had me skeptical until now.
We then continued across a road, past the cemetery where L.M. Montgomery is buried, past a church where she worshiped, past (a replica of) the post office where she wrote, and to a site near her Cavendish home of the first 37 years of her life. The house itself is no longer standing, but we could still feel the elements of Prince Edward Island that inspired her. Even more interesting is how the site seems to be both part of the National Park system, and part just Montgomery relatives/descendants opening their property to curious visitors. We had a nice chat about international climate-shifting slow-travel with the young guy running the small shop there, who made me realize that this “history” isn’t all that distant or disconnected (‘Anne of Green Gables’ was published 114 years ago): he’s Montgomery’s first cousin, thrice removed!
We returned to the Heritage Place Visitor Center to read all the interesting displays, and then it was back to Avonlea Village. We got a fancy early dinner inside a historic house (which was surprisingly similar to the house I grew up in) at La Rose Bistro, led with an appetizer of mussels while we waited for them to reluctantly make something from the dinner menu for us in the nearly-empty restaurant. I suddenly remembered that “PEI mussels” are a thing I’ve seen advertised on restaurant menus thousands of miles away, and now here I am, on PEI, so obviously I should eat some of their highly sought-after mussels! It also made me realize that the interesting black grids of…something I’d noticed in the bays, are likely mussel farms. They were good!
And so overall, the crass commercialism that I feared didn’t completely ruin Avonlea Village. We ended up doing business at at least half the establishments: some ‘Anne…’ scrunchies from the local-artisan shop, that Cows ice cream, chocolates from the Cows subsidiary, a Raspberry Cordial from the gift shop, and our dinner from one of the 3 or 4 restaurants. The one place we didn’t patronize was “BoomBurger”, responsible for the most egregious knifing of history here. It’s housed in the largest building on site, an 1872 church. A glance inside showed that they didn’t do anything clever to integrate a burger place into the pews, it was just an ugly stainless steel cafeteria-looking lineup into the hollowed-out space. Ok, whatever, because that’s nothing compared to their largest sin: placing a giant, cartoony logo high on the steeple. If a Renaissance Faire was running this “historic village”, there is no way something like that would fly! And I’m baffled why a business that has such little regard for simulating a historical place would even want to have an establishment here! There seems to be no way that desecrating the church could attract more customers than it would repel, but maybe I overestimate the opinions of tourists with hungry kids.
Luckily, the predicted rain held off longer than expected, so we were able to spend the whole day out without getting wet, and didn’t need to rush back home. But, also luckily, it did start up once we were back under our shelter (where I’d rigged up our multi-purpose curtain on one of the open wind-facing sides to block the rain), justifying the extra expense we’d paid for this campsite feature. We spent the next few hours under that shelter, eating our chocolates, and drinking Raspberry Cordial, far more comfortable than we would have been holed up inside our tent.