'Kindred spirits': Pen pals travel to P.E.I. to fulfil childhood promise

Julie Paradis and Margaret Chandler have been friends for about 50 years but they've only met in-person a few times. 

The pair became pen pals when they were 10 years old and agree it was their mutual love for the book Anne of Green Gables that solidified their bond as "kindred spirits."  

Once the two learned of their shared love for Anne, they wasted no time and made a promise: They would one day travel to Prince Edward Island. 

From Toronto to the UK, with love

Paradis grew up in Toronto, where she devoured her first-ever copy of the classic children's book in 1967 and fell in love with the character of Anne.

"I believe it was Anne's imagination. She had an incredible sense of adventure and wild imagination. And I loved her vocabulary. I just loved the way she loved life," said Paradis.

An ocean away, in the United Kingdom, Chandler was first introduced to the freckle-faced girl by way of a BBC series she would watch with her mother on Sunday afternoons.

"I think I connected because I'm of Irish descent," she said. "It was the red hair because quite a number of members of my family have got the red hair and I've seen quite a few people around Charlottetown that's like my family."

Margaret has been like the sister I never had. — Julie Paradis

As children, they were both involved in Girl Guides and connected through the organization's pen pal program.

Paradis had a few key qualities she was looking for in a pen pal: 

  • They must love Anne of Green Gables.
  • They must not have any sisters.
  • They must be from England.
  • They must be a kindred spirit.

As it turns out, Chandler checked all of those boxes. 

Life's milestones

"Margaret has been like the sister I never had. She's exactly what I hoped for and part of it's just been the enchantment of having a sister in England," Paradis said. 

Through letters and eventually email and Facebook messenger, the pair have shared the milestones of their lives — the good and the bad. 

It just gives it a real sense of place and actually being here and seeing it makes it even better. — Margaret Chandler

Last summer, Chandler decided to use some of her teacher's pension to fund her decades-long dream and reached out to Paradis to find out if she was willing to join her.

Within 24 hours the pair had booked flights to P.E.I. 

'Wondrous to do this'

The two friends are thrilled they've had the opportunity to visit Parks Canada's Green Gables site and explore Cavendish together.

Matt Rainnie/CBC

They also made sure they had time to see Anne of Green Gables — The Musical as well as Anne and Gilbert at The Guild. 

Being able to experience the place they had both dreamed of over the course of a 50-year friendship was "magical," Paradis said. 

"It really was, it felt surreal being there. We were actually giggling again and it was wondrous to do this," Paradis said. 

"It just gives it a real sense of place and actually being here and seeing it makes it even better," Chandler said.

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