UPEI to highlight Anne author with new chair in Montgomery Studies

UPEI to highlight Anne author with new chair in Montgomery Studies

With news this week that another of author L.M. Montgomery's homes in Ontario —  the manse in Norval, Ont. where the famous author of Anne of Green Gables author lived from 1926 until 1935 — is being made into a museum, might have some in Montgomery's home province asking: Could  P.E.I. be doing more to celebrate the Island-born author? As it turns out, it's on the brink of doing just that.

Montgomery, born in 1874, lived on P.E.I. most of her early life in Cavendish with her grandparents, where she wrote Anne of Green Gables in 1908. When she married Rev. Ewen MacDonald in 1911 they moved to Ontario where they lived in manses at Leaskdale and Norval, living out her final years in Toronto. 

"But what we have on Prince Edward Island and what we seem to have ignored many times in the past is that Prince Edward Island was not only Montgomery's home and the place where she wrote her most famous book … it was always her spiritual home," said Elizabeth Epperly, the founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute, from her home in Nova Scotia. 

The L.M. Montgomery Institute, whose purpose is to promote research into and celebration of Montgomery's life, works, culture and influence, fell into a "lull", Epperly lamented, after 2008 and big celebrations around the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne, losing funding for a permanent director. It has continued to hold biennial conferences for a few hundred scholars. 

But now with a one-year contract from UPEI and a mandate to revitalize the institute, Epperly is now looking to turn things around. UPEI's Philip Smith enthusiastically took over as the institute's chair last year, and the university's new president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz also became interested, announcing the creation of a chair in Montgomery studies who will also teach applied communication, leadership and culture. 

'Taking off like a rocket'

Abd-El-Aziz gave Epperly a contract to develop a new five-year strategic plan for the institute she founded, which includes coming up with new ways to highlight the university's extensive collection of Montgomery's first editions, artifacts and digitial archives. For the last year, Epperly has also been looking at ways to engage more international and Canadian students to study Montgomery and her work.

"It's just like wow! Suddenly all of this is taking off like a rocket, when it's been building up fuel for years!" she said. 

The new chair should be chosen by May and the new program open for students in September. 

'Making even more connections'

The hunt for the chair in Montgomery studies is unfolding now, as three candidates on the short list for the post — Benjamin Lefebvre from Ryerson University, Sarah Galletly from James Cook University in Australia, and Kate Scarth from Dalhousie — present public lectures at UPEI. Galletly's is March 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the K.C. Irving Chemistry building and Scarth will present March 30.

The chair will likely develop more courses on Montgomery and her writing as well as graduate courses, and draw in more Montgomery scholars from around the world, Epperly said.

"If you travel the world and you mention Prince Edward Island the most common reference people will have will be Montgomery, so this is an opportunity for us to really build upon that," added the institute's chair, Philip Smith.

'Whatever it takes' to promote P.E.I. tourism

Although P.E.I. has been marketed more as an "Anne" attraction rather than a Montgomery one — with two major musicals and Green Gables National Historic Site marketed as big draws — anything that increases awareness of the character or the author are good for P.E.I., the province said. 

"We would entertain almost anything. We're in the business to promote Prince Edward Island tourism and whatever it takes to being our 1.5 million visitors here each year," said P.E.I. Tourism Minister Heath MacDonald. 

Tourism operators are also interested in creating more awareness of the author and her story — that was the focus of a brainstorming session last month involving 31 operators from across the Island.

"P.E.I. is home to this world-class author, and as locals we don't always know about the fascinating life she led here," said Peggy Miles, executive director of P.E.I.'s Central Coastal Tourism Partnership, who organized the event. 

Planning is in its infancy, Miles said, but could include a training module on Montgomery for front-line tourism staff and many other initiatives. 

"Folks recognized there's a real opportunity to educate Islanders as well as visitors," she said.

P.E.I. 'in the forefront where it belongs'

The more focus can turn to Montgomery over her characters the better said Epperly, who also participated in the tourism session. 

"Montgomery can provide the flag for … placing Prince Edward Island in the forefront where it belongs," said Epperly. "I think Prince Edward Island has been on the forefront for many years and many ways of the spirit, and I think this is the time to do it scientifically and educationally."

- MORE P.E.I. NEWS I Balancing competing needs in seniors' housing a challenge, says minister

- MORE P.E.I. NEWS I 'We've certainly improved the situation': P.E.I. health officials confident in newcomer vaccine uptake