Anne of Green Gables lures royal couple to P.E.I.
Prince William kisses his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the royal wedding in London Friday, April, 29, 2011. (AP / Matt Dunham)
Josh Visser, CTV.ca News
Published Saturday, May 28, 2011 7:11AM EDT
Long before "The Da Vinci Code" had North Americans bounding around Europe, a little novel about a red-headed orphan had Europeans crossing the Atlantic Ocean to a tiny island right here in Canada.
And you can now include Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, as the latest in a long line of tourists, from British prime ministers and royalty to Japanese students, expected to travel to Prince Edward Island because of Lucy Maud Montgomery's 1908 classic "Anne of Green Gables."
"It is something of a sentimental journey. The book was Kate's favourite when she was growing up," Britain's Daily Mail quotes a source.
Prince William and Kate, are expected to be the draw of the summer when they travel to P.E.I. during their visit to Canada June 30-July 8, if media reports are true.
The historic Great George in Charlottetown, arguably the Island's most luxurious hotel, has long been fully booked for the time surrounding the royal couple's visit.
"A lot of people from around the Maritimes are being drawn to P.E.I. because of (the royal couple's visit,)" Matthew Snyder, the hotel's guest services liaison said. "They're really interested and want to see them and have an opportunity to meet them."
That Anne may have played a role in bringing the newlyweds to the Island doesn't surprise Snyder at all.
"(The book) is a little bit of a fairytale and it's the same with Kate," he said. "Anne's always a huge attraction, especially for people that like to dream big."
Dr. Elizabeth Epperly moved from Virginia in 1969 to P.E.I. because of her love of "Anne of Green Gables" and was the first student to register at the University of Prince Edward Island.
She's since devoted her academic life to the study of Montgomery's work and founded the L.M. Montgomery Institute of UPEI.
"(The novel) crosses generations and cultures because it speaks to the longing and belonging that everyone wants to experience," Epperly said in a telephone interview from her home in Nova Scotia. "That longing for home and that longing for a self you can be proud of and identify . . . Anne finds those things.
"It's a book that speaks to the soul."
Epperly hopes that Middleton's love for the novel will engage yet another generation to pick up the book -- which has sold more than 50 million copies in more than 35 languages since its publication in 1908.
"There's always been fans around the world, but to make (the book) cool again -- that's what the Duke and Duchess will do," she said.
Tourism officials are cautiously optimistic, no doubt hoping to see a tourism "Kate bump" in the future.
"We do hope that Kate is a big Anne fan, that there is some truth to that," Brenda Gallant, marketing director for the P.E.I. Department of Tourism, told The Canadian Press.
"It would be exciting to have her here to experience the beauty of the Island as Lucy Maud Montgomery saw it."
The other side of Anne
But many native Islanders have an uneasy relationship with Anne. She's omnipresent in the summer, her trademark pigtails become more obnoxious than precocious when the Come From Aways arrive with their Anne-inspired stereotypes.
"There are some people on Prince Edward Island who resent the Anne images they see everythere, because they think they get too much of that," Epperly says, perhaps underplaying the sentiment.
Besides, Islanders remains staunchly and proudly salt of the earth, and many would rather discuss the work of the NHL's Brad Richards and Adam McQuaid than that of a century-old novel.
Tourism P.E.I. rebranded the province "The Gentle Island" a few years back, and recent advertising tends to promote the Island as a rural haven of tranquility.
"Anne of Green Gables" still plays a part -- at least 10 per cent of visitors come specifically because of the book -- but one can't help but get the impression that tourism officials would rather play up other aspects of the Island.
Some entrepreneurs have found there's money to be made outside of Anne, finding experiences to be had in authentic, everyday life.
Bill and Mary Kendrick's company, Experience PEI, sets up visitors with locals to go on hands-on adventures -- such as lobster fishing with a lobster fisherman or creating art with local artisans.
"The whole concept behind what we do is to try to provide people with something that is different," Bill Kendrick said.
When asked if "different" means something that isn't Anne of Green Gables, Kendrick is careful to give Anne her due.
"'Anne of Green Gables' is still an important icon, tourism product here," he said, mentioning William and Kate's upcoming visit as an example of her pull.
"But what we've tried to do with our company is position ourselves to say, ‘Once you've done the Anne visits and you've been to a beach and you've seen our beautiful coastline, there is so much more to Prince Edward Island than Anne and a lobster supper.'
"Through our experience as innkeepers the people that have the greatest experiences here are the ones who met Islanders. Nobody is going to sell this island better than the people that live here."
But in the end, P.E.I. cannot escape "Anne of Green Gables" anymore than British Columbia can flee from its mountains.
"Montgomery's view of P.E.I. is inescapable," Epperly says, her Virginian accent becoming more apparent with each impassioned breath. "She has shaped a cultural image and that image is one that has determined how Prince Edward Island looks now and how it feels and how people react to their own identity with it.
"What Montgomery captured in her descriptions of Prince Edward Island, the landscapes she re-created for people, is what they grow to see and what they grow to love and what is, in fact, there today."
Travel tips for the Royal Couple:
Buy roadside potatoes: Across the Island, tiny unmanned roadside stands sell potatoes. It's all on the honour system, and you make change with money left there. Somehow this system is profitable.
Wade's Deep Sea Fishing: Prince William wouldn't be the first man (but maybe the first prince) to be surprised that his lady just loves fishin'. This North Rustico institution is also conveniently close to Fisherman's Wharf and it's all-you-can-eat mussels.
Take in a play at the Victoria Playhouse: In the centre of quaint Victoria-by-the-Sea (full disclosure: this is my hometown), this theatre is decidedly off-off-off-off Broadway.
Cedar's Eatery, Charlottetown: The chicken shawarma there is better than any found in any take-out joint on Edgware Road in London, known for its Middle Eastern cuisine.
The Confederation Trail: Get thyself off the horse carriage and onto a bicycle! The Island is covered tip to tip in bike trails, with a variety of scenic routes for every level of biking enthusiast.