Museum Musings: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Fred Payton – Prince Albert Historical Society

There has been considerable activity for the Prince Albert Historical Society since the big front doors closed denoting the end of the summer season at the Historical Museum and the other three museums the Historical Society operates. 

Our Museum Educator has been busy offering a variety of programmes including those for Culture Days, the Free Family programme (held in the afternoon of the second Saturday of each month), as well as the special programming for Remembrance Day and our upcoming opening the afternoon of the Santa Claus parade.

In addition to this, she has hosted school tours with classes from Wesmor, Westview, Arthur Pechey, and some private schools.  There have also been tours of post-secondary students from SUNTEP and Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

A downtown tour for a photography class allowed the students to take pictures of historic buildings while learning about the history of the city, while another tour (a bus tour visiting haunted sites) was provided for the Grade Ten English students from PACI.  Students from Riverside School have had access to the “Suitcase” programme, allowing them to see and handle exhibits detailing the history of Canada’s involvement in the two World Wars.

Our Indigenous Researcher has continued her activities locally, but also visited Regina and Saskatoon to access the Provincial Archives and the University of Saskatchewan archives, where she was able to locate considerable information about several Prince Albert and area indigenous families.

In the meantime, our Curator has been preparing applications for additional grants and funding, writing progress reports for funding agencies, and holding meetings with post-secondary educational groups in an effort to arrange further research projects.  Meetings with city staff, and the Northeast Museums Network have occurred, and she was also a presenter to the recent Heritage Saskatchewan Symposium.  All this on top of coordinating the APTN shoot of their programme “The Other Side”, as well as the upcoming Bamboo Shoots mini-documentaries on each of our four local museums. 

There have also been a few non-affiliated groups using the facilities of the Historical Museum, as well as a couple of birthday parties held at the Museum.  These activities have provided more incentive to the planning that the Curator is coordinating with respect to renovations to our office and programme space.

While the foregoing has been happening, I have been considering various topics for my Museum Musings column.  Originally, I had two topics in mind but I am awaiting further information from the National Archives for one of the topics, and hope to arrange an interview to discuss more recent history about the second topic.  A third topic, on which I recently found information that was new to me, ended up becoming my choice for my second November column.

Most of us who are devoted to local history will be able to tell you that Lucy Maud Montgomery lived in Prince Albert for a year from August 1890 until August 1891.  She travelled west by train with her grandfather, planning to live with her father and his second wife (Maud’s mother died in September 1876, prior to Maud’s second birthday).  Maud’s father, Hugh John Montgomery had come west in 1881, settling permanently in Prince Albert in 1884.  His second marriage occurred in 1887.  Maud, who had been in the care of her maternal grandparents, travelled by train with her grandfather to Regina, where after five years she was reunited with her father.  As there were no passenger trains between Regina and Prince Albert, they travelled by caboose to Duck Lake, and from there to Prince Albert by buckboard and wagon.

Maud spent a year in Prince Albert before returning east.  Her diary describes the love she had for her father, and the happy relationship she had with other members of the community.  But it is clear from that same diary that Maud did not have a happy relationship with her step-mother, who appeared to treat Maud as an unpaid nanny for her children, Katie and Bruce (who was born in February after Maud’s arrival in Prince Albert).

For a portion of the year that Maud spent in Prince Albert, she attended school.  The fire which had destroyed the Nisbett Academy in January of 1890 meant that schooling for children such as Maud now occurred in a temporary classroom in the former Royal Hotel.  The building was somewhat run down, and Maud describes how the gaol cells backed onto their classroom, resulting in occasional excitements for the students when the police dragged recalcitrant offenders through the hallway past where Maud and her classmates were studying.  Upstairs in the same building, there was a council chamber for the town, as well as rooms for the use by the community’s Masonic orders.

Amongst her fellow students, Maud established a relationship with Will Pritchard, as well as Will’s sister Laura.  Laura apparently attended the school run by an order of Roman Catholic nuns, which was housed in the former home of Lawrence Clarke.  It would appear that the three young people became very close during the year that Maud lived in Prince Albert.  Laura later married Andrew Agnew, and Maud visited them in Saskatoon on a trip west in the 1930s.  Will, unfortunately, died on April 1st, 1897, after a long and painful bout of influenza.  Maud wrote in her diary how “shocked and grieved” she was after receiving a letter from Laura advising her of Will’s death.

Perhaps the most telling indication of the relationship between Maud and her step-mother was the telegram which Maud received on January 17th, 1900.  Dated January 16th from Prince Albert, N.W.T., it read “Hugh J. Montgomery died today.  Pneumonia.  Peacefully happy and painless death.”  This appeared to Maud to be a cold, blunt announcement, not even referring to him as being her father, and led to several months of listlessness on her part before she was able to once again take up her pen and write.

Aside from her step-mother, Maud had one other unpleasant relationship in Prince Albert.  The school teacher, Mr. John Mustard, took a fancy to her and made several evening visits to her home in an effort to win her love.  This, however, was unsuccessful as Maud found him to be “such a bore” and certainly not marriage material.

Maud did manage to write her first published work while living in Prince Albert.  In December 1890, the Charlottetown Patriot published a poem which she had written.  Prior to her taking her leave of Prince Albert, the Patriot requested she write another poem and subsequently published it, and later a Saskatoon newspaper published an account of her trip back to the east.

But more importantly, according to Ottawa writer Janet Lunn, Maud took back with her vivid images which she was able to incorporate into the books she would later write.  Lunn suggests that Jane Stewart’s Grandmother Kennedy (in Jane of Lantern Hill) and Valancy Stirling’s aunts in The Blue Castle reflected the disagreeable ways of her step-mother, Mary Ann.

Lunn also suggests that the “mustache-curling Mr. Phillips” who made eyes at Prissy Andrews in Anne of Green Gables was based on her teacher and unsuccessful suitor, John Mustard. Maud left Prince Albert on Thursday, August 27th, 1891.  She would return only once, visiting the places she and Will and Laura had haunted during her year in the community.  It is likely she visited the South Hill cemetery, where both her father and Will had been laid to rest.  During this visit, she stayed with a further friend from her local school days, Alexina, and her husband Fred Wright in their home on 23rd Street West.