At Home with Maud and the Family

Kate Macdonald Butler with Jowi and Voyageur It didn't take long after the publication of "Anne of Green Gables" in 1908 for P.E.I. native L.M. Montgomery to become arguably Canada's first international literary superstar (Robert W. Service published "The Cremation of Sam McGee" and other famous poems a year earlier but had only recently moved from Scotland in his early 20's and later moved to California). With that achievement she set the tone for generations of Canadian writers. In fiction, in poetry, in criticism and - significantly - in songwriting, Canada has long been a literary powerhouse punching way above its weight on the international stage. The passing of Gord Downie last week was an all too vivid reminder of this - how such an inventive and often obtuse lyricist really captured something essentially and uniquely Canadian that was embraced by a huge swath of the population. And that connection - that line connecting Maud and Gord was not lost on attendees of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario's Spirit of Canada Celebration and Conference which brought together fans and scholars to talk about Maud's ongoing place in the Canadian story - after all, the Tragically Hip's "Ahead by a Century" was a theme in CBC's most recent TV iteration of the adventures of Anne Shirley.

So I didn't feel out of place speaking to a small assembly at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale just kitty corner to the historic Montgomery Manse as part of the event - especially since part of the home where Maud was raised in Cavendish P.E.I. is the top-most reinforcing strip on the inside back of Voyageur. And I was especially pleased that the "performance pocket" part of the presentation was handled by Nova Scotian singer, songwriter and Canadian women's music historian Rosalee Peppard, who had been commissioned to write a song for the event and ended up writing three! Brian and Lesleyann Forester warmed up the crowd with a rendition of Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy".

From the outset, the Six String Nation project was intended to put multiple stories and perspectives from all parts of Canada on an equal footing, with a strong emphasis on including indigenous contributions. The report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has only sharpened my attention to sharing those aspects of the project and I was so pleased that those in attendance on Friday night were as moved by those stories as they were by the inclusion of their heroine. Among those who approached me after the presentation to express her feelings about the emotional journey the show had taken her on was Kate Macdonald Butler (pictured with me here). As the cameras clacked away at us she let me know that she was actually Lucy Maud's granddaughter. Having shown the video with John and Jennie MacNeill contributing the piece of the Cavendish home to the project, it was especially poignant to meet Kate and feel the completion of another circle in our efforts to get Voyageur into the hands of those whose contributions helped build it.

Special thanks to Gwen Layton, Kathy Wasylenky and the rest of the members and guests of the LMMSO for welcoming me to the event. Thanks also to our hosts at St. Paul's, including A/V man Jonathan, who was a pleasure to work with.

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