Going to the annual Montgomery Christmas in Norval, Ontario has become a new tradition for my mother and me. This year we took my aunt Ellen as well for a ladies' day out.
The town of Norval is pretty small. You can walk it from end to end in about ten minutes. It's a place that is caught in the middle of different forces aiming to change it, for better or for worse. On the one hand, it really is the kind of place where everyone knows one another. The devoted residents of Norval are extremely friendly. Going from church bazaar to church bazaar, you see folks greet one another, and there is always a little bit of surprise when the ladies selling us baked goods find out we drove all the way from London. Why would you do that? they wonder. Their surprise is coupled with mixed respect for Montgomery's legacy. The LMM connection gives the town a cause to galvanize their desire to protect Norval's heritage and small town feel. They have the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden, and a museum at Crawford's Bakery -- although you have to wonder if they don't think it's an awful fuss for someone who lived there for such a short time, and privately think Norval is a great place with or without good old Maud. At the same time, Halton Hills and it's growing suburbs are encroaching. I have to admit, I was horrified to see a sign advertising new homes on a beautiful wooded lot on Guelph St. But if you look at the satellite image, you'll see that they are surrounded on all sides. Maybe the growth is what Norval needs to survive, and perhaps it is what gives the whole street scape the sense of something fleeting.
That's one of the reasons I like to go to the Montgomery Christmas. In many ways, the town hasn't changed at all since she lived there. In other ways, it is a completely different place. Her house is shamefully rented out rather than preserved as a museum, despite the efforts of Montgomery scholars and Norval residents. Newer buildings take away from the sense of history. The churches, where the bazaars are held, are the last bastion of heritage for the town. I love to go into these church basements full of smiles and knitted scarves.
First we went to the Anglican church on Adamson, right near the main intersection of the town. The bazaar is held in the hall next to the church, built in 1927, where Montgomery organized plays with the local dramatic society and performed on stage. I get a real kick out of that. My mother, of course, decided to embarrass me by telling people that I'm a Montgomery researcher.
She didn't have to work very hard to embarrass me, because I did it myself. They had a draw for a copy of Elizabeth Epperly's book Imagining Anne, signed by Epperly and two of Montgomery's grandchildren -- Dave and Kate MacDonald. I knew I had to have that book for my -- ahem -- prize winning collection of Montgomery editions (I'm such a show off). I asked the man running the raffle how many tickets had sold and he showed me. Then I gave him $40 and asked him how many tickets that would buy. It turns out, I got 24 tickets. I sat down and filled them all out, designating myself as the crazy girl (there were some stares). I was beet red. But when I got home, I discovered my plan worked. I won the book! So it was worth the embarrassment.
Then we were off to the United church, where I got my husband's new favourite jam, probably made by the same lady as it was last year -- rhubarb & pineapple. Next to the church was a tea room -- usually their Sunday School classrooms, but converted for the event -- where we stopped for lunch. We ate in the nursery. We all had cauliflower soup. I had egg salad, while my mom and aunt had salmon, and a glass of juice for each of us. Nothing tastes like the egg salad church ladies make. It's my favourite part of any funeral.
Across the street about a block up is the Presbyterian church where Montgomery's husband, Ewen MacDonald, was pastor. His picture is up on the wall in the basement -- looking particularly mentally ill, I'm sorry to say. It was after his time at the Norval church that he became too ill to work regularly as a minister any more. Montgomery was a very active church wife, and while buying a pretty apron in the basement, I was acutely conscious of her presence in the room. She had been there. She had walked these halls. Ewen had squeezed through that little door to get to the pulpit.
Finally, we did something I have been wanting to do in Norval, which was take a walk by the river. It has been a warm November with no snow, so we went down to the Willow Park Ecology Centre behind the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden for a walk by the Credit River. This is where you see Montgomery in Norval, more than anywhere else. You see the place she loved, the atmosphere, the beauty, the landscape she described. Even in a grey November, it was easy to see.
After we left Norval proper, we stopped at Crawford's bakery for frozen pies and treats, tarts to eat on the ride home. I saw Jack and Linda Hutton of the Bala Museum, two of my favourite Montgomery devotees, and we had a nice chat. They are also in possession of some particularly rare editions I would like to buy. Linda knows exactly which buttons to push with a collector like me.
Thank you Norval, and thank you Maud. We'll see you next year.