PEI

Anne of Green Gables characters increase visits to historic site

Anne Shirley and ice cream has been the recipe for success for the popular Anne of Green Gables: The Musical for decades.

Parks Canada will review 2015 numbers to plan for next year

Visitors to Green Gables Heritage Site were able to interact with students hired to act like Anne Shirley. (Parks Canada)

Anne Shirley and ice cream has been the recipe for success for the popular Anne of Green Gables: The Musical for decades. 

Now Parks Canada is tapping into the same formula to grow visitor numbers at the Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish, P.E.I. and the new changes seemed to have paid off.

Parks Canada has put staff in costume and introduced interactive programming.

Green Gables had hosted more than 132,000 visitors as of mid-September.

That's an 18.5 per cent increase over the same period in 2014 and a 30 per cent  jump over 2013.

"We noticed that there was a change in what visitors were looking for and we applied it to our programming," said Ocel Dauphinais-Matheson, Parks Canada site co-ordinator at the Green Gables Heritage Place. "So far this year, it's worked out very well."             

"More drop-in style, interactive, hands-on programs," he said.

"Also we put a lot of emphasis on costume — staff in period costume — doing heritage presentations such as ice cream making, butter making, crocheting, knitting, rug hooking. All those things that really bring the site to life."

The site also featured daily appearances by Anne.            

"Anne onsite every day during peak season this year and that, of course, is always a big hit with visitors," Dauphinais-Matheson added. 

Social media increase

He said that having staff in costume, especially Anne, is also giving Green Gables a significant bump on social media.

"It's very common that you'll see on social media people posting pictures of themselves with Anne on site," said Dauphinais-Matheson.

"Holding a raspberry cordial or a vanilla ice cream, posing with Anne. You'll get lots of that. So certainly social media is definitely having an impact especially with Anne and our staff in period costume."        

Parks Canada hired students to play Anne Shirley at the Green Gables Heritage Site. (Parks Canada)
Tour guide Wayne MacKinnon has been bringing groups to Green Gables for years, through Prince Edward Tours. He says the changes in programming at the site in Cavendish have made a huge difference.

"I've been up here quite a few years but this year there was a different kind of buzz in the place because of these girls that were dressed up in period costumes," says MacKinnon. 

Just up the road from Green Gables is Avonlea Village.

For 15 years, the village offered what it described as "a glimpse into the world of Anne" with recreated buildings and characters dressed up in period costume.

'Laughing and giggling like kids'

This year, Avonlea Village switched its format and added shops, restaurants and entertainment but dropped any historical re-enactment.

Tour guide Wayne MacKinnon thinks the change helped the numbers at Green Gables.

"This was the busiest place in Cavendish all summer and that's because there was that void at Avonlea Village," MacKinnon said.

For now, the interactive programming and actors dressed as Anne are only offered in July and August.

Tour guide Wayne MacKinnon hopes Parks Canada will add more staff in costumes and more Anne because he says that's what his visitors are looking for.   

"They love it," MacKinnon said. "They get back on the bus and they're all laughing and giggling like kids and talking about what a great experience it was and how those girls were so charming and joyful."

Dauphinais-Matheson says the team from Parks Canada will spend time this winter looking at the numbers from 2015 and making a plan for the next tourism season.

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