A lifelong love affair with Anne of Green Gables led to a thrilling venture
A profile of the ultimate Anne of Green Gables collectors and their collection.
Taught to students around the world, Anne of Green Gables has been a classic children's novel and part of Canada's cultural fabric dating back to its publishing in 1908.
This coming-of-age story — about an outsider who against all odds and challenges fights for love, acceptance and her place in the world — has been translated into many different languages and adapted into various films, animations and television shows, including the latest CBC version called Anne with an E.
But Anne is not just a Canadian classic. Her fandom has spread all over the world with fans ranging from book lovers to everything-Anne collectors. In our search for the ultimate Anne collector, we've come across an interesting story that we had to find out more about.
A museum with memories
Located in Bala, Muskoka — where Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, got inspired to write her novel, The Blue Castle — lies Bala's Museum with Memories of Lucy Maud Montgomery. An authentic trove of the most unique Anne of Green Gables treasures, owned by Linda and Jack Hutton.
After an accidental discovery of Montgomery's connection to Bala while on their honeymoon in Prince Edward Island, these long time fans wanted to save the last surviving link between Muskoka and Canada's most famous author.
"It all started with a rush decision to buy the former tourist home where the author of Green Gables had all her meals during a two-week holiday in Bala, in 1922," Jack and Linda explained in one of their email replies to us.
"Had we not done so, it faced imminent demolition after six years on the market with no buyer."
The building has served as a museum since they opened it on July 24, 1992 becoming the first Lucy Maud Montgomery dedicated museum in Ontario. And in 2013, it received heritage designation from the Township of Muskoka Lakes. So we decided to see it for ourselves.
The picturesque exterior immediately brings to mind the original Green Gables farm while the interior maintains the integrity of the period when Montgomery visited Bala.
It's like a gateway to the past. The minute you walk in, snippets of history and unique, one-of-a-kind collectibles draw you in and from there you are immersed in a magical story of Anne as the Huttons bring it to life and take you on a captivating journey that makes you want to find out more about Anne's story.
Along the way you see carefully set up and detailed dioramas of the scenes from the book, like Anne making a liniment cake.
And just when you think you've picked up on all of it, details like an authentic little bottle of medicine that was mentioned in the book pops up as if from nowhere.
You quickly realise how much passion and care went into setting up each station with undeniable precision and credibility to L.M. Montgomery's books and characters.
And if you have kids, the journey gets even more interesting. They get to be a part of the re-enactment of the liniment cake scene, pretend-sip a raspberry cordial on the veranda, sit at the railway crossing set in the museum's backyard and enjoy many more fun activities.
The museum has had its fair share of visitors, many of whom come from Japan. "We have had to learn basic Japanese and have everything translated from front to back," says Linda.
Then there was a special recurring visitor Luella Veijalainen, Lucy Maud Montgomery's first grandchild who was eight when her grandmother died.
For many years, right up until her passing a few years ago, Veijalainen came to the museum's Everything Anne Day to celebrate her grandmother's memory.
Children would dress up in Anne of Green Gables characters to compete in old-fashioned races from the book like egg-on-a-spoon, sack races, pea-shooting and more.
Over the years, the Huttons' collection has grown considerably. The museum holds rare pieces, some of which sell for up to $40,000 at auctions.
Below are some of their most prized and beloved possessions that have aided in making the museum the heritage site it is today.
Rare, braille and foreign edition books
The museum became internationally known for its extensive collection of Anne of Green Gables editions from various countries — from Sweden to Russia to Italy and many more.
But the collection wouldn't be complete without its crown jewel, a 1908 first impression, first edition copy of Anne of Green Gables, and subsequently the third impression.
The museum also holds a 1905 magazine, The Delineator, with a cover of George Gibbs' painting — which became the paste-on illustration for other editions of Montgomery's famous first novel.
Bala's museum is one of the few Lucy Maud Montgomery museums in Canada that does special tours for the blind and owns a copy of Anne of Green Gables in braille.
One of the most memorable and cathartic moments for the Huttons was when a young blind woman read aloud from their braille translation of Anne of Green Gables.
"We were moved to tears," says Linda who grew up hearing her legally blind brother read braille books to her which is one of the reasons this moment was so special to her.
One of the most exciting and, next to buying their house, most expensive acquisitions was the original sheet music written a hundred years ago for the 1919 Anne of Green Gables silent film, starring Mary Miles Minter.
"We bought it on eBay for just under $1,000, bidding against the National Library of Canada — we later discovered," explains Jack.
The long lost stills from a silent movie
Though the silent comedy-drama film was destroyed, movie stills survived. It was no easy feat but the Huttons were determined to find them. And they did!
"Buying the sheet music started us off discovering where it was filmed … We spent almost 10 years finding rare movie stills from the long lost silent movie and turned them into a PowerPoint presentation."
"Jack played the silent movie piano background and I did the script narration and the voice parts of the actors."
Here is an excerpt from the presentation.
Anne of Green Gables luncheon set
Based on a postcard picture of Green Gables, this set was made by Royal Winton China and was the first souvenir sold at the new Green Gables National Park back in 1936. Each piece was stenciled and hand painted.
The world's largest Anne of Green Gables dollhouse
Sitting in the main room is the largest Anne of Green Gables dollhouse populated with carefully selected miniature furniture and other items related to the story which took more than a year to find and set up. Click through the gallery and take a look at what's inside.
Tag us on Instagram at @cbc_television with your most prized Anne of Green Gable collectible and we'll post it on our social media.
Be sure to watch Anne with an E on CBC Television and CBC Gem.