Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
CAVENDISH, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — The tour bus, emblazoned with Japanese lettering, holds close to 40 passengers. All of them are tourists, not one of them is a child. They’ve journeyed more than 10,000 kilometres to glimpse a red-haired girl who doesn’t speak their language, hasn’t seen their land, or even the 21st century.
There’s a universality in Anne of Green Gables, though, and she’s a phenomenon because of it. When you witness the fandom firsthand, it becomes all the more amazing to realize what Lucy Maud Montgomery achieved when she conceived her fictional character 104 years ago. In the smallest and least populated province of Canada, Anne Shirley has become one of the world’s most beloved literary heroines — and the source of a multimillion-dollar tourism business, too.
According to Prince Edward Island’s tourism office, roughly 216,000 “Anne-related visitors” arrive annually to the province, accounting for about 17 per cent of all tourists. Anne’s base is in the tiny village of Cavendish, saturated with everything redhead. Tourists come to visit Green Gables Heritage Place, part of Prince Edward Island National Park, and Avonlea Village, the privately run attraction that is the bigger (and more expensive) draw for Anne fans. The attractions are less than one kilometre apart.
Although tourism officials haven’t released the numbers on how many visitors from Japan have arrived this year, reports from businesses around PEI say there has been an uptick from the Asian nation after the devastation of the 2011 tsunami limited travel. In July, the province’s Guardian newspaper reported booming business for Anne attractions, including a 12 per cent increase in ticket sales for the long-running “Anne of Green Gables – The Musical” in Charlottetown.
What makes Anne so accessible to so many is her ability — which Montgomery bestowed on her — to connect with the vulnerabilities of childhood and adolescence, an age when fitting in for many often feels like an impossible dream. Anne’s precociousness was matched by her uncanny knack for stumbling into trouble, an aspect that is a source of good fun at Avonlea Village, where skits occur daily featuring scenes from the books (primarily the first three of the nine in the series: “Anne of Green Gables,” “Anne of Avonlea,” and “Anne of the Island”). There’s lots of humour and cleverness on display, and the actors never get out of their roles no matter what kind of technology or request confronts them.
“There’s no place I’d rather be than Avonlea,” said Alyssa Belong, who was in character as Anne on the day I arrived. “People come from all over the world to see me.”
And with “Anne of Green Gables” still on the curriculum in many schools around the world and with Asia continuing to grow its wealth, Anne can expect friends to continue making the trip to her glorious little island to spend the day with her in a make-believe village where time does stand still.
MORE ABOUT GREEN GABLES HERITAGE PLACE
What you’ll see: The Green Gables house is heralded as the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s story and once belonged to her cousins. You’ll see the rooms where Marilla Cuthbert, Anne’s antagonist and guardian, would have called home as well as familiar items from the stories. Most importantly, though, you’ll learn more about Montgomery and her affection for an island whose beauty, charm and character she managed to export to the world.
Address: 8619 Route 6, Cavendish, PEI
Admission prices: $19 for a family; $7.80 per adult; $3.90 per youth (all prices include taxes)
Hours: The park is open daily from 9 am- 5 pm from May 17 to October 31, 2012. It will re-open on May 21, 2013.
MORE ABOUT AVONLEA VILLAGE
What you’ll see: Along with some entertaining drama, there are sack races, games, sing-alongs, the chance to go to school in 1908 and lots of encounters with characters from the Anne books. It’s a lot of fun, even if you’re not with kids.
Address: 8779, Route 6, Cavendish, PEI
Admission prices: $75 for a family; $22 per adult; $18 per youth (ages 5-18); $20 for seniors; rates from September 1-16 are $6.93 (all prices include taxes) for adults, seniors and youths 13-18, and children 12 and under can enter for free in September.
Hours: The park this year is open from June 18 until September 16. It operates from 10 am-5 pm daily until September 1 and then is open until 4 pm until September 16, 2012.
MAP SHOWING THE TWO ATTRACTIONS IN CAVENDISH
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