Story by Nancy Wigston
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
NORVAL, ONTARIO — Blink and you’ll miss this hamlet, a 45-minute drive from downtown Toronto. And that would be a pity — especially for fans of the 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables — since author Lucy Maud Montgomery, perhaps the most famous writer in Canadian history, spent nine productive years here. “Maud” as her family called her, published six books during 1926-34, when she lived with her minister husband and two sons in the Presbyterian Manse on Draper Street.
“I have never loved anyplace so well save Cavendish,” wrote Montgomery of her Norval years, ranking this town in Ontario’s Halton Hills behind only the Prince Edward Island setting for her fictional Avonlea. Today’s visitors, Montgomery fans or not, will discover a village redolent with 19th-century charm, with lots to lure day-trippers, including three nature walks, an upscale bakery, a pancake restaurant, a country music venue, a day spa, an award-winning Heritage Garden, trout and salmon fishing in the Credit River — plus the old-fashioned ambience of Victorian houses surrounded by tall pines.
“My grandmother gave me her posters and photographs from the village theatrical and choral societies that Montgomery founded,” says Norval native Kathy Gastle. The theatre-loving minister’s wife (who also happened to write world-famous books) cooked marvellously, photographed her favourite country walks, and was an avid gardener.
Today the Manse, privately occupied by the current minister and his family, welcomes Montgomery fans to its grounds. And the church, one of three in the village, is unusually solid — and bright and pretty inside. The annual “Montgomery Christmas” celebration, held in late November, usually coincides with church bazaars.
[box_light]Click to see a video of Avonlea, the Anne of Green Gables attraction in PEI[/box_light]
Those in the know — like Anne fans from Tokyo who make Norval their first stop in Canada before continuing on to Prince Edward Island, or scholars heading to the University of Guelph where Montgomery’s papers are housed — have found the road to Norval. But everyone enjoys the flower-filled Heritage Garden and the 2008 LM Montgomery Museum, stocked with memorabilia donated by Gastle and the descendants of a Montgomery relative who married a Norval boy in the 1930s — a match arranged by Aunt Maud.
Day Trip from Toronto Takes You Back in Time
The museum is housed in fabulous Crawford’s Bakery — an attraction on its own — locally beloved for its jams, pies, and tarts as well as Maud’s own fruitcake recipe. The Crawfords’ charmingly illustrated Aunt Maud’s Cookbook shows her homemaking side; it’s been translated into Japanese and Polish. Visitors can also purchase Montgomery’s books, Anne of Green Gables dolls, and the Anne-style kitschy straw hats, with red braids attached. A separate room overflows with antiques.
A special display shows books published on Montgomery in Japan, evidence of that country’s continuing fascination with Canada’s spunky red-haired orphan. Gastle has been known to take inquisitive overseas visitors around the hamlet in her car, showing them the exact spots where Maud loved to walk through green valleys and pine forests, and the straight path where the old “radial railway” ran between Guelph and Toronto. Montgomery would board the train to the city to attend meetings of the Arts & Letters Club.
Gastle showed me around the gazebo commemorating the centenary of the Women’s Institute (Montgomery was a member), decorated with plaques bearing quotations from Maud’s journals that speak of her love for Norval: “so beautiful it takes my breath away … the pine hills full of shadows — those river reaches — those bluffs of maple and smooth-trunked beach, drifts of wild white blossom everywhere.”
Nearby, a rare “analemmatic” sundial — one of only seven in North America — is dedicated to Norval men and women who served the nation in war. It’s “interactive” explains Gastle, and draws sundial enthusiasts — or anyone else — for the unusual experience of standing on the date scale in its centre and casting a shadow — which then shows the time.
Still, the chances are slim that the family picnicking in McNab Park on the banks of the Credit have come to Norval because of its special sundial, or even the fact that a major Canadian writer — who produced more than 20 novels, 500 short stories, volumes of poetry and an autobiography — once lived here. Ditto for the anglers fishing on a summer’s day.
Whether you come to fish, picnic, hike ecological paths, gather wild herbs, chase butterflies in the garden, gaze at frogs and turtles in the lily pond, explore the Heritage Garden and its sundial, visit the museum, sample Crawford’s baked goods, or buy fresh produce at Carter Farm Market (on Winston Churchill Road), this village on the Credit rewards every visitor with its rare, timeless ambience.
More About LM Montgomery Museum at Crawford’s Village Bakery
Address: 2809 Bovaird Drive (Highway 7 West), Brampton, ON (in the hamlet of Norval) — see map below
Getting to Norval from Toronto: Take Highway 401 West to Winston Churchill North, as far as Highway 7. Approaching the village, you’ll see LM Montgomery’s face on welcome signs; turn left at the lights to see the Manse and Church (on your right) and to explore the Heritage Garden and ecological paths; turn right up the hill to Crawford’s Village Bakery and the museum.
View Larger Map