• Linda Borromeo

Discover the Lighthouse Connections of L. M. Montgomery

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

When L. M. Montgomery published Anne's House of Dreams in 1917, she was far from home.

Like all her books, Anne's House of Dreams is infused with the author's love for a small island. A place of winding red roads and a wealth of lighthouses, Prince Edward Island is described so lyrically in Montgomery's writing that I feel her deep connection and love of place along with her.

Final moments of sunset, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

When she wrote this entry in her journal on June 1, 1909, she had no way of knowing she'd be leaving her home and Prince Edward Island within two years:

"The good hour came as I was walking home alone. Before me arched the afterlife of a glorious sea-sunset. The tall slender firs along the moist red road came out against it in a grace and beauty that made me ache for joy,..

It is at such moments that I realize how deeply rooted and strong is my love for this old place...a love of instinct and passion, blent with every fibre of my soul.

It is terrible to love things—and people—as I do!"

— L. M. Montgomery

Despite her love for her birthplace, she lived 1,675 km from P.E.I. when Anne's House of Dreams was published. In 1911, she'd moved to Leaskdale, Ontario where her husband had accepted a position as a Presbyterian minister.

Away from the Island, and going through the war years, she was now far from that "good hour" when she'd walked home on an early summer evening. It was in her imagination that she returned to the sea as she penned a bittersweet story of hope and loss.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that I think Anne's House of Dreams is one of Montgomery's most deeply felt books. Reading the story again now is even more poignant. I realize the author was looking back at a time and place that was no longer there when she looked out the window in the morning.

When she went back to the Island in her imagination, she made the lighthouse, Four Winds, a place of dreams too. Here are two lighthouse connections to L. M. Montgomery's world on Prince Edward island:

1. The Four Winds Lighthouse

Sometimes I've wondered, "Is there a real lighthouse on Prince Edward Island that is the model for the Four Winds Lighthouse?"

Part of the answer came when I was walking home from work one summer day—in a very different world than Prince Edward Island. I stepped inside a Berkeley, California bookstore (not a rare thing to happen!). There, I found the first volume of L. M. Montgomery's journals and quickly snapped it up.

Through the years, I've enjoyed browsing among the journal entries here and there. However, when I read the passage dated June 3, 1909, I had no idea until now that it was a clue about the Four Winds Lighthouse in Anne's House of Dreams.

"Away to the westward six or seven miles the view was bounded by New London Point, a long, sharp tongue of land running far out to sea.

In my childhood I never wearied of speculating what was on the other side of that point—a very realm of enchantment surely, I thought. Even when I gradually grew into the understanding that beyond it was merely another reach of shore like our own it still held a mystery and fascination for me. I longed to stand out on the remote, lonely, purple point, beyond which was the land of lost sunsets.

I have seen few more beautiful sights than a sea-sunset off that point. Of late years a new charm has been added to it—a revolving light, which as seen from here, flashes on the point in the dusk of summer nights like a beacon

'O'er the foam

Of perilous seas in fairyland forlorn.'"

The second clue comes from Anne's House of Dreams itself. writes "The following description of the setting of the lighthouse, given in Chapter 9 of the book, leaves little doubt that it was based on Cape Tryon Lighthouse:"

“The Four Winds light was built on a spur of red sandstone cliff jutting out into the Gulf.”

The red sandstone cliffs of Cape Tryon, Prince Edward Island

Although the Four Winds Lighthouse is very much its own self in the story, L. M. Montgomery based Four Winds on the location of this real lighthouse:

Former Cape Tryon Lighthouse
Former (original) Cape Tryon Lighthouse. Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis CC BY-SA 2.0

Cape Tryon Lighthouse in 1912. Credit: Canadian Coast Guard cites an article by Carolyn Strom Collins titled "A Visit to 'Four Winds Lighthouse'" (The Shining Scroll, December 2010). I haven't seen the article yet, but I'll be looking for a copy soon.

Built in 1905, the model for the Four Winds Lighthouse has been purchased by a private party and is now beautifully restored and used as a residence on P.E.I.

Former Cape Tryon Lighthouse

In 1965, a new Cape Tryon Lighthouse was built, This is the one visitors see now while walking along the coast in a "good hour" of their own:

Cape Tryon Lighthouse. Credit: William Li CC BY-SA 4.0

2. A Lighthouse Keeper Becomes an Actress

In 1943, a young widow became keeper of the lighthouse and the companion back range light in New London, P.E.I. — L. M. Montgomery's birthplace. While taking care of her terminally-ill husband and raising their small children, Maisie Adams had actually been tending the light since her husband's appointment as keeper in 1940. When her husband passed away from cancer, she officially took over the lighthouse duties at New London.

The two New London lights, built in 1876 and 1879, were constructed not long after Montgomery's birth on November 30, 1874 in Clifton (renamed New London).

Oyster Barns: New London, P.E.I.

Maisie Adams was the only female keeper in Prince Edward Island's history. She tended the lighthouse and the range light for fourteen years, from 1940-1956.

The 1876 light she tended still stands at New London. And, it turns out, there is an additional, and surprising, connection between Maisie Adams and Montgomery's stories

Years later, Adams acted in the television adaptation of L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon. While in her eighties, the former lighthouse keeper appeared in a total of six episodes, beginning in Season Two with "Rivers of Babylon."

You can see a picture of Maisie Adams by going to Island Voices (University of Prince Edward Island) here.

French River, part of New London Bay, P.E.I. Credit: David Broad CC BY 3.0

Montgomery did return on visits to Prince Edward Island, but never lived there again. Relevant to today, a year after Anne's House of Dreams was published, she came back to P.E.I. to nurse victims of the Spanish Influenza pandemic at Park Corner in 1918.

I'd like to think her "home" lighthouses were especially bright on the evening when she returned, just as the lighthouse in Anne's House of Dreams represents all the good things associated with beacons and the light that guides wanderers home.

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"Your blog is a joy to read. It showed the happiness and sadness of a life lived. Looking at the beautiful pictures caught my eye. The writing touched my heart. Well done! "

From SoaringEagle

"Thank you, SoaringEagle. Since I'm reading Anne's House of Dreams right now, it deepened my appreciation to know more about what was going on in L.M.M.'s life. I empathize with the way she found solace in the natural beauty around her. I appreciate your comment."

Reply from Linda

Although I grew up in a desert-like place (it can be 110 degrees in the summer!), I've always had a fascination for lighthouses around the world. My book, Mystery Shores, is set on a lighthouse island along the Washington Coast in 1893. I now live in the Pacific Northwest where temperatures are 30 degrees cooler and lighthouses are close by.