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L.M. Montgomery, the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, and the Search for Environmental History"

Thu, March 30, 10:30am to 12:00pm, The Drake Hotel, Walton No.


Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of most famous writers of Canada’s Maritimes, and arguably the most influential in shaping how we think of its landscapes. This paper dares to approach familiar literature in new ways: by reading for references to the Gulf, and Prince Edward Island as an island; and by considering these not as shorescapes of imagination but as evidence of environmental change and character in the industrial era.

Only a small part of scholarship about Montgomery addresses the environment, and this generally considers landscapes as “imagined,” as a function of fiction. What if we instead approach it as a record of historical environments, an artifact of Island history? At the same time, there is surprisingly little on “the glowing sapphire of the encircling sea” which, she herself wrote, “makes Prince Edward Island in more senses than the geographical.” Seagoing was a central part of her family’s history and of her attachment to the Island, even though the popular imagination has focused on the land-marks she mentions. Can we find a palimpsest of Abegweit (a name Montgomery preferred) in the settler Garden?

Amid concerns over global oceanic health, climate change and sea-level rise, and sustainable practices of scale, there has emerged a vibrant discussion of environmental history about PEI and the Maritimes on the one hand, and the North Atlantic on the other. Can we map Montgomery’s memories of the Island onto this history? Can we use literary texts as a cultural complement to round out the ecological and material histories of past environments?

This paper asks three questions: where and how does the Gulf appear in L.M. Montgomery’s writings? what can we learn of coastal use and environmental change in the early twentieth century? And can this inform our search for a more sustainable, post-industrial Maritime region?