The Bala Museum Garden view

Yesterday, the bee keeper at Pickering Museum Village told us we had to visit the Bala Museum, so today we set off to check it out. What we found was not only a treasure trove of L.M. Montgomery information, but an amazing treasure in its proprietors as well.

First, one needs a bit of background on why the Museum at Bala is significant. Montgomery and her husband used to vacation in PEI until the summer of 1922 when Ewan was in the middle of a lawsuit over a driving accident. Because of the legal hassles, they were discouraged from leaving the area. The situation was eventually resolved, but not before it was too late for a trip to PEI. So, the couple made the 80 kilometer trek from Leaskdale to Bala. They didn’t actually stay at the Bala Museum, then called Treelawn Lodge, but the Roselawn Lodge across the street. The Roselawn Lodge, however, didn’t serve meals, so they took their meals at Treelawn. It was actually the summer she spent at Bala which inspired Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, the only Montgomery novel set outside of PEI.

Jack Hutton with some early Anne Memorabilia

The way the Huttons got the house is nothing short of a miracle of Providential timing. They had just gotten married and decided to take a trip to PEI because of Linda’s love of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Jack, a writer himself, went along with the idea because of his love for Linda, but remarked that he had, at the time, never read Anne because it was considered “sissy” by young boys in school. When his new wife read it to him on their honeymoon, however, he was hooked. He then purchased The Alpine Path, a collection of Montgomery’s poetry and fell in love with her work.

Meanwhile, Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterson, both Montgomery scholars, took a cruise on a steamboat in the area, trying to find the Island that is mentioned The Blue Castle. Mary and Elizabeth tried to find where Maud had stayed in Bala, and weren’t able to, so they left a note at the public library explaining she knew that Montgomery had stayed at Roselawn, but had mentioned in her journals taking her meals at a tourist home. “Does anyone know where that is?”

A portion of the collection of “Annes through the Ages”

When Jack and Linda returned, they were out taking a walk and saw the house for sale. They were fascinated by it, since it reminded them of the style they had seen in PEI. They toured it as a possible museum site, but dismissed it due to the long list of repairs needed. Then, the librarian showed them the letter from Mary Rubio. From a phone call to the owner of Roselawn, they were able to discover that Montgomery had stayed at Roselawn, but taken her meals at the very house they had toured. It had been owned by “Crazy Fanny,” who was described by Montgomery as “a lady cumbered by much serving.” When Linda discovered that the house where Montgomery had taken her meals was still around, and that, with the loss of the original lodge at Roselawn in the 1940’s, this would be the last tie to The Blue Castle and Montgomery’s experience in this area, she was appalled, especially when she learned there were plans to tear the house down due to its poor condition. She pleaded with Jack to buy the house, and he relented when he saw how important the project was to his new wife.

Silver tea service Maud received as a wedding present

The Huttons purchased the home, and Linda began a year of renovating the home. In addition to a stove they found in the shed from the 1920’s when Montgomery was staying there, the Hutton’s were able to find a number of antiques from the time period in order to decorate. David Montgomery, L.M. Montgomery’s grandson, first loaned several artifacts to the museum, then eventually decided they belonged with the house. The Huttons also have acquired one of the most complete sets of Montgomery’s books, including many first editions. They also have quite a bit of early Anne memorabilia, including the story of and actual first translation of the book into Japanese, translations into a number of languages, the only complete set of Green Gables imprinted dishes, the silver tea service given to Montgomery as a wedding present, and many Anne dolls and movies.

The boat Megan Follows rides in as the Lily Maid

Additionally, for the Anne of Green Gables fans, the Museum contains many items from both the Anne movies and The Road to Avonlea series, including costumes and even the Lily Maid boat in which Megan Follows, (who incidentally spent a summer with her family at Bala), played the Lady of Shalott.

But, in addition to the incredible collection of Anne items, we were entranced by the knowledge and stories of Jack Hutton, who shared so much of Maud’s life, even quoting extensively from her journals and works. As an added bonus, Jack is an incredible pianist, who performs on many of the steamboats nearby. He consented to play for us before we left. Jack and Linda co-authored a book entitled Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bala which shares, not only their story, but additional little known information about Montgomery. They have also recreated the Anne of Green Gables 1919 silent movie. This Museum is truly a jewel to visit.