Prince of Wales College’s Most Famous Alum!

On July 28th, as another part of the Alumni Weekend events at UPEI, I was invited to be the luncheon speaker for 150 Prince of Wales College alumni.  One person graduated in the 1930s!  My talk was entitled “The L.M. Montgomery Institute Today” — hoping to wow the audience with how busy the LMMI has been for the past 24 years.  They are clearly proud of their most famous alum — Montgomery graduated in 1894.

Here is what I offered them.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.  I am forever grateful that I got to live for a school year in Montgomery Hall on the old PWC campus and thus feel I was given a partial pass to consider myself one of you.  I am going to speak briefly about the L.M. Montgomery Institute and then about some current projects.

The mandate of the L.M. Montgomery Institute (I will call it the LMMI) was and is to support and to promote the study and informed celebration of the life, works, culture, and influence of L.M. Montgomery. 

Next year marks our 25th anniversary.  Next June we will host the 13th biennial international Montgomery conference.  The Montgomery conferences are fun gatherings – truly — unlike any other academic conferences in the world in the welcome and generosity experienced by all who attend.  They are open to the public – please consider this your invitation to come next June 21-24th for what I can promise you will be a stimulating and enjoyable time.  The theme next year is “L.M. Montgomery and Reading” and is being co-chaired by Dr. Emily Woster (named for Montgomery’s Emily character) from the University of Minnesota at Duluth and Dr. Laura Robinson, Dean of the School of Arts and Social Science on the Grenfell campus of Memorial University of Newfoundland.   Please check our web site: for news and updates.  We are open for proposals for papers until August 15th.

The LMMI depends on grants and donations and while it has created some works for sale, it is much more focused on education and culture than on production, and strives to make information accessible and generative.  We think of it as a magnet and as a radiant source. 

The LMMI is acknowledged among scholars as a chief factor in the creation of the multi-disciplinary field of Montgomery Studies.  Isn’t it satisfying when our small Island helps to lead the way?  Other provinces may have more money and more grant support for what they do, but they cannot have what we have: the Island itself that Montgomery loved and some passionate people determined to honour Montgomery in her spiritual and literal home.

We study Montgomery’s journals; letters; published and manuscript articles, stories, poems, and novels; scrapbooks; and photographs; the places and times in which she lived or which she experienced or imagined.  We attract scholars in medicine, feminism, eco-cultural criticism, anthropology, literature, writing, rhetoric, psychology, media studies, women’s studies, war studies, law, geography, and communication, to name but a few.

Believe it or not the UPEI/ LMMI owns the world’s largest public collection of first and foreign language-editions of Montgomery’s novels thanks to private donors and the heirs of L.M. Montgomery.  The LMMI has run English Second-language schools for Japanese women, partnered with provincial and federal governments in making “smart community projects,” supported real-time and virtual exhibitions, created an award-winning CD-ROM, been an official part of Canada’s gift to Japan in 2005 in celebration of Japan’s world expo, and inspired the publication of dozens of essays and book chapters and a shelf of books.

Yesterday at the Marco Polo Virtual Reality experience launching, we celebrated the recent publication of five books that feature Montgomery or are by her.

Today the LMMI is about research and also about outreach and community-building.  We see it as part of our work to anchor and to enhance the Montgomery sites and productions on the Island.  We have joined the efforts of Central Coastal tourism and we have urged the province to feature Montgomery in the new provincial cultural policy. 

On the campus, the LMMI is thrilled to partner with a new program in the Faculty of Arts – a program in Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture – that aims to arm Arts students with digital skills for the disciplinary passions they want to pursue, and offers training in a growing field called digital humanities.  The president created a new faculty position with this title: Chair in L.M. Montgomery Studies and Communication, Leadership, and Culture.  We were very pleased to welcome Dr. Kate Scarth to campus on July 1st of this year – and I am sure you will be hearing from her.

Which brings us back to the Marco Polo project launched yesterday.

Marc Braithwaite — a UPEI administrator for twelve years during my time on the campus, and now the Director of the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton — and I talked about ways to make some of Montgomery’s wonderfully described scenes come alive in new ways especially for this 150th anniversary year.  It turned out that the Head of the NBCCD’s Digital Media Studio, Alan Edwards, is not only a Montgomery fan but is also a lover of PEI and the Marco Polo, having spent summer vacations on PEI and having worked on the New Brunswick Opera production of The Marco Polo and having enjoyed extensive research on the ship and the place where she grounded.

Commissioned by the LMMI to create a Virtual Reality experience, Alan Edwards used his research and photography, connections with the Marco Polo Suite composer Jim Stewart, and Montgomery’s essay “The Wreck of the Marco Polo” to create a five-minute “you-are-there” experience of the gale, wreck, and aftermath.  He adapted Montgomery’s text as the script and then auditioned young women to be the sixteen-year-old voice of Montgomery herself recalling what she experienced that summer in 1883.  In just five minutes of her words and digital images and sounds, we recapture to relive the experience she had as a talented, eagerly attentive budding story teller.

Montgomery makes her time come alive.  She was in Cavendish, as a child of 8, when on July 25th, 1883, the New Brunswick-created vessel, the Marco Polo, acknowledged to have been the Fastest Ship in the World when she was built in 1851, was intentionally grounded and then sank just 300 yards off the coast of Cavendish.  Above the sound of the gale and the waves, people heard the crash of the cut masts and rigging for miles around.  As a star of the Black Ball line of ships, the 184 feet-long Marco Polo carried thousands of passengers over the years to and from England and the gold fields of Australia.  A luxury ship in its heyday, with the speed of a clipper and the carrying capacity of a large barque, the Marco Polo was world famous.    The birth, exploits, and death of the Marco Polo have been celebrated in music, opera, story, poetry, and painting.  And Montgomery contributed to the ship’s history and continuing popularity. 

When she was a teen-ager in Cavendish, Montgomery wrote up her recollections for a national essay competition in the Montreal Witness; a year later, in 1891 when she was still sixteen, her essay “The Wreck of the Marco Polo” became her second official publication.

It has taken hundreds and hundreds of hours of work to re-create digitally the ship, the water and storm, the Cavendish coast and crowd, and the drama of the ship’s death.  Everything in the tight five minutes had to be synchronized with Montgomery’s word images.  The wreck of the Marco Polo played a significant role in the young writer’s understanding of drama and story- craft, for she spent the rest of that summer of 1883 listening to her grandfather and the ship’s captain swapping yarns in the Macneill kitchen, which was also the community post office.  The publication of her essay boosted her confidence to send out and keep sending out pieces to various journals and presses.  You can hear the mature voice of the writer she would become even in this early, important essay. 

She has a way of making images and time immediate and intimate.

We are comfortable, at the LMMI, adapting new media in our study and presentation of Montgomery’s works partly because Montgomery herself was so intrigued by new technologies and used them to enhance her own work.  From the 1890s she took photographs using glass plates, which she developed in her own dark room; she took a brand-new hand-held Kodak film camera with her to Scotland and England on her honeymoon in 1911; she was a great movie enthusiast and even took her own home movies in the 1930s; she enjoyed a phonograph and a radio; she imagined people in the future seeing as well as hearing each other over the miles when they talked. I’m sure she would have used a computer for her writing, just as she knew to invest in a typewriter even in her early days.  Montgomery was herself visually gifted and had a photographic memory for scenes as well as heightened multi-sensory responses to what she saw and recollected.

Last year at the international Montgomery conference, thanks to our donor Dr. Donna Jane Campbell, the LMMI launched a new digital archive called KindredSpaces, that makes accessible hundreds of the original period magazines in which Montgomery published short stories and poems.  The digital covers and tables of contents – in addition to the illustrations for her own pieces – make history come alive in new ways again.  I cannot wait to see what the students in the Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture courses do with the digital archives of the Ryrie-Campbell Montgomery Collection at UPEI! You can find the KindredSpaces archive by going on the LMMI web site: I mentioned earlier

Recently,  Dr. Kate Scarth had students retrieve a Montgomery poem from KindredSpaces that describes sunset on the very shore where the Marco Polo went down.  Within an hour, she taught them how to create a digital sound scape for the poem.  Think what a sound scape can do for an understanding of poetic tone, colour, rhythm, and form. 

Imagine the many ways creative people can use creative digital materials to re-capture time and to connect meaningfully with others!  (If you missed the launch yesterday, by the way, you can go today, until 5 p.m. to put on the goggles and witness the “wreck of the Marco Polo.”)

This connecting, re-imagining, media diversity and inclusion: all of this work takes us back to Montgomery’s own popular writing and images.  She captures Canada in a way that makes it seem it could be a safe, responsive, beautiful home for the human spirit.  She created times and places that other people want to experience repeatedly.  Studying her work, and joining her curiosity, is a way of celebrating Canada and the human will to create and to connect.

I hope you will join with and support the L.M. Montgomery Institute and thus also support one of Prince of Wales College’s greatest ambassadors for education and imagination.

– Betsy

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