Until Ewan Macdonald’s induction into the Norval/Union parish, the family of LM Montgomery – which consisted of Maud, her husband Ewan, and their youngest son Stuart (older son Chester was at boarding school) – stayed with the Barracloughs, a Union Presbyterian Church couple who welcomed them into their luxurious Glen Williams home and introduced them to locals.
Shortly after arriving at the Barraclough home, Ewan and Maud Macdonald ventured out to see the manse and Norval’s Presbyterian Church, but challenging snow squalls forced “Dodgie,” their car, to stop halfway to their destination. Maud and Ewan hopped on the radial train to ride out to Norval. Stepping off the car at the radial station at the top of the hill, Maud’s twilight view of the village was obscured by trees, all except for the top of the Presbyterian Church spire.
Trudging through snow to the bottom of the hill, they passed houses with yards tucked beneath tidy white blankets, an Anglican church, general store, hardware, bank and butcher’s shop, before reaching the church and manse. As a wife and homemaker, Maud wanted to see inside the house where she would do the two things most important to her: raise her family and write.
Built in 1888, the house at 402 Draper Street has its own aura of good grace. Although her relationship with the house began when a jumble of crates, barrels and boxes took over their quarters, Maud soon saw the manse’s potential.
The manse, provided by the Norval and Union congregations, resided on a one-and-a-half acre property on the east side of Draper Street, behind Norval Presbyterian Church. The same contractor who built the brick church also constructed the house for $2,700. Notably larger than the Leaskdale, Ontario manse, their new home had bright, high-ceilinged rooms, bay windows in the parlour and dining rooms, and modern conveniences.
A small, antique wire gate opened onto the front walkway and led to the white gingerbread portico where four columns rose over the front door. Inside, a spacious front hall offered several options: a staircase to the second floor, a door to the dining room, or the entrance to the parlour on the left where a bay window looked out on Draper Street.
Through the hallway, the dining room’s bay window offered a sweeping view of the church lawn and its mature maples. Another door from the dining area opened onto the side verandah.
The least satisfactory room, in Maud’s view, was the library behind the parlour. She found it small and therefore installed her literary collection in the parlour and let the library serve as Ewan’s study.
The Norval manse had a larger, more convenient kitchen than the family’s former manse in Leaskdale. Although their maid did much of the everyday cooking, Maud often took time to produce something special for family events or social functions. There was a soft water pump in the kitchen to wash dishes, and Maud eventually purchased an electric range for cooking and an icebox to keep foods cold.
The main stairway to the second floor angled near the top and the hall window was where Maud gazed out to the Russell farm’s hill of pines – and sight and treasured walk that she enjoyed for years to come. In the evenings when she descended the stairway Maud could also gaze out the window at moonlit shadows spread across the church grounds.
Every bedroom had a closet, and every room had a lovely view. Maud’s room overlooked the church lawn, and her moderately wealthy author’s income allowed her to hire paper-hangers to install pretty grey wallpaper with white ferns.
The bathroom was situated above the kitchen, and behind that was a tiny room Maud used for sewing. To complete the family’s storage needs, there was also a linen closet at the top of the back stairs and a spacious garret, or attic, where Maud would spend time alone pouring over old letters and scrapbooks.
Mary Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston, ed. The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Volume III: 1921-1929. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 1992.
All photos by Deb Quaile, except Norval manse 1933, from the 1833-1933 Centennial: Union Presbyterian Church’s 100th anniversary booklet, L.M. Montgomery, ed. Published by Union Presbyterian Church, 1933.