Lucy Maud Montgomery and the First Canadian Book Week

September 29, 2022 | Pamela

Comments (3)

Lucy Maud Montgomery OBE is one of Canada’s most cherished authors known particularly for creating the beloved heroine Anne of Green Gables in 1908. She published 21 novels, as well as 530 short stories and 500 poems.

In 1921, Montgomery participated in a week-long event to promote Canadian literature — the first "Canadian Book Week." This blog post highlights the author's ties to Ontario, a rare letter about the event and her journal entries during that week.

(The letter and most vintage images are from Digital Archive Ontario, a historical resource from Toronto Public Library.)

Graphic of two old handwritten letters slayed by vintage photo of woman writing
Letters and portrait of Montgomery (approximately 1930). View photo on Digital Archive Ontario.

Lucy Maud Montgomery and Ontario

While many people associate Lucy Maud Montgomery with Prince Edward Island where many of her stories are set, she lived in Ontario with her family from 1911 until her death in 1942. Her husband, Ewan Macdonald, was a Presbyterian minister in Leaskdale (Uxbridge) and the Macdonalds lived there from September 1911 to February 1926. Later, they moved to Norval (Halton Hills) and then finished their lives in Toronto.

When Montgomery visited Toronto she would often stay with her friends Mary and Norman Beal who were former neighbours from Uxbridge. The Beals lived at this house at 2 Nina Street from 1913 to 1932.

Modern day photo of large old brick house with trees in front
2 Nina Street (Nina was an Avenue until 1961). Montgomery would stay at this house of her friends. Author's photograph, 2022.

Letter about Canadian Book Week

The idea for a week dedicated to Canadian books came from the Canadian Author's Association (C.A.A.). This association was formed primarily to protect the rights of authors in regard to copyright legislation before the Dominion Parliament and to promote Canadian authors.

Within months of its founding in the spring of 1921, the C.A.A had the idea of an annual Canadian Author’s Week. The C.A.A. teamed up with publishers, booksellers and authors with the explicit purpose of encouraging Canadians to buy and read Canadian books. Canadian Authors’ week, later known as Canadian Book Week ran annually until 1959.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was invited to do book readings in Toronto and Hamilton to celebrate the first Canadian Book Week. It took place November 19 to 26, 1921. She traveled by train from her home in Leaskdale and stayed with the Beals for the events.

Toronto Public Library’s Baldwin Collection of Canadiana preserves a letter written by her in November of 1921. Purchased by the library in 1981, it helps to document Montgomery’s involvement in the literary event.

Three pages of handwritten letters with content transcribed in blog post
Letter by Montgomery regarding Canadian Book Week, November 19, 1921. Two pages, with writing on both sides of first page. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

Transcription:

2 Nina Ave.

Toronto

Cloke and Sons

Dear Sir,

I received your letter of the 19th – November 22nd. I will go to Hamilton on Friday on C.P.R. train that leaves Toronto at 10 o’clock and gets to Hamilton at 2:13. I hope someone from your store can meet me at train as I am a stranger in Hamilton. I shall want to leave for Toronto on 4:29 train. Professor Edgar said in his letter to me that you wanted me to speak or read. That was why I referred to it. I am much better pleased to find that I am not expected to do this as it will be much less strenuous.

Yours sincerely,

L.M.M. Macdonald

Pelham Edgar, mentioned in the letter, was one of the founding members of the Canadian Authors’ Association.

Vintage photo of man posing seriously with arms crossed
Portrait of Pelham Edgar, the "Professor Edgar" mentioned in Montgomery's letter. Courtesy of Victoria University Library.

Journal entries about Canadian Book Week

Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote journals throughout her lifetime. Entries from the diaries of Lucy Maud Montgomery detail her experiences in Toronto during Canadian Book Week. We've highlighted archival images of places and other topics mentioned in these snippets taken from The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery Volume III, 1921-1929.

Thursday, November 17, 1921

The Manse, Leaskdale

The weather has been mild but abominably messy. I have been very busy, and have sat up till twelve or one every night writing letters and publicity articles for Canada Book Week which begins Saturday. I am going to Toronto for it.

 

Friday, November 18, 1921

2 Nina Ave., Toronto

It used to be an old family joke that “Maud always takes rain when she goes.” It really does seem so. I came in today and it has poured all the time. Mary and I went to the Author’s Association Dinner in honor of Nellie McClung at the Arts and Letters Club tonight. There were about 80 there and I had a seat at the head table next the president and guest of honor.

Vintage portrait of woman wearing necklace
Nellie McClung, August 13, 1930. McClung was an author and one of Canada's most prominent suffragettes.  View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Saturday, November 19, 1921

Toronto, Ontario

This afternoon Mary and I went to hear Basil King speak in the auditorium of the Robert Simpson Co. store. Then we went to the big reception given by the Press Club to the Authors’ Association. A terrible mob! Twelve hundred people packed together—nothing much to eat.

Vintage postcard of six storey department building on corner of dirt roads
Postcard of The Robert Simpson's Co.'s Building, Toronto, Canada, approximately 1912. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Monday, November 21, 1921

2 Nina Ave. Toronto

In the afternoon I went to Jarvis Street Collegiate and read and talked to an audience of about 800 girls. I autographed about a hundred books and cards and then went to an I.O.D.E meeting in Parkdale, gave a reading, then went to Victoria College and spent a very dull evening listening to a couple of papers by erudite authors who could not stoop to being interesting as well as erudite.

Vintage postcard of large ornate building by trees and a path
Postcard of Jarvis St. Collegiate Institute, approximately 1910. View on Digital Archive Ontario.
Two tone photo of large brick building with steeples and a caption reading Victoria College Toronto
Gelatin silver print of Victoria College, approximately 1925. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Tuesday, November 22, 1921

A full day. This morning I went to Moulton College and gave a brief talk to the girls therof, writing a hundred autographs afterwards. At 4:30 I went to give readings in the auditorium of the Simpson’s store. I had a bumper audience. The room was packed and half as many more couldn’t get in. After it came the usual autographing and handshaking. Two men came up to me and asked me to speak next Sunday at the Dunn Avenue Methodist Sunday School.

Sparse vintage cover with worn edges reading Moulton College in Pictures
Cover of pamphlet for Moulton College, a school for girls located at 34 Bloor Street East, Toronto. Approximately 1890s. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Wednesday, November 23, 1921

Toronto, Ont.

I went to Oakwood [located in Northwestern Toronto this collegiate was founded in 1907] where I gave a reading to 1300 boys and girls. I felt rather nervous for I had never read to boys before and did not know if I could appeal to them. I gave them the story of Dog Monday from Rilla.

[...]

In the afternoon I went to the School of Commerce [the High School of Commerce and Finance, now the Central Toronto Academy] to read to the high school girls of Toronto. I had a very enthusiastic audience of 1500. I wrote about 400 autographs in half an hour.

Vintage postcard of wide brick building with trees outside
Postcard of Oakwood Collegiate Institute, Oakwood and St. Clair., Aves, Toronto, 1931. View on Digital Archive Ontario.
Image of Rilla of Ingleside cover with illustration of woman in nature and a second image showing inscription signed by L M Montgomery
A first, signed edition of Rilla of Ingleside held in TPL's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books. Montgomery's book focuses on the youngest daughter of Anne of Green Gables during the First World War.
Faded photo of large school with grassy field in front and an inscription of abbreviations
Photo of Central High School of Commerce, Shaw Street, northwest corner of Dewson Street, Toronto, 1916. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Friday, November 25, 1921

Toronto, Ont.

Shopped all the morning and picked up an adorable Chessy-cat brass knocker for my bedroom at Ryries.

[...]

This afternoon I went to Hamilton to autograph books in the Cloke bookstore there. Mr. Ford of Mac’s went with me and saw to everything and I had a nice time.

Two images one of snippet of vintage goods catalogue with narrow and long cat shaped object alongside serving wares and a second image showing a vintage postcard of department store spanning two levels with orna
Left: Portion of page 47 of The Ryrie Year Book 1921 (product catalogue) featuring the cat-shaped door knocker purchased by Montgomery. Right: Postcard of Birks-Ellis-Ryrie store, approximately 1933.
Vintage photo of intersection with large set of joined buildings and a superimposed arrow pointing at a small awning
Cloke bookstore highlighted by arrow in photo of King and James Streets, Hamilton, approximately 1890. Courtesy of Local History & Archives, Hamilton Public Library.
Two clippings side by side one of a vintage book store with full windows and a banner reading 700 Canadian Authors in our Wonderful Canada Have you Read their Books and beside it a newspaper clipping for Canadia
Left: This is from Canadian Bookman, February 1922 (page 17). It mentions that The Cloke Bookstore won first prize for it’s window display during Canadian Author’s Week. Right:Ad from the Hamilton Spectator, November 19, 1921. Read transcript.

 

Saturday, November 26, 1921

Toronto, Ontario

Today Mr. Stewart [John Stewart of McClelland and Stewart Limited, her publisher] gave a luncheon for me at the National.

[...]

After luncheon I went to Sherbourne House [a club for young professional women] and gave a reading to a mob of school teachers.

Painting of three storey red building with Union Jack flag on top
Painting of National Club, Bay St., west side, south of King St. West, approximately 1900s. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

 

Sunday, November 28, 1921

2 Nina Ave., Toronto

This afternoon I spoke to the Dunn Ave. Methodist Sunday School for half an hour. It was the first “honest to goodness” speech I ever made in my life – for when I have “spoke” before I have read my speech or had notes. I was nervous before I began but forgot it and found myself enjoying it.

Postcard of tall church on corner of street with powerlines
Postcard of Parkdale Methodist Church, corner Dunn Ave. and King Street, Toronto, 1910. View on Digital Archive Ontario.

More blog posts

View a full list of blog posts from Digital Archive Ontario.

Comments