Lucy Maud Montgomery and the First Canadian Book Week
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.)
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.
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.
2 Nina Ave.
Cloke and Sons
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.
Pelham Edgar, mentioned in the letter, was one of the founding members of the Canadian Authors’ Association.
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.
Saturday, November 19, 1921
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, November 23, 1921
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.
Friday, November 25, 1921
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.
Saturday, November 26, 1921
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.
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.
More blog posts
View a full list of blog posts from Digital Archive Ontario.