When I read Anne of the Island, the third of L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne” books, as a child, I was living in Halifax. I remember being aware that Montgomery based “Redmond College” on Dalhousie University, and “Kingsport” on Halifax, but I was absorbed in the story and didn’t pay much attention to the landmarks described in the novel. I’ve learned a lot more about Halifax history since then, and I’ve spent a lot of time at Dalhousie, so when I reread the book recently, I found I was even more interested in the setting than in its heroine.
In Chapter Four, when Anne is just beginning to get to know Kingsport, Montgomery gives a snapshot of the town:
Kingsport is a quaint old town, hearking back to early Colonial days, and wrapped in its ancient atmosphere, as some fine old dame in garments fashioned like those of her youth. Here and there it sprouts out into modernity, but at heart it is still unspoiled; it is full of curious relics, and haloed by the romance of many legends of the past.
It has in its park a martello tower, autographed all over by tourists, a dismantled old French fort on the hills beyond the town, and several antiquated cannon in its public squares. It has other historic spots also, which may be hunted out by the curious, and none is more quaint and delightful than Old St. John’s Cemetery at the very core of the town, with streets of quiet, old-time houses on two sides, and busy, bustling, modern thoroughfares on the others.
Montgomery lived in Halifax and took classes in English literature at Dalhousie in 1895-96, and she boarded in a house on Barrington Street. Barrington, a favourite street of mine because I lived there when I was in graduate school in English at Dalhousie, is fictionalized in Anne of the Island as St. John’s Street. Old St. John’s Cemetery is the Old Burying Ground (the cemetery for St. Paul’s Church), and I’ll write more about it soon.
You can also read more about this topic in “L.M. Montgomery’s Halifax: The Real Life Inspiration for Anne of the Island,” by Sue Lange, and “The Dalhousie Girls,” by Christy Woster, in The Shining Scroll, the newsletter for the L.M. Montgomery Literary Society. The newsletter reproduces some lovely old postcards with views of places in Halifax, including Young Avenue, Point Pleasant Park, the Old Burying Ground, and St. Paul’s Church.