* The Geography of The Blue Castle
The Blue Castle is inspired by LMM’s Muskoka vacation in 1922. LMM stayed in Bala by the “Moon River,” where one can now visit the Bala Museum with Memories of L. M. Montgomery.
Montgomery was delighted with Muskoka. She writes
Sunday, July 30, 1922
“The situation here is very lovely. The lawn runs down to the river where the bank is fringed by trees. It is beautiful at all times but especially at night when the river silvers under the moon, the lights of the cottages twinkle out in the woods along the opposite bank, bonfires blaze with all the old allure of the camp fire, and music and laughter drift across from the innumerable cones and launches on the river.
“Bala is a dear spot – somehow I love it. It has the flavor of home – perhaps because of tis pines which are plentiful hereabout…
View from Roselawn, photo by L. M. Montgomery 1922 (http://images.ourontario.ca/uoguelph/details.asp?ID=26923)
Touring Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau one day, LMM wove a daydream about a carefree life on a Muskoka island. Her idyllic dream must have factored into the plot for Valancy’s escapist island on Lake Mistawis.
Monday, July 31, 1922
Today we spent in making a boat trip over Lakes Muskoka and Rosseau. It was very lovely. the continuous panorama of lake and river and island made me think of Stevenson’s lines,
“Where all the ways on every hand
Lead onwards into fairyland.”
I had a very lovely forenoon. The boys were with Ewan so I sat alone – and – dreamed. I picked out an island that just suited me. I built thereon a summer cottage and furnished it de luxe. I set up a boat-house and a motor launch. I peopeld it with summer guests… We spent a whole idyllic summer there together. Youth – mystery – delight, were all ours once more. I lived it all out in every detail; we swam and sailed and fished and read and built camp fires under the pines – I saw to it that I had an island with pines – and dined gloriously at sunset al fresco, and then sat out on mooonlit porches (well-screend from Muskoka mosquitoes!) – and always we talked – the soul-satisfying talk of kindred spirits, asking all the old, unanswered quesitons, caring not though there were no answers so long as we were ignorant together.
Sometimes we varied it by going out to dinners and dances … at neighboring islands, enjoying them tremendously but always glad to skim back home over moonlit wonder-ways of soft, mysterious, dim silver, to our own dear bit of an island.
Some of us slept in the porches at night and some of us slpet in the open, with the dark pines all about us, their crest in communion with the stars. (I don’t know how we managed about the mosquitoes there but in a fairy dream one does not have to bother about things like that.) And what a perennial fascination there is in the thought of sleeping in the open under the stars for the heart of mankind.
I dreamed it all out to the end of September. Then one night a storm came. Our men and boys and Frede and Bertie had gone to the mainland in the motor-launch early in the day. Aunt Annie and Stella and I waited in alarm for their return through the wild night while the hurricane shrieked through the channels and the waves dashed over the rocks to our very doors. At last, after anxious hours, they came, drenched and cold, but safe. And we joyfully pulled them in and shut the door on the storm; and we all sat down to a hot supper before the blazing fire in our big, timbered living-room, made all the cosier by the baffled, raging wind outside. And we talked – and dank of laughter – and were happy and triumphant, surrounded by the black legions of the storm. But under all our gayety we knew that our summer was over.”
“Dreaming” – L. M. Montgomery in canoe, 1922 (http://images.ourontario.ca/uoguelph/details.asp?ID=26929)
In addition to boating on Lake Muskoka and Rosseau, LMM visited Dudley, where a friend had a cottage on the lake, and toured a garden in Port Sandfield.
The principal locations in The Blue Castle are the small town Deerwood, the large town Port Lawrence, Lake Mistawis with Valancy’s island, the upback and Chidley Corners. The Bala Museum with Memories of L. M. Montgomery have a well-researched publication, “Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bala: A Love Story of the North Woods” where they have matched novel locations to the area around Bala. They even have a guess on what might be LMM/Valancy’s dream island.
Lacking a copy of their publication on hand, I have attempted to do my own guesswork.
Here are descriptions of each of the areas in The Blue Castle, and what little geographic data can be gleaned from them, if LMM did have a precise mental map of her fictional Mistawis area in mind.
Valancy has her island on Lake Mistawis, and Deerwood and Port Lawrence both lie on the banks of the lake.
Lake Mistawis is probably Lake Muskoka, on whose banks LMM spent her holiday. However, Mistawis is also an area where Cousin Herbert lives, so perhaps this is a situation like Lake Rosseau and Rosseau, both of which LMM toured.
Lake, Bala, photo by L. M. Montgomery 1922 (http://images.ourontario.ca/uoguelph/details.asp?ID=26926)
Here is a description of Lake Mistawis from Valancy’s island.
After the meal was over they would sit there and talk for hours–or sit and say nothing, in all the languages of the world, Barney pulling away at his pipe, Valancy dreaming idly and deliciously, gazing at the far-off hills beyond Mistawis where the spires of firs came out against the sunset. The moonlight would begin to silver the Mistawis. Bats would begin to swoop darkly against the pale, western gold. The little waterfall that came down on the high bank not far away would, by some whim of the wildwood gods, begin to look like a wonderful white woman beckoning through the spicy, fragrant evergreens. And Leander would begin to chuckle diabolically on the mainland shore. How sweet it was to sit there and do nothing in the beautiful silence, with Barney at the other side of the table, smoking!
There were plenty of other islands in sight, though none were near enough to be troublesome as neighbours. There was one little group of islets far off to the west which they called the Fortunate Isles. At sunrise they looked like a cluster of emeralds, at sunset like a cluster of amethysts. They were too small for houses; but the lights on the larger islands would bloom out all over the lake, and bonfires would be lighted on their shores, streaming up into the wood shadows and throwing great, blood-red ribbons over the waters. Music would drift to them alluringly from boats here and there, or from the verandahs on the big house of the millionaire on the biggest island. (ch. xxix)
These photos of Bala, Ontario, capture the mood of “Mistawis”:
In Magic Island, Waterston (sourcing Bala Museum’s Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bala) says that Montgomery based her description of Barney’s log cabin on her friend John Mustard’s rustic cottage in Muskoka.
Valancy Stirling lives with her mother and Cousin Stickles in an “ugly red brick box of a home, on Elm Street,” Deerwood. Many of her relatives, the Stirlings, also live in Deerwood.
Deerwood has a public library (ch. i), a grocery store owned by Uncle Benjamin (ch. xxvii) and a clothing store (Valancy went into Deerwood and … got a pretty green crêpe dress with a girdle of crimson beads, at a bargain sale, a pair of silk stockings, to match, and a little crinkled green hat with a crimson rose in it. )
It seems reasonable to assume that small-town Deerwood is small-town Bala, as a starting point. However, Valancy has no love lost for Deerwood, unlike LMM’s fond description of the place.
Presbyterian Church in Bala, photo by L. M. Montgomery (http://images.ourontario.ca/uoguelph/details.asp?ID=26924)
There are many more photos of Bala on flickr.com: http://flickr.com/places/Canada/Ontario/Bala
Port Lawrence is a larger town with a movie theatre and Chinese restaurant (ch. xxii), a beauty parlour, and a police department which served Deerwood (ch. xi). It lies between Deerwood (”They tore into and through Deerwood.” ch. xxii) and Chidley Corners, and is fifteen miles away from Deerwood. (ch. i)
Port Lawrence may have borrowed its name from “Port Sandfield,” which lies north of Bala at the cusp of three lakes. However, I have always personally imagined Port Lawrence as south of Deerwood. Port Lawrence also lies on the banks of Lake Mistawis (Muskoka), since the Free Methodist minister “lived in Port Lawrence and came out by the lake in a little disappearing propeller boat to give a free service to the people of the small, stony farms back of the hills, who would otherwise never have heard any gospel message.” (ch. xx)
I would guess that Port Lawrence is drawn from Gravenhurst, a large town at the southermost tip of Lake Muskoka, 15 miles from Bala. Driving from Leaskdale, LMM would have passed through this southern “gateway to Muskoka.” A railroad runs through it, which seems suited to the incidents in The Blue Castle.
Chidley Corners and the up-back
Valancy had walked out to Roaring Abel’s house on the Mistawis road under a sky of purple and amber, with a queer exhilaration and expectancy in her heart….. Roaring Abel’s rambling, tumble-down old house was situated about three miles from the village, on the very edge of “up back,” as the sparsely settled, hilly, wooded country around Mistawis was called vernacularly. It did not, it must be confessed, look much like a Blue Castle. (ch. xvi)
Every Sunday evening Valancy went to the little Free Methodist church in a valley on the edge of “up back”–a spireless little grey building among the pines, with a few sunken graves and mossy gravestones in the small, paling-encircled, grass-grown square beside it. She liked the minister who preached there. He was so simple and sincere. An old man, who lived in Port Lawrence and came out by the lake in a little disappearing propeller boat to give a free service to the people of the small, stony farms back of the hills, who would otherwise never have heard any gospel message. (ch. xx)
It was twelve miles to Chidley Corners, and they had to go in Abel’s old, ragged top-buggy. The road was rough and rocky, like most Muskoka roads, but full of the austere charm of northern woods. It wound through beautiful, purring pines that were ranks of enchantment in the June sunset, and over the curious jade-green rivers of Muskoka, fringed by aspens that were always quivering with some supernal joy. (ch. xx)
I imagine this area to be generally north of Bala (Deerwood), although Bala Museum has once pinpointed to me where they believed the building where Valancy’s dance was held.
After all, the descriptions in The Blue Castle focus on the loveliness and glamour of Lake Mistawis and its surrounding woods. Deerwood and Port Lawrence are stereotypical towns, barely described. Given LMM’s imagination and her tendency to make composite landscapes, it is unlkely that Deerwood, Port Lawrence and Chidley Corners are based very specifically on any place. Even in her descriptions of Valancy’s blue castle, LMM probably drew from both her impressions of Muskoka and her memories of the beauty of Prince Edward Island.
Places to Visit
Bala Museum with Memories of L. M. Montgomery A museum full of Montgomery-related artifacts, located in the beautiful cottage town of Bala in Muskoka, Ontario