Prince Edward Island is small - 120 miles long, 40 miles wide at its thickest point, but far less than that in most places. It's a tiny crescent nestled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just above where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick meet.
The North Shore is essentially 120 miles of the most incredible white sand beaches and dune systems you'll ever find. But beyond being a summer playground for thousands upon thousands of families, the North Shore is also home to Anne of Green Gables.
Some of you have read the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery - the story of a tiny red-headed waif who is adopted by a farmer and his sister and comes to live on this Island. If you haven't, you should; beyond being a lovely children's story, it's a very literate and articulate view of a society that existed around the turn of the last century.
As you will see if you visit the link above (and I wish you would), the Island's substantial tourism industry is largely built on two elements: golf (this place was recently named Canada's Number One Golf Destination) and Anne of Green Gables.
Anne is an icon here. There is a musical based on the book that has been playing to sold-out audiences every summer since (wait for it) 1965. I would have been 11 years old then (spare yourself the cypherin' - I'm 52).
There are Anne of Green Gables gift shops selling all manner of Anne tchotchkes, Anne of Green Gables tea rooms, and Anne of Green Gables cottages. Think Graceland, and replace Elvis with a red-headed girl in pigtails. That's what she means to Island tourism.
Much of the Anne idolatry comes from Japan - Anne of Green Gables was the first English novel translated into Japanese, and it became a school text. Millions of Japanese girls - living in a society that repressed their freedom and individuality - had their imagination swept away by this spirited, outspoken character, and "Red-Haired Anne" became their heroine. It is not at all uncommon to see a Japanese girl - sometimes a teenager, but often young or even middle-aged women - sitting on the lawn of Green Gables House in Cavendish, quietly weeping, overcome by the experience.
Not far from Cavendish, you'll find Avonlea Village, a "recreation" of the fictional village from the Anne stories. It's a great family attraction, offering lots for younger kids to do, including pig races, barnyard animals, activities, concerts, and what is essentially a day-long musical play performed by characters from the novel.
The actors stay in character throughout the day - if a kid tells Gilbert Blythe that she took a car from Maine to get there, he is baffled - he's heard of train travel and steamboats, but " ... what is this "car" you speak of? Must be something new - we never hear tell of 'em here. " They perform in concerts, pose for endless pictures with arms wrapped around kids from all over, and generally try to make the day a rewarding and memorable experience for the families who come to visit.
The past few summers Allison has been working up at Avonlea, often playing the part of Josie Pye, Anne's nemesis. She loves playing the malevolent Josie, although (true fact) she does get kicked a lot by kids who don't like her being mean to Anne.
But last week, the actor who played Anne all summer went back to University in Ontario, so there was a new red-head in town ...
And what a coincidence: later that night, we had a family dinner to celebrate Allison's birthday, too! 22 years old and she plays a 14 year-old. No wonder she still gets carded at pubs.