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Pioneer Acres Museum uncovers first edition of L.M. Montgomery book

“The [L.M. Montgomery] book has been here for quite a long time, actually, so for us it was rediscovering it, I suppose," McElroy said.

Pioneer Acres Museum – a treasure trove of historical artifacts from the days of the early settlers, located north of Irricana – is home to a rare first edition of an L.M. Montgomery book amongst its collection.

Shelly McElroy said she uncovered the first edition of Chronicles of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery while cataloging the museum’s library.

The general manager and museum curator said as part of the venue’s efforts to digitize their records, they have been recording each of the museum’s beloved pieces on a computer.

“As you can imagine, it takes a lot of time. From paper records, we’re going to digital ones and that gave us a chance to go through all the artifacts we’ve got here,” McElroy explained of the digitization process.

“The reason that museums do this is that we have really neat stuff that we don’t even know we have,” she continued. “And this was an example of how that happened.”

According to McElroy, some of the items being digitized were donated in the 1990s and earlier. The book in question was likely donated to the museum in the 1990s.

“We’ve got an awful lot of books here. We’ve got tractor manuals and most of our books are from the mid-20th century, [and the] first half of the 20th century,” she said.

“The [L.M. Montgomery] book has been here for quite a long time, actually, so for us it was rediscovering it, I suppose.”

McElroy said just last week, by chance, she was reading an L.M. Montgomery book and came across a clue that would lead her to discovering the rare first edition amongst the museum’s collection.

She added the forward of the book she was reading mentioned Montgomery’s original publisher, an American named L.C. Page.

“If you have a book that’s published by Page, then you know you have a chance that you do have a first edition,” McElroy said. “And that made something in my brain ring because I knew we had a few L.M. Montgomery books.”

“I thought, I’m going to have a double-check on those and see if there’s any published by Page – and there sure were.”

According to McElroy, the more rare find is to discover a “first impression” L.C. Page, or in other words, a first edition. She said the museum is home to a few Page/Montgomery books – including the prized Ann of Avonlea – but only one was a first edition, a 1912 edition of Chronicles of Avonlea.

She said finding the book after her discovery was a serendipitous moment, remarking it felt “magical.”

“We were going to find it eventually, but that made it happen a little bit faster,” she said.

The historian said she takes a great interest in what people were doing to occupy their time one hundred years ago – what made the current generation’s great-grandparents' lives enjoyable, pleasurable, and meaningful.

“It turns out that some of the things that people enjoyed are the very same things we enjoy now,” McElroy said.

She said one such pastime our forebears enjoyed was reading, adding she too finds joy in reading and has a particular fondness for Canadian author L.M. Montgomery’s books.

“I find [reading] to be such a meaningful way to connect to something that my great-grandma might have been so excited [about],” she said. “Excited about [buying] this new book by this author she had discovered that just came out.”

“Just like I’m really excited about Louise Penny’s new book that’s going to be coming out in a few weeks. Maybe she did that same thing with L.M. Montgomery... and people are still enjoying her books now.”

McElroy said Montgomery’s books – including the beloved tale of Anne of Green Gables – have stood the test of time and to this day have not gone out of print.

“Although I never had a first edition, I’ve got a copy of that book and so had our local library, because her books have never gone out of print,” she added.

Though the edition of Chronicles of Avonlea is in rough shape with some staining and obvious wear and tear, McElroy and her team are looking for a way to share the rare find with the public.

“Our book needs some TLC and I myself am not a conservator, so we’re just going to have to reach out and get, first of all, some idea of the book’s value now,” she said.

“Luckily, we do have a conservation professional who would be able to take a look at this book for us and possibly mend it.”

McElroy said though wear and tear may hold some weight with regards to the book’s value, it is no less a treasure in the eyes of those at the museum. 

“I’ve been talking to a few people who would just love to see [the book] now, even if it’s not perfectly repaired or anything like that,” she said. “So we do have some shadow boxes and there’s a few different ways that we could display it.

“It’s okay if we just love it now. It’s perfect and great the way it is too.”


Carmen Cundy

About the Author: Carmen Cundy

Carmen Cundy joined the Airdrie Today team in March 2021.
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