One day last winter I was driving around in Southern Ontario, minding my own business and trying to stay on the road because it was just a tad icy.
It didn’t help that I kept watching for interesting things.
En route from Orillia to Stouffville – the one and only time I’ve ever gone that exact way – I had a vague idea that I might go to Sutton and see Stephen Leacock’s grave in the Anglican churchyard at Sutton, but Sutton is on the shore of Lake Simcoe, and I was heading the other way.
Then I thought I should look for the failed Leacock family farm, even though no buildings remain. It was near a hamlet called Egypt, but again, not quite on the way, and finding the exact spot would be impossible without more guidance.
Even so, I was musing about these places and wondering what I could see en route instead. The weather was getting worse so I stayed on the southbound road, more or less.
Then on my right there was a glimpse of something about Anne of Green Gables. Yes, she of Prince Edward Island fame, not usually associated with Ontario. It was the Leaskdale Manse.
Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874 to 1942), the writer who created Anne, came to live in Leaskdale, a little place near another better-known little place called Uxbridge, after her marriage to the Reverend Ewen (“Ewan” she called him) MacDonald. Ewen was the minister to a rural congregation in this farming region north of Toronto.
The Leaskdale Manse was their home and the place where Lucy Maud wrote 11 books, but it wasn’t always the happiest place. Ewan was chronically depressed and negative. His mental illness sounds pervasive and quite serious from what I have read.
The middle of the three Macdonald children, all boys, died at birth in 1914. Lucy Maud herself was depressed and unhappy in her marriage. When you read about her struggles, it’s hard to believe such sunny stories came out of the Leaskdale house.
The Manse is a National Historic Site and a museum, and perhaps I’ll get to visit it some time.
I had gone only a short way from Anne when on the other side of the road I saw the most unexpected thing: a miniature Taj Mahal.
This is the Thomas Foster Memorial.
Little Hugh Macdonald, Lucy Maud’s middle boy, is buried in the graveyard next door, I later learned. At the time, I was too gobsmacked to notice there even was a graveyard next door, the building is so grand.
I pulled over at the sight of this curiosity and luckily, there was room to park in front of the gate. The snow was a little crusty and the footing a bit slippery, but I stepped out of the car anyway. I would have loved to get closer! No luck. The gate was locked.
From the outside this mausoleum looks elegant, exotic, and majestic in the setting of open fields, bare-branched trees, and winter whiteness.
When I got home, I was able to find some colour pictures of the inside. Amazing!
This is a 360-degree view.
Thomas Foster (1852 to 1945) was 22 years older than Lucy Maud Montgomery, but he outlived her. He was a high-achieving businessman and politician, serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament and also as the Mayor of Toronto. He loved to travel, and in India was inspired by the Taj Mahal.
By that time, Tom Foster was out of politics, having lost the 1928 mayoral election. His wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1920. Their only child, Ruby, died of pneumonia in 1904 when she was nine. The new Taj was a mausoleum for all three of them. It cost about $200,000 and was finished in 1936.
Foster was very wealthy and when he died, he left a number of very generous bequests. Unfortunately, the $80,000 intended to care for the Foster Memorial in perpetuity didn’t last and the local government has had to find the money to keep it from falling down.
Let’s hope it survives.
If you’re in the Toronto area, look for any excuse to get up there. Find a way to give them money! There are concerts sometimes, and I think the venue can be rented for special events. In fact, I think it was even on Murdoch Mysteries once, playing the part of a spooky old building.
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