Road to Avonlea was a television series which was first broadcast in Canada and the United States between 1990 and 1996. It was created by Kevin Sullivan and produced by Sullivan Films (later Sullivan Entertainment) in association with CBC and the Disney Channel, with additional funding from Telefilm Canada.
It was adapted from the following books by L.M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables, which Sullivan had previously adapted as Anne of Green Gables in 1985 and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel in 1987): The Story Girl, The Golden Road, Chronicles of Avonlea and Further Chronicles of Avonlea.
Some episodes of the show were turned into the independent books by different authors. There have been around 30 titles released.
In the United States, its title was shortened to simply Avonlea, and a number of episodes were retitled and reordered. When the series was released on VHS and DVD in the United States, the title changed from Road to Avonlea to Tales from Avonlea.
The show is set in the fictional small town of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, in the early 20th century (1903–1912). There, 10-year-old Montreal heiress Sara Stanley (Sarah Polley) is sent by her wealthy father to live with her two maiden aunts, Hetty and Olivia King, to be near her late mother's side of the family. The show's focus shifted over the years from her interactions with her new-found relatives, to stories about the King family. Later seasons of the show focused more on residents of Avonlea who were connected to the King family. Sarah Polley left the show in 1994, returning for one guest appearance in the 6th season and one in 7th season.
Following the show proper, a reunion movie called Happy Christmas, Miss King (aka An Avonlea Christmas) was produced in 1998.
- Sara Stanley (played by Sarah Polley) - Sara is an adventurous ten-year-old girl used to fine living, including a nanny, in Montreal who must learn to adjust to the simpler life in Avonlea. Her mother was Ruth King, sister to Hetty, Alec, Roger, and Olivia, who died of tuberculosis when she was a toddler. When her father runs into trouble, he arranges to have her and Nanny Louisa stay for a time in Avonlea. Sara stays without Nanny Louisa and lives with her single aunts Hetty and Olivia at Rose Cottage. In seasons 3-5, she mostly concerns herself with matchmaking in Avonlea. This causes much controversy within the conservative hamlet of Avonlea. After season 5, Sarah Polley left the show. In the middle of season 6, Sara makes her long awaited reappearance, and both Nanny Louisa and Aunt Hetty start planning her future without consulting her. Sher, on the other hand, has plans of her own. She yearns to become a writer and has applied to a prestigious writing school in Paris. In the end, Nanny Louisa and Aunt Hetty agree to her wishes to attend it. She later returns for Felicity's wedding in the show's series finale. She does not appear in the reunion film An Avonlea Christmas.
- Hetty King (played by Jackie Burroughs) - Hetty is the staid, humourless, middle-aged schoolteacher of Avonlea and the head of the King family as she was the oldest. She resides at Rose Cottage with her sister, Olivia, and niece, Sara. In the later seasons, Hetty stops teaching to write. While Sara is in Europe with her nanny, Hetty takes in Mrs. Lynde and the twins Davey and Dora Keith. She originally played a character named, Mrs. Amelia Evans, in Anne of Green Gables. Later, Hetty does begin teaching again. In the reunion movie, she plans on a holiday concert with her students. Hetty is badly injured before the concert, and while in the hospital, Hetty is told she has a cancerous tumor, and must have a risky surgery. The tumor is successfully removed, and Hetty is able to attend the concert that was taken over by Felicity.
- Olivia King (played by Mag Ruffman) - Olivia is Sara's more affectionate, younger aunt and the youngest of the King siblings. Olivia is the more sensitive, social of Sara's two aunts, and most of her experiences throughout the course of the show have to do with her social dealings with other citizens of Avonlea. She later marries Jasper Dale and leaves Rose Cottage. Before her marriage Olivia begins working as a reporter for the local paper. It is through this job that Olivia becomes close to Jasper Dale. This is because he does the photography for her stories, continuing to do so after their marriage. Jasper and Olivia have a son named Montgomery and later adopt Alicia, a baby girl from one of their employees at the cannery. She is the doppelganger of Alice Lawson, the daughter of Mr. Lawson at Lawson's Genereal Store, who is also played by Mag Ruffman. In the reunion movie, Jasper misses the ship to Avonlea, and Olivia begins to question her marriage to him. She considers leaving Jasper, and staying in Avonlea. When Jasper sends her a music box for Christmas, Olivia realizes she still loves him. She decides to go home to London.
- Alec King (played by Cedric Smith) - Alec is Hetty's and Olivia's brother, the firstborn son, and Sara's uncle. He is a farmer and lives with his family next door to Rose Cottage at King Farm. He played Reverend Allan in Anne of Green Gables.
- Janet King (played by Lally Cadeau) - Janet is Alec's loving but independent-minded wife. She is mother to Felicity, Felix, Cecily and Daniel King. She has a sister, Abigail.
- Felicity King (played by Gema Zamprogna) - Felicity is the elder daughter of Alec and Janet. She often insists on taking on adult responsibilities and feels superior to her younger siblings and her cousin Sara. Over the course of the series, Felicity wants to be a wife, a teacher, and a doctor, but eventually runs the Avonlea Foundling Home. Starting in season 2, she grows very close to Gus Pike. Gus is even her first kiss. Later, she accepts Gus Pike’s proposal of marriage - only to learn that he is lost at sea. Later, Gus is found alive, and blind. Felicity takes Gus back to Avonlea, and marries him in the series finale. In the reunion movie, Gus has gone to fight in the war after regainning his sight, and Felicity finds out she is pregnant with her and Gus's first child.
- Felix King (played by Zachary Bennett) - Felix is Alec's and Janet's older son. He is mischievous and often gets into trouble. Felix befriends Izzy (Isolde), the daughter of the new widowed school teacher Mr. Pettibone who takes over after Hetty retires. In the later seasons, there is the beginning of a romance between Felix and Izzy.
- Cecily King (played by Harmony Cramp and later by Molly Atkinson) - Cecily is the quiet, younger daughter of Alec and Janet. The actress switch occurs after Cecily becomes ill with tuberculosis and goes to a sanitarium in the United States. She is more interested in the farm work than her brother, Felix, and Alec considers leaving the farm to her.
- Daniel King - Alec and Janet's youngest child born at the end of season 2. He often annoys his siblings and cousins.
- Rachel Lynde (played by Patricia Hamilton) - Rachel is the local busybody and self-appointed moral guardian of Avonlea. Her character originally appeared in Anne of Green Gables. In the beginning of the series Rachel lives with her best friend, Marilla Cuthbert, at Green Gables. After Marilla's death, Rachel suffers a stroke and moves in with her friend (and sometimes enemy) Hetty King and they raise Davy and Dora Keith.
- Gus Pike (played by Michael Mahonen) - Gus is a young vagabond who grows to earn the respect of the townsfolk. (Seasons 2-5) He is known to the viewers for his use of Maritimer English. Gus is also a sailor and he leaves Avonlea for a time to find his mother, who he thought had died long ago. After word of a hurricane, he is presumed dead, but is found by Felicity and Hetty along the eastern shore of the United States. When they find him he is blind and they bring him back to Canada for surgery to restore his sight. After the surgery, Gus marries Felicity.
- Eliza Ward (played by Kay Tremblay) - Eliza is aunt to Janet and Abigail. Eliza came to King farm for several visits and proved to be eccentric and overbearing. Later in the series Eliza moves in with the Kings and becomes a more permanent fixture of King Farm, where her wit and wisdom become indispensable to the King family.
- Jasper Dale (played by R.H. Thomson) - Jasper is a shy, stammering photographer and inventor who eventually marries Olivia. They buy the local cannery in the later seasons, which in the final season catches fire and burns down.
- Marilla Cuthbert (played by Colleen Dewhurst) - Marilla is Rachel's more tolerant best friend. She is also a character brought back from Anne of Green Gables. After raising Anne Shirley, she decides to adopt the children of her distant relative, Mary Keith, when she dies. Though Rachel is initially opposed to the decision, Davy and Dora Keith find a home with Marilla at Green Gables. After Marilla suddenly dies, Rachel Lynde continues to care for Davy and Dora at Green Gables. After Rachel has a stroke, she, Davy, and Dora move to Rose cottage with Hetty and Sara. (Seasons 1-3: character passes away after the actress' death in 1991)
- Davy Keith (played by Kyle Labine) - Davy is Marilla's orphan nephew who, along with his sister Dora, comes to live at Green Gables. Davy is wild and rambunctious, often getting into trouble. Later he, Dora and Rachel move in with Hetty after Marilla's death and Rachel's stroke. He and Hetty really don't get along. He does not appear in An Avonlea Christmas. In Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, Anne Shirley runs into Rachel Lynde. Rachel informs Anne that Davy has enlisted in the war, and starts crying.
- Dora Keith (played by Ashley Muscroft, Lindsay Murrell) - Dora is Davy's sister and Marilla's orphan niece who comes to live at Green Gables with Marilla and Rachel. Unlike Davy, Dora is well behaved and sweet natured.
- Muriel Stacy Pettibone (played by Marilyn Lightstone) - Muriel Stacy is a schoolteacher, recently promoted to superintendent, and a rival of Hetty. The two women are true polar opposites. Her character also originally appeared in Anne of Green Gables. Later in the series, Muriel moves back to Avonlea permanently where she takes over the General Store from the Lawsons and marries Clive Pettibone. Although she does not appear in "An Avonlea Christmas", Marilyn Lightstone narrates the beginning of the film.
- Clive Pettibone (played by David Fox) - Clive, a widower, moves to Avonlea with his three children to take over teaching duties at the Avonlea public school from Hetty. He is a former colonel, so he initially is extremely strict with discipline-oriented activities. Soon after arriving in town, he and Hetty are both revealed to be successful novelists writing under pseudonyms. He is later promoted to superintendent and marries Muriel Stacy.
- Izzy Pettibone (played by Heather Brown) - Izzy is Clive's tomboy daughter and the youngest of his children. She quickly befriends Felix King and eventually becomes his romantic interest. As a child, she aspires to be like her father and has ambitions to become a general in the British army. She has two older brothers, Morgan and Arthur.
- Arthur Pettibone (played by Zachary Ansley) - Arthur is eldest of Clive's children and much older than his brother and sister. He initially resents his father for his mother's death, but their relationship gradually improves after the Pettibone family moves to Avonlea. For some time, he is a rival to Gus for Felicity's affection. A sombre, intellectual, and eccentric young man, Arthur studies to become a veterinarian.
- Clara Potts (played by Maja Ardal) - Clara is one of the main town gossips, she is very fond of Felicity, who is her daughter Sally's rival. Clara is quite often seen with Eulalie Bugle. Marrila did not care for her. She originated in Anne of Green Gables.
- Eulalie Bugle (played by Barbara Hamilton) - Eulalie is one of the town gossips, she is introduced in the first episode of season 3, she is most often seen with either Clara Potts or Rachel Lynde.
- Andrew King (played by Joel Blake) - Andrew is another King cousin sent to live on King Farm at the same time as Sara in Seasons 1 and 2. His father is Roger King, Hetty and Alec's younger brother. Roger and Ruth were born one year apart, to the day.
- Peter Craig (played by Miklos Perlus) - Peter is a hired hand about Sara's age. The son of Maud Craig, he works at the farm in the first season.
- Peg Bowen (played by Susan Cox) - Peg is a recluse and herbalist who is thought of as the witch of Avonlea.
Through all seven seasons of Road to Avonlea, many big name actors made an appearance on the show, some multiple times. Among them:
- Frances Bay
- Bruce Greenwood
- Christopher Lloyd
- Christopher Reeve
- Diana Rigg
- Dianne Wiest
- Eugene Levy
- Faye Dunaway
- Jaimz Woolvett
- John Neville
- Jonathan Crombie
- Kate Nelligan
- Madeline Kahn
- Maureen Stapleton
- Meg Tilly
- W.O. Mitchell
- Michael York
- Ned Beatty
- Peter Coyote
- Robby Benson
- Ryan Gosling
- Sheila McCarthy
- Shirley Douglas
- Stockard Channing
- Treat Williams
- Zoe Caldwell
- Wayne Robson
The set was created in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada (the town where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived and wrote for a decade after moving from Prince Edward Island). The town of Avonlea was adapted from existing buildings and roads were painted red to emulate the red sand of the Island. Filming also regularly took place at Westfield Heritage Centre in Flamborough, Ontario. Photography and enhanced digital matter work married second unit scenes of Prince Edward Island with the Leaskdale location where necessary.
Sullivan Entertainment released all 7 seasons on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time between 2005-2006. In 2009, they began re-releasing the series in wide screen format. As of December, 2012, all seven seasons and the Christmas special have been released in widescreen format.
Awards and nominations
During the show's seven-year run, it won and was nominated for numerous awards worldwide.
- 4 Emmy Awards: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Dramatic Series (Christopher Lloyd) - "Another Point of View", 1992; Outstanding Children's Program - "Incident At Vernon River", 1993; Outstanding Costume Design for a Series - "Strictly Melodrama", 1995; Outstanding Guest Actress in a Dramatic Series (Dianne Wiest) - "Woman of Importance", 1997.
- 16 Emmy Nominations
- 4 CableAce Awards: Best Dramatic Series, 1991; Best Dramatic Series, 1993; Best Dramatic Series, 1994; Best Writing in a Dramatic Series (Heather Conkie)
- 17 CableAce Nominations
- 18 Gemini Awards: Best Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score (John Welsman), Best Performance by a Lead Actress (Jackie Burroughs), 1990; Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Lead Actress (Jackie Burroughs), 1991; Best Leading Actor (Cedric Smith), Best Guest Performance in a Series (Kate Nelligan), Best Direction in a Series (Allan King), 1992; Best Actress (Jackie Burroughs), 1993; Best Guest Performance in a Series (Bruce Greenwood), Best Original Score, Best Actress (Lally Cadeau), 1994; Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Hamilton), Best Original Score, 1995; Best Supporting Actress (Kay Tremblay), Best Guest Actress (Frances Bay), Best Original Score, 1996.
- 6 Gemini Nominations
- 3 John Labatt Classic Awards For Most Popular Program in Canada (chosen by the public), 1990, 1991 and 1992
- Road to Avonlea - Official website
- Museum of Broadcast Communications information on Road to Avonlea
- Road to Avonlea section of The L.M. Montgomery Research Group
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