Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | April 20, 2017

Willa Cather’s Hideaway – Grand Manan Blog II

Grand Manan Island, the largest island off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, in the Bay of Fundy, is not only known for its ruggedness, but also for its natural beauty and solitude. Willa Cather, early 20th Century American author, and her close companion, Edith Lewis, found this isle a place of seclusion and a place that allow them to muse and create without the chaos and interruptions of New York City.

Present Day Cather Cottage

Cather Cottage

Cather (1876-1947), the author of twelve novels and several short story, essay and verse collections, was born in Virginia. At the age of nine years, Willa moved with her parents to Nebraska. Here she received her elementary education, attended a prep school, and was admitted to the Nebraska State University. During these formative years, she observed, interacted with, and gained an appreciation for the pioneers and Native Americans who inhabited the plains of the Midwest and Southwest. These experiences provided her the fodder for her future writings.

Whale Cove, North Head, Grand Manan Island, N.B. Canada

Whale Cove, North Head, Grand Manan Island, N.B., Canada

After a couple of years as a journalist and high school teacher in Pittsburg, PA, Willa’s first collection of short stories, The Troll Garden, was accepted for publication by the publisher of McClure’s Magazine, Samuel Sidney McClure. A year after her book became public, McClure offered her a position on the editorial staff of his magazine. In this position, Willa met many noted American and English writers, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, O’Henry, Robert L. Stevenson and others who honed her creativity. Willa left McClure’s in 1912 and took up residence in New York City, where she wrote and traveled for the next fifteen years. Willa considered these years her, “…best working years.”

Sitting Room

Sitting Room with view of North Cove

Fireplace 2

Kitchen and Bathroom








Cather wrote five novels during this period. One of her novels, a story portraying a WWI American Soldier titled, One of Ours, published in 1922, won a Pulitzer Prize.




Left Photo, Fireplace in sitting room. Right Photo, Kitchen and Bathroom

Shortly after the publication of One of Ours, Cather and Edith Lewis traveled to Grand Manan Island, an essentially unknown island, and rented a very rustic cottage at the Inn at Whale Cove located in the village of North Head. Electricity did not reach this cabin until eight years later. Nevertheless, Cather found what she craved, privacy. She and her companion, eventually purchased a piece of property a short distance from the original cottage and had designed and built a livable cottage. The two spent the next twenty-two summers in the solitude of this island. They ended these summer sojourns when the WWII began, because German U-boats made it too dangerous to ferry to the island. The Inn at Whale Cove purchased Cather Cottage and incorporated it into their vacation rental complex.

Willa Cather

Willa Cather. Portrait in Grand Manan Museum in Grand Harbor, GMI

Luckily, I visited the inn when the cottage was changing rental tenants. As such, the inn’s proprietor gave me permission to visit the cottage. I found Cather Cottage a short walk from the inn and its primary group of rental cottages. A birch forest surrounded it on three side. Sitting in an Adirondack chair on the small, open front porch, I had an expansive view across Whale Cove. Its waves washed a rocky beach below a precipice a short distance down a sloping meadow of waist-deep vegetation. A path led from the porch to the brink of the cliff. On the interior, the cottage was simply appointed, but comfortable, a place where a writer’s mind could run free.

Oliver up-strike Typewriter

Cather’s Oliver up-strike Typewriter

Except for a few pictures on the wall, very little of Cather’s presence remains in the cottage. But a room in the Grand Manan Museum, located in the village of Grand Harbor, displays her writings and artifacts.

– ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ ʃ –

© Copyright, Richard Modlin 2017



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