Green Gables Visitors Centre

Mitchell Brown

In the classic children’s novel Anne of Green Gables, the story’s plucky young heroine says, “It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?” The team behind the construction of the Green Gables Visitors Centre couldn’t agree more.

A project three years in the making, the centre sits on the Prince Edward Island property that serves as the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic stories. Dartmouth, N.S.-based Root Architecture set out to create a welcoming place that could accommodate the growing numbers of visitors to one of the most visited federal parks in Canada. The goal was to provide new exhibition and gathering spaces while acting as the main arrival point for the hundreds of thousands of people who come every year to see the farmhouse once owned by Montgomery’s family.

The architecture takes its cue from its surrounding rural environment through vernacular barn forms connected by a single-story lobby space, with the entire structure employing a mass timber structural frame. The building materials within are contemporary, but the overall form is complementary with the property while not overpowering the farmhouse, its historic focal point.

One of the purposes of Root’s prize-winning design is to shine a spotlight on the forestry and wood manufacturing industries in the Maritimes, which is reflected in the centre’s choice of materials. Exposed mass timber frames, eastern white cedar shingles, and local pine and maple are found throughout the property, supporting the park’s mission to provide an inviting space for visitors to gather.

And where better for those visitors to come together than around the centre’s focal point? Situated in the middle of the lobby is the information desk, with its distinctive counter fascia provided by ThermalWood Canada of Bathurst, NB.

Launched in 2008, ThermalWood uses heat to stabilize wood, a process that removes organics and sugars in the wood and prevents rotting. With only about a dozen manufacturers in North America using a similar process, ThermalWood’s director of international marketing and sales, Robert Lennon, says there’s still much work to do in educating architects and builders about the benefits of their product.

“A lot of projects that have come our way in the last little while have come from us going out and meeting architects,” he said. “I made it part of my mission to meet with as many architects as I can and promote the process of thermal modification.”

High-profile projects like the Green Gables centre go a long way to help him in his mission: “It’s great because aside from education, another part of it is visibility. People see this, they ask what it this, and they end up on our doorstep.”

Aside from the environmental and maintenance benefits of thermal modification, Lennon says projects that use his products also support the forestry industry in the region by finding new uses for larch, a type of wood commonly found in northern New Brunswick but not harvested extensively for lumber.

“It’s a very under-utilized species of wood; it’s got a gummy, resinous material that can gum up the works,” he said. “But we’ve been able to transform it into a product that does very well as accent walls, furniture, tourism signs, commercial store displays… the word is getting out there, we have a nice product and we do a good job making it.”

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