Fresh from the success of the Anne of Green Gables television mini-series, Kevin Sullivan tapped again into the creative well of Lucy Maud Montgomery's literary heritage. This time the new series was adapted from Montgomery's novels The Story Girl (1911) and The Golden Road (1913) with stories loosely based on her novels, Chronicles of Avonlea (1912), and Further Chronicles of Avonlea (1920).
Set in the maritime village of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, Road to Avonlea follows the lives of the King family at the beginning of the 20th century. The early seasons focus on the Story Girl, Sara Stanley (Sarah Polley), who goes to live with her maternal relatives after her father is accused of a corporate scandal.
Sara struggles to gain acceptance from her extended King family: the vain and bossy Felicity (Gema Zamprogna), the mischevious prankster Felix (Zachary Bennett), and her domineering Aunt Hetty (Jackie Burroughs). Despite harsh treatment from her Aunt and cousins, Sara manages to adjust, seeking solace from her kind Aunt Olivia (Mag Ruffman), understanding Uncle Alec (Cedric Smith) and Aunt Janet (Lally Cadeau). Eventually, Sara reconciles with her family and remains in Avonlea. Her bond with Hetty strengthens and their relationship becomes the cornerstone of the early episodes.
After the first couple seasons, the series begins a departure from the Montgomery influences as the children begin to leave the golden road and pursue adult responsibilities. Felicity becomes one of the first women to enroll in medical school; Felix challenges the traditions of his father by pursuing a life outside farm work; and Sara Stanley departs Avonlea for finishing school.
With Sara's departure, the direction of the series shifts to the whirlwind romance between Felicity and Gus Pike. Gus is introduced in the second season as a drifter searching for a place to belong. His wanderings bring him to Avonlea where he meets, and following several bumps in the road, eventually falls in love with Felicity.
By the seventh season, Sullivan believed that Road to Avonlea had run it's course and decided to end the series. With the children grown-up and key actors moving on, Sullivan found it problematic to keep replacing the main characters. In addition, Sullivan believed that story lines were exhausted and wanted to avoid rehashing plots from earlier episodes. Finally, Avonlea was about to be involved in the first World War and the lives of the quaint villagers would be changed forever.
In 1996, the final episode aired, much to the dismay of loyal fans around the world. The tearful actors and crew said their goodbyes and went separate ways. In June of that year, the Uxbridge sets were demolished and the beautiful Avonlea villiage vanished like the by-gone era from which the series was based.
In the years since the series ended, the legacy of Road to Avonlea continues to endure and inspire. Kevin Sullivan's adaptation of Montgomery's timeless stories draw fans from around the world to a simpler time, filled with tales of hope, heartbreak, dreams and laughter.
Whether it's Sara's struggle to belong, Gus and Felicity reuniting after overcoming near tragedy, or whether it's Hetty's touching final farewell speech that marked the end of the series, we follow the King family through their joys, hardships and triumphs.
They beckon us to journey back with them, and take heart.