Margaret Laurence 017We got back in the car and drove to the other end of Penn. We turned onto Beacon Hill (Margaret Laurence is pictured walking up it in the James King’s biography). And there it was, the white house hiding behind a hedge and next to a bridle path. An Elm Cottage plate on the gate. I opened the gate with trepidation. Should I be doing this, should I ring the door bell or should I just sneak some snaps? Is it not rude to invade the occupant’s privacy? I say “the occupant” because as I haven’t done my research, I don’t know who lives there. The house was sold in 1998, according to a real estate agent.

Elm Cottage

stealth view through the hedge

I opened the gate. The walkway went in two directions, one to the yard and the side of the house, and the other to the door nearest the road. I went to the door facing the road, but hesitated, seeing a curtain drawn across the doorway. I rang the bell. Eventually a hand drew the net curtain aside and a face looked at me, unsmiling. Same hand put a key in the door lock. An unused door, then. The door opened a crack. “Yes?”

My introduction was short and nervous, finishing up with, “I think a Canadian writer named Margaret Laurence lived here?” He said, “Yes, she did.” And he mentioned that a few Canadians have come by asking. As he mentioned this more than once in our brief conversation, I apologized. Then asked if I could take pictures. Permission was granted for outdoor photography, and the door was closed.
Here are the photos of where Margaret Laurence lived from 1964-1974, brought to you with some unease and anxiety.

Elm Cottage from the rear

Elm Cottage at the back

Should you travel to Penn to see for yourself, maybe peek through the hedge and keep walking. Whoever lives at Elm Cottage by then may not share the excitement of your discovery. Even better, you’ll have time to see the sites of the medieval tile industry and the medieval church (which I didn’t). I highly recommend The Crown for a bite, and the bookstore for a browse.

back of cottage from laneway

Elm Cottage from the bridle path

Related Reading

Penn & Tylers Green Village Voice with photos

Margaret Laurence Manitoba biography

Margaret Laurence Canadian Encyclopedia

Posted by Debra Martens

author, editor


  1. Better photos can be found in Laurence’s memoir, Dance on the Earth, p. 177. Of course. Thanks Dory for pointing it out.


    1. Perhaps better in one sense, but these hold your experience of discovering the place for yourself!

      I’m so glad you found her home, though I wish it had culminated in a cup of tea shared with a Margaret Laurence lover inside in some sort of mini-museum maintained privately in celebration of sorts. I travelled to Lakefield to see her home there and to stand near the river: it was wonderful, but I think I thought I’d meet other Laurence lovers just standing around gawking too, and of course that didn’t happen!


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