The most expensive Canadian TV series of its time, Road to Avonlea was created by producers Kevin Sullivan and Mairin Wilkinson in response to the avalanche of fan mail attending their earlier Anne of Green Gables, which was based on the novels of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The producers elected to draw inspiration from two lesser-known Montgomery works, The Story Girl and its sequel The Golden Road, both of which were set in the novelist's home dominion of Prince Edward Island. To narrow the gap between the new series and the older one, the producers switched the locale of The Story Girl and The Golden Road from the town of Carlisle to the tightly knit community of Avonlea, where Anne of Green Gables heroine Anne Shirley had grown up. This also enabled the writers to combine the characters from the "Anne Shirley" stories with those from the other novels, and to refer to other examples of Montgomery's "Avonlea" tales. Debuting January 7, 1990, the series, set in the early years of the 20th century, began as Sara Stanley (Sarah Polley), pampered daughter of a wealthy Montreal businessman who'd been charged with embezzlement, was shipped off to Avonlea to live with her dad's estranged relatives, the King family. Moving in with her aunt, the domineering but golden-hearted local schoolteacher Hetty King (Jackie Burroughs), the well-meaning Sara set about to win the love and confidence of Hetty, Hetty's ebullient younger sister, Olivia (Mag Ruffman), and the family of Hetty's farmer brother, Alec (Cedric Smith), which was made up of Alec's outspoken wife, Janet (Lally Cadeau), their prankish, enterprising son, Felix (Zachary Bennett), their vain and bossy older daughter, Felicity (Gema Zamprogna), and their "mediator" younger daughter, Cecily (played as a youngster by Harmony Cramp, and as a teenager by Molly Atkinson). Later on, Janet would give birth to another son named Daniel.
The series' supporting characters, some of them originating in the Montgomery novels and some others invented for the series by head writer Heather Conkie, included Jasper Dale (R.H. Thompson), an eccentric photographer and erstwhile inventor, who would marry Olivia King and later move with her to England; Gus Pike (Michael Mahonen), a handsome young drifter with a mysterious past, who after innumerable hair-raising adventures would return to Avonlea to wed Felicity King; Marilla Cuthbert (Colleen Dewhurst), warm-hearted foster mother of rambunctious siblings Davey Keith (Kyle Labine) and Dora Keith (Ashley Muscroft, Lindsay Murrell), who in turn would be cared for after Marilla's death by her longtime friend and companion Rachel Lynde (Patricia Hamilton) -- and ultimately by Hetty King when Rachel suffered a stroke; widowed teacher Clive Pettibone (David Fox), Hetty's replacement at the local school; and Avonlea's resident "weirdo," Peg Bowen (Susan E. Cox), suspected of being a witch but actually one of the wisest and most nurturing people in town.
During the decade or so covered in the series, the characters grew up and grew on: Sara left town for finishing school, Felicity became one of the few women in Canada to attend medical school, Felix forsook farming to work at the local hotel, and to wed Clive Pettibone's daughter Isolde, aka "Izzy" (Heather Brown); Clive himself became the husband of provincial school supervisor Muriel Stacey (Marilyn Lightstone); Jasper and Olivia assumed ownership of the local cannery; and Hetty secretly became the writer of children's books, and also briefly flirted with the idea of wedding her business partner, Simon Tremayne (Ian D. Clark). As the highest-rated Canadian TV series of the 20th century, Road to Avonlea attracted several major talents for guest-star appearances, among them Stockard Channing, Michael York, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Madeline Kahn, Eugene Levy, Maureen Stapleton, Christopher Lloyd, Robby Benson, and Meg Tilly. The winner of over 50 international industry awards (including two Emmys), the series ran for seven seasons and 92 episodes, the last of which originally aired on March 31, 1996. For its American TV and DVD release, Road to Avonlea has been retitled Tales From Avonlea. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi