A campaign is underway to save a Canadian literary landmark. Al Purdy was one of this nation’s finest poets of the last century – a writer who rose from humble origins to touch the imagination of readers from Halifax to Victoria, and beyond.
A trust has been created to preserve Purdy's wooden cottage (pictured at left) on Roblin Lake in Ameliasburgh, Ontario, as a memorial to the poet and a retreat for writers. The house was Purdy’s preferred location for writing from the late 1950s onwards and also served as a focal point for Canada’s arts community. Almost anyone who was anyone (Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, George Bowering, Patrick Lane etc) spent time in the woods with Purdy, who died in 2000. The A-Frame structure is under threat because Purdy’s widow, Eurithe, is in her 80s and the upkeep has become too much. The Trust hopes to ensure the house remains attached to the literary community.
Purdy's writing career spanned more than 50 years. His works include over 40 editions of poetry; a novel (A Splinter in the Heart) and two memoirs (Morning and Its Summer and Reaching for the Beaufort Sea ). Born in Ontario, Purdy dropped out of school at 17 and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. By the 1960s, he became a full-time writer. In 1962, he published Poems for All the Annettes, which he considered to be a watershed moment in his career. Purdy twice won the Governor General’s Award - in 1965 for a collection called The Cariboo Horses and in 1986 for The Collected Poems of Al Purdy.
Purdy was also a long-time friend of controversial American author Charles Bukowski, who once said: “I don't know of any good living poets. But there's this tough son of a bitch up in Canada that works the line.”
Jean Baird is one of the organizers behind the campaign to save the A-Frame building. “Although he cherished the idea of being a writer from age 13, Purdy had little formal education and travelled from coast to coast working at odd jobs until he was in his forties, which gave him a worm's-eye view of Canadian reality that he never lost,” she said. “Not only did he write naturally and unaffectedly in the language of the mattress-factory lunch room, he also wrote about its subjects: hating the boss, savouring a game of hockey, brewing homemade beer, parting with a beloved old car, rowing with a spouse.”
The Purdys bought the property in 1957 for $850. It’s on the south shore of Roblin Lake, a mile away from the village of Ameliasburgh in Prince Edward County. Purdy tells how the A-Frame was constructed in Reaching for the Beaufort Sea. The house continues to attract fans of Purdy’s poetry who wish to witness the places that inspired his writing and the writing of so many other legendary Canadian poets.
“Like many people without a formal education, Al was a voracious and eclectic reader,” explained Jean Baird. “Once he started building the A-frame he because interested in local history and that interest shaped much of his poetry. He romped from coast to coast and through the arctic e when many writers where spending their Canada Council grants to go to Greece. Al often spoke of D. H. Lawrence as a huge influence and one of his last major trips was to Italy to visit the Etruscan ruins that Lawrence explored earlier.”
The property needs up to $50,000 worth of repairs alone and the Al Purdy A-Frame Trust has raised less than $30,000 at the start of April. If you wish to support the campaign, cheques can be made out to ‘The Al Purdy A-frame Trust’ and sent to….The Al Purdy A-frame Trust, 4403 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6R 2M2. Tax receipts will be issued for donations over $50. For more information contact Jean Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org