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Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fixer

Buried in shrubbery, as obscured perhaps as his reputation and his place in history, is this monument to Sir Mackenzie Bowell, who served as Prime Minister from 1894 to his resignation in 1986. An ardent Orangeman in a time where battles were all fought along religious lines, he fell on his sword during the (unsolvable then as now) question of Catholic Schools.

Al Purdy turned his poet's attention to frogs, heron and frozen apples, so why not politicians from those fractious Victorian days? He did have an eye for the foibles of humankind.

Small wonder thatAl wrote a poem about this sometime Prime Minister, Victorian Belleville's sort of public figure. 'The Statue in Belleville', published in 'Sundance at Dusk', memorialized 'our' Prime Minister.You can hear the gossip at the market or the pool hall in his words:

Topley photo, Library and Archives Canada
" The little man stands where soldiers drill
sometimes people forget but birds remember
to stop at "The Fixer" the man you went to 
if you weren't a Catholic for a job
or favour of some kind or other"...

The poem recounts the story of cabinet ministers ("a nest of traitors" Bowell called them) calling at the prime minister's house to demand his resignation after his unpopulardecision on  the Manitoba Schools Question, and describes his trip "to church and at Bridge Street United for being a sonuvabitch/forgave himself quite readily".
Bridge Street United Church, Belleville

This isn't one of Purdy's well-known poems, but I like it. Al's love of history and a good story led him here. And in how many poems do you find the word 'sonuvabitch'?

Sir Mackenzie Bowell's home, 194 William Street
And here, for your enjoyment, some local Purdy-poem-about-Bowell pilgrimage sites.

SMB is buried in Belleville Cemetery

Al ends the poem philosophically:
" But maybe I left out part of this story
because if evil is penalized and good rewarded
there'd still at Old Home Week be hardly any people
Which is to say Belleville is a mid-size town
with mid-size people medium virtue among us
you know there are comparatively few heroes
except The Fixer - he's the best I can do
and some of us feel we couldn't do any better
times bein what they are and so if you don't mind
let's raise a cheer"

('The Statue in Belleville', Sundance at Dusk (1976)

Belleville Armouries
I wasn't sure about the local connection in the line "where soldiers drill". I made an assumption about the local Armouries, but after careful examination of the property outside and in (the latter during cadet shooting team practice, all in the pursuit of 'art'), I found no statue. My historian friend says there are no statues in Belleville...and come to think of it, she's right. I wonder if that line refers to the location of the monument at the top of this blog-post - roughly the spot where the local militia drilled, in the early 1800's, near Mrs. Simpson's famous log tavern?

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