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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Down in the Valley

the old Valley Road - "Purdy Lane"
Since I was a kid, I have been drawn to certain landscapes: hidden spots under escarpments, paths created by long-ago people and industry, benches beside ponds or watercourses, ruined foundations, evocative old graveyards with stories to tell, cedar thickets and stands of oak and pine, winding roads with those unruly ribbons of grass down the centre.

When I first ventured past the noisy dog at the top of Ameliasburgh village's Purdy Lane, I wasn't prepared to find all of those elements in one spot.

Al's stone is the black one beneath the green lilac bush

But I did, and I go back there often.

And when I visit this spot, I share it with the mortal remains (or the stone marking them) of Al Purdy.

Owen Roblin 1806-1903

Al Purdy made a thorough investigation of his new neighbourhood of Ameliasburgh when he and Eurithe became homesteaders on Roblin Lake.

I love his unsentimental justification for falling under the spell of history and land:

"And I got interested in the place
I mean what the hell else could I do
being a little too stupid to ever admit
I was a lousy carpenter and a worse writer?"

The bench above the creek and the old Mill pond,  the old Valley Road, as I suspect this is, was the site of Way's Mills, the first mill village in the area. Roblin's iconic mill which followed, itself long gone, was at the top of the limestone escarpment, where the village grew, and endures.

Al  writes about the early entrepreneur in his long poem In Search of Owen Roblin (1974). Reading it, you immerse yourself in the very history Al was making his own: the UEL settlement story, the early industrial saga, the people who made the village, and made it their home.

Grove Cemetery, Ameliasburgh
"In 1829 Owen took up land in Ameliasburg
ten years later traded lots with one John Way
to build his mill and stone house
then an octagonal one for his children's children
But the mill was torn down last year..."

I mentioned that I had obtained a photo with deep meaning for me, at the silent auction at the recent memorable Purdy event in Toronto. This is the image of Al that I have above my desk.

'my' John Reeves photo of Al 

Al, on my favourite bit of Prince Edward County. He's looking toward the gravestone of Owen Roblin. And thinking some of the same thoughts that I probably think when I'm in that place. He did a better job of getting them on paper.

This is from the auction catalogue of the Purdy gala, February 6 at Koerner Hall:
"In November 1965 photographer John Reeves made a visit to the A-frame. He was there to photograph Al for a magazine article. Only a few photos from that day have ever been published, including the one that appears on page 63 of The Al Purdy A-frame Anthology. At the request of Jean Baird, Reeves went through his archives and selected twelve photographs from the shoot. Al at Roblin Lake, at the gravesite of Owen Roblin, in front of the A-frame. Reeves was clearly on a mission."

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