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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

work experience

 Al Purdy's autobiography 'Reaching for Beaufort Sea' is quite the most candid 'story of myself' that I have ever read. Al records in detail (and recycles in poems and other prose) not just the shenanigans (bar fights, drunk tank visits, bootlegging), but the mistakes, the doubts and fears, the depressions, the unflattering things that most of us don't want to face - for he had a poet's soul.
The former Bata shoe plant - modernist style

Al recounts his early rootlessness and later desperate poverty in works which feature two local 'landmarks'. This is their little story, should you travel past.

"During my schoolboy summers, and after I quit school,there were odd jobs - picking apples, making boxes for apples, farm work, almost anything. When the Bata Shoe Company built their shoe factory, they took me on as a machine operator. I was a terrible workman and never did learn how to make shoes. I left after only five or six weeks." (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, p.45)

former Jay Sprague canning factory, Mountainview
The Bata Shoe plant (still standing in Batawa, north of Trenton) was the creation of Czech immigrant Charles Bata, who arrived in Canada in 1939 as events in Europe threatened the family's shoe making business. The Bata shoe factory, opened in this lovely modernist building (above) in the 1940's, was developed as the centre of a company town. The company owned the village and provided accommodation and social supports to its workers, many of them immigrants from Czechoslovakia. The company closed in the 1980's because of the familiar 'off-shore' pressures, but the name lives on in philanthropic works and the astonishing Bata shoe museum in Toronto.

After moving to Ameliasburgh in 1957, Al and Eurithe had some pretty difficult years. At one point, they did what many local folks did - worked at the local canning factory - in those days when Prince Edward County was famous for its canned produce, and its many canneries. The factory pictured above canned green beans until just recently, when the operation moved to Belleville. It was owned by the family who ran the original cannery where Al and Eurithe would have worked, just a short distance away in the village (thanks to Terry Sprague, local naturalist for helping me get the story straight).

"Eurithe and I both worked at Jay Sprague's Mountainview canning factory in 1958. She peeled tomatoes. I operated a machine which capped the 28-ounce cans."  (RBS, p. 173)

Funny all those links. Pedestrian and poetic.

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