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Thursday, June 27, 2013

We've got Power!!!

a new presence on Gibson Road
"We've got power!" announced Duncan Patterson, the A-frame's restoration architect and supporter, in a triumphant email this week. Follow Duncan's blog of the restoration at akindofbump.

Contractor Matti Kopamees described the long-awaited event. The hydro folk arrive with military strength, tie up the road to all traffic, forge deep trenches(or as deep as unyielding limestone would allow) in a straight line from pole to house (as straight as a route can be through sumacs, beside the garage, around cedars, down the slope to the A-frame), conduit laid in the trench,  heavy cables forced through it.

A visit to the A-frame yesterday confirmed that Ontario Hydro had indeed, been there. Quite a lot of digging. Quite a tall pole. Looks like quite a battle has taken place here. I wonder how long it will be before the battrachian chorus comes out of hiding, and resumes the serenade.

Al would doubtless have commented.

He might even recall a day when there wasn't hydro at the A-frame, even the slightly homemade and likely potentially hazardous wiring job that sustained the A-frame while it housed Al and Eurithe and Canadian poetry.
make way

Al might have said something like this:

"The house was still a skeleton without flesh in the autumn of 1957: flesh being insulation, siding, paint and other amenities. An old cook-stove in the A-frame living room supplied heat. We had scrounged coal oil lamps for light (there was no electricity.) Three of those lamps, clustered together, if you read a book, meant your eyes wouldn't fall out of your head. But they were a smoky dangerous fire hazard right out of the nineteenth century."
okay, we'll decorate around it

Al did, as a matter of fact.  In "Reaching for the Beaufort Sea", page 167.

Wonder if there was a poem about electricity, and its benefits? Anyway, the issue is academic at this point. We've got power.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

We sure hope you can make it...

the A-frame stage, in a colder season
You read it here first.

At Jean's suggestion the local A-framers are planning a picnic at the Al and Eurithe Purdy A-frame. It'll be an open house to show off the work being done on the place, readying it for a writer-in-residence. And a day to visit the A-frame if you haven't done so for a while, or ever, to connect with the home of a Canadian literary legend, and a poet who wrote about us. The event will feature some local writers reading their work, or Al's, and some local musicians. All this on the A-frame stage, the north deck, overlooking legendary Roblin Lake.

Because it's a picnic, there will be food. Because the A-frame is in Ameliasburgh, it'll be a village event (It takes a village...). There will be sandwich picnics for sale in the Town hall, made to order by a local women's group,  for takeout to the Grove cemetery, the Harry Smith Conservation area, the Al Purdy library...or the A-frame. Sit on the point the Purdy's built, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Read a poem. Write one.

You can take a guided literary tour with local writer and film-maker Conrad Beaubien, visit a used booksale at the library and see the Purdy memorabilia there, enjoy the pioneer and schoolhouse museums, or just walk around the village Al walked around. Watch some 'Purdy videos' in the Town Hall. Leave your car at the Town hall and take the free shuttle around those locations...we'll even drop you off at the top of Gibson's Road, a few houses away from the A-frame. Or pick up a copy of the A-frame Anthology for sale at several locations in the village. Bring your family, your friends, a poet.

And when will you want to do that? On Saturday, July 27, from 11 AM to 4 PM. Drop into the Town Hall first to get a map, and a schedule of events. And shelter, if it turns out to be a really rainy day.

We'll have posters out, both real and virtual in the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, share this link with your friends. And we hope to see you at the Purdy Picnic.

Roblin's Mill too

Valley Road - now Purdy Street...which should be 'Lane'
Michele Lintern-Mole, she of the fine old Dr. Fine house in Ameliasburgh has been for years the keeper of the keys at the Al and Eurithe Purdy A-frame. Michele tells me that the brick and stone foundation below has nothing at all to do with the former Roblin's Mill, which was captured by an architectural history do-gooder in 1963 and housed in a zoo in Toronto.

But it made goosebumps last fall when I saw it among the newly bare trees on the escarpment above Purdy Lane, which itself has some multilayered history.
Not Roblin's, but whose?

On Purdy Day, Denis and I hiked the Harry Smith Conservation Area trails which border the old mill pond in A'burg. You enter the trail half-way down Purdy Lane (some 911 bureaucrat changed it to Purdy Street, and it's time to take back the name), a branch off to the left (north). The first part of the trail leads under trees below the edge of the escarpment where the mill sat, and crosses a tiny creek which was once the outflow from the mill (inflow was channelled from Roblin Lake).

A guide to the Harry Smith Conservation Area can be found on the Nature Stuff website of Quinte's indomitable naturalist Terry Sprague. The walk leads around the millpond immortalized in Al's work. I'm sure he walked the shoreline path often, in his days discovering the stories of A'burg, its UEL pioneers, and Owen Roblin.

"The black millpond
                               holds them
movings and reachings and fragments
the gear and tackle of living
under the water eye
all things laid aside
but they had their being once
and left a place to stand on."
(In Search of Owen Roblin, final page)

Above, in the village, the 7th Town plaque stands solitary vigil to the lost mill. On April 21, the underbrush had not yet burst into life, so I struggled down over the edge, interrupting sunning friendly snakes, and found the remains of the limestone foundation, and a hint of the timber frame near a modern culvert. Tingles.

If you are interested in Ways Mills/Roblin's Mills/Ameliasburgh history I warmly recommend two publications by the 7th Town Historical Society - '7th Town/Ameliasburgh Past and Present' and '7th Town Remembers.' (A note on the name: when land was surveyed in 1784 to accommodate the desperate waves of UEL refugees from republican fervour in the new United States, the numbering of the Lake Ontario township, or towns as they were called, began with 'first town' at Kingston, then Ernestown, Fredericksburg, and Tyendinaga. The first town surveyed in the place later named Prince Edward County was at the eastern tip (and a tough one it was to survey, given its erratic shoreline) was Marysburgh, the Fifth Town. Later townships surveyed included Ameliasburgh, the Seventh town.

But don't believe me, read Al's telling of the story in 'In Search of Owen Roblin.'

sailing from Ameliasburgh

photo courtesy Jason at Rednersville Country Store
In the long poem 'In Search of Owen Roblin', Al leaves an account of Jib, an historical figure (I wonder) who must be 'the village simpleton,' to talk about Ameliasburgh history. As one who worked for many years with folks labelled developmentally handicapped, I want to stay to find out more about Jib, a man who makes me think of  Joe Barr in another Purdy tale. Joe, a man in whom Al recognized a dignity few others acknowledged. But no...the story is about the mill, and milling, and shipping, and Jib is peripheral.

"Sweating and stumbling he fell
sometimes grining his idiot grin
but "Get a move on!"
said the farmer from his high wagon
seat impatient for Rednersville
and foreign ships awaiting cargo."
(In Search of Owen Roblin)

The poem takes us to Rednersville, a place I go gladly, for I find the stone village centre evocative of early history, despite the wider south shore area's transformation to sprawling upmarket subdivision. The village resonates with the story of Owen Roblin, and reappears in Al's long poem.

The limestone village church, which I researched for an article in  the Autumn 2012 issue of County and Quinte Living (Keary House page 32) was built by local people, who pulled limestone from the escarpment that got named Onderdonk's Hill, and built a Methodist house of worship. The road that leads in front was immortalized in a Purdy poem.

The PEC Heritage designation plaque on the Rednersville  store (now closed, sadly) reads "1845 Country Store. This two storey gabled roof building remains the most dominant landmark in the village. In 1840 John Cole purchased the lot from Owen Roblin. In 1851 the lot was sold to James Redner. When fire damaged the original facade around 1865 it was rebuilt in brick with three round-headed windows in the front. The Rednersville store is a fine example of rural commercial architecture."

For more detail, check out the wonderfully crafted local history produced by the 7th Town Historical Society in 1984. It contains more of the flavour of the thriving early village.

the road to the wharves...but no longer

By the 1890's Prince Edward County was booming. The so-called Barley Days provided work and wealth, as the fertile farming county produced superior quality export barley for the American distilling trade. Histories describe long lines of loaded grain wagons straggling south along the old Barley Road which runs through the village toward Wellington, farmers and horses patiently waiting for their turn to off-load at the Rednersville docks, from which local produce and lumber had long been exported by sailing ship and later, steamships.

I wandered down the hill toward the bayshore, listening and looking for hints of those rough and bustling days. Nothing. A tantalizing stand of bush remains at the bottom of the street, but the no trespassing sign stopped my search for resonance. A walk along the short street bordering the shore, shots over smooth lawns of lakeside homes. Nothing.

imagine tired horses struggling downhill holding back
the weight of a heavy load of barley

"The wheels stopped
and the murmur of voices
behind the flume's tremble
             and the wind-high ships
that sailed from Rednersville
to the sunrise ports of Europe
are delayed somewhere 
in a toddling breeze..."
(Roblin's Mills II)
one day I'll find a kindly neighbour to grant me a look downhill
nothing remains of the old shipping days, but the water

Credit where it's due:

Regarding the above archival postcard image of a steamship approaching the Rednersville dock. I received the kind permission of Jason, who maintains a website from which he sells historic postcards, antiques and the like, to use the image. Jason reports that he has a new website under development, and I will publish it here when it becomes available. In the meantime, he can be reached at the above link. Thanks Jason!

Flood Plain

"Must have been a dry year when they built it," says Matti, the A-frame's contractor. Matti's the one working on the storied little house which Al and Eurithe Purdy built and inhabited while Al wrote some of the country's most memorable poetry, and Eurithe fed a new generations of poets.

One of the most interesting challenges for Matti is how to deal with the water in the crawl-space, water which over time has affected both the structure and the interior air quality. And fix it he will, as part of the rehabilitation of the A-frame into a comfy writer-in-residence abode, the staunchly held vision of the A-frame Association's prime mover, Jean Baird.

The basement has been wet because, as Matti pointed out, the property is low-lying, and the water-table beneath the A-frame lies at precisely the level of Roblin Lake, in the earthly logic of such things.

In 'Reaching for the Beaufort Sea' Al talks about bringing in fill to raise the level of the property:

"Our half-built house was erected on low-lying land; after a heavy rain the ground was flooded for a day or two. Jim Parkhurst and a helper were excavating a cellar in Belleville with jack hammer and pick and shovel at that time. It was suggested that I raise our front lawn's altitude with the contents of that Belleville cellar. So I drove an old truck back and forth several times a day, loaded with limestone strata, dumping and returning for more. Our front lawn became visibly higher." (page 164)

For Al everything was a poem. Work of that type inevitably inspires 'muscular poetry.'

In the poem 'On the Flood Plain' (The Woman on the Shore, 1990) Al lays out the issue while he communes with the frozen lake:

"People have told us we built too near the lake
'The flood plain is dangerous' they said
and no doubt they know more about it than we do...

and a few lines further on:

"I stand outside
between house and outhouse
feeling my body stiffen in fossilized rigor mortis
and listening
this is the reason we built on the flood plain
damn right
the seriousness of things beyond your understanding"...

I like to think that the energy of this poet and the literary lives lived here, generated heat that kept this little building standing despite the efforts of all that water and damp to dissolve it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Roots Music

Al's mother and father's grave, Trenton
'Shot Glass Made from a Bull's Horn.' A poem. Not Bliss Carmen. Not even D.H. Lawrence.  Could only have been Al Purdy .  Al tells a story of an artifact which has a deep connection for him:

"A young ensign set lips to this cup.
I drink from it now...
It's attractive to me for such reasons,
with initials R.P. deeply incised,
and a crude Brit. flag cut in bone.
I presume R.P. was my ancestor,
when George something-or-other was king...."

(from 'Shot Glass Made From a Bull's Horn', in The Stone Bird, 1981)

"Here's to you Ralph, with good rye" Al continues. Here's to you Al.

Purdy began to discover his own roots during those early A-frame days in the late 1950's. Much is made of Al Purdy's maturity as a writer stemming from the homesteading experience; creating a home with Eurithe at the A-frame, establishing a base. As a person deeply rooted in PEC's UEL history, I have an intuitive feeling that Al finds his stability, his roots, and  his voice when he finds his roots. Terroir. What we are comes from the land we're planted in.
L to R: Eleanor, Al, and Ridley Purdy

Al writes about the joy of discovery, first of Owen Roblin, who inspired the long poem 'In Search of Owen Roblin' and several other poems.

"All this information came from books I read
the well or little-known facts of Canadian history
also the dry record of genealogy
reminiscent of Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac
begat whoever he begat in the Bible
In the midst of genealogical research
with pure joy I spot the Roblin family
feeling like a literary detective
dead broke in Ameliasburgh
for nothing could stop me now and then.."
Al discovers his own story. I am told that the Purdy's were very fond of Janet Lunn, PEC historian who wrote the definitive "County" history, The County, in 1967 with her husband Richard. She is without doubt  a lovely person, whose acquaintance I have only recently made. But her depth of knowledge, and her love,  of local history must have been a well to which Al would have been drawn over and over.

I can feel his excitement, for I have felt it too, finding his family name in early histories, struggling to make the connections, to reach back across the generations, asking questions of mute stones, to find out more about his line, which is just to say, to find out more about himself.

The Voice of the Land, A'burg

"Back here at home on page 263
of Pioneer Life on the Bay of Quinte
the names of Gilbert Purdy and his eight sons
who were also at Adolphustown with 

...And one far-off descendent Purdy swings
full circle into the needle point of now
and Hey, I say, with silly delight,
Hey, maybe their children intermarried
maybe a boy in my family and a girl in theirs..."

Owen Roblin grave at Grove Cemetery, A'burg

"For it wasn't only Owen Roblin I was looking for
but myself thru him always myself..."

Ameliasburgh is the home of the astonishing Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre, "the only free-standing genealogical research centre in Canada" according to their website. Al would have loved the place. Their motto is 'Have we your roots?' 

(All quotes above are from 'In Search of Owen Roblin'. There are no page numbers, so we'll have to read the poem again, together. Good thing, that.)