A bright but windy November morning, poets and poetry supporters gathered for readings by contenders for the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry at an appropriate locale: Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, where Lampman, the most famous of the Confederation Poets, is buried—and where an industrious group of local writers and literary heritage advocates were unveiling the new plaque marking the eastern end of Ottawa’s new Poets’ Pathway, a 34-kilometre walking path tracing the National Capital Region’s rich literary history. We at Arc are so impressed by the Poets’ Pathway project, we—along with Toronto poet and volunteer Ross Belot, who jumped on the idea—thought we should extend the initiative. We hereby invite you to help us build our new online, nationwide archive of the gravesites and monuments honouring Canada’s deceased poets, “Our poets at rest: Canadian poets’ gravesites.” Here you’ll find our first contributions to the archive by Arc board member Frances Boyle, as well as Ross Belot’s photo of Gwendolyn McEwen’s grave plaque in Toronto, and his tale about tracking it down.
The Poets’ Pathway is a long-term project honouring Canada’s Confederation Poets and the Mouvement littéraire that was initiated by Bill Royds, a local statistician, environmentalist, choral singer and lover of poetry who died in 2009. The plaque on his gravesite at Beechwood, pictured here, is inscribed with this quotation from Lampman’s poem “In November”: “The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan / About the naked uplands. I alone / Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray / Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.”
The walking path that was one of Royds’ dreams, and that was many years in the planning, stretches 34 kilometres, from Britannia Bay to Poets’ Hill in Beechwood National Cemetery. The new plaque here explains the historic and literary significance of the path, of the Poets’ Hill site that was dedicated in 2006, and of the cemetery itself. Future plans for the Poets’ Pathway involve an extended network of literary heritage sites along its length.
Speakers at the Beechwood unveiling included Dr. Steven Artelle, Dr. Lucie Hotte, Susan McMaster and Jacques Legendre. Artelle talked about the protected view from Poets’ Hill of the Peace Tower, and how poetry historically and physically was an integral part of Parliament Hill. He also spoke of the long line of poets buried at Beechwood Cemetery, from Archibald Lampman to John Newlove.
Hotte described the significance of the Mouvement littéraire, a group of French-speaking poets and authors including Alfred Garneau and Antoine Gerin-Lajoie, who came from Quebec City when the civil service moved to Ottawa in 1870. She noted that Francophone poets had been living and writing in Ottawa since before Confederation.
McMaster grounded things, quite literally, with a poem she had written for the occasion that began with actual cadavers and the bones of the feet. The poem moved on to the way poets live in their heads, and linked the inspiration of walking the path to that “suspended state” the walker knows.
Legendre, the outgoing City Councillor for the area, expressed his support for the project and the long-term vision, which he felt would result in Ottawa’s Poets’ Pathway becoming as well-known as the poet’s trail in Japan that draws thousands of annual pilgrims. (The 1200-kilomtre route that Haiku master Matsuo Basho followed through Japan in 1689.)
Indoors, the Lampman reading carried forward the historical theme. Blaine Marchand, the first of the five nominees present, in addition to reading from his collection, The Craving of Knives, read what he recalled as the poem that first made him love poetry: W.W. Campbell’s “Indian Summer,” which he studied as a boy in school.
The other poets who read were Susan McMaster with Crossing Arcs: Alzheimer’s, my mother, and me (finalist); Barbara Myers with Slide (finalist); Colin Morton with The Hundred Cuts: Sitting Bull and the Major; and Craig Poile with True Concessions (winner of this year’s Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry).