By Kiki Carr/Quinte Arts Council
In advance of Al Purdy Day on April 21 (the day of the renowned and much-loved Canadian poet’s death in 2000), we wanted to share this article from our Spring issue of Umbrella magazine on his legacy to those who love poetry and writing as much as he did: the Al Purdy A-Frame Residency program.
During her first visit to Al Purdy’s A-frame many years ago, Toronto-based writer and musician Felicity Williams recorded his poetry into song. This time, as a part of the Residency program, she wanted to continue the project and immerse herself over several weeks.
Al Purdy was a great Canadian poet who built an A-frame house in Ameliasburg, with his wife Eurithe in 1957. With neither of them having any credentials to do so, they graciously accepted helping hands throughout their labour of love. Their former home has become as folklore as the poet himself.
When it came time to restore the A-frame after Al’s passing in 2000 and under Eurithe’s guidance, the Al Purdy A-frame Association was born. The aim has been to preserve this historical site in Canadian poetry and literature, while simultaneously providing a space to give back to the arts. Purdy’s poetry is infused with the colourful landscape, its people, and the A-frame’s four walls.
The writer’s residency program offers a space to concentrate on work in a preserved environment, surrounded by nature on the shores of Roblin Lake. Williams, who has toured all over the world in bands like Bernice and Bahamas, was supposed to do a five-week residency in the summer of 2020. As with most things during a most-unparalleled year, dates were changed and she stayed at the house for three weeks at the end of September and the beginning of October. She will be completing her final two weeks sometime in the (hopeful) near future.
As Williams sat at the window overlooking Roblin Lake, the very same window that Purdy looked through to tell his stories through poetry, she observed the foliage and the animals he described, as if time stood still. “For anybody who wants to get away and work on something, it’s a beautiful place to go,” she says. “But especially for me, because my project was specifically working on songs with his poems, to get a vision or the vision that he had was such a special opportunity.”
She describes the bookshelf that still has whispers of his presence: “His books are still there and his notes are in the margin… it’s definitely a time capsule.” Williams goes on to describe in her final report submitted to the residency: “As I read about the house from within the house, Al’s words somehow stitched my present to his present in the past.”
As she prepares for a new album release with the band Bernice, she looks forward to her next experience at the A-Frame. Her final two weeks are not yet scheduled, but as part of the program she will be contributing to a community-based project when the time comes. Joined by fellow Bernice bandmates Robin Dann and Dan Fortin, they will be offering a concert in Prince Edward County at the end of the final chapter of her residency. Learn more about the Residency at alpurdy.ca/residency/