“A hunched grey shape
framed by leaves
with lake water behind
standing on our
little point of land
like a small monk
in a green monastery
meditating”

- from “The Last Picture In The World”, by Al Purdy

As a follow-up to my Trowbridge Island post, I wanted to talk about another recent assignment that is also featured in the May 2011 issue of Cottage Life. In October 2010, I was asked to shoot a story about Al Purdy’s old cottage in Prince Edward County. I jumped at the chance, as Al Purdy is easily my favorite Canadian poet and definitely one of my favorite writers ever. In fact it’s hard for me to accurately communicate how excited I was. It’s akin to a diehard Beatles fan being asked to shoot at Abbey Road Studios, or a Studebaker collector winning a free trip to South Bend, Indiana (trust me on that one).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cottage is located in Ameliasburgh, not far from Trenton, Ontario, on the shore of a small body of water called Roblin Lake. Al Purdy and his family moved there in 1957, and Al built the house by hand, largely from scavenged materials. Many of his most famous poems were written here, inspired by the local landscape and environment. The buildings (including “the most famous outhouse in Canadian literature“) have started to fall into disrepair, and the article, by Al’s old friend and fellow writer George Bowering, is a reminiscence about the cottage and Roblin Lake, as well as a heartfelt  tribute to Al, who passed away in 2000.

Upon arriving, I was offered several different sleeping arrangements, including the option of a couch in Al’s old office. That sounded intriguing, so I took a look. Not only was it unchanged from when he last used it, but his typewriter was still on the desk, along with some old photos of him, possibly outtakes from passport photo sessions. It felt like he had just stepped away for a moment, and might be back again at any minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house is a genuine time capsule, and, I think, a national treasure. Over the years it was a gathering place for Canadian literary icons like Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Irving Layton and Margaret Laurence, among many others. It’s full of the Purdy family’s books and furniture, their odds and ends, their family photos and the assorted memorabilia from a long literary life. The property needs up to $50,000 worth of repairs, and a trust fund has been set up to raise money to restore it, with an eye towards eventually using it as a writer’s workshop and retreat.

To support the campaign, cheques can be made out to ‘The Al Purdy A-frame Trust’ and sent to the Trust at 4403 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC, V6R 2M2. Online contributions can also be made here.

Tax receipts will be issued for donations over $50. For more information contact Jean Baird at jeanbaird@shaw.ca

 

One Response to Al Purdy’s A-Frame.

  1. [...] Archifile, A|N Blog, Japan-i, Derek Shapton, Architectural Record; Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Cadaval & Sola-Morales, William [...]

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