18 April 2016

Small-town Boy Makes Good, Founds Small Town

Jean Rivard
Antoine Gérin-Lajoie [trans. Vida Bruce]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977
280 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through

Related post:

13 April 2016

'A Tribute to St. Mary's [sic], Ontario'

Dawn on the River Thames, St Marys, Ontario (detail)
Anyès Kadowaki Busby
This month marks the eighth anniversary of our move from downtown Vancouver to the picturesque town of St Marys, Ontario. As a young Montrealer longing to live in Manhattan I would've been horrified. In my thirty-second year, when my wife and I moved west to Vancouver, I complained that the city was too small. And yet here we are, living in community that isn't an eighth the size of my alma mater.

I wouldn't have it any other way. The Montreal I love seems increasingly foreign. The city will always be my true home, but it's becoming difficult to negotiate. Visits, which aren't at all infrequent, find me frustrated in looking to dine at restaurants that no longer exist and shop in stores that have long since closed. Other old haunts have been remade, remodelled and propelled out of price range.

No complaints. Montreal is the greatest city in North America.


What was I thinking?

That said, St Marys has a growing place in my heart. It's here we've made a home for ourselves – in a large Victorian Italianate, overlooking the Canadian Thames, dwarfed by the town's Presbyterian Church.

I'm not the first Quebecer to fall for this small town. In the nineteenth century, Megantic's foremost Son of Temperance, Archibald McKillop, recognized "beautiful St. Mary's [sic]" in his "A Tribute to St Mary's [sic], Ontario".

"Such scenery nowhere is / For many leagues around", writes the poet.

Now consider this: Archibald McKillop was blind.

Such is St Marys' beauty!

The poem in its entirety follows.

                           Where beautiful St. Mary’s
                                Lies nestling ’mongst the hills,
                           The pleasing prospect rare is,
                                Its grandeur me enthrills. 
                           From flow’ry gardens nigh me
                                The balmy breezes blow;
                           The classic Thames runs by me
                                With peaceful, gentle flow. 
                           What kindly, friendly greetings
                                Have cheered me on its shore;
                           And O! such temperance meetings
                                I’ve never seen before. 
                           Good Affleck, Pierce and Manning,
                                Carswell and Watson too,
                           With famous Ross were planning
                                What temperance men should do. 
                           (For here, in Grand Division,
                                The Sons of Temperance met,
                           To work for Prohibition,
                                The law that we must get.) 
                           Thou town of peerless beauty;
                                 Ye friends so kind to me;
                           It is my pleasant duty
                                 To sing this eulogy. 
                           Such scenery nowhere is
                                 For many leagues around;
                           And in this fair St. Mary’s
                                 Let peace and wealth abound.
Collected Verse
Archibald McKillop
Winnipeg: [n.p.], [c. 1913]

Related posts:

12 April 2016

Tour de Force Reawakens!

Word comes from Canadian Notes & Queries headquarters that my column about Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton's Tour de Force trivia game is now available online. You can read it – gratis – here.

But wait, there's more! This evening at The Walton in Toronto comes the opportunity for the game's  aficionados to show their stuff.

My title as Tour de Force champion is for the taking.

A bow tie event.

Related post:

08 April 2016

The Busiest Man in England Lays Down His Pen

Hilda Wade: A Woman With Tenacity of Purpose
Grant Allen [and Arthur Conan Doyle]
New York: Putnam, 1900
383 pages

This review, revised and rewritten, now appears in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through

07 April 2016

A Poet's Angry Word With the Fenian Botherhood

Angry verse on this 148th anniversary of Thomas D'Arcy McGee's assassination found in Evan MacColl's Poems and Songs (Toronto: Hunter, Rose, 1883).


(Suggested by the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, in 1868) 
            "The Fenian Brotherhood "! the phrase sounds well,
            But what's your right to such a title, tell?
            Strangers alike to honour, truth, and shame—
            Conspirators to aim at Fenian fame!
            If truly sang the bard of Selma old,
            The Fenian race were of no cut-throat mould;
            Though sometimes they in Erin loved to roam,
            A land more north was their heroic home;
            The "Cothrom Féine," was their pride and boast;
            Of all base things they scorned a braggart most;
            Besides 'twas not a custom in their day,
            Assassin-like, one's victim to way-lay
            And shoot unseen contented if, cash down,
            The price of blood were only half-a crown!
            Fenians, indeed! all true men of that race
            Fraternity with you would deem disgrace;
            Fenians, forsooth! renounce that honour'd name;
            "Thugs" would more fitly suit your claim to fame! 
            Poor souls, I pity your demented state;
            You will be vicious if you can't be great.
            Better for Erin any fate would be,
            Than to be ruled by bedlamites like ye:
            The war of the Kilkenny cats renewed,
            She'd find, I think, a very doubtful good.
            O wondrous-valiant, treason-hatching crew,
            If words were deeds, what great things might ye do?
            Ye, who have left your country for her good—
            Ye talk of righting all her wrongs in blood!
            'Tis laughable — the more so, that we feel
            Your necks were made for hemp, and not for steel.
            At Britain's lion you may spare your howls,—
            That noble beast is never scared by owls;
            Tis well for you, with all your vapouring frantic,
            You have 'tween him and you the broad Atlantic. 
            Let no one think that he who now cries shame
            On your misdeeds, your Celtic blood would blame;
            A Celt himself, his great grief is to see
            The land that nursed you cursed by such as ye.
            So bright the record of her better days—
            So much to love she still to us displays—
            So rich her heritage of wit and song—
            So warm her heart, so eloquent her tongue,
            He honours Erin. 'Tis to fools like you
            Alone the tribute of his scorn is due. 
            Union is strength. Joy to the nations three
            As now united! May they ever be
            The first and foremost in fair freedom's van—
            An empire built upon the Shamrock plan—
            A seeming THREE and yet a perfect ONE.

Related posts:

04 April 2016

Passing Go with Canadian Notes & Queries

Ce soir à Windsor, the launch of Canadian Notes & Queries #95. "The Games Issue", it features contributions by Tobias Carroll, Vincent Colistro, Daniel Donaldson, Emily Donaldson, Stacey May Fowles, Alex Good, Spencer Gordon, Kasper Hartman, David Mason, Maurice Mierau, Grant Munroe, David Nickel, Alexandra Oliver, Mark Sampson, Robert Earl Stewart and Kaitlin Tremblay, enveloped in a wrap-around cover by Seth.

This time out my Dusty Bookcase column deals with Tour de Force, a 1984 trivia game that kinda, sorta came about through the efforts of bestselling author pals Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton.

Quelle désastre!

Hot on the heels of Trivial Pursuit, Tour de Force was meant to be the next big Canadian board game. There was a French language edition and the announcement of a UK version that would have borne David Frost's name. In the end, it went nowhere. I'm sure that the $30 price tag ($65 in 2016 dollars) had something to do with its failure. Other reasons are covered in my piece.

This evening will find me onstage with Grant Munroe, Robert Earl Stewart, editor Emily Donaldson and publisher Dan Wells, It'll be up to me to defend Tour de Force as they promote pinball, Civilization and professional wrestling. A pleasant evening might be had in reading Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President or the erotica of Pierre Berton. but it will not be nearly so enjoyable. I will be testing audience members with Tour de Force questions cards.

Consider this:

The brave and the bold are encouraged to meet the Tour de Force challenge at Biblioasis,1520 Wyandotte Street East, Windsor. The evening commences at 7:00pm, which should give attendees plenty of time to brush up on their trivia. Berton and Templeton fans hold no advantage.