Literary Location: Al Purdy Electrical Box, 7th Avenue & Beacon Street, 'Sidney Booktown', Sidney.

Like Pauline Johnson who also came to die on the West Coast, Purdy was welcomed as a writer in British Columbia, but his career was more deeply connected to Ontario, where his A-frame house has been preserved as a heritage site near Ameliasburg through the efforts of Jean Baird and The Al Purdy A-frame Association. The almost-famous house remains on the property Purdy purchased in 1957 on the south shore of Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County.

Al Purdy was one of Canada's premier poets, an enigmatic man who combined his highly developed sensitivity to natural word rhythms with an engaging frankness to produce poems of lasting beauty, sardonic humour and reflective depth.

Purdy's public persona was that of a non-university-educated cynic with rolled-up sleeves, homemade grape wine and a difficult-to-live-with wife. The Hallelujah-I'm-a-Bum buoyancy of his poetry readings contributed to his irascible raconteur appeal.

Underneath the demeanor of an obstinate, self-confessed born loser lurked, according to Purdy, was an obstinate, self-confessed born loser. His apparently colloquial style influenced many other poets, particularly Peter Trower.

Even though Purdy liked to roll up his sleeves and snarl, he was a great deal more bookish and contrived than he appeared. He corresponded extensively with writers and critics, such as George Woodcock and Earle Birney. Purdy was intensively concerned with poetry politicking on an informal level to an extent that some antiquarian booksellers have jokingly suggested an unsigned copy of an Al Purdy book should be worth more than a signed copy.

Al Purdy was born December 30, 1918, in Wooler, Ontario, two-and-a-half months after the munitions dump exploded in Trenton, Ontario. This event known as the great Trenton disaster was later incorporated into his coming-of-age novel set in 1918. He lived in Trenton from age two until he joined the Canadian Air Force.

Purdy lived throughout Canada as he developed his reputation as a gruff but sophisticated brewer of homemade beer. His collections included two winners of the Governor General's Award, Cariboo Horses (1965) and Collected Poems (1986), and other classics such as Poems for All the Annettes, In Search of Owen Roblin and Piling Blood.

Later in life he travelled widely with his wife Eurithe and settled in Ameliasburg, Ontario and Sidney, B.C. His wife was integral partner who managed his finances shrewdly.

In addition to his 33 books of poetry, Purdy published one novel, A Splinter in the Heart, an autobiography and nine collections of essays and correspondence. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1983 and the Order of Ontario in 1987.

As an autodidact, he had a special friendship and corresondence with George Woodcock, who bequeathed money in his will for Purdy to hold a wake. It was never held. Purdy also had an enduring correspondence with Margaret Laurence and many other Canadian writers, some of whom he courted in order to advance his career, and some of whom courted him.

George Galt edited a collection of Purdy's correspondence.

Al Purdy died at Sidney, B.C. April 21, 2000. More than 300 people turned up at Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria for a group reading to honour the late Al Purdy in conjunction with the release of his collected poems, edited by Sam Solecki, called Beyond Remembering (Harbour). Among the readers were P..K. Page, Phyllis Webb, Lorna Crozier, Pat Lane, Gary Geddes, Jay Ruzesky, Carla Funk, Sheila Munro and Patricia Young.

Al Purdy's ashes are buried in Ameliasburg at the end of Purdy Lane.

Fifteen years after Purday's death, director Brian D. Johnson premiered his 90-minute documentary, Sidney: Al Purdy Was Here, at the Victoria Film Festival.

In 2016, to coincide with his own assisted suicide in Switzerland January 29, 2016, John Hofsess published a long article in Toronto Life in which he outlined how he had helped to kill Al Purdy at Purdy's request. This revelation that Al Purdy had engaged the services of right-to-die activists to end his life in the late stages of his terminal illness made Purdy newsworthy once again.

"Al was a free thinker who lived his life the way he wanted and wanted to end it on his own terms too,"; commented Howard White, Purdy's final publisher. "But he only beat the grim reaper by a few days. His death certificate listed his death as natural because it had been expected at any time.";

The news was reminiscent of similar revelations about Purdy's fellow literary icon and close friend, the novelist Margaret Laurence, who was long thought to have died of lung cancer in 1987, but was later revealed to have ended her own life in the late stages of the disease.

Purdy was a strong supporter of the right-to-die movement but chose to keep the circumstances of his passing confidential to avoid subjecting his grieving family to unwanted publicity.

In his version of Purdy's assisted suicide, Hofsess cast himself in a heroic role trying to relieve a great writer of his suffering and portrayed the poet's wife Eurithe as an obstructing figure. In fact, Eurithe Purdy was herself a member of the Right to Die Society and a supporter of Purdy's assisted death.

The Purdy's were were married for 39 years. Eurithe Purdy, at 91, while still living at the Purdy home on Lochside Drive, south of Victoria, confirmed the facts of her husband's passing bt she stated she would make no further comment.

The in-depth article by the late John Hofsess was made accessible via:
http://torontolife.com/city/life/john-hofsess-assisted-suicide/

The colourful electrical box featuring Al Purdy is part of the overall Sidney Booktown initiative to emphasize that Sidney has more bookstores per capita than perhaps any other community in Canada. In 2016, the town boasted Tanner's Books, The Haunted Bookshop, Galleon Books & Antiques, Beacon Books, The Military and History Bookshop and The Children's Bookshop.

BOOKS:

Poetry:

The Enchanted Echo (1944)
Pressed on Sand (1955)
Emu, Remember! (1956)
The Crafte So Long to Lerne (1959)
The Blur in Between: Poems 1960-61 (1962)
Poems for All the Annettes (1962)
The Cariboo Horses (1965)
North of Summer: Poems from Baffin Island (1967)
Wild Grape Wine (1968)
Love in a Burning Building (1970)
The Quest for Ouzo (1971)
Hiroshima Poems (1972)
Selected Poems (1972)
On the Bearpaw Sea (1973)
Sex and Death (1973)
In Search of Owen Roblin (1974)
The Poems of Al Purdy: A New Canadian Library Selection (1976)
Sundance at Dusk (1976)
A Handful of Earth (1977)
At Marsport Drugstore (1977)
Moths in the Iron Curtain (1977)
No Second Spring (1977)
Being Alive: Poems 1958-78 (1978)
The Stone Bird (1981)
Birdwatching at the Equator: The Galapagos Islands (1982)
Bursting into Song: An Al Purdy Omnibus (1982)
Piling Blood (1984)
The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (1986)
The Woman on the Shore (1990)
Naked With Summer in Your Mouth (1994)
Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems (1996)
To Paris Never Again (1997)
Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (2000)
Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996 (Harbour Publishing 1996).

Other:

No Other Country (prose, 1977)
The Bukowski/Purdy Letters 1964 - 1974: A Decade of Dialogue (with Charles Bukowski, 1983)
Morning and It's Summer: A Memoir (1983)
The George Woodcock/Al Purdy Letters (edited by George Galt, 1987)
A Splinter in the Heart (novel, 1990, 2000)
Cougar Hunter (essay on Roderick Haig-Brown, 1993)
Margaret Laurence - Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters (1993)
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea: An Autobiography (1993)
Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy (1995)
No One Else is Lawrence! (with Doug Beardsley, 1998)
The Man Who Outlived Himself (with Doug Beardsley, 1999)
Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy (Harbour, 2004). Edited by Sam Solecki.

Editor:

The New Romans: Candid Canadian Opinions of the US (1968)
Fifteen Winds: A Selection of Modern Canadian Poems (1969)
Milton Acorn, I've Tasted My Blood: Poems 1956-1968 (1969)
Storm Warning: The New Canadian Poets (1971)
Storm Warning 2: The New Canadian Poets (1976)
Andrew Suknaski, Wood Mountain Poems (1976)

ALSO:

Budde, Robert, editor. The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006). $14.95 0-88920-490-X.

[BCBW 2016]