Thursday, 27 August 2015

Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918)

Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918)
(Wikimedia Commons)

William Wilfred Campbell was a member of the Canadian school of “Confederation Poets” who were born in the mid-19th century around the date of the constitution of Canada as a confederated Dominion of Britain in 1867. Northrop Frye saw their distinctive Canadian romantic style and effect on Canadian poetry as “very much like the impact of the Group of Seven painting two decades later… the later painters, these poets were lyrical in tone and romantic in attitude”. Still using the brushes of the Victorian Romantics, they moved away from heavy classical and religious metaphor to paint in verse their personal relationships with nature and modern civilization. They never considered themselves a cohesive group. Indeed, some regard their School as having been arbitrarily defined to provide a powerful post facto canon to celebrate the new Dominion into the first quarter of the 20th century, with the effect of retarding the development of Modernist Canadian poetry.
The Confederation School is considered to have two geographic branches: the Ottawa poets including Archibald Lampman (1861-1899), Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947) and William Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918), and the maritime poets, including Charles G. D. Roberts (1860-1943) and his cousin, Bliss Carmen (1861-1929). Others have been added to the School, including Frederick George Scott (1861–1944), Francis Joseph Sherman (1871–1926), Pauline Johnson (1861–1913) George Frederick Cameron (1854–1885), and Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850–1887).
William Wilfred was born in 1860 in Newmarket, Upper Canada, the son of an alcoholic clergyman whose wife was a gifted pianist and composer. After teaching in the Wiarton district for several years, he studied divinity and theology and was ordained in 1885. He secretly married Mary Louisa Debelle in 1883 so that she not lose her teaching position. They had four children. He was a pastor at West Claremont N.H., St Stephen N.B. and Southampton, Ont. but alienated his last congregation as his religious beliefs evolved away from classical dogma. In poor health, he moved to Ottawa in 1891 for a federal civil service job that fell through. In 1915, Campbell moved with his family to an old stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Ottawa, which he named "Kilmorie". The house still exists with its original stone wall at 21 Withrow Avenue, (City View) Nepean, off Merivale Road.
By 1891, Campbell was a well-recognized and highly productive poet who’s lyrical and beautiful compositions were featured in the most prestigious magazines in North America. His muse was God’s presence expressed in Nature. Sir John A. Macdonald habitually hired poets; in 1891 he hired Campbell as a temporary clerk for $1.50 a day in the Department of Railways and Canals and then in the Department of Secretary of State in 1892. His success as a poet prompted debates in the House of Commons and the Senate to give him a permanent position; both were defeated as creating unwanted patronage precedence for artists. However, he was so insistent that he was quietly given a permanent job, firstly in the Department of Militia and Defence (1893), the Privy Council Office (1897), the Archives Branch of the Department of Agriculture (1908) and the Dominion Archives in 1909.
From 1892 to 1893, he joined fellow civil servants and Confederation poets Duncan Campbell Scott and Archibald Lampman, his next-door neighbor, in writing a column of essays for the Toronto Globe newspaper called “At the Mermaid Inn”. It helped to pay his bills but collapsed as William continued to express his liberal and unorthodox religious theories, seeking to reconcile religion, science and sociology. This blend, however, appealed to the members of the Royal Society of Canada who elected him a member in 1894, and their vice-president (1899-1900), president (1900-1901) and secretary (1903-1911).
His poetry, verse dramas, pamphlets, five novels and three works of non-fiction expressed this blended philosophy and his patriotic British Imperialist politics. These principles guided his choices for Poems of Loyalty by British and Canadian authors (London, 1913) and for The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (Toronto, 1913); he somewhat egocentrically devoted more pages in the latter to his own poetry than to anyone else! Throughout the Great War, he distributed pamphlets of poems and was seconded from the archives branch, where he was working on Loyalist historical projects, to the Imperial Munitions Board, where he began a history of the Canadian munitions industry. He died of pneumonia on New Year’s morning, 1918, and was buried in Beechwood cemetery; a frank and highly gifted Canadian poet, author and provocative philosopher. William Lyon McKenzie King and Viola Markham bought his plot and memorial.
The following poem by Campbell, “Bird on a Bough”, could not be found in the usual anthologies of his work. It is one of his Nature poems with only a slight hint of God, represented by the Sun. It celebrates springtime. It was sent to W.P.Lett, signed personally and from an early address for Campbell at “24 Lisgar Street, Ottawa, Canada”.  It is an original, typed manuscript and must have been composed shortly after his arrival in Ottawa in 1891 judging by the address and the fact that the recipient, W.P.Lett, died in 1892.

*Biographical information has been abstracted from:

Context for Wilfred Campbell 
During my research of the life and poetry of William Pittman Lett, I have discovered two “lost” and important poems of William Wilfred Campbell. I have already blogged the first in my article on Sir Sanford Fleming; the second is reproduced at the end of this article. However, I thought we should know something about him! I shamelessly compiled the condensed biography from the sources listed. The poem is a copy of the original discovery.The entire article was published in the newsletter of The Ottawa Historical Society

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Flea Market

Dawn mist has barely burned off Hillsborough Bay,
Rick Milton’s prize Charolais have lowed a morning chorus
from their feedlot beside the Cumberland Road,
the coffee’s brewed…..I grab a cup to go……
it’s Sunday and the North River Flea Market opens at 9:30 sharp
              or when the admission till arrives.

The foyer is already packed with pickers pressing the door,
revisting the bones of homestead auctions,
 anticipating future fire- sales,
none dare leave the crowd to gasp a cigarette.
Toonies rattle on the counter…….the race is on,
not a stampede, but swift stealth up and down the stalls of
                 antiques hauled from mainland fairs,
                 bric-a-brac from Saturday garage sales,
                   personal treasures …..times are tough….
little escapes their practised eyes, and soon they are gone,
leaving the remains to the amateurs, the habitually curious and
               the exodus from Church.

Family vans and beaters begin to squeeze the parking lot
beside shiny mega trucks, some imported from the oil-patch “Fort”
by seasonal riggers whose fortunes fluctuate with the price of oil.
A knot of leather admires the Harley parked on the lawn beside the
piles of slightly used tires, resuscitated bicycles and
           tired lawnmowers.

The aisles are crowding now with an eager throng and bottlenecking strollers of SUV proportions;
old timers reminisce over tools  of once skilled trades,
now obsolete;
vinyl, diskette, CD and VHS are thumbed for rare editions or
memories’ sake;
local shell art,  paintings and photographs of boats, bridges and lighthouses,
tourist souvenirs;
old bottles, musty books, toys, golf clubs, knives,
 china, glass, plaques of churches long abandoned;
 breads, fruitcakes, cinnamon swirls, jams, jellies, pickles, home-baked pies,
rhubarb sticks;
                             Anne and Lucy Maud are omnipresent.

The canteen serves large mugs of tea and coffee,sandwiches and hot dogs with all the fixin’s,
as the 50/50 draw megaphones around the hall.
I spy a tome of 18th century poetry  and open bidding at a dollar,
only to be thwarted by a dealer who has done his E-bay homework….
 it’s not worth the aggravation to haggle
 down from 40 bucks.

Below his trestle, Lowell  has hidden some choice treasures for me , safe from pickers’ eyes,
head vases of costumed ladies, uranium glass glowing  in black light,
torpedo bottles from the soda rack of Victorian pharmacies…..
one stamped with Schweppes….the original tonic water laced with quinine.
No need to bargain here; a fair price, a handshake and I leave the market
clutching yet another antique I said I would not buy,
to add to an ever-growing collection for my children to have to sell,
oh, sweet revenge!

Context for Flea Market
The Sunday morning flea market as become a habit during our annual summer holidays on P.E.I.'s south shore. I have made friends with some vendors who set aside items I like to collect.....the bric-a-brac piles higher back home!


Thursday, 23 July 2015



Damn, but she was beautiful

lissome as a reed
bending with autumnal
breezes, billowing gossamer seed,
perfumed with sugar must
of fallen leaves
her blush, star dusted,
my Eve

the sand of years,
sifts down relentlessly,
while in my memory's tears
her reflection changelessly
belies the sadness of


Bryan D.Cook  Ottawa, Spring 2015

Sir Sanford Fleming

Compiled by Bryan D. Cook, April 2015
International Standard Time
  Prior to 1883, time of day in Canada and the U.S. was a local based on local solar time and maintained by local church or jeweler’s clocks. With the growth of continental railways and interconnections between the two nations, time needed to be standardized to accommodate the timetables. The Canadian civil and railway engineer, Sir Sandford Fleming, advocated the adoption in North America of a standard or mean time, with hourly variations set as time zones bounded by meridians. These were initially implemented by the large railways at noon on November 18, 1883. Fleming orchestrated the 1884 International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, at which the system of international standard time - still in use today - was adopted for general use; though was many years before such time was actually used by the public-at-large.
  Sanford Fleming (1827-1915) was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. He immigrated to Upper Canada (Peterborough) in 1845, working as a surveyor and draftsman and preparing early maps of Peterborough, Hamilton, Cobourg, and Toronto. In 1851, he designed Canada’s first postage stamp, the “Three Penny Beaver”, which publicized that distinctly Canadian emblem.
  In 1849, he helped found the Canadian Institute. An early professional society of architects, surveyors, and engineers, it evolved into a broad-based scientific society which, beginning in 1852, published the Canadian Journal under his leadership.
  In 1852, he embarked on a long and sometimes difficult career in the promotion, engineering and construction of inter-colonial and trans-continental railways. By 1868, the Government of the new Dominion of Canada appointed him engineer-in-chief of the Intercolonial (Quebec-Maritime) Railway, a position he held until 1876. A vigorous outdoorsman, he thoroughly enjoyed exploring and surveying alternative routes for the railways.
In 1869, he moved to Ottawa in where he could better lobby for railway design; replacing traditional timbered bridge construction with stone, iron and sound geotechnical practice. He bought the residence of George-Édouard Desbarats on Daly Street, which he later named “Winterholme”. This author once lived in the extension he built for his daughter, fronting on Besserer Street. Fleming also maintained a retreat in his beloved Halifax
  So fierce was his lobby, particularly for the Pacific Railway, that he was fired in 1880 as a political liability. However, four years later, he was appointed a director of the CPR. He is, deservedly, the tall, broad-bearded character in the stove top hat photographed behind Sir Donald Smith at the driving of the last spike on 7 November 1885 at Craigellachie, B.C.

“The Last Spike” (courtesy LAC)

  Side by side with steel rails went the “electric” telegraph poles, Fleming’s twin agencies of global civilization. His vision of a trans-Pacific cable from Vancouver to New Zealand and Australia was realized in 1902.
  Fleming was a charter member of the Royal Society of Canada when it was formed in 1882 and its president in 1888–89. He was an active chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) from 1872 to 1899, particularly involved in its standards committee on time. He was knighted in 1897.
  Made Chancellor of Queen’s College at Kingston in 1879, Fleming campaigned successfully to shake its denominational Presbyterian yoke and become a secular university with a strong base in science and engineering before he died, still Chancellor, in Halifax in 1915.
  He is buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery.
Sources :
Wilfred Campbell’s Poem
The immense contribution of Fleming to the growth of Canada as a Nation makes even more valuable our recent discovery of a poem in his honor by William Wilfred Campbell (1860 –1918). It had been scrapbooked as newspaper cutting by Ottawa’s City Clerk and fellow poet, William Pittman Lett. Campbell is considered an important member of the “Confederation School”, the poetical equivalent of the “Group of Seven” painters. His homage to Fleming is, to my best knowledge, a new addition to his lifetime collection of verse.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Spring 2015

raindrop crown’s
the chrysalis
slow motion beauty

still green
above the snow
with holly buttons

coin tossed
down the village well
a hollow wish

snowing emails
my thumbs
don't need mittens

her coin tossed
down the well
echoes hollow

beneath the bird feeder
tiny paw prints in
the crumbs of winter

dawn mist

pine and birch
ghost the lake
before the loon

rifle shot
lake ice

river ice
candles in the Sun
spring’s wind-chimes

Bryan D. Cook, Ottawa,  January-May 2015

Context for  Spring 2015
I continue to attempt haiku-like poetry, though I am still learning the art and will be doing so for the rest of my days! I don't worry too much about whether I succeed......I like three-liner thoughts and experiences. As a member of Ottawa's KADO haiku group, I learn much from the other more experienced members and thank them for it. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

PEI Vacation, Summer/Fall 2014

swirl of gold
summer’s sunshine

herring gulls
behind the seiner
fish and chips

 bow wave spumes
against the tide
fresh sushi


gannets spear
above the whales

rolling breakers
born in a perfect storm
seaweed and jelly fish

across the water
clear as a bell
summer laughter

fall mackerel
to the pan

gold, white and purple
cut to green
ritual lawn mowing

tell each other

an April gale
on the cape

dark sea green
boiled red
with garlic butter

Sunday, 21 July 2013

PEI Vacation Summer/Fall 2013

in  spring  grass

foam blowing
with the salted rain
summer squall

install a software pathway
to an old routine

flocking gulls
rolling thunder though salt mist
the ocean's near

high on the beach
shells piled by winter storms
bleach in the sun