24 April 2009

Drapeau, Destruction and a Blue Plaque Candidate

I do not like you Jean Drapeau,
And well I know the reason why;
Your concentration on the cash
(That peasant passion)
Shows always in the lipless grin
Under the little merciless moustache,
Revealing what ideas swim within
The circle of your skull
To make our city — in the modern fashion —
Not beautiful
But only big, and rich, and dull.
— John Glassco, Montreal, 1973
A sequel, of sorts, to yesterday's post. On my recent trip to Montreal I took several photos of things Glassco. The poet had a complicated relationship with the city of his birth. At eighteen, he saw it as a place of provincialism. Glassco famously fled for Paris, where he enjoyed and endured Montparnassian adventures and was very nearly felled by tuberculosis. Yet, this same Montreal – the Royal Victoria Hospital, to be precise – held the knowledge and ability that saved his life. After his recovery, Glassco again escaped the city, settled in the Eastern Townships, and lived for decades as a semi-recluse. It was only in his last two decades that he truly returned. Many of his final years were spent on an unpublished novel, Guilt and Mourning, set in a fantastic Montreal that has been spared the destruction of the 20th century.

Above is the westernmost entrance to the Guy-Concordia Metro, located at the northwest corner of St-Mathieu and de Maisonneuve. In 1909, it was the site of a grand house in which the poet was born. This stretch of de Maisonneuve was then known as St-Luc – hence, 'Jean de Saint-Luc', the pseudonym he claimed to have used for Contes en crinoline, his non-existent first book. St-Luc was made part of de Maisonneuve in the 1950s (following modifications to the intersection at Guy).

Simpson Street's Chelsea Place, looking towards Sherbrooke. A large gathering of Neo-Georgian homes with pleasant courtyard, it rests on the foundation and grounds of Edward Rawlings' mansion. Rawlings, the founder of the Guarantee Company of North America, was Glassco's grandfather. The poet often claimed the mansion as his birthplace – not true, though he did live there for several years as a boy. In 1925, it was sold and razed; the gardens were plowed over and its peach orchard was destroyed. All that remains is a lone chestnut tree (to the left of the passing PT Cruiser).

3663 Jeanne-Mance (right door, two uppermost floors), Glassco's final Montreal address. He shared this flat with his second wife, Marion McCormick, for nearly ten years. On 29 January 1981, the poet died in a small room on the top storey.

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