28 December 2012

Mistake at Beechwood Cemetery?

As 2012 draws to a close, I find myself wondering whether this was the year in which we should have been celebrating the sesquicentennial of William Wilfred Campbell's birth. If so, where would we have held the parade?

It's a mystery to me that such uncertainty envelopes the date and place of this Confederation Poet's birth. After all, 'twas only 150 (or so) years ago; one would think that the son of an Anglican clergyman would have a good solid record of his christening.

The plaque pictured above, standing not twenty paces from Campbell's grave at Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery, tells visitors that the poet's year of birth was 1862, yet the unusual bench/memorial marking the grave itself records the year as 1858.

In her Introduction to William Wilfred Campbell: Selected Poetry and Essays (1987), editor Laurel Boone writes that the poet was born in 1860 at Athens, a township not too far from Brockville in eastern Ontario. Ms Boone revises her claim in the fourteenth volume of The Dictionary of Canadian Biography (1994), providing only a probable date – 15 June 1860  and a likely place of birth: Newmarket, some 300 or so kilometres to the west

 Tracy Ware is confident in The Canadian Encyclopedianaming Berlin – now Kitchener  as Campbell's birthplace, but shows caution concerning the date: "1 June 1858?"

In his Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, W.H. New shows no hesitation whatsoever: "b Berlin (Kitchener), ON, 1 June 1858".

The entry George Wicken penned for The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature challenges with the pronouncement that Campbell was born in 1860 "in Newmarket, Canada West (not in Berlin/Kitchener, in 1858, as has been supposed)".

from The Poems of Wilfred Campbell (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905)
All agree, at least, that Campbell was born somewhere in Ontario in 1858 or 1860, but there's not a single source out there that supports 1862, the year cast (pun intended) by Beechwood. I'd like to think that the cemetery's plaque is the result of further research, but I'm not so sure. My queries have brought this response:
From the information available in our records, the informant for the passing of Mr. William Wilfred Campbell was his son in law [sic] Mr. E. Malloch. He is probably the person who provided the information on Mr. Campbell to the funeral home (‘Rogers & Burney Fineral Home’) and to the cemetery. Our records indicate that Mr. Campbell was 56 when he passed, that is why you get the ‘abt 1862’ year of birth on the ancestry website. We do not have any other details on the date of birth. 
Confidence is further shaken by the plaque itself, which sums up Campbell's life in just two sentences:

I knew of two obscurities, Ian of the Orcades (1906) and A Beautiful Rebel (1909), when I began this investigation. I've since learned of a third, "Richard Fizzell", which was serialized in 1909 and 1910 issues of The Christian Guardian (it has never appeared in book form). Apparently, two others exist as manuscripts only. 

Can this be considered "MANY"?


Meanwhile, the real Mystery at Beechwood Cemetery remains unsolved.

Maybe next year.

20 December 2012

A Neglected Novelist's Neglected Grave

Three photographs taken yesterday in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery at the gravesite of Peregrine Acland, author of All Else is Folly, and his wife Mary Louise Danforth.

Related post:
Peregrine Acland: Fifty Years
The Great Canadian Great War Novel

17 December 2012

Grumbles About Gumble & Praise for Stark House

Looking back, I see this as a year of reading riches bookended by two great disappointments. In January it was Douglas Durkin's Mr. Gumble Sits Up, the story of an indebted, tired man whose rest in peace is interrupted when he returns to life at his funeral. December brought Tan Ming, a self-published, pseudonymous fantasy penned by electronic organ pioneer Morse Robb. It's the tale of an Eaton's window dresser who falls in love with a mannequin, uses magic to make her come alive, and then flees into a post-apocalyptic future.

Oh, but don't both sound fun?

Mr. Gumble Sits Up and Tan Ming ended up being the two hardest slogs of the year; at 471 deathly dull and dense pages of text, the latter was particularly trying. My now eleven-month-old post on Mr. Gumble Sits Up can be found through this link. Anyone interested in hearing more about Tan Ming will have to wait for a future Dusty Bookcase column in Canadian Notes & Queries.

Of the thirty-two titles reviewed here and in CNQ, I count three novels that should be reissued forthwith. All are by Margaret Millar, the pride of Kitchener, Ontario:

     Wall of Eyes
     Beast in View
     An Air that Kills

Not one is available in Canada, which isn't to say that they can't be purchased abroad. Orion reissued Beast in View under its Phoenix imprint just last year, while An Air that Kills is available in the United States courtesy of California publisher Stark House.

This year's tip of the hat and pat on the back goes to Stark House for having returned An Air that Kills to print, along with five other Canadian novels:

An Air that Kills/Do Evil in Return – Margaret Millar

I won't pretend to have read all twenty-five Margaret Millar novels, but I have An Air that Kills. The best thus far, my take can be found here:

Margaret Millar and the Air Up North

The Deadly Dames/A Dum-Dum for the President – Douglas Sanderson

Originally published in 1956 and 1961 respectively, these Montreal noir mysteries are the last novels Sanderson set in Canada. I've written about The Deadly Dames here:

A Dick's Deadly Dames

Pure Sweet Hell/Catch a Fallen Starlet – Douglas Sanderson

I can't speak to Pure Sweet Hell, but Catch a Fallen Starlet is one of my favourite Sanderson titles. My thoughts on the novel:

Drunken Writer Exposes Hollywood Hush-Up

Sadly, Stark House has no Canadian distributor. All titles are available through the Stark House website and, ahem, amazon.com (not amazon.ca).

Canadian distributors take note.

The Vancouver Sun, 7 December 1962

13 December 2012

No Whack on the Side of the Head

Murder in the Rough
Leslie Allen [pseud. Horace Brown]
New York: Five Star Mysteries, 1946

Having never stumbled upon a murder victim myself, I view sleuths who do so with some suspicion. Believe me, the law will one day catch up with Jessica Fletcher. That said, I'm willing to give private detective Napoleon B. Smith, the star of Murder in the Rough, the benefit of the doubt.

According to fawning sidekick Leslie Allen, who claims to have been present, Napoleon B. was playing a round of golf at New York's Briar Hill when he sliced his Superlastic into italicized "Hell's Half-Acre", the choked green wilderness that borders the seventh hole. A good walk spoiled is ruined completely when the search for the missing golf ball turns up the warm corpse of wealthy eccentric Mrs Josiah Cartwright. Everyone is certain that the poor woman was killed by the ball hitting her head, but Napoleon B. comes to believe otherwise. Suspicion, naturally, falls upon Mrs Cartwright's heirs: no-good stepson Jack, incredibly handsome nephew Cyrus, and Allen's objet d'amour, beautiful stepdaughter Gale.

Where The Penthouse KillingsHorace Brown's 1950 mystery, has too many characters, here their number is so very small. Ignoring late entries, we have only Jack, Gale and Cyrus, coroner Thomas Bryce and Adam Johnson, the Cartwright family lawyer. There's also Napoleon B. and Allen, of course, along with Inspector Joe Brownlee, but this reader was correct in discounting them as persons of interest.

When Jack is murdered, Gale is nearly blown to bits by her stepmother's booby-tapped coffin and Napoleon B. dodges assassination by air rifle, accusatory fingers point to handsome Cyrus, "North American skeets champion, a successful manufacturer of small arms, including some adaptations of high-powered German compressed-air rifles, and an active leader in boys' work."

But Cyrus is just too obvious, isn't he?

The break in the case occurs when Napoleon B. grabs Gale and begins to "whipsaw her lovely face." Allen looks on:
   "Cut it out!" I yelled. "Napoleon B., are you crazy?"
   He was paying no attention. The methodical blows were not easy ones.
   "The police are in the house." Blow. "They'll be here in a moment," Blow. "Are you going to talk?" Blow. "Are you?" Blow. "Are you?"
   There was blood on her cheek. It all took only several seconds. He was talking through his teeth. I knew it was no use to interfere.
   "Yes!" The word was faint: "Yes!"
The information she's kept to herself brings things to the sharpest of points. When the murderer is finally revealed, some fifty or so pages later, there is no surprise.

Having stood by during the bloody inquisition, is it any wonder that Allen does not get the girl in the end?

Trivia: While cover copy would have you believe that Napoleon B. Smith is destined to become "one of your favorite fiction sleuths," he disappeared after Murder in the Rough.


According to Myrna Foley, the author's daughter, Newman was content to let rent payments lapse until her father was able to make a sale. The rental in question, a house on Fairport Beach Road in Dunbarton (now Pickering), still stands.

Here's to Harry A. Newman, K.C.!

Object: A slim, digest-size paperback in glossy paper wraps, apparently 60,000 words in length.

The cover illustration, which I quite like, is wrong to feature blood on the golf ball.

Access: A scarce title. The Toronto Public Library has a lonely non-circulating copy somewhere in its stacks, but that's it for Canada. Only two copies are listed online – both Very Good copies, they're priced at US$60 and US$85.

10 December 2012

About Those Awful PaperJacks Covers

I don't mean to suggest that all PaperJacks covers were awful, but they did so often hurt the eyes. Consider the above, a detail from The Sixth of December, the subject of last Thursday's post.

Look away.

By far the worst cover PaperJacks ever produced was for Robert Kroetsch's The Words of My Roaring. One of their more attractive, it was ruined when the designer forgot to include Kroetsch's name.

The solution? Nasty-looking labels that look to have been cut and pasted by elementary school students. Here's another copy from Olman's Fifty.

One wonders when the folks at PaperJacks noticed? There are plenty of copies out there that have no trace of the offending label – and believe me, it would take an expert in paper conservation to remove that thing.

Competent, if uninspired, the cover for Kathleen Earle's Jenneth, Daughter of a Rebel is ruined by the pitch. Poor girl, "torn between the love of two men"... one of whom is a horse.

I've never known quite what to make of the quivering, friendly and freakish figure that graces the cover of Alan Fry's The Revenge of Annie Charlie.

Published in 1975, John Ballem's dark The Dirty Scenerio looks for all the world like a National Firearms Association annual report as designed by a poor man's Peter Max.

But for sheer awfulness, not one can hold a candle – or any similarly shaped object – to Marian Engel's phallus cover.

I call it One-Way Meat.

Related link:

06 December 2012

The Sixth of December

The Sixth of December
Jim Lotz
Markham, Ont.: Paperjacks. 1981

For your consideration, a Richard Rohmer-approved thriller that imagines Leon Trotsky responsible for the Halifax Explosion.

That's meant to be Trotsky on the front cover. Don't recognize him? How about here, in this detail from the back?

Don't believe me? Well, just read the cover copy. Blow it up if you wish.

No pun intended.

03 December 2012

Faith, Philanthropies and Verse for Air Raid Victims

Montreal in Verse:
     An Anthology of English Poetry by Montreal Poets
[Leo Cox, ed]
[Montreal]: Writers of the Poetry Group of the Canadian Authors Association, Montreal Branch, [1942]

A fundraiser in aid of the Queen's Canadian Fund for Air-raid Victims in Britain, this little chapbook of was published sixty years ago this month. Just in time for Christmas.

The Second World War looms large in these pages, but is dwarfed by Mount Royal.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
Thirty-two poets contribute thirty-two poems, and the hill that gives Montreal its name features in nearly half. I think the explanation may be found in the contributors' addresses. You won't find A.J.M. Smith, A.M. Klein or Leo Kennedy in these 48 pages, with few exceptions this is the verse of the city's privileged. And of this group, no one enjoyed greater status and comfort than Amy Redpath Roddick, whose family names kick off poetess Mildred Low's contribution, "Children of the McGill Campus":
Roddick and Redpath and old McGill,
Who, being dead, are living still,
How does it meet your kind intent
The way your benefice is spent?
Lady Roddick herself can't avoid same:

Six decades on, it's impossible to read this verse without thinking of F.R. Scott's "The Canadian Authors Meet" and the poets "measured for their faith and philanthropics". The good folks at Poetry Quebec have made a similar observation. That said, I'm not about to throw Montreal in Verse on the scrap heap. If anything, it reminds me of how much there is to explore of our literary past. Contributors Stella M. Bainbridge, Lily E.F. Barry, Warwick Chipman, Leo Cox, Lorraine Noel Finley, John Murray Gibbon, Christine L. Henderson, A. Beatrice Hickson, W.J King, Alice M.S. Lighthall, William D. Lighthall, Mildred Low, Margaret Furness MacLeod, Martha Martin, Dorothy Sproule, Jean Percival Waddell, Robert Stanley Weir and Margaret Ross Woods all had titles to their names, but I've yet to pick up even one of them.

Researching these names I discover that John Murray Gibbon once wrote a universally praised, yet entirely forgotten novel entitled Pagan Love (1922). Then there's R. Henry Mainer, whose Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road (1908) centres on a hard-as-nails widowed Upper Canadian tavern owner.

The most intriguing is A. Beatrice Hickson, whom Canada's Early Women Writers tells us not only founded and ran a school for "misdirected and wayward" girls, but "painted figurines which were unique in design and costume and whose popularity outran her ability to produce them."

In language and theme, Miss Hickson – she never married – stands apart from her polite and proper fellow poets:

Before reading this slim volume of verse I'd never heard of Leo Cox, who wrote these charitable lines in his Editor's Note:
As in all anthologies, quality and style vary considerably, but all the pieces possess in common a strong love of Montreal, of her history and infinite charm. These verses are a loving tribute from sensitive citizens.
Apparently Macmillan published a collection of Cox's verse in 1941. Must track it down. I'll pass on his  Story of the Mount Stephen Club.

Object: A nicely produced, staple-bound chapbook in red paper wraps, this copy comes to me from my father. The pencilled correction to Amy Redpath Roddick's poem is in an unknown hand. Dare I hope that it is the work of Lady Roddick herself?

The 1 May 1943 edition of the Gazette reports that nearly one thousand copies of Montreal in Verse had been sold, contributing $200 to the Queen's Canadian Fund. The selling price was 25¢.

Access: Not found in even one of our public libraries – those wishing to borrow a copy should look to our universities. Two copies are currently listed for sale online, the most expensive of which ($45) is dedicated and signed by contributor Jean Percival Waddell.

01 December 2012

The American Version: No Colours, Fewer Colors

The Colours of War
Matt Cohen
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977
The Colors of War
Matt Cohen
New York: Methuen, 1977

Related post:

28 November 2012

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow and the Bigots of Yesteryear

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow:

     Trudeau's Master Plan and How It Can Be Stopped
J.V. Andrew
Richmond Hill, ON: BMG, 1977
137 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 posts:

25 November 2012

This Year? Bust

Grey Cup or Bust
Tony Allan
Winnipeg: Stovel-Advocate, 1954

23 November 2012

A 19th-century Céline Dion and Her Horrible Hunchback Husband

'The Lane That Had No Turning'
The Lane That Had No Turning
     and Other Tales Concerning the People of Pontiac
Gilbert Parker
New York: A.L. Burt, 1900

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:

20 November 2012

Harlequin Blondes: Terror Struck Them Dumb

Blondes Don't Cry
Merlda Mace
The Pale Blonde of Sands Street
William Chapman White
Come Blonde, Came Murder
Peter George
A Body for a Blonde
Ken McLeod
Related post:

19 November 2012

The Kidnapping of the President Comes to Canada

Charles Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President was enjoying its sixth month on bestseller lists when the screen rights were sold. This was in April 1975, when $3-million, the announced budget, very nearly counted for something on the big screen. True, 'twas on the low end, but newspapers held the figure high in claiming that this would be the most expensive Canadian film ever made.

Shooting didn't begin until the autumn of 1979, by which time the budget had risen by fifty percent. But even $4.5 million didn't buy much. The film features no rally in New York's Herald Square, there are no shots of a Brink's trunk racing up Broadway, nor is there a stand-off witnessed by tens of thousands in Times Square. Instead the kidnapping takes place in Toronto, with a "Bank's" truck moving at a jogger's pace from one end of Nathan Phillips Square to the other.

You can see all forty-seconds of the chase in this YouTube snippet:


I fall in line with most critics in finding Miguel Fernandes' performance strong and Hal Holbrook's steady. Canadian science fiction novelist William Shatner, fresh off the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, seems unusually restrained. Van Johnson and poor Ava Gardner contribute kitch as the Vice-President and his wife, but what really attracted my attention was Aubert Pallascio as "the Prime Minister"...

... a character clearly modelled on this man:

The fun continues with unknown Virginia Podesser as "the Prime Minister's wife". An old Canadian Press story reports on her trials:
Strangers in the street demand her autograph. Photographers hound her in clubs and restaurants. Stewardesses stare at her on flights.
     And occasionally, some particularly aggressive fan refuses to believe her assertion that she is not Margaret Trudeau.
     She's not.
     Virginia Podessar [sic], a Toronto model, just looks remarkably like her.
And she did. The accompanying photograph – which captures the uncanny resemblance – comes complete with a Ripley's Believe It or Not-style caption:

The Regina Leader-Post, 15 September 1979
The Kidnapping of the President turned out to be Ms Podesser's only film.

Director George Mendeluk's next two movies were Doin' Time and Meatballs III.

Related post: