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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Beechwood, 150 years of Ottawa

Sunday, August 28: I had to make a few decisions. The Rolling Stones Concert, the Nepean Museum or in-line skating. In the end, I did all three – sort of. Okay, it was not one of those life or death decisions. It was the last day of The Ottawa Literary Society exhibit which featured works of local poets as the museum celebrated the 110th Anniversary of the ‘war of the poets’. August 28 was the exhibit’s last day and a good opportunity to brush up on my poetic history (which I had been putting off since the exhibit with the catchy title opened in June.)

Also, my wife wanted to go in-line skating by the canal on this beautiful Sunday, and it would be good for me to get some much needed exercise for the upcoming book festival season. We parked at the corner of Colonel By and Bronson and set out. I preferred to walk as I had my camera with me and I did not want to take an unwanted spill. Besides, it gave me time to take photos along the way and write down notes for this column. A cloudy morning of the 28th which promised rain made way for a warm, sunny afternoon on the Rideau Canal. Athletic-looking people sped by me in their summer sports attire. I believe I was the only one walking. Even the Ottawa Queen of Paul’s Boat Lines passed me as it floated toward’s the mouth of the canal full of waving tourists. A half-hour later, I finally caught up with my wife who had preferred a much faster pace on wheels. Sympathetic to my solitary walk, she handed me her portable radio. I listened to the Rolling Stones who were playing on every radio station it seemed.

Fatigued from the walk, I eventually made it to the exhibit at the Nepean Museum later on that afternoon and quite enjoyed my time there. It was there I found out about the forthcoming event to be held at Beechwood Cemetery on November 17th. Plans are underway to build a memorial path dedicated to the many famous Ottawa writers and poets who are buried there. With this in mind, I had to pay a visit to the cemetery. It was a cheaper alternative to Stones’ tickets which I opted to watch for free along Bank Street that evening.

“Here the dead sleep – the quiet dead. No sound disturbs them ever, and no storm dismays.” Archibald Lampman composed these lines in August, 1894. As you arrive through the Beechwood Avenue entrance, it’s hard to miss the enormous split granite stone that displays a plaque with Lampman’s poem, “In Beechwood Cemetery”. You can find the poet buried in Section 25 – Lot 17. He was just 37 – my age – when he died in 1899.

Beechwood Cemetery (Est. 1873) is a National Historic Site and one of only four honoured cemeteries in Canada to hold such a significant designation. I visited the grounds a couple of weeks ago and Roger Boult, the cemetery’s Assistant General Manager, took me through a tour and pointed out the markers of some of the poets buried there. The historian in me liked the fact that the cemetery had a book of “Historical Profiles” which I could consult for reference.

There are three main groups involved in honouring Ottawa’s poetic history. The Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital, the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation and the Ottawa Literary Heritage Society. Hopefully, there will be more involvement and funding on a larger scale. The fundraising event this Thursday will certainly help, and Steven Artelle of the Poet's Hill Committee wishes to draw more attention provincially and federally. There is a feeling that it’s not just a local historical site, but it’s really Canada’s literary heritage. There are talks ongoing with the Ottawa Public Library who are planning to publish a series of literary historical maps to link up the sites along the poet’s path in the cemetery. Mr. Artelle says, “There’s a good sense of the poet's path site now if one visited the cemetery. People already jog, walk their dog through the grounds as it is a very beautiful space. The idea is to promote the cemetery and path as a place of literary heritage and culture for not just Ottawa and Ontario but for all Canadians and our visitors.”

The Poet's Hill Committee are currently asking "who Are Canada's Greatest Poets?” Feedback generated will determine the inaugural list of names to be inscribed at Beechwood Cemetery Poet's Hill. Eleven names will be included in the inaugural list - one poet to represent each province, and one to represent the North. For more information contact ottawaliterary@yahoo.ca.

"Dead Poets Live" – a fundraiser in support of the Poet's Hill project is Thursday, 17 November, 2005 from 7:00-10:00pm, at the Beechwood Cemetery Reception Centre, 280 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa. Tickets are $20. To purchase tickets, contact the Beechwood Cemetery Foundation 613-741-9530 or email info@beechwoodcemetery.com.

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