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Al Purdy Commemorated
Posted: May 27, 2008
One of Canada’s most beloved poets was honoured today with the unveiling of a statue in his likeness at an historic ceremony at Queen’s Park. This is only the second full-length statue of a poet in Toronto (the other being of Robbie Burns), and one of very few in Canada. The event was presided over by Toronto’s Poet Laureate Pier Giorgio Di Cicco with Purdy’s widow, Eurithe Purdy, unveiling the monument to her late husband.
Mayor David Miller spoke to the crowd about the man who was often described as Canada’s national poet. “Al Purdy is one of Canada’s greatest poets,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller. “This statue, donated to the people of Toronto by the friends of the Poet Laureate and placed in a prominent location in Queen’s Park, is a fitting tribute to a person who enriched the lives of so many Canadians.”
In 2001, Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a member of the Friends of the Poet Laureate, suggested the statue to Dennis Lee, Toronto’s first Poet Laureate. Together with Lee, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and professor Sam Solecki, Griffin commissioned husband and wife sculptors Edwin and Veronica Dam de Nogales to create the memorial artwork after a review of a number of contemporary sculptors.
Lee said of the poet, who died in 2000: “Al Purdy is one of the titans; if we have a national poet in English Canada, he’s it. The Purdy statue is a tremendous way to celebrate his place in our lives.”
Voice of the Land, the name given to the Purdy statue by the Dam de Nogales, is situated prominently in Queen’s Park north.
Griffin – who underwrote the project – along with Lee, Atwood, Ondaatje, and Solecki, partnered with the City of Toronto’s Culture Division to honour Al Purdy with the sculpture. Atwood summarized the importance of the project: “It’s wonderful that the Friends of the Poet Laureate has arranged for this arresting public statue of Al Purdy, one of Canada’s foremost poets. Cities such as Edinburgh, Scotland, are known for their honouring of their own cultural tradition, and it’s encouraging to see Toronto, as well as the province of Ontario beginning to do the same.”
Solecki, Purdy’s editor and close friend, added: “When a great Scottish poet died, one of his friends insisted that ‘Because of his death, this country should observe two minutes of pandemonium.’ Since pandemonium is un-Canadian and not protected by the Charter of Rights, we’re commemorating Al Purdy’s remarkable life with a statue in Queen’s Park.”
Reported by the City of Toronto-