Monday, April 26, 2010

Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle: Thoreau's A Yankee in Canada

When I worked at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, Maynard Gertler had his office for Harvest House (1960-1995) on the upper floor. I remember his interesting trestle tables and a large bookshelf between holding copies of his printed books. The tables had the feel of being hand-made, by him. I sort of envisaged him hewing the wood on his farm across the border in Ontario. An interesting robust man with a wealth of life experience. My casual conversations with him always left me wanting to know more. The questions I now have about the artists who did cover work for him would have been more timely when I had only to knock on his door, or stop him in the hallway, but I was too busy then with jobs and university for extra bibliographical pursuits of that nature. Timing in life can sometimes be everything. When Maynard closed his office in the mid-nineties, he sold his business to the University of Ottawa Press and his archives were sold to Queen's University in 2008. A general overview of his publishing house can be found at The Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing.

The volume pictured above, A Yankee in Canada by Henry David Thoreau, sports cover art by Allan Harrison. It is an early Harvest House issue from 1961 with an introduction by Maynard Gertler who edited the volume. The edition I have is in wrappers, fairly heavy paper stock, the cover title printed in alternating blue and orange which gives it a period feel. It is listed on the title page and on the back cover as "An Emulation Book". The source edition is cited as coming from the Montreal Public Library's Gagnon Collection and thanks are given to the curator Mr. Jules Bazin.

Allan Harrison was directly inspired by the text in his choice of image for the cover. Thoreau writes of his predilection for travelling light, no valises and carpet-bags for him:

The perfection of travelling is to travel without baggage. After considerable reflection and experience, I have concluded that the best bag for the foot-traveller is made with a handkerchief, or, if he studied appearances, a piece of stiff brown paper, well tied up, with a fresh piece within to put outside when the first is torn. That is good for both town and country, and none will know but you are carrying home the silk for a new gown for your wife, when it may be a dirty shirt. A bundle which you can carry literally under your arm, and which will shrink and swell with its contents. I never found the carpet-bag of equal capacity, which was not a bundle of itself. We styled ourselves the Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle; for wherever we went, whether to Notre Dame or Mount Royal, or the Champs-de-Mars, to the Town Major's or the Bishop's Palace, to the Citadel, with a bare-legged Highlander for our escort, or to the Plains of Abraham, to dinner or to bed, the umbrella and the bundle went with us; for we wished to be ready to digress at any moment. We made it our home nowhere in particular, but everywhere where our umbrella and bundle were. (pp. 47-48)

Seems very modern. Paul Theroux and Henry Thoreau would probably see eye to eye on this travelling light business. Although, upon reflection, Paul Theroux certainly has more in common with the far-flung over-seas adventures of Thoreau's contemporaries, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving than with the almost centripetal adventures of Thoreau who never ventured too far from home.

This brief foray into Canada East in 1850 at the age of 33 with his friend, the poet Ellery Channing, is still interesting to read. His knowledge of nature is evident in his observations of the countryside along the St. Lawrence river from Montreal to Québec. His contrary views on religion, government and the military can be seen in his reflections that in Canada East there was a great emphasis on military and religious display. Troops were parading on the Champs de Mars in Montreal and on the Plains of Abraham in Québec to what he felt to be an overt display of Government power. (If Thoreau had visited Montreal in the early 1860s during the American Civil War he would have witnessed a great deal more with the influx of Grenadier Guards and Scots Fusilier Guards.) Thoreau writes perhaps presciently:

In the streets of Montreal and Quebec you met not only with soldiers in red, and shuffling priests in unmistakable black and white, with Sisters of Charity gone into mourning for their deceased relative,--not to mention the nuns of various orders depending on the fashion of a tear, of whom you heard,--but youths belonging to some seminary or other, wearing coats edged with white, who looked as if their expanding hearts were already repressed with a piece of tape. In short, the inhabitants of Canada appeared to be suffering between two fires,--the soldiery and the priesthood. (pp. 106-107)

When, upon returning to Montreal, he ascended Mount Royal to take the view of the surrounding landscape and remarked the 46 year old tomb of Simon McTavish . From Thoreau's description, it seems the mausoleum was still visible although it had been vandalised as early as 1816. The classical column which was erected behind the mausoleum by his nephews, the MacGillvray brothers, is not specifically mentioned by Thoreau but it was still standing till 1940. I read recently that Montreal planned to renovate the area, where for the last fifty years or more, the burial site has been lost to sight and generally forgotten. Hopefully there is now a history plaque placed at the area north of Peel Street and Pine Avenue, where the monument resided. (It is unfortunate that his tomb is not part of the Mount Royal Cemetery where so many of Montreal's historic figures reside, but this wonderful cemetery was only developed in the late 1840s and the first burial in 1852.) It is perhaps a cautionary tale. One of the wealthiest men in Canada at the time and his monument forgotten, while an obscure nature writer with his umbrella and his bundle, has world renown.

addendum: I found this biking blog which has pictures of some of the redevelopment of the Peel Entrance to Mount Royal which looks very nice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Allan Harrison and the Classic Bookshop Bookmark

Having recently written about the origins of the Classic Bookshops in Montreal, I mentioned that a series of their bookmarks had the name of Allan Harrison printed along the left edge near the top in small print. I assumed it was the artist responsible for the design and left it at that. Recently, however, I was looking at Miriam Waddington's third book of poetry, The Season's Lovers (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958), and slipping off the dustwrapper I found the design replicated on the binding. It was only then that I noticed the name of Allan Harrison printed in the same manner as the Classic Bookmarks, along the left edge near the top. Somehow I didn't notice it on the dustwrapper. This led me to a casual search for information concerning Allan Harrison and concluded he was the Montreal artist whose interview in 1973 can be found here. (Interestingly enough, in the interview he mentions Classic Bookshop as a store where one could find a certain art book of a certain artist.) It seems my impression that the artist/designer of the Classic Bookshop bookmark--photos below--was a youthful 1960s hippie has to be re-evaluated. Allan Harrison (1911-1988) was a lesser known Montreal artist and designer who also did work for publishing houses such as Ryerson and Maynard Gertler's Harvest House among others.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Montreal Bookshop Bookmarks: T. Westcott Books

T. Westcott Books: Having lived near this bookshop during the 1990s, I would drop by almost daily for a browse. Often I would warm up on the way back from evening university courses and have a chat with Terry's stalwart evening stand-in, the ever affable Andrew. Terry had two cats, Eliot and Emma who brought additional character to the store, Eliot often spread out on a top shelf in dream state, and Emma forever hiding. The shop was always well-stocked, and one sensed that there were always more books than shelf space. I bought a fair number of books there. Terry's prices were good and the stock was constantly changing. No doubt still is.

He opened a second location for awhile at 1917 St. Catherine Street West, a shop right beside the well-known Montreal institution, Argo Bookshop where he had worked for many years. It was a small space, neater for it, and had some very nice books. He also had another cat I remember, a rare breed he saved from an Upper Westmount home where he was buying books. I believe he called it Jaguar for its unusual colouring.

Terry Westcott has had the great privilege of working for two well-respected bookmen in Montreal, Reg Russell of Russell Books, and Mr. George of Argo. He has never issued much in the way of bookmarks, but he certainly has the books. T. Westcott Books is another great stalwart bookseller in Montreal who has managed to stay the course.

A write up can be found here.
Addendum: My wife reminded me that during the ice storm of 1998 in which we were personally in shivering darkness for 3 days--days I have tried to forget--Terry's nearby bookshop and a wonderful noodle resto next to him were fortunate to have electric power. A pocket of light on an otherwise cold and dark street. Big bowls of hot and sour soup went down very well with a long browse in a warm bookshop.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Montreal Bookshop Bookmarks: S. W. Welch Bookseller

Unlike The Word Bookstore who have had the very good fortune of never having to move their location, S. W. Welch Bookseller have experienced a few moves over the years. Their first shop at 5285 Decarie Boulevard at the corner of Isabella, looked out to the Head Office of Zellers across the Decarie Expressway. It was a shop that was a series of small rooms having originally been an apartment. On entering the shop, it had the feel of Sam Spade's office in a way. The book selection was very good and the bookseller a larger than life character. The bookmark to the left is one from that period and I have always liked the design. A certain hard-boiled noir feel to the image.

They then moved to 5673 Sherbrooke Street West in N. D. G., a large, deep retail location with a good display window. They issued a couple of bookmark designs during the years spent there, the television sets being one of them. I sort of like it too. It has a postmodern ironic retro look.

A third move brought them to 3878 St. Laurent Boulevard and it must have been a hell of a move for they had a lot of books. The bookmark design for this third location shown here looks like the work of the graphic novelist/cartoonist Marc Bell and reflects the newer layer of trendy hip graffiti culture which moved into the area.

They made a fourth move in 2007 to 225 St.-Viateur West, just a stroll away from St.-Viateur Bagel. Nice. Having not been in Montreal since 2002, I will have to drop by for a browse and a bagel and see if they have a new bookmark. Stephen Welch is one of the stalwart booksellers of Montreal and he may very well share the record of bookshop moves with the wonderful Joe Block of Bibliomania Bookshoppe, and the great Reg Russell of Russell Books each having moved shop four times as far as I know. Pretty good company.
addendum: thanks to the comment of SWW the artist of this bookmark is Billy Mavreas

Montreal Bookshop Bookmarks: The Word Bookstore

Three survivors of the post-analog world in the Montreal secondhand bookselling trade share the letter W: The Word Bookstore, S. W. Welch Bookseller, and T. Wescott Books. One could almost surmise that the letter is lucky. If only it were that simple. They just happen to be three booksellers in for the long-haul, who, with a lot of hard work, determination, persistence and knowledge, have managed to stay the course. They each have unique stories of development, and one hopes they will write about them one day.

The Word has resided in the same little shop now for over 35 years and, but for a few upgrades, the shop has changed very little. It remains my favourite bookshop for browsing even though I have not been back to Montreal since 2002. I am long overdue for a browse. Their bookmark design remained consistent--like their quality and selection of books--through the years, the variation being the pleasant variety of coloured cardstock.
Being close to McGill University and having good relationships with local small press publishers are some of the reasons for its longevity, and they often held--and probably still do--book launches and poetry readings in the shop. The announcements to the left are from the early 1980s. They did come out with a new larger bookmark around their 25th anniversary in March 2000 as seen below.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Free of the Chumley Nook: John Galt's poem on Spring

I am invariably impressed by the prolific John Galt for he was not just a writer of many novels, plays, biographies, travel, and occasional verse, but he was a business man to boot. It brings to mind the prolific career of Alexander McCall Smith, an accomplished academic in medical law and ethics with many academic texts and papers to his name, and the author of a great many truly wonderful works of fiction. I am humbled by his output, which quite outstrips Galt's in quantity and quality. And I don't think Galt ever picked up a sousaphone or a countrabassoon either. Anyway, I couldn't resist posting this poem by John Galt because he uses the word, chumley in such a cheery context. I am not sure if Spring has arrived in Scotland as yet this year, having heard of heavy snow only recently, but it is certainly spring in Southern Ontario. I even hear that Thunder Bay has finally experienced this rare season.

This poem would do well to be read aloud. There are many good Scottish actors whose voices would be fine for this poem, David Tennant, Robert Carlyle, or Ewan McGregor perhaps, but I think the older actor, Bill Paterson would be ideal. I try to hear his voice as I read this poem to Spring. Come to think of it, he would be the perfect actor to portray John Galt himself.

suggested by the fourth ode of the first book of Horace

Wha's yon braw lass, wi' gowan snood,
That's walking o''er the broomy knowe;
She dings the cranreuch fae the wood,
And plaits a garland round the bough?
Her e'en, twa dew-drops, sparkling clear,
Shed love and daffin' as they glance;
The birds wi' canty liltings cheer,
And a' the flow'rs rise frae their trance?
It's bride-maid Spring, whose leilsome art
Gars lightly loup the youthful heart.


Thrang frae the misty highland isles,
Whar ghaists in flocks glowr as they flee,
And Brownie for the Lathron toils,
Wi' barkened sails the kowters see--
By heaps o' timber caps, and plates,
The wark that wile't the winter's drear,
Right snod the kintra carlin waits,
And wearies wha the price will speer.
For a' the lads are on the rig,
And she maun thole the snash and prig.


The clachan lucky spreads fu' proud
Her webs and spyniels on the green;
And signs and window cheeks renew'd,
Like the young leaves shine fresh and clean.
But lo! best proof that winter's done,
Auld grannie frae the chumley nook
Late toddling in the afternoon
To kirk, wi' napkin round her book.
In love, or life, or growth, or sense,
All feel the genial influence.


Come then, dear Jamie, while we may
The vernal hours of youth enjoy:
The hope that blooms so fair and gay,
A worm may gnaw, a blast destroy.
But o'er the past, as Horace sings,
Not e'en almignty Jove has power,
And mem'ry still delighted brings
The vision of the happy hour;
That man in joyless age may bear
The wumbling pain, and snuling care.

-Poems by John Galt (London: Cochrane & M'Crone, 1833) p. 41-42.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rescued For The Few: Francis Sherman on Parting

I am not at all knowledgeable concerning chapbooks issued by, or for, Canadian poets, but coming across the works of Francis Sherman (1871-1926), I have to wonder if his Two Songs at Parting issued in Fredericton, New Brunswick in the winter of 1899, and consisting of two poems, one by Sherman and the other by his good friend John Bodkin--poems facing each other, recto/verso with the sewing between--might possibly be considered the smallest or briefest of chapbooks ever issued by a recognized, though lesser-known Canadian poet.

Having recently posted a poem by L. A. MacKay who was rather critical of certain established older poets such as Bliss Carman, I thought it might be an interesting balance to post this poem by Francis Sherman that also touches on the month of April, and whose friends included Bliss Carman and Charles G. D. Roberts. In fact it was Carman's Boston publisher, Copeland and Day, who issued Francis Sherman's first volume of poetry in 1896 entitled Matins. It consisted of 30 poems on 58 pages, and was bound in boards. The edition consisted of 500 copies, plus 35 additional copies on English hand-made paper and printed on the Rockwell and Churchill Press, Boston, in November of 1896.

This was followed up by the poet's second book, a chapbook in wrappers of 11 pages entitled In Memorabilia Mortis, and was printed by John Wilson and Son of the University Press of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in December of 1896, and consisted of 6 sonnets with decorative initial capitals and a decorative first page à la William Morris, the poet's great influence.

Another chapbook, A Prelude was privately printed for him and Herbert Copeland and F. H. Day and their friends at Christmas 1897 and consisted of 10 pages.

His fourth, another chapbook in wrappers, was The Deserted City: Stray Sonnets written by F. S. and rescued for the few who love them by H. D., privately printed by F. H. Day in 1899, and consisted of 19 poems on 12 pages.

His fifth I already mentioned as possibly being the briefest chapbook, Two Songs at Parting, and his sixth and final issue to the best of my knowledge was A Canadian Calendar: XII Lyrics privately printed for him at Christmas in Havana, Cuba in 1899. and dedicated to his friend F. H. Day. Unpaginated, it runs around 15 pages.

His poetry reflects its period through the choice of words and treatment, but this short poem on parting that references the month of April seems at least presentable to modern eyes.

And after many days (for I shall keep
These old things long forgotten, nevertheless!)
My lids at last, feeling thy faint caress,
Shall open, April, to the wooded sweep
Of Northern hills; and my slow blood shall leap
And surge, for joy and very wantoness--
Like Northern waters when thy feet possess
The valleys, and the green year wakes from sleep.

That morn the drowsy South, as we go forth
(Unseen thine hand in mine; I, seen of all)
Will marvel that I seek the outmost quay,--
The while, grey leagues away, a new-born North
Harkens with wonder to thy rapturous call
For some old lover down across the sea.

For a good overview of the author's life, a memoir by Lorne Pierce who edited the collected poems of Francis Sherman issued by the Ryerson Press in 1935, can be found here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Anansi Reader of the Month

The Indextrious Reader, a gentle soul, is the Anansi Reader of the Month for April. This does not surprise me since she has been reading since the age of three and reads more books in a year than I can ever hope to manage. Congratulations Melwyk. Keep up the good reading.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Montreal English Language Bookshop Bookmarks: a Small Selection

It is almost as if bookmarks are little memory devices for bookshops that have long since closed their doors. Holding one, the subtleties of paper texture, weight, colour and design can bring about assorted memories of the shops, their owners, employees, and customers. It seems most of the bookshops represented in this small selection have ceased operation.

The Double Hook (1974-2005) briefly took hold on St. Catherine Street before swinging round to the Greene Avenue location where they established themselves as the source for Canadian authors. Named after the Sheila Watson novel, the bookhop's logo or device still hangs over the entrance to the old shop (now occupied by the Babar bookshop, Babar en ville), an architectural detail that has become a possibly unnoticed memento mori. The Double Hook provided not only hard-to-find Canadian books for customers, but an abundance of memories of pleasant book browsing and interesting author signings.

Elliot-Duncan Ltd. Booksellers, 1381 St. Catherine Street West. Librairie Ficciones Literary Bookstore, 111 Duluth West. (Excellent selection of world literature in translation.) Avenue Bookshop, 1368 Greene (location now an art gallery beside the newer and still thriving Nicholas Hoare Bookshop.) Footnotes Fine Used Books, 1454 Mackay St.(A very small shop near Concordia University that had a decent selection of literature and academic titles.) Librairie Déjà-lu, 5624 Monkland Avenue. Livres Métamorphoses Books, 3418a Avenue du Parc. Circum, 1946 St. Catherine Street West. Lexis, 2055 Peel Street. (New books with a couple of retail stores while in existence.) Vortex, 1855 Ste. Catherine Street West. (Fine selection of secondhand books in what was probably the cleanest and most orderly shop in town, not a book out of line.)

Huis Clos/No Exit, 3636 St. Laurent. (Previously discussed here.) Magnus Bookshop, 4932-B Sherbrooke Street West. (A below street level shop in Westmount that dealt in remaindered books and publishers' overstock. It was a good place to come across some interesting titles. The owner was helpful and provided special orders and was always busy with his photocopy service which helped keep the business viable.) Tally-Ho Book Store, 764 St. Pierre. Nebula, 1452 St. Mathieu. (Discussed briefly here.) Everyman's Bookshop, 1475 St. Catherine Street West (with the classic v-shaped die-cut design.) Prospero, 1455 Peel. (Retail chain selling new books with a number of outlets in Ottawa.) Librairie Russell Books, 275 St. Antoine West. (The wonderful large bookshop with used books and publishers' overstock; the owner, a well-loved and respected bookman who helped mentor many young booksellers.)

Bibliophile, 5519 Queen Mary Road. Livres Anthologies Boooks Inc., 1420 Stanley. Terre des Livres, 1612 Sherbrooke Street West. Danger!, 3968 St.-Laurent. (Owned by the same young man who opened and operated Nebula, Claude Lalumière. A knowledgeable collection of comics, graphic novels, science fiction and fantasy.) Le Mélange Magic, 1928 St. Catherine West. (Wide variety of books, mainly non-fiction, dealing with esoteric subjects, in addition to Tarot cards, incense, candles, and much else. Store cats were always a draw.) Librairie Beaconsfield Bookstore, 50 Boul. St.-Charles. (A serviceable West Island bookshop selling new books.) Librairie de théatre Stage Theatre Bookshop, 3575 Avenue du Parc.

It seems out of this small selection of bookmarkers, only Bibliophile and Mélange Magic are still in operation.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring Poem for April Poetry Month

Having passed by an expansive and sloping front yard covered in purple grape hyacinths, a veritable country hillock in bloom within the city, I thought of this well-anthologised poem of the past by L. A. MacKay (1901-1982).

Admonition For Spring

Look away now from the high lonesome hills
So hard on the hard sky since the swift shower;
See where among the restless daffodils
The hyacinth sets his melancholy tower.

Draw in your heart from vain adventurings;
Float, slowly, swimmer, slowly drawing breath.
See, in this wild green foam of growing things
The heavy hyacinth remembering death.

L. A. Mackay was born in 1901 in the small hamlet of Hensall, Ontario and went on to be a much beloved professor of Classics at the University of California, Berkeley after having taught at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. When teaching in Toronto he was involved with The Canadian Forum, and, using the pseudonym, "John Smalacombe" he had a chapbook published by the Ryerson Press entitled Viper's Bugloss (1938). In 1948 some of these poems appeared in his second poetry collection, The Ill-Tempered Lover and Other Poems issued under his real name by Macmillan of Canada.