The quaint A-frame house Al Purdy built in Ameliasburgh, Ontario, has always been a work in progress. After the poet died in 2000, his wife, Eurithe, wanted to keep it that way. She put it up for sale in the hope it would become a retreat for writers.
In October, after several years of fundraising initiatives led by Jean Baird (a family friend) and Howard White (Purdy’s former publisher), the house was purchased by the non-profit Al Purdy A-frame Association for $200,000, roughly $100,000 less than the asking price. The deal saved the house from imminent demolition.
“There were periods where we were seriously stalled and, yes, it was discouraging,” says Baird. “You track down an organization and they just say, ‘Sorry, we’re not funding for the arts right now.’”
Major donations between $5,000 and $40,000 came from the Glasswaters Foundation, the Chawkers Foundation, and the Good Foundation, as well as individuals such as Leonard Cohen, former McClelland & Stewart owner Avie Bennett, and philanthropist Michael Audain.
When the first residency launches next fall, it will give a new generation of poets the opportunity to write in the place Purdy composed his best-known works. But more funds are needed for the residency to become permanent.
“[The house] was intrinsic to Al’s coming of age as a writer,” says Baird. “When they purchased the property in the late 1950s, Al thought of himself as a failure of a man, and he certainly thought of himself as a failure of a poet. Within five years of buying the property and building, Al had won his first Governor General’s Literary Award.”
In order to fund the residency and renovate the house to meet current building codes, the association is hosting the Al Purdy Show, a gala fundraiser and tribute on Feb. 6 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. At $50 per ticket ($25 for students), the group hopes to raise $100,000 from the event.
The evening will feature a house band spontaneously “interrupted” by special musical guests and readings from Margaret Atwood, Phil Hall, Steven Heighton, Dennis Lee, and Dionne Brand. A silent and live auction will feature two handwritten letters signed by D.H. Lawrence, artwork donated by Leonard Cohen, and specially designed editions of Purdy’s collections that include handwritten versions of some poems. Other rare items from Purdy’s personal collection will also be up for auction.