Merry Christmas!

Linocut by James Reaney, 1965

On his birthday there is a blue sky
In the swale there’s clear ice
Two boys  skate an X, the Greek letter Chi
Because it stands for Christ


from the Reaneys

James Reaney made this linocut design in December 1965 and printed a set of Christmas cards for friends and family at the Alphabet Press in London, Ontario.

Merry Christmas and All the best for 2013!

Reaney plays planned for 2013

Four productions of plays by James Reaney are planned for 2013. Colleening, a new play by Adam Corrigan Holowitz, features the poems and letters of Colleen Thibaudeau.

February 13-16
Althouse College Auditorium, London Ontario

A play with music using Colleen Thibaudeau’s poems and letters
Created and Directed by Adam Corrigan Holowitz
March 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 at 8 pm
March 2 and March 9 at 2 pm
The Arts Project, London Ontario

Directed by David Ferry
March 14-17
Bishop’s University
Sherbrooke, Quebec

Directed by Barbara Larose
April 12-27

Alumnae Theatre, Toronto, Ontario

Directed by Jason Rip
May 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, and  June 1 at 8 pm
May 24 and June 2 at 2 pm
The Arts Project, London Ontario

Updates and further details to follow in the new year. Hope to see you there!

The 2012 James Reaney Memorial Lecture with Jean McKay

Thank you all for coming on Sunday October 21 to hear Jean McKay talk about her memories of being part of James Reaney’s Wacousta workshops in 1981 in London, Ontario. She also spoke about being James Reaney’s research assistant for The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Jean was a student of James Reaney’s in the mid-1960s and a long-time friend of the family.

Thank you, Jean, for bringing your fiddle and reminding us about all the good times shared.

October 21, 2012: Jean McKay regaled us with jigs and reels and other period music from the Wacousta workshops and the Donnelly plays.
October 21, 2012: Jean McKay remembers James Reaney.

Many thanks to the organizers of the lecture at the Stratford Public Library — Charles Mountford, Anne Marie Heckman, and Sam Coghlan — for your continued support of this event.

For more about the lecture, see Laura Cudworth’s article in The Stratford Beacon Herald and roving reporter JBNBlog.

The Story of North Easthope by James Crerar Reaney

From the 1982 Illustrated Historical Atlas County of Perth, here is James Reaney’s history of North Easthope. (James Reaney grew up in neighbouring township South Easthope, and his mother, Elizabeth Crerar (1898-1981), was born and raised on a nearby farm in North Easthope.)


The Story of North Easthope
Sometimes pronounced NORTHYSTOPE
and for reasons of space herein called N.E.

Prepared by James Crerar Reaney, 1982

They named the township after Sir John Easthope, a Canada Company director. Although he also owned a British newspaper called The Chronicle, I doubt if Sir John ever found out what farmboys in his township liked to do on Sunday afternoons in the 1890s. They’d go down to the Huron Road [Hwy. 7 & 8] to fight with their South Easthope contemporaries about which township was better. Picture them lined up on either side of the boundary exchanging stones, scoffs and fisticuffs. Well, whose is the better township has still not been decided. Born in the southern one, I say this: they’re very different from each other. With road names like Porkstreet and Hessenstrasse, musical instruments brought over from Germany such as pianofortes and trumpets, S.E. feels like a gently rolling part of Germany: with its steep roads going up into higher and even bluer hills and also with its kilted pipers at picnics, N.E. seems like a translation of Scotland.

Map of Perth County courtesy The Canadian County Atlas Digital Collection:

But N.E. is not just Scottish; it was settled and still is made up of two racial groups, one Highland Scots and one Hessen Darmstadt Deutsch, originally about equal in size. One of my maternal great grandparents was born in Schiffelbach (Hessen) and another was born in Glenquaich, Perthshire. Their backgrounds are almost exactly the same as those of the groups mentioned above.

The cairn by the highway at Shakespeare commemorates such N.E. Highland settlers as Stewart, McTavish, Crerar, Scott, Fraser, Fisher, et al. They were crofters in Perthshire whose laird said in 1832 “Get out. I need my land back to raise sheep and you do nothing but distill illegal whiskey and marry your first cousins.” Be that as it may, there was, just before they came, a big fight with excisemen who tried to intercept a shipment of whiskey on its way to Breadalbane. When they came to N.E., some of them had their distilling equipment with them already to start again, but there was more money in growing wheat with no landlord to skim off the profits. Descendants have returned to Glenquaich (glen of the drinking cup!) and come back with snapshots of ruined cots and empty heaths. Such recent formations as a N.E. Pipe Band in the 1950s and an Easthope historical group in the 1960s responsible for making Brocksden School into a museum show that this group has no identity problems.

In 1835, Reverend Proudfoot of the London District sleighed past the new settlement and wrote: “50 Scotch families, most of them Highlanders”; he also describes the Dutch settlers around Helmer’s Tavern on the east border of the Easthopes as having “noble farms” and as holding “no man a preacher who is not inspired by the Holy Spirit and if he get his preaching talent so easily he needs no pay.” By “Dutch” Proudfoot means the Pennsylvania Germans of Wilmot Township, Mennonites, some of whom were settling in N.E. But what his statement also reminds us of is the fact that the Canada Company not only advertised local land for sale in Glenquaich, Scotland, but also in Bremen, Germany. In 1842, the company’s agent in Stratford issued 60 location tickets for N.E., most of them to settlers with such names as: Eidt, Erb, Faulhafer, Henkell, Herman, Hoffmeyer, Wettlaufer, Nafziger, Neeb, Paff, et al. Family tradition has it that avoiding conscription was one reason for leaving Hessen-Darmstadt. A persistent story is that their fathers sometimes held a boy’s foot under the horses’ hooves so he would be lamed and not grow up to march away as cannon fodder. To both groups then, Canada represented a release from unpleasant European constrictions, particularly poverty and repression. They were soon much better off in North Easthope. Descendants go back to tiny villages in Hessen-Darmstadt and return with snapshots of timbered, medieval farmsteads, still run by relatives as they have been for hundreds of years. How do you write a historical sketch about people who left Europe to get away from history?

In a sense nothing happens to happy people, but in N.E. what does happen in another sense is – “plenty”. Here in 1850 is what a hundred acre farm produced:
♦ wheat – 1,000 bushels, barley – 30, peas – 20, oats – 500, potatoes – 50; 12 tons of hay, wool – 100 lbs., maple sugar – 60 lbs., fulled cloth – 50 yds., flannel 50;
♦ supported 12 oxen, 7 milch cows, 10 calves, 5 horses, 35 sheep, 30 pigs, 200 lbs. of butter, 50 of cheese, 4cwt of beef and 20 of pork; also 10 people!

Katherine Fisher, who went to New York as a home economist, points out the drudgery involved: “Housework involved much heavy manual labour for our older sisters and rule-of-thumb methods invited contests with Lady Luck.” Also unpleasant must have been the strictly kept Sabbaths and Rev. D. Allan’s bringing up of young people before the session for their immorality in going to Stratford on Saturday nights. However, Lloyd Herman remembers “when we drove to Berlin to celebrate the change of name to Kitchener. My dad stopped off at Seagram’s Distillery in Waterloo and bought a five gallon jug of Rye Whiskey for $10 to make sure he had enough ‘medicine’ for the kids when they got bad colds in the winter time.” F. Addison Brown remembers a drive with his father down the Sawdust Road (Concession X) “through the little crossroads hamlet of Hampstead with its old-time tavern kept by the Peter Hoffman family, on west on our road bordered by rail fences, stake and rider fences and now, before reaching ‘The Gravel’ we traverse ‘The Sawdust Road.’” What one would not give now when making a journey to Stratford, as they were, to make it on a noiseless road of pine slabs covered “with a deep layer of sawdust from nearby mills.” Minnie Thomson, whose son named his famous artifact museum after her, tells of mischief in her corner of the township – near Ellice and the Irish School, the one part of N.E. neither Scots nor Deutsch:  “Young David Clark dearly loved playing tricks. One day he sauntered along – espied Mary Gillan’s chopping block, the axe and her cat basking in the sun.” Young Clark chopped off the cat’s tail and ran, but its eccentric Irish owner hit him with a heavy sled on his way home from school so heavily that he was in bed for months.

These and countless other anecdotes represent the real history of the township, but the political and economic context should be sketched in although it’s not much different from that of sister townships: the council meets at the township hall, rebuilt in 1963 beside the Hampstead-Amulree-Shakespeare road, the political centre of the township. Mention Ross McGonigle who held the position of township clerk for 25 years, retiring in 1975 and you get some idea of the community’s stability, not to be outdone by the father and son, A.M. and J.D. Fisher, who were clerks for almost 75 years.  Nearly every family has, through the generations, been involved in serving the township whether in political or in public service, the latter represented by such projects as school fairs, Junior Farmers, Women’s Institutes, agricultural fairs and plowing matches. For a long time, grassroots politics could best be observed at the annual meeting of the ratepayers to select three trustees for each of the eight public schools:  “The aim was to maintain the most basic cost of education possible in an atmosphere of seeming generosity.” In 1967, eight one-room schools – Brocksden, Bell’s, Clachan, Hampstead, Ratzburg, Irish, Burnside, Gadshill – were centralized into a township elementary school at Clachan. For further context, you should know that the township’s present acreage is 43,725; it has 335 farm residences, 303 non-farm residences and a population of 2,106, almost what it had in 1850.

A further surface history of N.E. would go something like this: 1835 – only five men own enough land to vote at Goderich against the Family Compact; 1837 – at the Little Lakes Militia parade, some N.E. settlers beg off for reasons of health.  Because they’re Mackenzie sympathizers? 1850 – James Trow starts to build up a power base from buying cheap land at tax sales which sends him to parliament and a manufacturing career in Stratford; 1855 – Crimean War produces wheat boom – up go stone houses and big barns; 1870s bring in cheese factories which take pressure off grain production; 1880 depression makes 1,000 leave for Michigan and Southwest Manitoba; 1905 – hydroelectric towers march across to Stratford, but no power for farms till 1938.  W.W.I. produces N.E. names on Stratford Cenotaph; veterans sally out in the early thirties to prevent a returned soldier’s farm from being taken over for the mortgage; 1939 – the Tweedsmuir books initiate historical research in the Women’s Institutes, a local, kitchen history movement instigated by a local woman; W.W.II, the end of the hunting clubs going up north for deer in the fall, margarine ends creamery cheques, more tractors after gas-rationing ends, no horses, bigger and bigger farm machinery, bigger fields, bigger all-the-same crops, i.e., corn. What next? How much farther can you go with mechanical farming? Back to 1850? Horses? Hay’s cheaper than oil?

But underneath, here is a real history contained in things that I have heard township people say:

“There were two kinds of gipsies used to camp in the bush. Scottish and Russian. The former sold lace.”
“Indian Sal used to pull flax. Drank vinegar.”
“Never played baseball at the Irish School. Always cricket when I was there.”
“If there’s enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers, then it won’t rain.”
“When it snows, there’s an old woman up in the sky plucking her geese.”
“I’m not pro-German, I’m real German.”
“25 men attended her coffin; she’d been midwife to their mothers.”
And in the Beacon for June 1, 1851 – “Queen’s Birthday at Shakespeare – 10 horsemen tilted for the gold ring.”

On Sunday, June 6, 1982, I attended the Annual Decoration Day Service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, one concession up from the township hall, the oldest kirk in N.E.  My mother and her ancestors are buried there. As I put flowers on her grave using a juice can, I noted others doing the same – some with theirs wrapped in tinfoil. The church was packed, many young people and children in evidence. The Minister in charge was Rev. Sandy Fryfogel, scion of the first settler in the county. As I look over the programme now I see many Scottish names and also German ones; the programme mentioned a hymn sing that evening at Lisbon United Church, which originally was a United Brethren Church brought to N.E. by German settlers. Also mentioned was the coming 125th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church at Shakespeare. The singing of the psalms was loud, clear and enthusiastic; the sermon excellent – on the balance between the past and the ever-present, as a matter of fact. As we drove back down to Shakespeare, we saw the sheep on Bell’s farm. In 1832, David Bell was the very first settler in North Easthope.


For further background to Glenquaich, see Walter Scott’s Waverley, Annie Swan’s novel, Shelia, and Douglas Stewart’s Mactalla/More Scottish-Canadian Poems (Toronto, 1974).

See The Proudfoot Diaries, Militia Lists, and other early records at the University of Western Ontario Regional Collection. Also see Perth County Archives where James Anderson provided the notes and quotation for the political context paragraphs.

For information on German settlers, see Stafford Johnston’s “Hessian migration to the Canada Company’s Huron Tract” (Ontario Genealogical Society). Alice (Paff) Watkinson has compiled a book containing names of all Wilhelm descendants.

Katherine Fisher (Concession II, Lot 33) became Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. See their Cookbook (New York, 1942).
Lloyd Herman (Concession II, Lot 10), “Memories,” 12 June, 1982, The Beacon Herald.
F. Brown (Nithburg), letter in Perth County Archives, 1935.
Mrs. Minnie Thomson, Avon W.I. Archives, 1947.

There’s a great deal more, both written and spoken. I hope some young N.E. historians get to work on the fuller account this great township deserves. J.C.R.

January 2, 2017 — Note from Susan Reaney: For more about Perth County and the early days of the Huron Tract, see Scottish emigré George Elmslie’s 1834 diary about his encounter with Perth County settler Sebastian Fryfogel:

“The Fryfogel Tavern” by James Reaney, 1962
“St. Anthony’s Chapel” by James Reaney, 1990 (St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, a pioneer cemetery, is near Shakespeare, Ontario.)


James Reaney Memorial Lecture on October 21 in Stratford

Join us on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00 pm at The Stratford Public Library Auditorium in Stratford, Ontario, for a talk by Jean McKay, James Reaney’s research assistant on several projects, including The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Jean will also share her memories as a student and workshop participant in James Reaney’s play Wacousta.

The annual lecture is a project developed by The Stratford Public Library and Poetry Stratford, and features a talk by a person who is knowledgeable about the life and work of Stratford poet and playwright James Reaney and of writing in the Southwestern Ontario region, which is such a strong element in Reaney’s writing.

The Stratford Public Library is located at

19 St. Andrew Street,

Stratford, Ontario

N5A 1A2.


Alphabet Number 11 and Poems by John Hirsch

From Alphabet Issue 11 (1966), here is John Hirsch’s poem “My Grandfather”:

My Grandfather

Old men love the sun.
My Grandfather, eighty four,
in black bowler,
black overcoat,
in the same chair
through Spring, Summer and Fall
always against the same white-washed wall
sat soaking up the sun.
Hands spread on his knees—
Skin like dried guts
cracked with veins like the indigo ink
he dipped his pen in to write
in velvet covered, silver-locked ledgers.

Dozing in the sun
his skin drew the heat
till he seemed to glow
like a black swathed mummy
of a gold-leafed Pharaoh.

John Hirsch, 1966

John Hirsch (1930-1989) lost his family in the Holocaust and came to Winnipeg, Canada as a war orphan in 1947. With the help of his foster family, he pursued his love of the theatre and became one of Canada’s most renowned directors. John Hirsch directed James Reaney’s play Names and Nicknames at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg in October, 1963.

Earlier this summer at the Stratford Festival, Alon Nashman performed his one-man play Hirsch, a tribute to this inspiring director. For more about John Hirsch, see A Fiery Soul: The Life and Theatrical Times of John Hirsch, by Fraidie Martz and Andrew Wilson.

Colleen Thibaudeau: A Biographical Sketch

Colleen Thibaudeau: A Biographical Sketch by Jean McKay
from Brick, Issue 5, Winter 1979, pages 6-11.
Reproduced with kind permission of Jean McKay and Stan Dragland.

 The following sketch is composed primarily from two interviews with Colleen Thibaudeau, the first, in January 1976, conducted by Stan Dragland, Peggy Dragisic and Don and Jean McKay, and the second in December 1978 with Jean McKay. The interviews themselves each lasted a couple of hours.

The patchwork chart [pages 12 and 13] is the result of a “memory game”. We went through the places where Thibaudeau has lived (the left-hand column, on the chart) and she snapped out quick reactions to the various categories.

PD: How does a poem start?

CT: You generally have a line, comes into your mind, I don’t know from where. Or maybe more than that, even… and if you’re adroit enough to write that down fairly quickly, and its follow-up will come almost right away, then even if you can’t go on with it any more at the moment, if you can get that much down… (this morning, the line hasn’t come yet, but I know the feeling it’s going to be, let me think now, it’s something about calendars, little boxes on calendars being like panes in windows that you can see the day through? Now this morning that sort of came into my mind)… and then the light, it seems to come, either light or music or some movement in the room, or if you’re outside, seems to add another element. I don’t know what that is, I’m just trying to explain it to you. Out of that a line comes. Now, you might change that line, it might have to be longer, or more beats, or different things. And then, if you sit down and work on that, you’re going to have a poem or a story.

Colleen Thibaudeau was born in Toronto on December 29, 1925. Her father, back from the war, was a student at the University of Toronto. He came from the Markdale area of Grey County, Ontario. Her mother was a war bride, from Belfast.

CT: My Dad took us to church, and insisted that we go to Sunday School. My mother only went once, that I knew, and then she hated the smell of the lilies, and never went again. She’s very positive. It was Easter and she asked one of the ushers to open a window, and he wouldn’t, so she said that was that.

When she was a year old, her father took a teaching job in Chesley, a small town back in Grey County. Here her brother John was born. After three years in Chesley, Thibaudeau’s father became Principal of the high school at Flesherton, also in Grey County.

CT: Then in Flesherton the Depression came on, and they were going to have to cut all the salaries in half, and the teachers were so sweet, they were going to give Dad an eighth of their salaries if he’d stay. He did PT too, and he took the debating classes around…

JM: Was he a person with a lot of energy?

CT: I think so, yes, I think he was very energetic. I think he wouldn’t have changed over from being on whatever level he was on there at Chesley to this Principalship even in a tiny little school, except that he felt he would really do something for them, and try to do what had been done for him at Owen Sound. This Owen Sound high school that he went to, I think made people very very… conscientious, and so on. They had very high standards… it’s a Scottish connection up there that’s very high on education… and Dad had wanted to be a journalist, and he had taken part in a lot of debating and so on so it wasn’t hard on him. It was easy for him to train his best kids who were talented, and take them around to debate and they won things. And they were very good in soccer, which is the other thing he was good in.

Rather than stay on in Flesherton, the family moved again to Toronto, where Mr. Thibaudeau (the name is Acadian/French, the Acadian connection being several generations removed) went back to University to improve his degree. The younger daughter Shelia was born there.

 Then they moved to St. Thomas, where Thibaudeau attended the last few years of public school, and then high school. Her life in St. Thomas sounds idyllic.

CT: We liked going down to the creek. My mother always let me go to the ravines, because one friend had a police dog, and another friend had a dog… so I think I had a much freer existence probably… we just did everything… We didn’t actually camp overnight because we didn’t have any camping stuff, but we’d go down early in the morning onto these little islands and just stay there and light fires and roast things. That went on for ages, I adored doing that. I never went to Girl Guides or anything like that… We all kept journals, we were all very influenced by Arthur Ransome, that sort of book… running up flags, and signaling, and lookouts, and skating on the river.

During her school days she wrote poems, and some of them were published in Sunday School magazines.

CT: Then the war came, you see, just as I was going into high school. All the extra-curricular activities stopped. Probably if I ever had a chance to got to, say, a literary society, or something like that or a dramatic society it would have helped me a lot ‘cause I would have had to work with other people, you know, the way we did in the Junior Red Cross, you worked together, and you made up your little plays, and so on, and it was quite fun. But there was nothing, see, all the activities stopped because of the war. We had a nice time. We skated, and did First Aid, and I use to work in Gould’s store… just a small town life. There was very little, really, going on. Then the Air Force came, and there were, you know, lots of young men roaming around the streets so you got to know people from all over Canada and Australia.

Thibaudeau’s father’s relatives were still in the Markdale area, and the family sometimes went back there in the summers.

 CT: During the war there was gas rationing, so we didn’t go up as much as one would think. The big summer that I remember up there was the summer that my mother went to Ireland, so we had to look after all the kids – my brother and I, and Dad, and my little sister – on what we called “the back place.” There was a house, and some animals, it was next to our bush, and Dad went into the bush with John and fixed up the fences…. I think there was an icebox; I’m not certain, maybe not. I guess we just went every day and got some milk, and kept it around the pump.… My sister had fantastic hair, and it was very hard to keep, and it finally just got beyond me. I couldn’t keep her hair right. She was in the woods all the time, burrs and so on. I tried. I had to do it in three plats instead of two. So my mother just was hysterical when she came back and saw her hair.

From St. Thomas, Thibaudeau went to University College at the University of Toronto.

CT: I was the oldest child, you see, so it was sort of assumed that I could go if I got a scholarship. I wanted to go to UC. My dad had taken me to look at Western, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the floors. They were all marbly, and I just wasn’t used to that, it wasn’t like old St. Thomas Collegiate, you know with its nice wooden floors. Stupid.

She received a BA in English, with options in French, and then an MA in English. She met several people who were interested in writing, among them James Reaney, and she contributed both poems and short stories to the student literary magazine, the Undergrad.

CT: I went to the Modern Letters club, which I suppose would be the closest thing to a “literary circle,” but I was the very underperson of that, I would say… My husband never talked very much about writing or anything, he just did it. Phyllis Gotlieb, who was then Phyllis Bloom, was quite a good friend, and Phyllis talked more seriously about doing things. Phyllis was quite confident about what she was going to do. She was already working on certain novels and things, and I never thought in these big terms. I guess I always have thought in fairly small units because I just felt I couldn’t get [larger things] finished, and as long as you keep thinking that way you don’t get them finished, of course.… Henry Kreisel was in that group, and Dorothy Cameron… and Jamie, of course, and Duncan Robertson, Bob Weaver… fascinating people…

JM: Where did you meet Margaret Avison?

CT: I think what happened… Margaret had gone to Victoria College. She knew Northrop Frye, and she wanted very much to meet Jamie. Northrop Frye took Margaret Avison and myself to lunch at Eaton’s College Street, and we had sort of cranberry-like things on blanc-mange, as I remember; you know, it was very nice and light. And the idea was that then I would see that she would meet Jamie. She was so shy that she couldn’t meet everybody all together…. A lot of unexpected things have always happened to me like that, I don’t go looking for them.

DM: One of the stories that you published in the Undergrad, “Wild Turkeys,” seems to be recollecting the Markdale experience.

CT: Well, see, I lived [while at U of T] with my great aunt. Great Aunt Belle was the second sister of my grandmother Stewart.… It was just a pleasure to live with her because she had a slightly easier way of remembering things. My grandma was fun in many ways, but she was just so hurried and harried all the time that she never told you anything. But Aunt Belle was a more gentle easy-going person. And a couple of times, you see, she’d just begin to go into stories like that. So it was from a couple of things she said to me that I reconstructed or made up that story. She wouldn’t have said more than a couple of little hints.

Thibaudeau also had poems in the Northern Review and Here and Now.

SD: Were you at University when Here and Now started up?

CT: Oh yes. It was such a very beautifully designed magazine, that grew out of the Undergrad. You see, Paul Arthur was the Undergrad editor, and very autocratic, and wanted to do everything his own way. He had studied typography and so on with “Graphis” in Switzerland, he’d been in the navy and had gone there before he came back, so that he changed the Undergrad into that gorgeous format, and was very strict about what he put in…. Here and Now started because Arthur was tossed out of the Undergrad, because he was too snobby.

SD: It was quite an impressive magazine.

CT: It’s a lovely magazine, yes. He had contacts from Europe and so on, from his father, I suppose.

SD: Did he know people like A.M. Klein?

CT: Oh yes, he brought the Sitwells over, and did he bring Spencer and Auden? Something like that. They’d be on a circuit, a reading circuit…. Maybe this is a sidetrack, I never knew this man so well, except that he gave me his naval greatcoat when I got married and was going to Winnipeg, he took it off, and he said “you’re going to need this more than I will.” He was funny like that, he was very stuffy in some ways, you know very sort of English, but then he was very spontaneous in other ways….

SD: Was Northern Review going then too?

CT: In ’47 [summer] I worked in Montreal, and that was my first real contact with Northern Review. I’d had a couple of poems in so I phoned them. I didn’t know anybody in Montreal… and they said would you come over tonight, and there was some great to-do about the laundry, I remember…. They had no money, the Sutherlands, John Sutherland, Audrey Aitman. Irving Layton was married to Betty Sutherland who was John’s sister…. Anyway, while I was there (this is terrible, you see I knew very little, I had worked in tobacco and all this stuff, but I didn’t really know how people managed because my mother always managed so well)… while I was there this intricate thing took place, there would be a knocking, so we’d all fall silent and practically hide under the table, in case [the knocker] would be looking through the key hole, and it was that they owed for their laundry… where Audrey who was very very clean took everything, and they would go and pick it up and make some nice little remark and get it away, you see, but it wouldn’t be paid for ages. Everything in the apartment was spotless. She worked nights as a proof reader and so did Betty, but they made so little money, and the men were not working, and they were financing the magazine…. It was very simple…. It was just that summer, I only saw them a few times. John was hand-setting all his magazine.

Thibaudeau completed her MA in 1949, and worked for McClelland and Stewart for a year, doing advertising.  Then she spent a year in France, in the town of Angers, teaching and studying. “How to Know the True Prince,” which appears in this issue of Brick, derives from that experience, as do other stories in a planned series that has not yet been completed.

DM: Were there really African Princes in Angers?

CT: Oh yes, that’s not made up. Elements of the story are made up; there was no thievery or anything like that…. The Janine character, I don’t think that was really true, I think that was sort of a friendship, and I made it into a love story. You see, it’s just what is suggested to you by stuff…. There were two African Princes, one was very nice, very above-board, and the other one was very… this white-suited guy that was so different from anybody, and he was involved in some sort of shady dealings, but I don’t think it was exactly what I said. And there were Japanese, and Chinese, and Norwegians… or there had been, other years. People told you about what had been, other years. It was very fertile ground for stories.

In the fall of 1951, back in Toronto, Thibaudeau worked on the Canadian census, and for the post office during the Christmas rush. On December 29, she married James Reaney. They went by train to Winnipeg, where he was teaching English at the University of Manitoba.

JM: Did you feel like you were having a big adventure, going off to Winnipeg?

CT: Oh yes, I loved it….  The only thing that was very difficult about everything – none of the packing or anything like that seemed to be too bad, or the wedding, none of that seemed to be too difficult, although it was very bad weather, but the thing that was the worst, was that Jamie was bound that he was going to teach me how to play chess, and I couldn’t seem to learn…. I wanted to look out the window or do something else.

At first they lived in Reaney’s boarding house, then in a series of apartments. Their first son James Stewart was born while they lived in an apartment on Warsaw Avenue, in 1952. Then for three years they lived in a house in King’s Park, at that time a little German village outside the city. Their second son, John, was born there in 1954. Reaney’s father came to live with them at this time, and remained with them until his death in 1972. They bought a house on Balfour Street in Winnipeg, and were there for another three years.

 Thibaudeau was writing and publishing poetry fairly steadily, in a variety of magazines. While she was in Winnipeg she decided to use a pseudonym. She felt that her name was becoming familiar to editors, and she’d like to start fresh. She used the pseudonym pretty consistently from 1951 to 1962.

JM: Did you feel like you were a different persona when you were M. Morris, or was it merely a convenience for publishing? The poems themselves were different, but I wondered if you were writing them as M. Morris.

CT: No, I don’t think I felt any different. The poems were different, I agree, and it made it sort of pleasant to have a different name with them. I just had… problems getting things published and all of a sudden it hit me, let’s put these under different names and see how it goes along…

JM: And it did go along.

CT: It went along much better, and it also sort of separated these ones out, somehow… it’s hard to remember how it felt at the time, but I don’t think it felt like a different persona, actually.  I think it was more like, almost like a little house or shelter you built around those, because they weren’t like the others…. I don’t know exactly how I got the idea. It just seemed to come all of a sudden, “OK, let’s try a pseudonym.”

JM: Almost like a prank.

CT: Yes, it didn’t seem to mean very much. Probably that heady atmosphere of Winnipeg makes you think of things like that.

JM: Too much oxygen in your blood.

CT: I had just met this Margaret Morris, who said, “Oh sure, a good idea, I’ll take your mail at my house.”

[In 1956]* the family moved to Toronto while Reaney did his PhD. After two years they returned to Winnipeg, and Susan was born, in 1959. Then, in 1960 they moved to London, where Reaney began teaching at the University of Western Ontario. They lived on Craig Street for a year, and then moved to Huron Street, where they are at present. In 1966 their son John died, from a sudden attack of meningitis.

DM: How do you feel about “the region”?

CT: Around here, it’s a very pastoral sort of region. I used to really miss Grey County…. I don’t think I did like London at first, but now I sort of like it better, and see more in it…. I don’t know whether I feel that [my poems] belong to any particular region or not, really…. I felt really attuned to Vancouver Island, that little region where we were in there [in 1968-69, for a sabbatical year], you know it just felt perfect, and certain other places where we’ve lived I’ve just felt really right in that place, and at some times of the year I feel fine where we live now. Other times, no.

JM:  I feel your poems are “domestic” in the sense that you’re not trying to get away from what’s happening to you. They seem to derive quite naturally from the life you lead.

CT: Yes, I’m not a researcher, see, I think you can add a whole new world if you’re a good researcher, and I’ve never really got going at that.

JM: Well, it’s the homogeneity that appeals to me. That’s why I like “The Glass Cupboard” so well, because you’ve got those glasses holding the reflections of everything… all the different worlds really do seem to balance for you.

CT: Yes, they should…. You get energy form using energy, you get more from it, energy to go around faster, and eliminate the things that are unimportant. It’s interesting. We go though different phases, I think.  Sometimes you feel as if you don’t have that content within you to express… there’s a sort of bubbling up of the content so that you know you can do it, you don’t know what it is, yet… but you know that that’s there and that you can just keep drawing on whatever it is, endlessly. Well then you go through other periods, where you don’t feel confident that that content exists….

Balancing writing with domestic concerns has indeed been difficult. Nor has sharing living space with another energetically creative individual always been easy.

CT: People were always asking me about the archetypes and things. Well, I never studied the archetypes, and they’re a little bit mentally beyond me, I mean if someone explains it to me I can remember it for awhile, but I can’t work that way. Like he [Reaney] will draw it all out, and he knows from which column he’s drawing his images… and I think that’s good, to be conscious of what you’re doing, but with me they either seem to come instinctively from the right area, or…. It certainly expands your world.

SD: It sounds like your ways of working are different.

CT: Yes, well, I just don’t seem to have the mentality to understand what that is. I understand the net result of what happens to you when you do it, that it expands, and that it also gives you pegs on which to hang your thought. It makes your mind tidier, and so on… but as far as remembering it all, I don’t have that.

I think you have to have a place where you can leave stuff out a little bit. And although we have lots of rooms in our house, we just don’t seem to have that kind of set-up. I usually work on the dining-room table…. I found out long ago that I could not work while he was… fermenting up an idea…. It just created such a whirlwind around the place, that I couldn’t seem to get out of it. Now that is partly just a thing that you feel; if you wanted you could overcome that… but it just seems the intellectual energy or something is just…

JM: Flying around the house.

CT: Yes, and so you can’t always keep your own thoughts straight, you see, and I don’t want to write what he’s thinking, even if I could tap in on it, I would want to continue what I was thinking. I found that very hard. So, poor soul, he goes over a lot to the office.

JM: What do you want a poem to do?

CT: Well… I really would like very much if they were as good as songs… songs that people could hear, and that would be sort of going round in their head…. They’re not, nor is there any music with them, but I was always interested when occasionally someone would set something to music to try and see if it would be a good sort of song…. I like Robert Burns, I like the feelings of those older popular but good, very very good things. I’ve never been able to achieve that, but that’s the ideal sort of thing….

JM: So you want them to belong to people.

CT: Oh yes, if they could. Now the only way they can, is if they’re good enough, and if they really are relevant, or whatever, if the words are right, you know…. And that’s sort of what you’re struggling toward, in one sense…. However you have problems of time and technique, and lack of, what shall we say, getting the thing across properly, or of getting it published, or of this or that, and it’s sort of easier, always, what you do you’ve done because it’s sort of the easy thing you could do at that moment, you see, and it probably isn’t what you were interested in doing.

JM: But it doesn’t make it bad…

CT: No, sometimes if things have that feeling of ease about them, they are very very good…. It isn’t that you want it to last forever.

*Note from Susan Reaney: In September 1956, James Reaney and Colleen Thibaudeau moved to Toronto with their young sons James and John so James Reaney could complete his PhD. (See Colleen Thibaudeau’s playlet “A Nau(gh)tical Afternoon” from August 1956.)




Twelfth Letter: The Bicycle

Here is James Reaney’s poem “The Bicycle” — the Twelfth Letter from Twelve Letters to a Small Town, a suite of poems James Reaney wrote for composer John Beckwith in 1962.

The Bicycle

Halfway between childhood & manhood,
More than a hoop but never a car,
The bicycle talks gravel and rain pavement
On the highway where the dead frogs are.

Like sharkfish the cars blur by,
Filled with the two-backed beast
One dreams of, yet knows not the word for,
The accumulating sexual yeast.

Past the house where the bees winter,
I climb on the stairs of my pedals
To school murmuring irregular verbs
Past the lion with legs like a table’s.

Autumn blows the windfalls down
With a twilight horn of dead leaves.
I pick them up in the fence of November
And burs on my sweater sleeves.

Where a secret robin is wintering
By the lake in the fir grove dark
Through the fresh new snow we stumble
That Winter has whistled sharp.

The March wind blows me ruts over,
Puddles past, under red maple buds,
Over culvert of streamling, under
White clouds and beside bluebirds.

Fireflies tell their blinking player
Piano hesitant tales
Down at the edge of the bridge through the swamp
Where the ogre clips his rusty nails.

Between the highschool & the farmhouse
In the country and the town
It was a world of love and of feeling
Continually floating down

On a soul whose only knowledge
Was that everything was something,
This was like that, that was like this–
In short, everything was
The bicycle of which I sing.

September 1966: James Reaney on Richmond Street bicycling to Middlesex College (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)
September 1966: James Reaney bicycling to Middlesex College on the campus of the University of Western Ontario (from William Ronald’s CBC arts magazine show “The Umbrella”)

Twelve Letters to a Small Town was first published in 1962 by the Ryerson Press. The poems were specially written for composer John Beckwith, who then set them to music for broadcast on CBC Radio’s “Wednesday Night” program.

These photos are from September 1966, when painter and broadcaster William Ronald brought a CBC TV crew to London, Ontario to interview Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers, and James Reaney for the arts magazine show “The Umbrella.”  In ¨The Umbrella¨ segment on London, Ontario’s art scene, William Ronald praises James Reaney as “the best known bike rider in London.″

James Reaney’s drawing for the poem “The Bicycle” from Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962)

League of Canadian Poets awards 2012 Colleen Thibaudeau Outstanding Contribution Award

Saturday June 16, 2012 — Here in Saskatoon at the Poetry Festival and Conference of the League of Canadian Poets, poet Wendy Morton of Sooke, B.C. was the winner of the first-ever Colleen Thibaudeau Outstanding Contribution Award.

Established in memory of late poet and honorary member Colleen Thibaudeau (1925-2012), the award was created by the League of Canadian Poets and Colleen Thibaudeau’s family to honour and recognize a substantial volunteer project or series of projects that significantly nurture and support poets and poetry across Canada.

Wendy Morton is the founder of Random Acts of Poetry, which involved hundreds of Canadian poets over a period of seven years. She is also the recipient of the 2010 Spirit Bear Award and The Golden Beret Award, and was made an Honorary Citizen of Victoria in 2011.

Also honoured were poet Sue Goyette, who won the 2012 Pat Lowther Memorial Award for her book outskirts (Brick Books), and Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, the winner of the 2012 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for her book Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books). The League also recognized the contributions of Oscar Malan of Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston, Ontario, who is now an Honorary Member, and Penn Kemp, Poet Laureate of London, Ontario (2010-2012), who is now a Life Member.

Short-listed poets for the Pat Lowther Award were Stephanie Bolster for A Page from the Wonders of Life on Earth  (Brick Books), Lorna Crozier for Small Mechanics (McClelland & Stewart Ltd.), Rosemary Griebel for Yes. (Frontenac House), Amanda Jernigan for Groundwork (Biblioasis), and Jan Zwicky for Forge (Gaspereau Press).

The runners-up for the Gerald Lampert Award this year were Kirsty Elliot for True (Leaf Press), Rosemary Griebel for Yes. (Frontenac House), Suzanne Robertson for Paramita, Little Black (Guernica Editions), Lisa Shatzky for Do Not Call Me By My Name (Black Moss Press), and Leslie Vryenhoek for Gulf (Oolichan Books).

Congratulations to all the award winners and shortlisted poets, and also to Robert Currie for presenting the Anne Szumigalski Lecture. Anne Szumigalski (1922-1999) was a much-loved Saskatchewan poet and winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for her book Voice in 1995. Robert reminded us of Anne Szumigalski’s work as a mentor for other writers and her commitment to the arts in her province.

Thank you to the sponsors of the event: The Canada Council for the ArtsWestJetSaskatchewan Arts BoardJennifer Boire and Jacques Nolin and the estate of Diane Brebner.

Poetry is alive and well in Canada and in Saskatchewan! ♥

Wendy Morton of Sooke, B.C. is the winner of the 2012 Colleen Thibaudeau Outstanding Contribution Award


Colleen Thibaudeau’s “This Elastic Moment”

Many thanks to the editors of Brick (Issue 89, page 182) for printing this poem by Colleen Thibaudeau.

This Elastic Moment

Yes we are that too: we are everything who feel it.
Everything that has meaning has the same meaning as angels: these
hoverers and whirrers: occupied with us.
Men may be in the parkgrass sleeping: or be he who sits in his
shirtsleeves every blessed Sunday: rasping away at his child who
is catching some sunshine: from the sticky cloud hanging over the
Laura Secord factory: and teetering on the pales of the green
iron fence: higher up than the briary bushes.
I pass and make no sound: but the silver and whirr of my bicycle
going round: but must see them who don’t see: get their fit, man
and child: let this elastic moment stretch out in me: till that
point where they are inside and invisible.
It is not to afterward eat a candy: picket that factory: nor to
go by again and see that rickety child on the fence.
When the band of the moment breaks there will come angelic

Colleen Thibaudeau, 1977

Also in Issue 89 of Brick, Stan Dragland  remembers Applegarth Follies, another London, Ontario publisher:

“… Colleen Thibaudeau’s Ten Letters, the first chapbook I published [under the forerunner of Brick Books], was printed offset by Mike Niederman at Applegarth Follies. I had set the text in the Baskerville type donated by James Reaney to The Belial Press at the university after he completed his ten-year run of Alphabet. One of Applegarth’s presses was the old foot-pumped jobber on which Reaney had printed his magazine. There was plenty of literary interconnection in London back then.”