Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"love ya Al"

When first I visited the little Ameliasburgh cemetery where Al Purdy was buried in 2000,
I was intrigued by the items - stones, coins, a brass turtle, a pipe of dubious origins - left on the gravestone.
I saw them as gifts, "love ya Al" kinds of things left behind by people strangely moved by this unconventional man come to (but for the wonderfully wrought stone inscribed "Voice of the Land" on its black granite spine) a conventional end, resting beneath trees beside a millpond  in a little country cemetery.

The blog A Grave Interest gave a welcome insight into the tradition of leaving stones on a grave. When next I go, I will leave a small round stone from Neys Provincial Park on Lake Superior, a trace of the dramatic volcanic history of that place, now so peaceful. Seems to fit.

"This is where I came to
where my body left its body
and its spirit stayed
in its spirit home"

stones on the stone
The Ameliasburgh cemetery lies below the escarpment on which Owen Roblin built his magnificent stone mill in 1842. Al was drawn to the crumbling mill. He speaks of it in his autobiography, his prose, his poetry.

Grave of Owen Roblin - this quiet spot was once the site
of the even earlier milling complex of James B. Way, c.1829
I'm still angry that that mill no longer belongs to Ameliasburgh, the place once called Roblin's Mills. Owen Roblin built that mill when the village was an industrial engine for the fledgling township, and success was within the grasp of a hard man who worked hard. In 1963 the mill was bundled up and moved to the city (kind of a cross-cultural adoption) with B.Napier Simpson Jr., a renowned restoration architect, overseeing, to spend its days at the Black Creek Pioneer Village at the corner of Jane and Steeles.  "Is that her own stone?" No, unfortunately.

Thanks to Cruikshank and Stokes' 'The Settler's Dream' for the photo
I'm not alone in my feelings. PJ Stokes, in his book 'A Village Arising'(2011) confesses to still being mad at his colleague Simpson for that removal  "for which I never quite forgave him" (p.97) This photo of the mill (credited to B.Napier Simpson Jr. collection, courtesy Audrey Simpson) is from 'The Settler's Dream'. I see it when I look up from the graveyard, up the bluff now overgrown. Somehow, like Al, it's still there, and the little stones remind me.

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