Chapter 6
The Centre in the Square: Civic Spaces and Places

by D.M.R. Bentley


By providing a meeting hall, the municipality attempted both to foster a sense of community identity and to embody that identity in an architectural symbol.... The town hall advertised and engendered a sense of community and solidarity; ideal and symbol were thereby fused in a single structure. The market function ... was a more prosaic element. Its inclusion signified that the maintenance of publicly approved standards of quality in both meats and vegetables, and the sale of these products in clean and central quarters, were of vital public concern. Since the municipality stood as both the embodiment of the community and the guardian of its interests, the municipal building of the 19th century often consisted of both a market and a town hall.

– Dana Johnson, “‘For Generations to Come’:
the Town Hall as a Symbol of Community” (207)


“A market is always a stirring scene,” wrote Susanna Moodie after moving to Belleville in 1840. “Here politics, commercial speculations, and the little floating gossip of the village are freely talked over and discussed. To those who feel an interest in the study of human nature, the market affords an ample field” (Life in the Clearings versus the Bush 31). “Our first market,” she observes, “was erected in 1849; it was built of wood, and very roughly finished. This proved but poor economy in the long run, as it was burnt down the succeeding year. A new and more commodious one of brick has been erected in its place, and is tolerably supplied with meat and vegetables” (30-31). When Moodie published these remarks in the early eighteen fifties, market places and market buildings had recently been much in the news in the principal cities to the east and west of her. In Kingston, the designation of the city as the capital of the newly united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841 had led to a brief economic boom and the construction in 1843-44 of a combined town hall and market building designed by George Browne (1811-85) that occasioned much commentary in the British Whig (Kingston) and elsewhere on account of its somewhat eclectic Palladianism.1 In Toronto, the destruction of the existing market in the fire of 1849 necessitated the construction in 1850-51 of a new building designed by William Thomas (1800-1860) that also embodied an eclectic Palladianism that garnered mixed reviews. (Among its prominent features were “Corinthian columns,” a “Circular bell cupola,” and a “façade based on a temple of Jupiter Stator” [Armstrong 241].) As Moodie’s remarks and the preceding epigraph reveal and these two examples confirm, the markets of early Canada were places and structures that at once reflected and hosted the political, commercial, and social life of the surrounding community.

     Most of the people who saw and remarked upon the Palladian market buildings that were built in Upper Canada and the maritime provinces in the nineteenth century were probably unaware that they had a precedent in the Palladian-style market that was erected in Quebec City’s Upper Town in 1806-07. Conceived by William Robe (1765-1826), the Royal Engineer who was largely responsible for the design of the nearby Church of England Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (1800-04), the Quebec market building was not intended to house just any common-or-garden market but as a setting for the stalls that catered to the City’s élites. It thus had to be capacious enough to contain the fish, meat, and vegetable produce later described by Robe in his unfinished long poem entitled Quebec (circa 1806-07)2 and impressive enough to keep company with the Cathedral, the Court House, and those whose social position and aspirations these and other buildings reflected and sustained. A detailed and scathing analysis of the result is provided by John Lambert in his Travels through Canada, and the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808 (1810,1813,1816):

     In speaking of the new buildings [in the Upper Town],3 I cannot avoid observing, that of all those which have disgraced the public taste, the circular building erected in has disgraced it the most. This edifice ... is a kind of amphitheatre of stone, surmounted by an immense dome or cupola of wooden frame-work, covered on the outside with planks. On the top is a sort of lantern, or circular chamber, with planked roof. The sides of this lantern are glazed for the admittance of light into the interior, but they have very little effect in such an extensive building. The frame-work inside the dome is ingenious enough, and does more credit to the artist who erected than to those who designed such a crude mass as the whole building presents.
     The heaviness and disproportion of its parts may be easily conceived, when it is known that the diameter of its base, and its perpendicular height are exactly the same, being just one hundred feet each. (1: 69-70)

From this description and from the facsimile of the market building in the model of Quebec that was built in 1806-08 by Jean-Baptiste Duberger, John By, and other British officers (including Robe),4 it is evident that the lineage of the edifice lies in the Pantheon, perhaps through John Soane’s much celebrated renovation of the Brokers’ Exchange Rotunda (1794-95) of the Bank of England, a structure that also consists of an arched “amphitheatre” surmounted by a top-lit cupola constructed, however, of “fireproof brick and stone” rather than wood (Abramson 208).

     But whereas Soane’s circular lantern, together with a series of arched windows at the base of the cupola, suffused the interior of the rotunda with a light that, according to Daniel Abramson, “sublimated the Bank of England’s real work in the production of capitalist and social power,” Robe’s apparently admitted too little light to illuminate the interior of the market, let alone to infuse it with “a mysterious light of infinite transcendence” (Abramson 212-13). Indeed, far from sublimating the work within its walls, Robe’s Palladian market building had the effect, at least for Lambert, of creating a disjunction between its pretensions to refinement and the reality of its function:

     At first sight [of the building] a stranger fancies that he beholds the grand amphitheatre of the inhabitants of Quebec, where skillful horsemanship or splendid spectacles enliven the long evenings of a Canadian winter; but how great is his surprise when, on a closer inspection, he discovers that this vast edifice is neither more nor less than the butchers’ shamble, a mere receptacle for beef, mutton, and pork! Not ... that the elegance of the building itself would lead him to think that it was unworthy of such a fate: on the contrary, he would decide in his own mind, that the butchers are not much honoured by the structure, however they may be by the sum of money that has been expended on them. (1:70)

At the heart of Lambert’s critique is what he sees as a breach of the principle of decorum that governed both classical and neoclassical aesthetics: Robe’s building is a disaster not only because its elements constitute a “crude mass” rather than a harmonious “whole,” but also because of the incongruity between the “elegance” to which it aspires and the purpose for which it was intended. Nor was Lambert alone in his criticisms. Two years later in his Description topographique de la province de Bas-Canada avec des remarques sur le Haut Canada (1815), Joseph Bouchette would pronounce the market building “une preuve publique de mauvais goût” that should be summarily demolished (468), a view that may well have influenced the Legislative Assembly’s decision a few months later to condemn it as a fire hazard (Noppen 55).5 For the French-Canadian residents of Quebec, the market building may also have been objectionable because it marked a departure from a “spatial type” – “a square or street widening, with open or covered grouped central stalls and others attached to houses at the periphery” – that hearkened back to the European Middle Ages (Markus 301). Aesthetically, practically, and as a structure that “not only housed activities of a public and collective nature but … also symbolized these activities” and embodied the city’s vision of itself as a community (Colquhoun 83), Robe’s market building was a very conspicuous failure.

     Although Lambert’s description of the open-air portions of the Quebec market and Bouchette’s description of the building that replaced Robe’s indecorous heap are of only tangential architectural interest, they are of considerable significance as records of the activities and ambiance of an early nineteenth-century Quebec market. According to Lambert, the carts and, in winter, sleighs in which the “Habitans” transported their produce were arranged so that those carrying “hay and wood [were] stationed by themselves” on one side of the market-place while those carrying “meat, fruit, vegetables, etc ... occup[ied] the other parts,” and the sale of the produce was largely conducted by “wives and daughters ... while their husbands or fathers were getting drunk in the spirit-shops and taverns” (1:71). Bouchette omits this last detail, but indicates that between the first and third decades of the century little had changed in the arrangement and collective practices of the market: “[i]n the centre is an elongated building, circular at both ends, and divided into two rows of butchers’ stalls facing outwards, to which access is had ... by a flight of steps and a landing. The hay and wood market occupies a regular area.... The supplies of poultry, fish, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and indeed every article of consumption are brought by the country people ... from the different fertile seigniories round the capital” (2: 254). That both Lambert and Bouchette record that the “hay and wood” carts or sleighs were arrayed along the wall of the “barracks” indicates that, in addition to its other functions, the Quebec market place served as a “permanence” in Aldo Rossi’s sense of a past that continues to be experienced and, as such, reflects and reinforces a persisting relationship between a community and its place (see Rossi 58-60 and 130-37).

     Neither Lambert nor Bouchette comments extensively on the market-places of other Canadian towns and cities, but Isaac Fidler’s description of the Central Market in York (Toronto) that was destroyed by fire in 1849 in his Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners and Emigration, in the United States and Canada, Made during a Residence there in 1832 (1833) indicates that there were variations as well as constants from province to province. Designed by James Cooper and constructed in 1831-32, the “market-house” that Fidler describes was “a quadrangular building of great extent, fitted for the accommodation of a much larger place, and having a prospective reference to the rapidly increasing population.” “It stands,” he wrote,

upon a block of ground in an oblong square, occupying the area contained between four streets, with a dead wall on its two longer sides. At one end, which faces the principal street of the town, a town-hall is erected, through the centre of which is an archway, and a street passing down the middle of the market within, to a similar archway at the opposite end, which faces the waters of the harbour. On the other sides are parallel streets, passing from side to side, and cutting the former at right angles. The market-stalls are, consequently, all forced to face the interior of the square, and are not observable from without. The convenience of this building, and the building itself, has no equal of the kind even in New York or in the States. (263-64)

Very much a product of its grid plan, Toronto’s “quadrangular” “market-house” reflected the political and commercial confidence of the town that had been Upper Canada’s capital since 1793 and would soon be incorporated as a city (1834). Bestriding a street that linked the town’s “principal street” to its increasingly busy “harbour,” it anticipated the city’s incorporation by including at one end the two storey municipal clerk’s office and council meeting room that would serve as the “town-hall” until the mid-eighteen forties (Dana Johnson 209).6 The fact that Fidler regarded the market-house-cum-town hall as superior both in size and design to anything like it in North America is but one of many examples throughout Canadian history of large-scale civic buildings being applauded by contemporaries as evidences of the community’s achievements and potential.

     A similar combination of the civic and the commercial occurred with the construction of the Bonsecours Market in Montreal in 1844-47. A “fusion” of Georgian and neoclassical elements like its Kingston equivalent, which was begun a year earlier, the Bonsecours Market was designed by William Footner (1799-1872) and consists of an immense two-storey stone building housing a “City Hall, Civic Centre, Public Library and Police Station” (Bland 95) and surmounted by a tall dome and fronted by a bold portico (Kalman 1: 307). It has a “handsome façade and bright tin dome,” observed the anonymous author of The Englishwoman in America (1856), and is “said to be the second finest in the world” (255). Thomas A. Markus could be describing aspects of both Bonsecours Market and Toronto’s market-house-cum-town-hall when he writes in Buildings and Power: Freedom and Control in the Origin of Modern Building Types that

[t]he increasing power represented by these buildings is clear not only in their functional and spatial articulation but also in formal features of clocks, bell cupolas, balconies – both for public ceremony and for surveying the open market square – and ceremonial staircases, heraldic emblems, flags and iconography relating to the town’s history. Stylistically … Palladian … forms [gave way to] neo-Classical … [and then] Gothic forms. (316)

Less controversial than either the Quebec Market building or the Kingston City Hall/Market, Bonsecours Market was nevertheless faulted for various reasons, including the plainness of its façade (“[t]he rusticated basement is a very good specimen, vigorous, and well proportioned; but the superstructure has too much the air of a flat surface, merely varied by chiseling”) and its location “at the verge of the town instead of its centre, where a market should be, or rather in the foci of possible extension” (Gazette [Montreal] 23 October, 1845, 3). The first of these objections may merely reflect a difference of taste, but the second is surely more significant because it expresses misgivings about the decentering or recentering of Montreal that echo forward to recent responses to the proliferation of suburban malls and “big box” stores: with the removal of commercial activity from a city’s geographical centre, both the commercial viability of its core and, so the argument goes, the communal vitality of the city as a whole are threatened.7 That Montreal did not suffer such a fate may well have been because it was already a city with more than one centre, and with the conflicts as well as the diversity that such a condition can entail. After the Parliament Buildings in Montreal (see also: i) were destroyed by fire in 1849, the Bonsecours Market was briefly home to Parliament, but from 1852 onwards it reverted to the commercial-cum-civic role for which its combination of marketplace, magistrates’ court, and concert and reception halls intended it. In the fact that the “baseless Greek Doric columns” of its portico were “fabricated of cast iron and imported from England” (Kalman 1: 307) lies material evidence of Montreal’s transition from French fur-trading centre to prosperous British Canadian port in the process of modernization. Bonsecours Market was scarcely complete when plans were being made to span the nearby St. Lawrence with a tubular steel bridge designed by Robert Stephenson (see Chapter 9: HypheNations) that would provide an economical, year-round railway link with the United States and come to be regarded even before its completion as “the greatest engineering work of … [its] time” and as a symbol of the “rapidity of progress” characteristic of “the history of the New World” (The Victoria [St. Lawrence] Bridge 5).


To the extent that market places came into being at points of intersection between and among the commercial, political, and civic components of nineteenth-century Canadian society, it is scarcely surprising either that they attracted the close attention of such writers as Fidler, Bouchette, Lambert, and Moodie or that, sooner or later, their potential as sets for staging the drama of emergent community would be exploited in a Canadian novel. As might be predicted from the richly symbolic use of architecture and place in the construction of “the Plummer Place” (see Chapter 5: Past and Lintel), that novel is The Imperialist (1904), where Sara Jeannette Duncan uses the market square of Brantford (the novel’s Elgin) as the site of the imaginative awakening of communal awareness that prompts the protagonist, Lorne Murchison, to undertake his political crusade on behalf of imperial federation. In the decades during and immediately after Duncan grew up there, Brantford was known primarily for its association with Joseph Brant and Alexander Graham Bell, for its metal and machine manufacturing industries, for its numerous educational institutions such as the Presbyterian Ladies’ College that Duncan herself attended, and for one monumental civic edifice, the Brant County Courthouse designed by John Turner and built in 1852-53 (see Hunter 452-62). “Elgin had begun as a centre of ‘trading’ for the farmers of Fox County,” explains the narrator early in the novel, but its “Main Street ... was now the chief artery of a thriving manufacturing town, with a collegiate institute, eleven churches, two newspapers, and an asylum for the deaf and dumb [the equivalent of Brantford’s School for the Blind (1872)]” (19). Several elements of the history, built environment, and natural setting of Brantford/Elgin figure in The Imperialist, but none except “the Plummer Place” rises to the complex significance of the market square in the episode that marks Lorne Murchison’s patriotic awakening and the novel’s superimposition of its central political theme of imperialism on its preliminary “analysis of social principles in Elgin” (40). It is quite possible that Duncan chose the market square in Elgin for Lorne’s political epiphany with an awareness that the area of Brantford upon which it is based was (and still is) regarded as one of “the most cohesive urban space[s] … anywhere in Canada” on account of its harmonious integration of commercial buildings and such “symbols of public life” as the Courthouse and City Hall (Beck and Keefer 98).

     When the epiphanic episode opens, Lorne is in a location that anticipates the relationship between his idealistic vision of imperial unity and the mundane realities of Elgin life: the second-storey office of the legal firm of “Messrs. Fluke, Warner, & Murchison ... in Market Street, exactly over Scott’s drug store,” which is separated by a “passage leading upstairs ... from Mickie, boots and shoes” and, “beyond Mickie, ... [a] place of business shared by the town’s leading tobacconist [and] ... a barber” (68). Lorne’s firm shares the second floor with the Elgin dentist and “a bicycle agent” and all three share a staircase that has “a hardened look, and b[ears] witness to the habit of expectoration.” Before following Lorne down this staircase into Market Street, the narrator uses the vantage point of a window in the second-storey to provide a description of the market square whose terminology of “parallels” and “sections” leaves no doubt that it is a microcosm of its region and province:

... the name of the firm of Messrs. Fluke, Warner & Murchison was painted on the windows ... [and] could be seen from any part of the market square, which lay, with the town hall in the middle, immediately below. During four days of the week the market square was empty. Odds and ends of straw and paper blew about it; an occasional pedestrian crossed it diagonally for the short cut to the post-office; the town hall rose in the middle, and defied you to take your mind off the ugliness of municipal institutions. On the other days it was a scene of activity. Farmers’ wagons, with the shafts turned in, were ranged around three sides of it; on a big day they would form into parallel lines and cut the square into sections as well. The produce of all Fox County filled the wagons, varying agreeably as the year went round. Bags of potatoes leaned against the side-walk, apples brimmed in bushel measures, ducks dropped their twisted necks over the cart wheels; the town hall, in this play of colour, stood redeemed. The produce was mostly left to the women to sell. On the fourth side of the square loads of hay and cordwood demanded the master mind, but small matters of fruit, vegetables, and poultry submitted to feminine judgment. The men “unhitched,” and went away on their own business; it was the wives you accosted ... if you wanted to buy. (68-69)

With its variety of businesses, professional offices, and federal and municipal buildings, its obedience to weekly and seasonal rhythms of supply and demand, and its spectacles of human behavior and interaction, the Elgin market square is at once a typical Canadian market of the Victorian period and a distinctive manifestation of its Ontarian place and time. When idle, it is occasionally a site of purposeful but isolated activity and communication in the form of a “pedestrian” mailing a letter, but when active it is never less than a site of convergence and interaction between and among individuals and the community, brilliantly chosen and utterly appropriate for Lorne’s idealistic coming to communal awareness.

     Yet as the dynamics of the convergences and interactions in the Elgin market square are described and analysed by Duncan’s narrator, they appear more and more to be at odds with any form of idealism. The farmers’ wives are “vigilant in [their] rusty bonnets,” the housewives of the town are single-mindedly dedicated to “pricing and comparing and acquiring,” and the entire process is shot through with a middle-class concern for appearances: “only very ordinary people carried their own marketing.... [I]t did not consort with elegance to ‘traipse’ home with anything that looked inconvenient or had legs sticking out of it” (69). “It was a scene of activity but not of excitement, or in any sense of joy,” observes the narrator; “[t]he matter was of too hard an importance.... The dealers were laconic and the buyers anxious; country neighbours exchanged the time of day, but under the pressure of affairs. Now and then a lady of Elgin stopped to gossip with another; the country women looked on, curious, grim, and a little contemptuous of so much demonstration and so many words” (69). In this, too, however, the market square is a microcosm of its place and time in Elgin, Ontario:

here was no enterprise of yesterday, no fresh broken ground of dramatic promise, but a narrow inheritance of the opportunity to live which generations had grasped before. There were bones in the village graveyards of Fox county to father all these sharp features. Elgin market square, indeed, was the biography of Fox county, and, in little, the history of the whole Province. The heart of it was there, the enduring heart of the new country already old in acquiescence. It was the deep root of the race in the land, twisted and unlovely, but holding the promise of all. Something like that Lorne Murchison felt about it as he stood for a moment in the passage I have mentioned and looked across the road. (69-70)

By the sudden intrusion of the narrator, Duncan emphasizes that what Lorne feels as he stands in the phlegm-bespattered passage between “Scott’s drug store” and “Mickie, boots and shoes,” is only “[s]omething like” a fully comprehending and accurate response to the scene in the market square.

     When the narrative continues, the cause of Lorne’s relative imperceptiveness becomes apparent. Thanks in large part to another misreading that will also cause him great psychological pain – his belief that the fatuous, selfish, and malicious Dora Milburn reciprocates his love – he has projected his “private happiness” onto the “familiar picture” of the market square, imbuing it as never before with a “more vivid reality” than is merited or wise (70). Nevertheless, insofar as “[t]he sense of kinship” with the people of Fox County that now “surge[s] in [Lorne’s] heart” is the result of the kind of imaginative empathy (Einfühlung) that allows people to look above and beyond the narrow confines of the self and its immediate surroundings, it places him among the positive characters in The Imperialist and commands the admiration of both the narrator and the reader. As he passes through “the door of the passage” into Market Street

he look[s] at the scene before him with an impulse of loyalty and devotion. A tenderness seize[s] him for the farmers of Fox County, a throb of enthusiasm for the idea they represent ..., which had become for him moving and pictorial. At that moment his country came subjectively into his possession; great and helpless it came into his inheritance as it comes into the inheritance of every man who can take it, by deed of imagination and energy and love. He held this microcosm of it, as one might say, in his hand and looked at it ardently; then he took his way across the road. (70)

As he passes over the threshold of the passage door and across the rubicon of Market Street, Lorne is possessed of an “idea” in Walter Bagehot’s sense of an “attraction which seems to transcend reality, which aspires to elevate men by an interest higher, deeper, wider than that of ordinary life” (66). “His eye was full of pleasant easy familiarity with the things he saw, and ready to see larger things,” comments the narrator as Lorne makes his way “among the shifting crowd” with an old school mate of decidedly restricted vision and lower social class; “it had that beam of active enquiry, curious but never amazed, that marks the man likely to expand his horizons. Meanwhile he was on capital terms with his little world, which seemed to take pleasure in hailing him by his Christian name” (71). Despite some insulting remarks about lawyers and his young age by his companion’s mother, Lorne leaves the market square in high spirits and well disposed to espouse the “idea” that Canada’s goals as a nation could best be achieved through imperial federation or, in the words of Carl Berger’s The Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914, that British “Imperialism was one form of Canadian nationalism” (259).

     As described by Duncan in The Imperialist, the experience of being in a market square can be both expansive and influent, centrifugal and centripetal: as well as feeling himself in the presence of a microcosm of Canada, Lorne feels that he has taken that microcosm into himself, the twofold result of this “dialectic ... of individual and community” (Hertzberger 57) being a sense of outward movement towards “larger things” and a sense of inner possession of Canada as a whole. At a liminal point on the periphery of the market square (the passage door), he achieves the “detachment” (70) that lends “enchantment” (or “vivid[ness]”) to the scene and makes possible a sense of identity with community whose delusive, even hubristic quality, is signaled when the narrator allows that Lorne “held this microcosm, as one might say, in his hand” and, later, that “there was something too large about him for the town’s essential stamp” (71). It is but one more indication of Duncan’s metaphysical use of space and place that Lorne delivers his final statement of “belie[f] in the Idea” of imperialism to the profoundly unreceptive electorate of Fox County from the stage of the Elgin Opera House (see 231-40): at the crucial moment of his campaign when, in Bagehot’s words, he attempts to elevate his audience “by appealing to some vague dream of glory, or empire, or nationality” (66), he once again – and perhaps inevitably – stands above them, talks down to them, and deludes himself into thinking that “[h]e has them all with him” (239). That the most “telling speech” of the evening has “the chink of hard cash in every sentence” and is heard with “practical satisfaction” is merely a further instance of Lorne’s failure to understand the geist of Fox County (240). That it is delivered by a Liberal cabinet minister whose very name – Tellier – is evocative of successful speech making, vote counting, and the giving and receiving of money is yet one more indication of Duncan’s mastery of her craft.

     It is also one of many indications that, although she gives Lorne the mixture of negative and positive qualities demanded by late Victorian realism, Duncan was deeply sympathetic to the “idea” and the idealism that he represents and far from sceptical about the potency of the experience of empathetic self-expansion and communal introjection that she describes in the market square episode of her novel. Fail though he ultimately does to implement his ideal, Lorne remains to the end admirable for the “imagination and energy” that allow him to envisage and promote the idea of a community that is at once local, regional, national and multinational. “What a grandiose impression this place must have made!” wrote Camillo Sitte of the market place (Forum) in Pompeii in Der Städt-Bau nach seinen kunstlerischen Grundsatzen (City Building According to Its Artistic Fundamentals) (1889); looking over it, a visitor “will sense, rising within ..., waves of harmony like the pure, full tones of sublime music.... The market place, a ... center of activity for our ancestors, has persisted, it is true, to the present time, but more and more it is being replaced by vast enclosed halls.... Surging throngs no longer circulate on market days before our City Halls” (1-5, 10). There is no evidence that Duncan knew Sitte’s work (which was not translated, as The Art of Building Cities, until 1945, though it did appear in French in 1902), but her interest in the built environment makes it quite likely that she was acquainted with the municipal art of the eighteen nineties of which it was a highly influential part. In any case, the market square of Elgin is neither a “vast enclosed hall” nor, for three days a week at least, a desolate testament to absent community; rather, it is a hive of activity, a site of convergence and interaction, and a potential font of kindred feeling whose ancestors, descendants, and relatives include the vibrant market places past and present of such cities as Ottawa and Waterloo and the bustling city squares that served as settings for two of the most important architexts of the Centennial period: Combat Journal for Place d’Armes: a Personal Narrative (1967) by Scott Symons (1933- ) and Civil Elegies (1968) by Dennis Lee (1939- ).


Although the Place d’Armes of Symons’ title is not the original parade ground, market place, and meeting area that was opened in 1650 opposite Fort Ville Marie, it does stand on a site that was used “as a public place from the early days of the French régime” (Atherton 1: 242, 2: 643) and thereafter became and remained until the late nineteenth century “the old town’s French Catholic centre” (Phyllis Lambert 6). Bordered on the south by the Seminary of the Sulpicians (1683-84), which is the oldest remaining building in Montreal, and by the Church of Notre-Dame (1823-29), “it was purchased by the city” in 1836 and “enclosed ... leveled” and partially “paved” in 1845 (Atherton 2: 643). With the construction directly opposite Notre Dame of the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal (1845-48, 1901-05),8 an “imperially domed” neoclassical edifice with a “six-column Corinthian portico based on the Commercial Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh,” Place d’Armes became a site of confrontation, rivalry, and accommodation between “religion and commerce, francophone and anglophone, Catholic and Protestant” (Phyllis Lambert 6) – an architectural simulacrum of the founding and enduring dualities of central Canada. The Maisonneuve Monument by Philippe Hébert (1850-1917) that stands at the centre of the square was placed there in 1895 “to celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the city by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve” and “the whole square [was] cemented during the ... three or four years” prior to the First World War. As the autobiographical protagonist of Symons’ novel, Hugh Anderson, makes his way towards Place d’Armes in a series of decreasing circles, he alludes to George Monro Grant’s Picturesque Canada; the Country as It Was and Is (1881), which includes a description of the square by A.J. Bray and John Lesperance that stops just short of identifying it as the Canadian icon of shared space that it becomes in the novel:

As it stands at present, there are few more charming spots in Canada, framed in as it is by the Corinthian portico of the Montreal Bank, the Ionic colonnade of the City Bank9 – now the buildings of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company – and the towers of Notre Dame.... The garden of the Place d’Armes is very beautiful in summer ... but in winter it is invested with a particular glory – for the place is the coldest spot in Montreal at all seasons of the year – north-west winds streaming from the mountain in that direction as through a Colorado cañon. Its history goes back to the early history of the city. In 1643 and 1644, the Colony of Villemarie ... was practically in a state of siege, owing to the incursions of Indians. The noble Maisonneuve ... marched out in the direction of the mountain, where he was met by upwards of two hundred savages, who fell upon him and compelled his forces to retreat. Maisonneuve formed the rear-guard. With a pistol in each hand, he walked slowly back, and never halted until he reached the present site of the Place d’Armes. (1: 121)

“‘La Place d’Armes is the heart of Montreal, metropolis of Canada,’” Symons’ novel begins, and after brisk surveys of its architectural elements and surroundings it becomes in Anderson’s mind “‘a summary of the entire city ... heart of Montreal, old and new ... heart of Canada!’” (1, 2). To enter and be entered by the Place d’Armes and all that it embodies is the goal not only of Hugh Anderson, but also of Andrew Harrison, the autobiographical protagonist of the novel within the novel that Hugh is in the process of writing. As Symons/Anderson puts it after presenting the first episode of the novel that will see Andrew “run[ning] toward the statue of Maisonneuve” shouting “‘La Place ... La place’” in the moment of illumination on which Place d’Armes ends, “[t]he Great Square – the Place d’Armes [...] it enveloped me and I in turn it [..]. A square within a square within a square...or rather a series of celestial spheres ... three of some seven heavens ... The Place d’Armes within me; and the Place d’Armes without me” (278, 102; unbracketed ellipses in the original). For Symons/Anderson/Harrison, Place d’Armes is the squared circle at the centre of a cultural and religious universe towards which they move as one on a nationalistic theodyssey in search of meaning, identity, and empowerment.

     Much to the consternation of some members of Symons’ family and several reviewers of the novel (most famously Robert Fulford)10 the meaning and identity that the autobiographical protagonist(s) find(s) in Place d’Armes/Place d’Armes is a sacramental same-sex love that is graphically realized in and through two sexual encounters with French-Canadian rent boys. When the novel opens, Symons/Anderson has left his wife and children in Toronto to come to Montreal on an “Adventure” (24) or “quest” (169) whose holy grail is an amalgam of the Ontario Loyalist and Quebec Catholic traditions that would provide proof against the federal Liberal vision of what Symons, following George Grant,11 saw as a “bland, homogenized,” and Americanized Canada (Martin 199, and see Piggford 141 and Goldie 115). Fully aware that by giving expression to his homosexuality and misogynism he will be “exiled both from [his] Tory Community and from the New Canadian Grit Democratic Establishment,” Symons/Anderson nevertheless proceeds to do so in no uncertain terms, declaring it “better ... to be a pédéraste than a ‘fédéraste,’”12 depicting Canadian women as the emasculating agents of the federal Liberal system, and dismissing heterosexual Canadian men past and present who have either failed to rebel or rebelled only politically as “dildo[es]” and “homosexuals-ratés ... [failed homosexuals] ... men half-cocked” (141, 139, 159, 216). It is difficult to agree or sympathize entirely with Symons’ analysis and programme but there can be no doubting its sincerity and audacity: nations are frequently conceived in patriarchal and matriarchal terms or as females or males deserving of love and loyalty, but rarely are a country and its people figured as an emasculated male in need of the sort of liberating “public enema” (90) that only a passionate act of sodomy can apparently effect.13

     Looming at least as large as Grant’s Lament for a Nation (1965, 1970) in Symons/Anderson’s queering of the causes and symptoms of Canadian hypo-testiculosis is the concept of a “dissociation of sensibility” – a divorce of intellect from feeling in Western culture at the time of the Renaissance – that T.S. Eliot developed in relation to John Donne in “The Metaphysical Poets” (1920) and to which several direct and indirect references are made in Place d’Armes and other works by Symons (Eliot, Selected Prose 64, and see Place d’Armes 120, 161, 176-77, and 202-03). “[W]ith the Renaissance ... we get the beginnings of a long slow ‘severance,’ or detachment – both spiritual and domestic,” writes Symons in Heritage: a Romantic Look at Canadian Furniture: “the mind and the spirit declare open formal war on each other! The Protestant world moves progressively towards a reality of mere-mind. And the Catholic world defensively moves towards a reality of sheer mysticism. The Protestant world makes intellectual moves which culminate in Utilitarianism, arithmetic democracy, and material comfort: life as a consolation prize. While Catholicism takes refuge in an architecture of hallucination: the Baroque” ([x-xi]). What is required for the health of Canadian culture is a rapprochement between the Protestant mind of Ontario to the Catholic spirit of Quebec. It is as consistent with the metahistory of Western civilization as with the misogyny of Place d’Armes that near the end of the novel Symons/Anderson traces the origin of the “severance” that he is attempting to overcome to the Henrician split with Rome: “I ... [w]atch the Church grow me – and wonder if it is not in truth for me English Gothic revival to which has been added the Catholic folk earscape we all lost when Henry VIII went cuntcrazy, and cut the Church. Is that not it? This ... the absolute restitution ... of a reality that we lost ... the restitution of sound and light?” (251).

     In Heritage, this “restitution” took place, Symons recalls, when he “knelt, and took bread” – ingested the Body and Blood of Christ – amid the ornate splendour of Notre-Dame de Montreal in Place d’Armes (23), the immense Gothic Revival church designed, ironically, by the Irish-born, American -based, and Protestant architect James O’Donnell (1774-1830).14 In Place d’Armes, a similar moment of reconnection occurs (264-67), but only after Scott/Anderson has described the act of mutual sodomy between himself and the second rent-boy, André, as a giving and receiving of the Real Presence that restores him to manhood, reconnects his intellect and sensibility, and promises redemption for his country. An excerpt from the crucial passage does scant justice to the richness of its spatialized and architextured gay imaginary:

Oh, no image, no analogy this site – but what is seen now, in La Place in the nave where we are processional
           carrying my Cross to the Chalice and both
           to the Host of us replaced whole in the nave

           André moans Magnificat as assoul clutches on rood
                       Cocked chalice
                                   [. . .]
           whole world reborn in our Host that quivers me André sensing withdraws me out to the rim of his world, plies my quaver, secures my Holyrood at arsedge and as I bore back steep raises his nave off our bed to capture my Man thrusting homage unto our sunburst monstrance as I reach out in
           to the Host in the Nave on the Altar in the Church in our Place d’Armes, reach in for that Body and Blood now reborn in the flesh, made sheer flesh ... Man reborn, made whole in me ... donnant, donnant, for my Land given back to André gave me the host
           bloodworthy, gave that back to me as key to our kingdom
gave it back to me as I reach out to the bloodspurt of the Object resurrected in me, Manned once again.... (225-26)

Blasphemous though this theophanic passage certainly is from an orthodox Christian perspective, it nevertheless exemplifies the degree to which Place d’Armes is a theodyssey in which the quest for personal and national identity and “potence” (91) is inextricably linked to the religious mystery of the Word made flesh and the flesh redeemed by the Word. For Symons, sexual communion between men is merely the most physical way of participating in the male principle embodied in Christ and in the Body and Blood of the Catholic Mass. Homosexuality is thus an aid but not a necessity for the achievement of what he terms “homosentience”: the personal and political “potency,” awareness, and compassion – the “thinking at the end of ... fingertips” and penis – that comes with and from an affirmation of male same-sex love (161, 91, 203). In short, “homosentience” is the ideal, homosexuality a way into it.

     To flesh out his theologically overdetermined vision of his country and his protagonist as nearly neutered males in need of the “Phallic Generation” (134) of a mutually penetrating encounter between Ontario’s High Tory establishment and Quebec’s Catholic low life, Symons draws on a variety of literary models and styles, including, as Robert K. Martin and other scholars have observed, André Gide’s Les Faux-monnayeurs (1970), Hubert Aquin’s Prochain episode (1967), Douglas LePan’s The Deserter (1964), and the throbbing cadences of D.H. Lawrence’s “celebration[s] of phallic power” and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ celebrations of divine imminence (Martin 199, 207). Almost needless to say, Symons’ depiction of his fractal narrator as an urban wanderer and his predilection for word play owe much to James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). Early in Place d’Armes, a disparaging reference is made to Norman Mailer (“Sodomy in Amurrica is ... barking up a dead end! Mailer Inc. are all too late!” [65]) but passages like the following in Symons/Anderson’s encounter with the first French Canadian rent boy, Pierre, are clearly indebted to the notorious description of the sodomizing of the German maid in Mailer’s An American Dream (1965) as well as to “l’‘inscape’ de Hopkins” (68):

[I] watch his body cocking, his hidden Man risen under bluejeans ... bigtoe down and rises me slowly rising with him rising me and in me am over to this manscape standing high over hawkeying this land this whole nation lying rampant under my eye as abruptly I skydive into this sweet prey, headfirst beakfirst onto swollen jeans nuzzle into the manmusk seeping through the closed fly breathing deep into this musk [...] then I am back up to eye this site again ... yes, ohhh yes, it is entire land spreadeagling there entire land I always knew was there, never absolutely lost, merely out of site [...] (38-39)

In style and content, this could scarcely be more remote from The Imperialist, and yet the experiences of Lorne Murchison and Symons/Anderson have much in common. Not only do both men apprehend a specific “site” – in the first instance the market square of Elgin and the people of Fox County and in the second the outstretched body of Pierre in a hotel off Place d’Armes – as the microcosm of an entire province and culture, but each in his very different way then takes the “site” into himself as part of a process of infusion and self-extension that is at once personal and nationalistic. It is therefore less surprising than it might seem that, with due allowances for geography, at least one section of the third-person omniscient narrative that Symons gives to Andrew Harrison strongly recalls the market-square chapter of The Imperialist:

It was the Place, the entire Quartier – old and new – that staggered forward to him. Plied every organ in his body. It tilted in him, and he rolled with it, over to his left. And then straightened out. He shuddered ... the Place was clearly within his own inmost keep. He had taken the outposts, had even in part taken the Place ... but it had equally taken him. (105)

Differ as they do in almost every other way, The Imperialist and Place d’Armes are novels in which a unifying national vision comes to be embodied in a male protagonist through his imaginative and to a lesser or greater degree physical penetration by and of a civic space. They may well be the Canadian novels par excellence of political situatedness.

     Among the factors that contribute to the situatedness of Place d’Armes is a strong emphasis throughout the novel on the buildings and monuments in and around the Place d’Armes. Several entries in the notebook in which Anderson records impressions for his novel contain vivid and astute comments on Montreal’s buildings (for example: “[c]orner St. Laurent and Craig–view of the Old Court House, & beyond it, the Hotel de Ville, up on the hill on the right. Good contrast: the ‘chaste’ conservative classicism of the Court [good, clean British justice!] & the voluptuous insinuations of City Hall” [53]). Moreover, the “combat journal”/“personal narrative” of Symons/Anderson that constitutes the bulk of the novel is similarly replete with observations of and on Montreal’s built environment (for example, “[a]long the Greyway ... on either side fine grey stonework–arcaded, pilastered. One of these must be Rasco’s Hotel [the guidebook sticks in my mind].... It is admirable. Gutworked stone!” [73]). In the early pages of the novel when Symons/Anderson has recently arrived in Montreal, most of the entries in the notebook and journal serve the dual purpose of acquainting the reader with Montreal and of characterizing Symons/Anderson/Harrison as an informed outsider who has not as yet undergone the psychophysiological initiation that will allow him to feel rather than merely see Place d’Armes and, hence, to experience it, not just as a “site” but as an “insite” (120, 136, 176-77).15 At one point in Anderson’s novel-within-the-novel, Harrison describes this transition in terms strikingly reminiscent of Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the body in The Visible and the Invisible (1964; trans. 1968) as “the sole means I have of going to the heart of things, making me world, making them flesh” (178): “[h]e had never had this happen before ... the participation in the object. Which then became subject” (113). In the same passage, Anderson introduces dimensional distinctions of apprehension that he later elaborates in his notebook as “three different men, moralities, societies ... visions. Each in irreparable conflict”:

In 4-D body is imbedded ... a world of love.
In 3-D body as detached ... world of common-sense.
In 2-D body is dissolved ... world of non-sense.

Anderson’s subsequent association of the three modes of vision with the French-Catholic (4-D), British (3-D), and American (2-D) heritages in Canada is pure Symons, but his tripartite schema is itself reminiscent of the three “layers” or “stages” of “sensory experience” described by Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception (1945; trans. 1958), as, indeed, is his rendition of his protagonists’ fully embodied experience of Place d’Armes in a series of “synaesthetic” moments in which, in Merleau-Ponty’s terms, “[t]he senses intercommunicate by opening on to the structure of the thing” and “surrendering the subject to his vitality” (263-65). It thus seems quite possible that, directly or indirectly, the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty helped to shape the interactions between Symons’ emphatically embodied protagonists and the fleshy world in which he embeds them.

     Given Symons’ resonantly High Modern identification of the Renaissance and Reformation as the culprits in the severance of sensibility from intellect that characterizes modernity, the hostility to modern architecture that develops alongside his protagonists’ “homosentience” in Place d’Armes is as predictable as the concomitant growth of their love for the architectural and artistic forms associated with the Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation, particularly the extravagant interior of Notre Dame which, as John Bland observes in Three Centuries of Architecture in Canada, is “frankly theatrical … [and] intended to arouse sensations of wonder” (89). The primary target of Symons/Anderson’s conviction that “all the [...] modern buildings [in Montreal] are the same thing ... the same progressive insubstantiation” (186-87) are the buildings of a fictional architect named Albert Streicher, who is credited with being the designer of Place Ville-Marie, the “design consultant for la Place des Arts,” and the “joint architect of the Quebec Pavilion at Expo” (147). (In fact, Place Ville-Marie [1958-66], a forty-five storey cruciform tower clad in glass and aluminum, was designed by I.M. Pei [1917- ] and Partners in association with the urban designer Vincent Ponte and the Montreal firm of Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold, Michaud, and Sise, who also designed the Place des Arts [1956-67].) In creating his archetypical Modern architect, Symons may have had Raymond Affleck [1922-89] particularly in mind, for he was also a principal designer of Montreal’s Place Bonaventure [1964-68], a massive example of Brutalism that Symons may also have had in mind in creating the novel’s Place des Arts.16 The Quebec Pavilion at Expo 67 (see also: i) was the work of the Montreal firm of Papineau, Pépin-Lajoie, and Leblanc [see Kalman 2: 804, 830, 832-33]. Of course, Albert Streicher’s name recalls that of Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer.) Before seeing Place Ville-Marie and Place des Arts, Symons/Anderson pronounces them “‘abortion[s] ’” and after seeing the latter he is convinced of the rightness of his judgment: “it is so specifically an abortion ... a mommygut sacked, complete with corset to bolster” (147, 152). As for the auditorium in the Place des Arts, it is “not an auditorium at all – but a sightsea – a sitesee” that induces blindness, deafness, and “absolute insensitivity,” a condition antithetical to sensual intercommunication and “homosentience” (152, 155-56). Streicher’s apartment on the second story of a “warehouse-cum-brothel-cum-skydive” of a town house and its “sumptuous modern furniture, tapestry, [and] art” have a similarly negative effect: “[t]his inversion of space and time [...] terrorizes me,” moans Symons/Anderson: “its expanse of whitened wall, immaculate conception” is an “implacably immaculate contraception”; its contents face “absolute carnality” with “[a]bsolute chastity”; it is a “man-eater,” a cerebral enemy to “‘meaningful embodiment’,” a “living-room [that] is At Home for No-Body” (147-51). Symons/Anderson’s final observation before fleeing Streicher’s apartment sums up the attitude to Modernism that pervades Place d’Armes: “[t]his [...] is not architectural revolution. It is Absolute Revolution over our dead body. Absolute Devolution. As architecture it demands different social, political, economic and moral structures for society. It commandeers a different kind of man: a neuter” (151).

     Symons’ critique of Modern architecture and architects is not confined to Montreal or Place d’Armes. In Civic Square (1969), the unbound typescript in a facsimile of the Birks blue box that Symons had come to regard as “THE symbol ... of the Toronto cube” or “Victorian Matriarchal Box we’re all victims of,” Nathan Phillips Square (as the open space in front of Toronto’s new City Hall [1961-65] had recently been named) is explicitly cast as the work’s “Anti-Hero” and “Anti-Body” and, as such, the life-negating opposite of Place d’Armes, which is identified as the real “Hero” of the earlier novel (715, 374, 57 and see Place d’Armes 3). In Heritage (1971), the “anatomy” of early Canadian furniture or “‘furniture novel’” (Irving Layton’s phrase) that completes Symons tripartite “song of love and mourning for his nation” (Elson 73), “Toronto the Good, City of Churches” has become obscured by the Modern “bank towers and trust compan[y]” headquarters (“Ave atque vale...,” Heritage np). And in Place d’Armes itself, the “Civic Square” and new City Hall, a now iconic pair of concave towers of different heights designed by the Finnish architect Viljo Revell (1910-64) are lumped together with their “Amurrican” counterparts as manifestations of everything that Symons/Anderson is trying to escape:17

... Toronto, with its claim to be the “fastest growing city in North America.” Which meant the fastest growing “white city” in the world. Perhaps that was what was wrong with Toronto! Nor could he find any heart in Toronto ... no central Place ... unless one took the new City Hall and its monolithic Phillips Square.... [A]ny sense of dimension in time in Toronto was about to be extinguished by the destruction of the Old City Hall which gave all the conviction and perspective to the New – torn down to make room for a department store. Well that told the whole story. He grimaced. (3-4)

(Of course, not everyone has agreed with Symons’ caustic assessment of Nathan Phillips Square and the new Toronto City Hall: Adele Freeman, to take just one example, regards the Square as “a startlingly generous gesture in a city that … can be mean” and argues that, “[i]f Toronto can be said to have a heart, and hearts are in scant supply in big North American cities, then Viljo Revell’s sweeping vision of modernity is undoubtedly one of its ventricles…. It gave Toronto a centre, a forward-looking identity, and a sunny place to eat a sandwich at lunchtime” [148, 146, 149].)


A year after the publication of Place d’Armes, Dennis Lee – a fellow native of Toronto and a fellow disciple of George Grant – would also use Nathan Phillips Square to give voice to the anti-Americanism of the Centennial period and to lay blame for the creeping Americanization of Canada on the Pearsonian Liberals. Prefaced with a quotation from Grant’s “Canadian Fate and Imperialism” (1969) and dedicated to Grant and the virulently anti-American Dave Godfrey (1938- ) the majority of the seven poems that constitute the two editions of Civil Elegies that were published in 1968 by the systemically anti-American House of Anansi contain passages that condemn the vicious imperialism of the United States and its leaders and the “emasculat[ing]” traitorousness of the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Paul Martin, Senior and the “consenting citizens” that elect him and his likes ([1968] np., [1972] 47-48).18 “Even though he / pumps your oil,” “a man who / fries the skin of kids with burning jelly is a / criminal,” runs one especially excoriating passage that proceeds through historical reference and literary allusion to liken not just Martin but “all Canadians” to the Norwegian collaborator Vidkun Quisling and the “honourable” Brutus on whom Mark Antony heaps memorable scorn in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. For Lee, the elegy as practiced by Rainer Maria Rilke in the Duineser Elegien (Duino Elegies) (1922; trans. 1936)19 furnished both a formal model for Civil Elegies and, with The Waste Land (1922), a thematic precedent for its search for meaning in a decadent world, provided an appropriate vehicle for the articulation and exploration of the profound sense of loss and anger expressed by Grant in Lament for a Nation and other works.

     But Grant, Rilke, and Eliot are by no means the only or even the most important presences in Civil Elegies. That honour arguably goes to Friedrich Hölderlin, the German Romantic poet whose “cadences” Lee by his own admission adapted in his elegiac sequence (“Cadence” 530)20 and, above all, to Heidegger, whose Existence and Being (1949) contains four essays that evidently exerted an enormous influence on Lee: “Remembrance of the Poet” (a meditation on Hölderlin’s “Homecoming” that includes the full text of the elegy), “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry,” “On the Essence of Truth,” and “What is Metaphysics?” A reference to “the tired professors of Freiburg” (where Heidegger studied and taught for most of his career) in the third of the Civil Elegies points only vaguely to the philosopher, but several phrases in the same and other elegies such as “it is time to honour the void,” “the ache of being,” “Can you sit on Nonbeing?” and “What of Nothingness?” ([1968] np) give strong intimations of his significant presence. Moreover, the volume in which a revised and extended version of the sequence appeared in 1972, Civil Elegies and Other Poems, begins with a piece entitled “400: Coming Home” (the reference is to the highway that leads north from Toronto) and includes two new elegies, numbers 2 and 4, that are loudly Heideggerian in both phrasing and theme. In the former, for example, the idea that “in every thing we meet / we meet ... emptiness” is designated “a homecoming” ([1972] 37-38), an explanation that relies on Heidegger’s discussion of Hölderlin’s “Homecoming” in “Remembrance of the Poet” and, very likely, on his editor’s gloss of the concept of “homecoming” as the “existential” process whereby death is “return[ed] to life ... as a known and understood power” and comes to “mean dying into the world and not beyond it” (Brock 394). Similarly, in the following lines from the fourth elegy in the 1972 sequence, the terms “Dwelling,” “world,” and “letting be” are resonantly Heideggerian, as of course, is the conception of poetry (or song) that they assume:

Dwelling among the
bruised and infinitely binding world
are we not meant to
relinquish it all, to begin at last
the one abundant psalm of letting be?
([1972] 43)

“Poetry is the establishing of being [Sein] by means of the word...‘Poetically, dwells man on this earth,’” writes Heidegger in “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry” (Existence and Being 304, 312), and in Existence and Being (trans. 1949), Being and Time (trans. 1962), and Discourse on Thinking (trans. 1966) he uses the terms “letting be” (Sein-lassen) and “releasement towards things” (Gelassenheit) to describe the complex attitude of non-interference yet involvement with things (Dingen) that he came to see as a means of “confronting meditatively” the devices and effects of modern technology (see Existence and Being 332-38, Being and Time 84-85, and Discourse on Thinking 50-56). In both editions of Civil Elegies, especially the second, Heidegger’s equation of poetry, being, and dwelling helps to shape a series of meditations on what it is to be in Canada in the modern world.

     Not until the publication of Savage Fields: an Essay on Literature and Cosmology in 1977 did Lee make explicit use of the Heideggerian dyad of “world” and “earth” that is scarcely, if at all, evident in the Civil Elegies of 1968 but has started to become a shaping paradigm in the Civil Elegies of 1972. Very likely, the principal reason for this development was the appearance in 1971 of Poetry, Language, Thought, the volume of Heidegger’s writings that includes the essay “The Origins of the Work of Art” in which he envisages the “opposition” between “world” – the realm of human activities and productions – and “earth” – the ground from which and on which “world” is constructed – as a relationship of mutual dependence (see Poetry, Language, Thought 30-70 and elsewhere, and Savage Fields 4-12 and 113-14).21 In both Savage Fields and the 1972 edition of Civil Elegies, Lee adopts but modifies the “world”/“earth” dyad so that it becomes more simply a conflict in which “world’s main purpose is to dominate earth ... by reducing earth to modes of existence which it can control” (Savage Fields 4). Nor is “world”/“earth” the only Heideggerian concept that Lee adopts and modifies in the two texts. Drawing this time on “The Thing” (which also appears in Poetry, Language, Thought) as well as on “The Origin of the Work of Art,” he appropriates the concept of “the setting up of a work” (temple, artefact) as the event that makes present “the god” and “gives to things their look and to men their outlook on themselves” (41-45) but renders it, in his own words, “more secular, and perhaps more shallowly modern” (Savage Fields 114). What “we call the world” is the “appropriating mirror-play”– the mutual reflection – of the “united fourfold” and “simple onefold of earth and sky, divinities and mortals,” writes Heidegger in “The Thing” (179), but in Civil Elegies “world” threatens to destroy “earth,” “divinities” are absent, and “mortals” look in vain to “sky” for light and enlightenment.

     Several aspects of Nathan Phillips Square make it an appropriate site for Lee’s post-Heideggerian quest for meaning and hope in a Canada that he sees as aligned with the destructive forces of “world,” nonchalant about its dependence on “earth,” and bereft of belief in the sacred. First and foremost, it is a centrally located public space where, as the market-square episode in The Imperialist attests, individuals can observe their fellow citizens and urban surroundings and can plausibly be expected to engage in meditations on matters pertaining to the present, past, and future characteristics and condition of the commonweal. When Civil Elegies opens, the poem’s speaker – Lee’s “lyric self” – represents himself as someone who “Often ... sit[s] in the sun ... brooding over the city,”22 sensing the “presence” in the square of the “spectres” of past immigrants and natives, and envisaging Canada as a place that has “specialized” in the Heideggerian condition of “not-being-at-home” (Unheimlichkeit) ([1972] 52, 33; Being and Time 188; and see Poetry, Language, Thought 161). As well as being “never / at home in native space and not yet / citizens of a human body of kind” ([1972] 33),23 the Canadians past and present who haunt and frequent Nathan Phillips Square are citizens of a country that has failed to achieve political and social “regeneration” in the Rebellions of 1837, that refuses to confront and accept its “flawed inheritance” of “rootless[ness],” failure, and “Indian-swindl[ing],” and, in consequence (for this is the poem’s Grantian logic), failed to become the “alternative” to the United States that it “might have come to be” ([1972] 33-35). The Square has the power to transform each person who enters it into “a passionate civil man,” but, even if it does so, it “sends [them] back to the acres of gutted intentions, / ... concrete debris ... parking scars and four-square tiers / of squat and righteous lives” of which Canada’s built and mental landscape is composed ([1972] 34). “Buildings oppress me,” observes Lee’s “lyric self” in a moment of architectural paranoia almost worth of Mrs. Bentley in Sinclair Ross’s As for Me and My House (1941); “I know / the dead persist in buildings, by-laws, porticos – the city I live in / is clogged with their presence; they ... form a destiny, still / incomplete, still dead weight, still / demanding whether Canada will be” (34).

     Almost needless to say, the Canada whose ideological and psychological failures and flaws pullulate in the polluted air of the Nathan Phillips Square of Civil Elegies is very much a product of Toronto and the University of Toronto in the period between the late ’fifties and early ’seventies when Lee was studying and then teaching there. “The crowds [that] emerge at five from jobs / that rankle and lag” have migrated from The Waste Land, but the “Heavy developers” who “pay off aldermen” and “the planners” who “go on jamming their maps / with asphalt panaceas” and feel “anger” at “the craft of neighbourhood, its whichway streets and generations” ([1972] 35) are more local and contemporary: they are the enemies of the Stop Spadina Save Our City campaign that led to the abandonment in 1971 of the plan to build an expressway “from Highway 401 through ravines and residential areas ... [to] Spadina Avenue within shouting distance of ... [Toronto’s] downtown,” a victory that Lee celebrated with a poem punctuated by a chorus of “The day we stopped Spadina” (Sewell 178, 180, and Power 114). Moreover, when Lee dreams of a non-urban landscape in which to live in the “dread” that for Heidegger characterizes Da-sein (being-there) (see Existence and Being 332-40 and 359-92), he envisages a “harsh country,” a cruel and largely empty landscape of the sort painted by the Group of Seven and brought to iconic prominence as a site of Canadian identity in the work of the mythopaeic critics and poets who drew inspiration from Northrop Frye’s “Conclusion” to the Literary History of Canada (1965) and the other “Essays on the Canadian Imagination” that he gathered together in The Bush Garden (1971). Drawing on Frye’s notion of a “garrison mentality” in Canadian culture (“Conclusion” 830), D.G. Jones proclaimed in Butterfly on Rock: a Study of Themes and Images in Canadian Literature (1970) that “[t]he only effective defence for a garrison culture is to abandon defence, to let down the walls ... let the wilderness in” and “discover ... community with an apparently hostile universe” (8). “[F]or me it is the Shield,” writes Lee, “but wherever terrain informs our lives and claims us,” we will “be our own men,”

and then, no longer haunted by
unlivened presence, [able] to live the cities:
to furnish, out of the smog and the shambles of our dead precursors,
a civil habitation that is
human, and our own.
([1972] 35-36)

(It is one of many indications of Lee’s weakness as a poet that the last lines of this passage are undercut by counteracting echoes of the wording and cadence of the final lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” [Collected Poems 17].) Later in the sequence, Lee, perhaps remembering Frye’s identification of Tom Thomson as a quintessential manifestation of “Canadian sensibility” (“Conclusion” 828, and see Bush Garden 199-201) offers the painter up as an example of the “flawed” and dread-full legacy that Canadians must confront and accept to come into full being: “he / did his work in the Shield,” he “Was part of the bush,” “the radiance of the / renewed land broke over his canvas,” but “for all his savvy ... he is not painting” and his “body really did decay” ([1972] 40-41). It is both as an imperfect and mortal human being and as the painter of a “gnarled” “jack pine” that, like Heidegger’s temple and jug, “focus[es] heaven and earth” that Thomson must be remembered and accepted ([1972] 41, and see Poetry, Language, Thought 41-45 and 166-77).

     A second reason that Nathan Phillips Square is an appropriate setting for Civil Elegies is its amenableness to (Torontocentric) interpretation as a quintessentially Canadian civic space. Blanketed though it often is by the “noxious cloud” and “gaseous stain” that emanates from “American cars” and the earth-destroying world that they represent ([1972] 46, 47, 36), the square is both like and unlike its European ancestors and models:

In Germany, the civic square in many little towns is
hallowed for people. Laid out just so, with
flowers and fountains and during the war you could come and
relax for an hour, catch a parade or just
get away from the interminable racket
of the trains, clattering through the
outskirts with their lousy expendable cargo.
Little cafes often, fronting the square. Beer and a chance to relax.
And except for the children it’s peaceful here
too, under the sun’s warm sedation.

([1972] 47)


The sun shines on civic squares in Europe and North America alike, but in Germany it once provided respite from the realities of the Holocaust and in Canada it now provides escape from the realities of world-destroying-earth. The presence of a clamorous future generation and the absence of “cafes” and “Beer” in Nathan Phillips Square suggest that it may be easier there than it was in the civic squares in Germany to “relax” into reality rather than “sedation,” to awaken the revelatory “dread” that is “generally repressed in Da-sein,” and to glimpse “the empty expanse of negation” that is the ground of Being (Heidegger Existence and Being 372-73) – a project to which, as will be seen, the relative openness and emptiness of Nathan Phillips Square are hugely conducive.

     Another aspect of Nathan Phillips Square that accords well with the themes and aims of Civil Elegies is the absence from its precincts of Christian edifices and artefacts. Had they been present, such elements would have been severely at odds with the concerns of the post-Christian “lyric self” that comments in passing while discussing Thomson that “it is two thousand years since Christ’s carcass rose in glory, / and now the shiny ascent is not for us ... we cannot / malinger in bygone acts of grace” ([1972] 41).24 In the 1968 version of the sequence, statements like these in the second elegy come unannounced, but in 1972 the second elegy becomes the third and in its place is an address to God as an absent “Master and Lord” that provides them with a fuller narrative and philosophical context. Moving through several statements to the effect that life in the modern world is characterized by an ubiquitous “emptiness” stemming from the “absence” of the sacred, the new second elegy ends on another resonantly Heideggerian note by evoking his discussion of Hölderlin’s “Is there a measure on earth?” in the final essay in Poetry, Language, Thought. “Man, as man, has always measured himself against something heavenly.... The godhead is the ‘measure’ [Mass] with which man measures out his dwelling, his stay on the earth beneath the sky.... To write poetry is measure-taking ... by which man receives the measure of the depth of his being,” writes Heidegger, and Lee:

Master and Lord, there was a
measure once.
There was a time when men could say
my life, my job, my home
and still feel clean.
The poets spoke of earth and heaven. There were no symbols.
([1972] 38)

When, in Hölderlin’s words and Heidegger’s interpretation, “God” was “manifest like the sky,” “man” had “something ... [to] measure ... himself by,” to differentiate good from evil, to dwell “Full of merit, yet poetically, ... on this earth” (Poetry, Language, Thought 219-22). In the absence of God and “measure,” the means of judging “merit” disappear and poetry ceases to be sacred: modern man can no longer feel “clean” (good) about what he makes and does and the modern poet must resort to mere “symbols,” representations that do not participate in the “upward-looking measure-taking” “glance [that] spans the between of sky and earth” (Poetry, Language, Thought 220-21).

     At the beginning of the third elegy in the 1972 Civil Elegies, the sense that life and poetry have been emptied of value and purpose yields a bleakly Eliotic analysis of the sights and sounds in Nathan Phillips Square at “noon,” a time traditionally associated with clarity of vision and intense spiritual as well as physical enlightenment:

... the people come and they feel no consternation, dozing at
lunchtime; even the towers comply.
And they prevail in their placid continuance, idly unwrapping their food
day after day on the slabs by the pool, warm in the summer sun.
Day after day the light rides easy.
Nothing is important.
([1972] 39)

The “towers” of this passage are, of course, the towers of Toronto’s new City Hall whose two concave and asymmetrical structures were intended by Revell to “represent the separateness of the two municipal governments that were to use the building, the City of Toronto and Metropolitan Toronto” (Kalman 2: 808). That “even the towers comply” indicates that they no more than the seemingly motionless water of the fountain and reflecting pool in the square in front of them will provide relief from the pervasive sense of life’s repetitive meaningless. Nor perhaps should such respite be expected from the towers, for though later described as “luminous”25 and credited with “the spare vertical glory of right proportions,” they are introduced in Elegy 1 in the context of “Lacunae. Parking lots. Regenerations,” and “Newstand euphorics” as “Revell’s sign” of Canadian inauthenticity and failure ([1972] 54, 52, 36). However pleasing to the eye, two predominantly glass and concrete towers designed by a Finnish architect can scarcely be expected to have resonated strongly with Lee’s nationalistic and Heideggerian project.

     This is not so of the sculpture entitled Archer by the English Modernist Henry Moore (1898-1986) that stands in front of the new City Hall. Immediately after the passage in the third elegy quoted above, Lee makes the Archer the focal point of a psychophysiological “releasement towards things” (Gelassenheit zinden Dingen) that allows him to see the sculpture as a product of the same forces as the Shield and, thus, to apprehend the declared “terrain” or ground (Boden) of his (Canadian) being in the physically and ideologically polluted centre of Toronto. When the Archer was initially mentioned in Elegy 1, the speaker was sitting “off to ... [its] west” (33) observing the city’s skyline, but now he is located “to ... [its] south” – that is, facing in the direction of the Shield. The “releasement” of Lee’s “lyric self” “towards” the sculpture and the Shield begins as a bodily experience akin to the awakening of Dasein by dread “in the midst of what-is” that Heidegger describes in Existence and Being (see 359-80): “once at noon I felt my body’s pulse contract and / balk in the space of the square, it puckered and jammed till nothing / worked, and casting back and forth / the only resonance that held was in the Archer” ([1972] 39). What follows is the combination of “[r]eleasement towards things and openness to the mystery” (Offenheit für das Geheimnis) that, according to Heidegger, “grant[s] us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way” by “promis[ing] us a new ground and foundation upon which we can stand and endure in the world of technology without being imperiled by it” (Existence and Being 55):

Great bronze simplicity, that muscled form
was adequate in the aimless expanse – it held, and tense and
waiting ... I stood until the
clangor in my forearms found its outlet.
And when it came I knew that stark heraldic form is not
great art; for it is real, great art is less than its necessity.
But it held, when the monumental space of the square
went slack, it moved in sterner space.
Was shaped by earlier space and it ripples with
wrenched stress, the bronze is flexed by
blind aeonic throes
that bred and met in slow enormous impact,
and they are still at large for the force in the bronze churns
through it, and lunges beyond and also the Archer declares
that space is primal, raw, beyond control and drives toward a
living stillness, its own.
([1972] 39)

“[T]he Archer judges the square by recalling us to our deeper vocation in Canada,” Lee would later explain to Anne Munton, the “vocation ... of coming to terms with the most primordial processes of earth – with which we really have to live (or fail to live), in that we inhabit a country in which the Shield occupies so much space” (qtd. in Munton 156).

     It would be an exaggeration to say that the remainder of Civil Elegies is a working through of the judgement and vocation provided by the Archer in Elegy 3. Nevertheless, the “releasement towards things” prompted by Moore’s sculpture clearly motivates much of the subsequent material in the sequence, from the speaker’s perception of “New silences ... in the drone of the square’s great spaces” and his worry that to live “Among the things which / hesitate to be, is [to] void our vocation” to his engagement with Thomson and, later, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (1912-43), the French-Canadian poet whom he repeatedly lauds for making “poems out of [his] body,” for draining himself “empty for love of God,” and for confronting the “void” that lies concealed beneath the surface of lives lived in the absence of God and in collusion with the “abomination[s]” wrought especially by the military and industrial components of technology ([1972] 41, 43, 52, 53, 48).26 (Of course, the presence of Saint-Denys Garneau in Civil Elegies, like that of “the mad bomber” Paul Chartier who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1966 [1972] 34, 59], also jibes with Lee’s nationalistic agenda, and probably helped to ensure his work’s translation by Marc Lebel as Élegies civiles [1980]). At times during the central elegies in the sequence Lee’s speaker comes close to succumbing to the possibility that “we cannot command the courage outright to exist” – to be-in-the-world – but he continues to observe the “calamitous division” that is alienating people from the earth, themselves, and one another and continues “with singleness of eye” and purpose to seek remedies for the ontological dualisms generated by consumerism’s “endless parade of lethal-desirable things” ([1972] 51-53) and perhaps symbolized by the two towers of the new City Hall.

     That a commitment to making “the world ... whole” ([1972] 52) is not easily sustainable becomes evident in the opening verse paragraphs of the final elegy where the speaker faces the possibility that “there is no regenerative absence,” that “the void that compels us is only / a mood27 gone absolute,” that “the dreary high-rise is nothing / but the dreary high-rise” and then proceeds to describe a period of psychological break down and break through in which “the nihilation of Nothing (das Nichten des Nichts)” that Heidegger describes in Existence and Being freed him (Lee) from his nihilistic tendencies and allowed him to regain his sense of “what-is (das Seiende)” (370). From this regenerated perspective, Canada is both a “conquered nation” and “a place to be,” a platform from which “To rail and flail at a dying civilisation, / to rage in imperial space,” and a country capable of bidding “Beautiful riddance!” to the “will to lose” and contributing to the growth of an incipient “better civilisation” ([1972] 56). Canadians, then, have a clear choice: they may decide either to “eat imperial meat” or “to come to themselves,” to engage the enemies of that “better civilisation” with qualities born of “bloody-minded reverence among the things which are, / and the long will to be in Canada,” and to “find ... a place among the ones who live / on earth, sustained in fits and starts / by the deep ache and presence and sometimes joy of what is” ([1972] 56-57). Lee’s cadences in these lines are those in which Wordsworth celebrates the emergence of the “philosophic mind” in the “Intimations” Ode (4: 282), but, as made abundantly clear by the repetition of “to be,” “what is,” and their cognates throughout Elegy 9, the “philosophic mind” that he is describing is nothing (and nothing) if not Heideggerian.

     In the final verse paragraphs of the elegy and the sequence, Lee continues to draw heavily on Heidegger. Focusing first on “void,” he argues that, like “God,” “eternity,” and “the soul,” it “must / surrender its ownness ... [and] / re-instil itself in the texture of our being here” so that it is not conceived as a transcendent and distinct absolute but as an omnipresence ([1972] 57). Turning then to language, he argues that, although the “most precious words” in the Western tradition have been “withdrawn” and “will not be charged with presence again in our lifetime,” this is not to be lamented “for now we have access to new nouns” such as “water, copout, tower, body, [and] land” with which to articulate the mode of being and dwelling in the “better civilization” that is nigh at hand. Finally, he draws Civil Elegies to a close with a prayerful address to “Earth” that relies for much of its meaning on passages in Poetry, Language, Thought in which Heidegger conceives of “Earth ... [as] the building bearer [that] nourishes with its fruits,” “nearness” as a “bringing near” or “draw[ing] nigh” that is quite different from the “abridging and abolishing of distances” by technology, and “home” as a place and manner of “dwell[ing] humanely on ... earth” by simultaneously taking it “under our care” and preserving its otherness (177-78, 229, 150-51):

Earth, you nearest, allow me.
Green of the earth and civil grey:
within me, without me and moment by
moment allow me for to
be here is enough and earth you
strangest, you nearest, be home.
([1972] 57)

It is “Earth” that permits all things – humans, plants, buildings – to be. It is within and outside all mortal beings and it exists without them. It is at once imminent, approachable, accommodating, distinct, not “me,” and not mine to own. Understood in this way, earth is the ground of homecoming and the measure of dwelling poetically.


Civil Elegies, Place d’Armes, and The Imperialist contain some of the most complex and significant treatments of civic space in Canadian literature but they are only three of many works that use market places and town squares as settings for social and political meditation and commentary. In the decades between the publication of Duncan’s and Symons’ novels, the cosmopolitan leanings of Canadian Modernism and then the internationalism of the Pearson years that is so despised by both Symons and Lee took several writers to civic spaces outside Canada. Near the climax of The Second Scroll (1951), A.M. Klein takes the novel’s protagonist to “the central square of Tel Aviv,” which immigration to the newly-created state of Israel has transformed into the “peripatesis and boardwalk of all [the city’s] philosophies” (95). From “this Cartesian vantage point,” the narrator wonders whether the polyglot and polyphilosophical bustle surrounding him might not conceal the elusive Uncle Malech and the Jewish poetic “voice” that he is seeking (95-96). In “Six-Sided Square: Actopan” (1961), a poem inspired by the plaza in a Mexican village that he visited in 1955 and 1956 (“Interview” 111), Earle Birney places an irregular hexagon around six rectangular six-line stanzas in which he uses geometrical and mathematical terms to describe such sights as “ladies ... beside most rigid hexagrams” of “hexemetric chili” peppers (Ghost 61). The “patterns” of Mexican life, the poem suggests, are more “complex” than the “oval basketball” being bounced in the plaza by young Mexicans or the “pyramidal church some architect / of Cortés built to take [their] antecedents.” F.R. Scott’s “Place de la Concord” (1969) uses the “rond point” in the heart of Paris as the basis for a meditation on the “city of love” in which he toys with the notion that the French capital is in fact “two cities / divided by a river / as lovers are apart” but concludes that “only one name is given this city” because “it is always / a place / of concord” (Collected Poems 158-59). More recently, Shula Robin (1920- ) has used Toronto’s Kensington Market for a meditation on Canadian multiculturalism that surpasses even Scott’s poem in the triteness of its opening (“I am partial to outdoor markets / in major cities of the world”) and the banality of its conclusion: “Markets are a mirror / of poor or prosperous nations– / I am so lucky / to live in a land of plenty” (Sunshine from Within [1996] 16).28

     For all its banality, however, the final stanza of “Kensington Market” contains a figure – the civic space as “mirror” – that sheds light on all the works examined in this chapter, including the one that will provide it with an appropriate conclusion. Written towards the end or shortly after the Second World War but not published until 1990, Klein’s “Dominion Square” is a meditation on the square that was so named five years after Confederation when it was recognized as the “fast-developing heart of the ... metropolis” that had emerged as result of railway and immigration booms of the previous decades (Phyllis Lambert 6). “In the last quarter of the [nineteenth] century,” writes Phyllis Lambert, “Dominion Square like Place d’Armes became emblematic of changing cultural values” and, it may be added, of the emerging cultural hybridity of the city and country:

Built between 1870 and 1900, the new [Roman Catholic] Cathedral of St. James the Great (now Mary Queen of the World), with its high dome and Corinthian portico crowned by [bronze] statues of saints, was a scaled-down version of St. Peter’s in Rome. By the late 1880s Windsor Station, designed by New York architect Bruce Price, exemplified the ever-growing importance of the United States to trade, commerce, and culture in Montreal. (6)

When a collaboration between New York and Montreal architects extended the Windsor Hotel (1876-78) by several stories in 1905-07, the Square gained a further emblem of cultural hybridity: a “steep-pitched roof in the Parisian manner popularized by the Martinique Hotel in New York (1897) and the William Hotel in Washington (1901)” (Gournay, “Prestige and Professionalism” 113). By Klein’s day, the green space at its centre was graced with a manifestation of Montreal’s Scottish element in the form of a statue of Robert Burns and its northeast corner was occupied by the Sun Life Assurance Company Building (1914-18, 1923-25, 1929-31), a structure in the “temple-bank” style of Beaux-Arts neoclassicism by the Toronto firm of Darling and Pearson that had grown by increments from its original seven storeys to a gigantic twenty-four (see Kalman 2: 738).

     In Klein’s poem, all of these features of Dominion Square are joined by references to its greenery and street life to portray it as a microcosm of Canada:


Here in the sudden meadow dropped amongst brick
our culture pauses to gather up the clues
that shape dominion in its miniature,
that show, in little more than a city block
the composite land: its loved indigenous trees;
lettered on lawn, some petals of its flora
and in its criss-cross paths the shape of a flag.
Our values smile in the square, our modes:29
the thirty-storied limestone wedding-cake
the Sun Life baked to sanctify its seed;
the roofed apostles who bless in green their flock,
and the men on benches who only rise to beg.
Our dialects: the bronze of Bobby Burns
beloved of the businessman his once a year,
the calèche at the curb, rolled from old France
and the hotel-door’s foreign eloquence
converge, as in a radio sound-room, here.
But do not linger; but are bruited hence
by streetcar through the angular city, by
tunnel through mountains to the suburbs, by
the trains that whistle from this terminus
into the flat, the high, the dark, the sunlit distances.
 (Complete Poems 2: 672)

Creating first a centripetal and then a centrifugal movement,30 Klein uses and repeats the words “Here,” “Ours,” and “this” to draw his readers into the square, the poem, and the community that they represent and, having enacted that “converge[nce],” to cast them “hence” into the built landscape of Montreal and “the flat, ... high, ... dark, ... [and] sunlit distances” of Canada. In Klein’s Dominion Square, Symons’ Place d’Armes, Duncan’s market square, and Lee’s Nathan Phillips Square, a central civic space is both “the composite land” in “miniature” and the “terminus” from which outward journeys of understanding and love can begin.


  1. To Sir Richard Bonnycastle in Canada and the Canadians (1846), the Kingston town hall and market building was “probably the finest edifice of the kind” in North America (2: 280), but in the estimation of “Antonias” in the January 26, 1844 issue of The British Whig (Kingston) it was a display of “boyish babyism” (2) and to “Candide” in the February 2, 1844 issue of the same newspaper it was the architectural equivalent of “a huge unwieldy paper kite” (3). “Antonias” also sees the architect as a failed “antiquarian” whose style is “neither Modern nor Antique” while “Candide” dubs him “the Kingston Palladio, who, like other men of exalted and original genius, scruples not to avail himself freely of antiquated forms and notions, and to combine them after a fashion of his own.” Both letters are responses to a letter by “Leo,” who “Candide” identifies as “the architect himself.” In Hochelaga; or, England in the New World (1846), George Warburton describes Kingston’s “town hall and market” as “very handsome” (1: 217-18). See also Harold Kalman 1: 177-78 for a discussion of Browne’s combination of neoclassical and Georgian elements in the building’s façade and pillars. [back]
  2. At one point in Quebec Robe observes that “sturgeon,” an expensive delicacy in England, “Grov’ling ... lies upon the Market Square / Scarce heeded but by poor” and at another that “The markets all, with store of every kind, / Poultry, and fish, and fruit most rich appear / Nor want we ought of vegetable kind” (1: 72-76, 259-61). [back]
  3. “[T]he public buildings of Quebec seem never to have been constructed with any view to improve the appearance of the town,” writes Lambert, “and if we except the English church, we shall not find one at present that can excite our applause” (1: 51-52). However, Lambert does find positive things to say about the Union Hotel (“[t]he front is ornamented with a handsome portico and steps, and the whole has a pretty effect” [1:52]) and he faults the court house primarily for its poor siting (see 1:51). [back]
  4. For a discussion of the origins, characteristics, and significance of the Quebec Model, see Bentley, Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 93-115. [back]
  5. Bouchette writes that what was most striking about the building was its deformity rather than its symmetry, and Luc Noppen adds that it was perceived to be disproportionate because it was (as Lambert observes) a hundred feet in both height and diameter (55). Noppen also suggests that the chief fault of the market building was that it was constructed on the most prestigious site in the town at a time when its Palladian style was not yet acceptable to the inhabitants (55). [back]
  6. In Toronto of Old, Henry Scadding provides an account of the stages leading to the construction of the building described by Fidler: on November 3, 1803 the site for a weekly market day was proclaimed; in 1824 the market square was closed on its “east, west, and south sides”; and in 1831-32 the “wooden shambles” in the market were removed and replaced with a “collegiate-looking building of red brick, quadrangular in arrangement, with arched gateway entrances” (15-18). [back]
  7. Thomas A. Markus observes that an explosion in the population of a city and the resulting demand for supplies causes either “centrifugal dispersal or centripetal concentration: “[e]ither a number of specialised market squares and halls … [are] scattered over different locales or all the activity … [is] concentrated into huge covered markets” (303). The objection of the writer in the Gazette is to the “centrifugal” rather than “centripetal” placement of the Market. [back]
  8. See Kalman 1: 264-68 for an account and illustrations of the exterior and interior of Notre-Dame and 2: 579-81 for the Bank of Montreal. Both buildings figure prominently in Place d’Armes, as, indeed, does the Bonsecours Market. [back]
  9. “[T]he City Bank (1845) by the architects (Henry H. or James S.) McFarlane and Goodlatte Richardson Browne (c. 1813-55) ... adapts the Greek orders in a two-tiered portico, with Doric on the ground floor and Ionic above” (Kalman 1: 301). [back]
  10. The title of Fulford’s review in the January 26, 1967 issue of the Toronto Star – “A Monster from Toronto” – refers to the “snobbishness” of Symons’ protagonist, but it ends by describing the novel as “a kind of higher journalism” that fails for two principal reasons: “[t]he hero … cannot love” and “the author … can write neither with nor about love” (23). See also Robert K. Martin 198 and Terry Goldie 92. [back]
  11. Symons alludes to Grant’s Lament for a Nation (1965, 1970) early in Place d’Armes (see 48) and included a Preface by him in Heritage: a Romantic Look at Canadian Furniture (1972). See also Symons’ Dear Reader 184-210 for an account of his visit to Grant in 1980. [back]
  12. As Martin points out, Symons here borrows the terminology with which the radical Separatist journal Parti Pris impugned both the politics and the sexuality of Federalists (141). [back]
  13. In Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, Sexuality in the Colonial Context (1995), Anne McClintock observes that “Nationalisms are from the outset constituted in gender power” (17) and in Pink Snow (2003) Goldie makes the point that, while the “‘natural’ connection between land-nation-woman-lesbian ... [is] often found in lesbian literature,” its “masculine equivalent ... – land-nation-man-homosexual – is extremely rare” (127). See also A. Parker et al, eds. Nationalisms and Sexualities (1992) passim.[back]
  14. As Kalman observes, the interior of the church was greatly enhanced in the eighteen seventies by Victor Bourgeau (1809-88). Many visitors from Britain, the rest of Canada and elsewhere in the ensuing years pronounced the interior of Notre-Dame overly decorative, an exception being Mary Wilson Alloway, who considered the church one of the world’s “masterpieces in architecture” and wrote glowingly of its interior: “the spacious, two-storied galleries … and an altar upon which so much wealth has been consecrated, combine to make it a temple worthy of any time or race” (63, 60). Almost needless to say, French-Canadian assessments of the church were largely positive. Joseph Bouchette, for example, describes it as a “chaste specimen of the perpendicular gothic style of the middle ages” and “ranks [it] with some of the finest buildings in North America” (British Dominions 1:217). [back]
  15. See especially the opening pages of the novel (1-19) and the postcards, pictures, and map that accompany it in a small pocket for the touristic quality of the protagonists’ initial responses to Montreal. Included among the architectural images are W.H. Bartlett’s engraving of the interior of Notre Dame, an engraving of Place d’Armes depicting the Cathedral in 1850, and a reproduction of a painting of the Bank of Montreal building by Cornelius Kreighoff (1815-72) on which Symons has written “The Mommy Bank of Montréal à la Krieghoff.”[back]
  16. See Kalman 2: 833 and Place d’Armes 152f. [back]
  17. Given the Augustinian component of Symons’s thought (see Place d’Armes 107), it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he saw Toronto as the demonic counterpart to Montreal as the City of God. [back]
  18. In the final chapter of Survival: a Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), another Anansi book of the Centennial period, Margaret Atwood quotes with relish the “parting joke” in Ray Smith’s “Cape Breton Is the Thought-Control Centre of Canada” (1969): “For Centennial Year, send President Johnson a gift: an American tourist’s ear in a matchbox. Even better, don’t bother with the postage” (239). She also discusses at some length David Godfrey’s more restrainedly anti-American short story “The Hard-Headed Collector” (1968), the collector of the title being “an aggressive American capitalist of the rugged individualist school” who compiles an art collection with “money … made from Canadian oil and uranium” (Survival 240). [back]
  19. In 1969, Lee published translations of Rilke’s first and second elegies. See Mary MacPherson 245 for details. [back]
  20. This reference is to the excerpt from the revised version of Lee’s “Cadence, Country, Silence: Writing in a Colonial Space” (which was first published in 1972) that appears in the second volume of Donna Bennett and Russell Brown’s Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature in English. [back]
  21. See also Heidegger’s Discourse on Thinking 50-51 for his observation that the “relation of man to the world as such” that resulted in “Nature becoming a gigantic gasoline station, an energy source for modern technology and industry” (i.e., what Lee terms “world”) “developed in the seventeenth century first and only in Europe.” See Isaiah Naranjo’s “Visions of Heidegger in Dennis Lee and Robert Kroetsh,” 869-74 for a useful introduction to the Heideggerian component of Civil Elegies and other works by Lee. In The Cadence of Civil Elegies, a monograph devoted entirely to Lee’s poem, Robert Lecker gives no consideration whatsoever of Heidegger, a feat comparable in its sheer bravura to discussing Moby-Dick without considering the whale. [back]
  22. In the opening invocation in Paradise Lost, Milton envisages the Holy Spirit “brooding on the vast abyss” and making it “pregnant” at the Creation (1: 21-22). [back]
  23. In the 1968 version of Civil Elegies, Lee sees many Canadians as “not yet / naturalized in their birthright dimension” or “native members of a human body of kind” (np). [back]
  24. In 1968, “bygone acts of grace” are “upward evident blisses” (np). This is one of numerous examples of verbal and conceptual awkwardness in the earlier versions of the sequence. [back]
  25. As they are in Sonnet 21 of Lee’s earlier Kingdom of Absence (1967), where they “look down on yankee heaven: chrome under smog. / Hung between styles” (np). [back]
  26. See Stan Dragland, “On Civil Elegies,” 177-81 for a valuable discussion of the concept of “void” in the sequence. [back]
  27. See Heidegger, Existence and Being 363-67 for his discussion of “moods,” especially the “key-mood of dread (Angst)” as the states in which humans are brought “face to face” with “what-is-in-totality” and, in the case of dread “Nothing itself.” For Nathan Phillips Square as a site that generates a very different response, see Hume Cronyn’s “Lawrence” (1993), where a vagrant who has “come to Toronto to change his character, or to kill himself” is humiliated while preparing to eat some bread near a “drinking fountain” in front of City Hall but forgives the “boys” who have embarrassed him and stolen his bread, and subsequently becomes a saintly dispenser of bread that he has scavenged “absolutely free” to “all those who pass … by” (42-43). [back]
  28. “Woodstock, View of” (1987) by Murray Boyce (1922-2005) includes the “Low / deep-red brick / … market” of Woodstock, Ontario in its anatomy of the self-styled “Dairy Capital of Canada,” and describes it in terms that suggest both its traditional structure and its modernity: “the market / roof clamps on it like / a fortress / big overhang, a whole / block in length / stalls rise to / higher levels at / middle / top of it is the police station rounding off / behind city hall, the / smelly johns / & low-quality graffiti” (22-23). As indicated by the following description from the novel Zach (1972) by John Craig (1921- ), the community halls or centres that sprung up in rural areas and on Native reserves after the Second World War were both the result of the Modern emphasis on architecture as an instrument of social improvement and cohesion (see Chapter 4: Rising and Spreading Villages) and the latter-day equivalents of the market houses and town halls of the nineteenth century: “[t]he Community Hall was a well-built, rectangular, frame building set on a cement block foundation. It was the Chief’s pride and joy, built with labor from the reservation and materials begged, borrowed, stolen, and redirected from a variety of government projects. All kinds of functions were held there…. The post office was in the basement, the library behind a counter just inside the main door. Kindergarten classes were conducted on the stage of the main hall. Band council meetings took place there, and the annual treaty payment was distributed in the Chief’s office beside the post office” (33-34). [back]
  29. In Complete Poems 1: 672 this line reads: “Our values smile in this square, our [...], our modes:”. [back]
  30. See Klein’s “The Poem as Circular Force” for his distinction between poems whose movement is centripetal (“the mind of the reader, at the conclusion of the poem, is drawn back into the poem’s vortex”) and those whose movement is centrifugal (“the poem, though an experience in itself, becomes the immediate cause of further experiences whose content is postulated, not by the poem’s content, but by its mood”) (8). [back]


Works Cited