Chapter 8
Viewing Platforms: the Watchtowers of Nationalism

by D.M.R. Bentley


The Wolf Tower is among the very few structures in Canada not devoted to purposes of strict utility. It was built by a gentleman of property as a belle vue, or fanciful prospect residence….

Catharine Parr Traill, Canadian Crusoes (1852), 238

And now in imagination he has climbed
another planet, the better to look
with single camera view upon this earth....

A.M. Klein, “Portrait of the Poet
as Landscape
(1948) (146-48)

After situating himself in the landscape outside Quebec City in the opening lines of Abram’s Plains (1789), Thomas Cary turns his attention to the “copious wave” of the St. Lawrence River as the blended culmination of “a thousand riv’lets” and the “many waters” of “fresh seas” (17-20). Envisioning these “fresh seas” – the Great Lakes – as “mighty urns” (vessels, reservoirs),1 Cary proceeds to describe them one by one from west to east, alloting each in turn an end-stopped couplet that encapsulates its unique characteristics and reflects its sea-like circumscription. Thus Lake Superior is the “first of lakes! As Asia’s Caspian great, / Where congregated streams hold icy state” and “in Ontario’s urn” the accumulated streams of the other Great Lakes “spacious ... spread, / By added waters, from Oswego, fed” (21-22, 40-41). The passage as a whole, which includes the emotive response to the sublimity of Niagara Falls that was discussed in Chapter 1: Preliminary, enacts the poet’s movement out into the Canadian hinterland and his concomitant assimilation of the hinterland into himself, a dialectic expressed with Conradian eloquence nearly half a century later by Donald Creighton in The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence (1937): “driving seaward in a great, proud arc from Lake Superior to the city of Quebec, [the St. Lawrence River system] was the fact of all facts in the history of the northern half of the continent.... [T]he great river ... led from the eastern shore into the heart of the continent. It ... meant mobility and distance; it involved journeyings; it promised immense expanses, unfolding, flowing away into remote and changing horizons ... [F]rom the river there rose, like an exhalation, the dream of western commercial empire.... The river was not only a great actuality: it was the central truth of a religion” (6-7).

    But Cary had almost certainly not seen the Great Lakes when he wrote Abram’s Plains, and, as has long been recognized,2 his conception and descriptions of them were drawn largely from the map and accounts in Jonathan Carver’s Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (1778), a work whose vision of the mercantile potential of the St. Lawrence River system helped to generate “the dream of western commercial empire.”3 For the bulk of Abram’s Plains, it is Cape Diamond and the surrounding heights that provide the stage for Cary’s survey of Quebec City and its environs, but in order to describe Upper Canada, and, thus, to convey a more comprehensive and compelling sense of Canadian space and commercial potential, he must adopt a bird’s (or God’s)-eye perspective that places him above the imagined landscape and permits him to read and write it like a poem on a page. Over thirty years later (and as was seen in Chapter 2: Logs to Riches), the Upper Canadian poet Adam Hood Burwell would provide a striking variation of the same strategy by inviting the reader of Talbot Road: a Poem (1818) to “see, as on a single sheet, / The Talbot Road unbroken and complete” from Norfolk County in the east to Mersea in the west (485-86).4 For Cary, Burwell, and their fellow residents of Upper and Lower Canada, looking over an area or region whether in actuality, on paper, in imagination, or in some combination of the three was an essential aspect of comprehending the extent of the country, registering the achievements of its inhabitants, and establishing a relationship between self and homeland. As attested by such works as The Rising Village (1825, 1834) by Oliver Goldsmith and “Tantramar Revisited” (1886) by Charles G. D. Roberts, the use of heights of land for the purposes of articulating a place-based personal and cultural identity was also an important feature of writing in the Maritimes during and after the colonial period.5 In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as much as in Ontario and Quebec, looking on and over a locale and taking it up and in were and are key components of the phenomenological dialectic through which people consolidate their connection to place and achieve the condition of dwelling.

    Precisely because the comprehensive overviews or prospect pieces of Abram’s Plains, Talbot Road, and other works are statements of cultural and personal identity, the vantage points from which they purport to be written are as worthy of attention as the scenes that they survey. In Lower Canada, the ne plus ultra of such vantage points during the colonial period was Quebec City’s Upper Town or an adjacent promontory, for this was the site of French Canada’s crowning achievements, the scene of its subsumption to British rule, and, thus, the ideal spot upon which to reflect on the past, present, and future of British North America. In Upper Canada, a somewhat similar site already existed when Burwell wrote Talbot Road, but it lay outside the scope of his celebratory survey of the Talbot Settlement and, in any case, had not fully emerged as a defining site of the incipient Upper Canadian identity. That site was, of course, Queenston Heights, the promontory that in 1792 had afforded Colonel and Mrs. Simcoe a “command[ing] ... view of the country, as far as the Garrison of Niagara and across the lake [Ontario]” (Simcoe 76) and that had more recently been the scene of the decisive battle of October 13, 1812 in which Major-General Sir Isaac Brock was killed and an invading force of Americans was surrounded and captured.

    Although Queenston Heights had “become famous by the death of the gallant General Brock” (Strachan, Visit 100) before the War of 1812 was over, the potential of the site as a condenser of Upper Canadian identity does not appear to have been appreciated until 1821 with the publication of Sketches of Upper Canada, Domestic, Local, and Characteristic by the English traveler John Howison (1797-1859). Whereas Elizabeth Simcoe had surveyed the view from the Heights with the eyes of a Colonel’s wife, Howison responded to it with a post-Romantic sensibility eager for the sorts of “beauteous forms” and “sensations sweet” that William Wordsworth had described in “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”(2: 260). After commenting on the esteem and affection accorded to Brock in Upper Canada and observing that “the place where he fell” is marked by “an aged [haw]thorn bush,” Howison remarks that “[t]his spot may be called classic ground,6 for a view of it must awaken in the minds of all those who duly appreciate the greatness of [Brock’s] character, and are acquainted with the nature of his resources and exertions, feelings as warm and enthusiastic as the contemplation of monuments consecrated by antiquity can ever do” (76). Besides being rich in historical associations, the spot provides an unrivalled panorama of the unique scenery of the surrounding area. “Oft, at night, have I sat under the thorn tree, when every light in the village [of Queenston] was extinguished,” continues Howison,

[t]hen the fire-flies, twinkling among the recesses of the distant forests, would be the only objects that exhibited an appearance of life to the eye; while the Niagara river rolled its sublime tide silently along, and drank, in quiescent luxuriance, the floods of light that were poured upon its bosom by a glorious moon. On one side, the setting stars were struggling with the mists that rose from Lake Ontario; and on the other, clouds of spray, evolved from the mighty cataract, ascended majestically to heaven, – sometimes shaping themselves into vast pyramids that resembled snow-capt mountains, and sometimes extending their volumes into phantom-like forms, which imagination might figure to be the presiding genii of the water-fall. (76-77)

This is little less than a comprehensive catalogue of Upper Canadian icons (fire-flies,7 the forest, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River and Falls), and its effect is to make Brock’s “aged thorn bush” the epicentre of a rich cluster of appealing and affective sights and scenes. As imagined and described by Howison, Queenston Heights is the historical and geographical apogee of Upper Canada, a place of unique natural beauty and significance that has been made “classic” by a defining moment of heroism. In 1821, Confederation was more than half a century away, but Howison’s panoramic description of the contents and contours of the Upper Canadian heartland invests certain of its places with the potential to become nation-space, and a touchstone of national identity.

    Perhaps because it reminded him of the “aged thorn” in Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (116), the “bush” that marked the spot of Brock’s death did not strike Howison as an insufficient tribute to a hero or as a scanting of the obligation to remember.8 To many locals, however, the absence of a proper monument was an insult to Brock and an affront to civic pride. “It is said that the legislation, some years ago, voted one thousand pounds for a monument, and that a committee was appointed to procure and set it up; but nothing has been done,” huffed John Strachan in A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819 (1820). “Such conduct requires explanation. Was the sum too small? It might have been easily increased by private contributions; and, till the monument is erected, the province is disgraced” (100). Four years later the Montreal poet and Royal Engineer George Longmore (1793-1867) was only marginally less incensed. “[N]o stone marks where the warrior fell, / Nor marble-stoned column graven there ... yet adorns the spot,” he wrote in Tecumthe (1824), but – and notice the allusion to Howison –

The genius of the place, still guards, the while,
Its hallow’d earth, and Fame-encircled lot, –
And all around, hill, valley, bower, and grot,
In the warm fancy of the traveller’s gaze,
Become, the mighty monument, – of what
Can never die, whilst memory’s glittering rays,
Shine on that valiant deed on Heroism’s days.
(3:1-2, 20-27)

By 1826, when Longmore happily reported to readers of his Tales of Chivalry and Romance, that “the foundation stone of a monument ... has been laid” (65), the monument had in fact been completed, though not without incident: displeased by the veneration of a man who, in his view, “depriv[ed] Canadians of greater democracy” by defending it against “Americanism,” William Lyon Mackenzie arranged for a copy of his anti-government newspaper, the Colonial Advocate, to be surreptitiously placed under a corner-stone, causing “work [to] stop ... dead until the offending journal could be removed” (Shipley 28). As Upper Canada’s first substantial cultural landmark, the Brock Monument (see also: i) was a materialization and symbol of Upper Canada’s identity as a British North American province and, as such, as despised by Radicals as it was welcomed by Tories.

    No doubt to enhance the panoptic aspect of Queenston Heights, the Monument was intended to be looked from as well as looked at. Designed by the Scottish civil engineer Francis Hall, who was superintending the construction of the Burlington Bay Canal (1824-29) at the time (Brode 741), it was a column 135 feet (41.1 metres) high surmounted by a simple ornament that resembles a funeral urn and, if this was the intent, signals its commemorative nature.9 The column itself was of the Tuscan order, which was understood “to have been invented by the Romans” (“Of Architecture” 1: 351) and therefore had military and imperial associations. In addition, its lack of ornamentation and relatively broad proportions (1:7) had led it to be regarded as the strongest and most masculine of the orders and therefore the most suitable for fortifications and rugged rural settings (see Hearn 123-27 and Summerson 15). Above the simple echinus at the top of the shaft was a stone viewing platform to which access was gained by way of a flight of wooden stairs leading from an entrance in the column’s almost cubical plinth. Visitors to the column could either content themselves with admiring its form and reading the lengthy inscription on its plinth10 or they could pay a “charge” (“one shilling York each” in the early ’thirties [Fowler 210]) to ascend to the platform for a view of the landscape that Howison had helped Longmore and doubtless others to see as laden with historical significance and aesthetic appeal.

    Within months of the laying of the foundation stone of the Monument on June 1, 1824 (Malcolmson 12), Cary’s Quebec Mercury reprinted an article from the Niagara Gleaner praising the commissioners in charge of its design and construction for their decision “to add sixty feet to the original design” and extolling the views that its height would afford:

The prospect from the monument must be one of the grandest perhaps in the world.... [T]here is nothing to interrupt the prospect from west northerly to east, as far as the eye can carry. The beautiful River Niagara meander[s] through a delightful country, seven miles to Lake Ontario. At the bottom of the precipice stands, on the east, Lewiston, on the west, Queenston, rising villages; and near the mouth of the river, the rising village of Youngstown. [W]here the river falls into Lake Ontario stands upon the east side, the ancient Fortress of Niagara, and on the west, the flourishing town of Niagara, and Fort Mississauga [sic], with its appendages. The space between those places are ... in a high state of cultivation; the orchards and neat farm houses, &c. equal, in every respect, perhaps to any part of the world, not even excepting the best cultivated district in England.... We know of no high lands to interrupt the prospect in any direction. (“Upper Canada”)

The repetition of “perhaps” in this passage scarcely dims the flame of local pride that burns brightly through such phrases as “delightful country,” “rising villages,” “ancient Fortress,”11 “flourishing town,” and “high state of cultivation”: from the viewing platform on the Brock Monument, Canada’s beauty, history, and prosperity will be visible as never before.

    Thanks in no small measure and with no small irony to the influx of American tourists that came with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the Brock Monument quickly became a favourite destination as well as a focal point for people living and travelling in Upper Canada. Between viewing Niagara Falls from the American and the British sides, the readers of The Northern Traveller; Containing the Routes to Niagara, Quebec, and the Springs; with Descriptions of the Principal Scenes, and Useful Hints to Strangers (1825) are given accounts of “The Battle of Queenston” and “The Monument to General Brock,” and informed that “the view from the top is very fine and extensive”: “[i]n clear weather the eye embraces not only the river below, and the towns of Lewiston and Queenston, but that of Newark and Fort Niagara, at the entrance of Lake Ontario, a vast level tract of country covered with a uniform forest, and the horizon formed by the distant lake itself” (47-49). While on a tour of the battlefields of the Niagara area, the French travellers of James Lynne Alexander’s Wonders of the West (1825) expend “unwonted labour” in climbing the internal staircase that led to the observation platform, where, in a nice variation of Edgar’s description of the view from the cliffs at Dover in King Lear that Cornwall Bayley drew upon to describe the view from the Upper Town in Quebec City (see Chapter 1: Preliminary), each of them seems “no larger than a crow” to the travellers standing below (9). One of their number, a despairing lover named St. Julian, attempts to leap to his death from the “tower’s giddy height” (11), but the remainder respond in more conventional ways to the vertiginous sublimity of the view, some “shrink[ing] from the appalling scene” and others “look[ing] upward to the skies” with “terror in their eyes” (9). A materialization in local limestone of esteem for Brock and a manifestation of an emergent British North American identity had almost instantaneously become a tourist attraction and a means of experiencing the frisson of sublime horror.

    Although the accounts of most visitors are much more prosaic, few fail to convey a sense that the view from the top of the Monument was both historically and aesthetically moving. “Close to the spot where we landed in Canada, there stands a monument to the gallant Brock,” wrote Basil Hall (1788-1844) in his Travels in North America in the Years 1827 and 1828 (1829). “The view from the top of the monument extend[s] far over Lake Ontario, and showed us the windings of the Niagara, through the low and wooded country which hangs like a rich green fringe along the southern skirts of that great sheet of water (194).12 “The prospect which the amateur beholds here in a fine clear day in the months of June and July, is truly picturesque,” added Thomas Fowler in The Journal of a Tour through British America to the Falls of Niagara (1832):

Queenston appears under the beholder’s feet, with smiling fields, gardens, and orchards, and the spot on which General Brock fell is in the corner of a field close by the village, marked by a small pole and white board descriptive of the event. It is proposed to erect a church on this memorable spot. The course of the river is seen for some miles below, with Fort Niagara on its eastern bank, where it enters the lake, and York the capital of Upper Canada, which lies on the opposite side of the lake, thirty-six miles from the mouth of the river, and forty-three from the monument, is distinctly seen, with the lofty mountains in the back ground, extending westward to the head of Burlington Bay, and the prospect down the lake extends as far as vision can stretch. (211)

In A Subaltern’s Furlough: Descriptive Scenes in Various Parts of the United States, Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia During the Summer and Autumn of 1832 (1833), Edward Thomas Coke allows the eloquence of the inscription on the Monument’s base to testify to the high esteem in which Brock was held “‘by the people [of Upper Canada] ... and ... by the sovereign to whose service his life had been devoted,’” but he also observes with soldierly eye that the “fine view from the summit” encompasses “forts George and Niagara” as well as “the vast expanse of blue waters of Lake Ontario, and York (the capital of Upper Canada) on its northern shore” (44). Later in A Subaltern’s Furlough the superiority of American to Canadian hotels causes Coke’s “British prejudice in favour of the infallibility of every thing Canadian” to “waver” (45), but at the Brock Monument it was apparently intact and, indeed, reinforced.

    The association of the Brock Monument with conservative and British values persisted long after its construction and in due course provoked one of the most extreme acts of politically motivated vandalism in Canadian history: its damage beyond repair on April 13, 1840 by a charge of gunpowder placed at its base, allegedly by Benjamin Lett, an Irish immigrant who had participated in the Rebellion of 1837-38, who fled to the United States to escape arrest. As the arch-conservative Standish O’Grady (1793-1841) put it in a note to The Emigrant (1841, 1842): “[t]he monument to General Brock lies at present shamefully injured by the daring hands of the disloyal; a contribution has been levied to erect a new one worthy of his memory” (80). With “a grant from Parliament” to supplement contributions from “the people, the military, [and] the Indians” (Carnochan 11) that one contemporary document described as “manifestations of devoted Lo[y]alty and sincere attachment to the British” (Correspondence 11), the Brock Monument that now stands was built, but not for over a decade. (Its cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1853 and it appears to have been completed by 1856, but was inaugurated on the same date six years later.) In the interim, the project and the damaged monument that it was to replace generated copious comments,13 including those of Charles Dickens during his visit to Canada in 1842:

Some vagabond, supposed to be a fellow of the name of Lett, who is now, or who lately was, in prison as a felon, blew up th[e] monument two years ago, and it is now a melancholy ruin, with a long fragment of iron railing hanging dejectedly from its top, and waving to and fro like a wild ivy branch or broken vine stem. It is of much higher importance than it may seem, that this statue should be repaired at the public cost, as it ought to have been long ago. Firstly, because it is beneath the dignity of England to allow a memorial raised in honour of one of her defenders, to remain in this condition, on the very spot where he died. Secondly, because the sight of it in its present state, and the recollection of the unpunished outrage which brought it to this pass, is not very likely to soothe down border feelings among English subjects here, or compose these border quarrels and dislikes. (2:187-88)

In its ruined state, a monument that was intended to commemorate a British North American hero and had subsequently become a tourist attraction is not only an eyesore, but also a poor reflection on the British authorities and a hindrance to the dissippation of anti-American feelings. Little wonder that in “From Queenston Heights” (1856), a poem apparently written when the second Brock monument was under construction, the Kingston poet Charles Sangster (1822-93) chose to focus less on the monument than on the Niagara Suspension Bridge (1852-53), an example of co-operation between Canadians and Americans that, as will be seen in greater detail in Chapter 9: HypheNations, engenders “thoughts of peace” and further reconciliation.14

    Designed by William Thomas (circa 1799-1860), the British-born and trained architect who was “arguably Toronto’s pre-eminent architect of the time” (Kalman 1: 296), the new and still existing Brock Monument also consists of a column supported by a plinth and surmounted by a viewing platform. More obviously than its predecessor, it is modelled on the Great Fire of London Monument (1671-77) of Sir Christopher Wren (and/or Robert Hooke). Whereas the column of the Great Fire Monument is Doric, however, that of the new Brock Monument is an adaptation of the Roman Composite Order (that is, a variation of the Corinthian and Ionic orders): its shaft is fluted, and its base and capital are elaborately decorated with inscriptions, laurel wreaths, and battle scenes – so much so, in fact, that it seems out of keeping with its surroundings.15 Contributing to the sense of clutter and detracting from the effectiveness of the 16 foot (4.9 metre) statue of Brock in full military regalia that stands atop the monument, bringing its total height to 185 feet (56.4 metres), are three series of statues: four full-length, shield bearing figures of Victory above the capital, four rampant lions holding shields on the base of the plinth, and the funereally empty but upright armour of four Roman centurions on the raised platform that surrounds the Monument. The overall effect of this formal repertoire of antique, military, and imperial emblems and figures is an involute of the patrician and praetorian that goes a long way towards justifying the Modern yearning for simplicity that Adolf Loos expresses with puritanical and prosecutorial fervour in Ornament und Verbrechen (Ornament and Crime) (1903). Today, financial pressures and the heritage movement also contribute to the clutter: the base of the Monument contains a souvenir shop as well as a tawdry museum, and costumed staff add a further touch of (in)authenticity.

    During the post-Confederation period, the Brock Monument retained much of its earlier associations and appeal while also accruing nationalistic significance as a means of looking over and taking in the evidences of a country and people that was rich in economic and cultural potential as well as possessed of unique, affective, and historied landscapes. Elevated, as it were, by the groundswell of nationalism that rose to new and seldom equalled heights in the eighteen seventies and ’eighties, it became the Canadian equivalent of the Centennial Tower (1876) in New York, “an architectural device” that, in Rem Koolhaas’s words, “provoke[d] self-consciousness” and “offer[ed] that bird’s-eye inspection of a common domain that can trigger a sudden spurt of collective energy and ambition” (33).16 In the essay on “The Niagara District” in Picturesque Canada; the Country as It Was and Is (1882), Louise Murray warms to her subject by describing the area as “unrivalled in all North America for its genial climate and cultivated beauty ...; and ... closely knit to the hearts of its people by its noble, historic memories – memories indissolubly blended with the beautiful river which glorifies the region through which it flows and to which it has given its name” (1:344). Old “foes ... are now friends,” but it was “[t]hrough the heroic valour, sufferings and sacrifices of the men who defended Queenston Heights [that] a nation was born.” Consistent with this emphasis and with the hope of the editor of Picturesque Canada, George Monro Grant (1835-1902), that the collection would “stimulate national sentiment and contribute to the rightful development of the nation” (1: iii), Murray subsequently provides lengthy descriptions of the Battle of Queenston Heights, the dimensions and features of the Brock Monument, and the “magnificent panoramic view” of “one of the loveliest landscapes in the world” that can be enjoyed from “[t]he gallery at the top of the monument” (1:368-73). Fort Mississauga, Fort George, and Fort Niagara are all mentioned as are the “peach and apple orchards” and “fields of wheat” in the surrounding countryside, but so too are “Toronto ... and its shipping,” “the Welland Canal (see also: i and ii) ... [and] Port Dalhousie, where ships enter it from Lake Ontario” (1:370-71). “Everywhere in this fortunate region the evidences of energy, industry and prosperity are to be seen,” remarks Murray at the close of her essay; “every year new orchards and vineyards are planted, new buildings are erected, new industrial works established.... And the owners of this beautiful land are not unworthy to possess it; they are a manly, industrious, independent, and highly moral people ... all firmly holding by the faith and traditions of their brave and patriotic forefathers, who first founded a new Province for the British Empire” (1: 398). Full-page engravings of the “Niagara River, from Queenston Heights” and “Looking Towards Lake Ontario, from Heights near Queenston” illustrate “The Niagara District” but so also do a dozen engravings of shipping on the Welland Canal and Lake Ontario. The nation-space that Canadian readers of Picturesque Canada were asked to “knit” to their “hearts” was urban, industrial, and modern as well as rural, agricultural, and historical.

    One of the most successful of the ensuing decade’s nationalistic knitters was the Methodist minister, temperance crusader, and amateur historian William Henry Withrow (1839-1908), whose glowing description of the Battle of Queenston Heights and the view from the Brock Monument in Our Own Country Canada, Scenic and Descriptive (1889) is interrupted and followed by engravings of the Cantilever Bridge that was built over the Niagara River in 1883 by the Michigan Central Railway. “Every step of the way between Niagara and Queenston – so named in honour of Queen Charlotte – is historic ground,” enthuses Withrow, and

From the summit of Brock’s Monument – a Roman column exceeded in height only by that Sir Christopher Wren erected in London to commemorate the great fire – is obtained a grand view of the river. Here we see not only the Whirlpool and the spray of the Cataract, but all the near towns, with a distant glimpse of the historic field of Lundy’s Lane. Broad smiling farms, and peach and apple orchards, stretch away into the distance, and adorn every headland on either side. The full-tided river rolls on in might and majesty, and pours its flood into the blue unsalted sea, Ontario, which, studded with many a sail, forms the long horizon. Few lands on earth can exhibit a scene more fertile or more fair, or one associated with grander memories of patriotism and valour. (311-12)

As seen by Withrow from the Brock Monument, Canada is rich both in history and in potential, a realm of resonant names and “stretch[ing]” agricultural landscapes, proud battlefields and “long” marine horizons – a nation-space that demands alliteration, superlatives, and the purple prose of “smiling farms,” “full-tided river,” and “blue unsalted sea.”

    Since he was a contributor to Picturesque Canada, Charles G. D. Roberts may have had a memory of Murray’s description of the Brock Monument and its surroundings when some years later he penned a passage that the Australian writer Douglas Sladen quotes in On the Cars and Off (1895):

Standing on th[e] gallery [of the Monument], one sees unrolled ... a matchless panorama of battle-field and vineyard, of cataract and quiet stream, of dark wood and steepled villages, and breadths of peach orchards, and fortresses no longer hostile; and far across the blue waters of Ontario, the smoke of the great city towards which our feet are set. (qtd. in Sladen 164)

A fervent believer in Imperial Federation who characterizes Canada in the prefacatory poem in On the Rails and Off as “A REALM WITHIN A REALM ... Loyal, though free! / Steering her own stout helm” (xii), Sladen quotes Roberts’s description after praising George Denison and other apostles of the movement and lambasting the “fallacies” of the prominent annexationist Erasmus Wilman (see 155-63). Both in the context that Sladen provides for it and in its intertextual relationship with Murray’s essay, the description indicates that by the eighteen nineties the Brock Monument and the “panorama” that it afforded had become a set piece in the discourses of Canadian nationalism and Imperialism – a topos whose components were so well known that merely to mention them was sufficient. But in its lack of vivid description and in the eager anticipation of its final element – “the smoke of the great city towards which our feet are now set” – the passage also hints at the exhaustion of the topos and a shift in focus to other places and issues. Written almost a decade before On the Rails and Off, David Wilkie’s description of his visit to Queenston Heights in Sketches of a Summer Trip to New York and the Canadas (1887) also has the tone of a valediction to the Brock Monument and the nationalistic spirit that it represents:

We passed within a short distance of General Brock’s monument, but as it was twilight, we did not ascend, it being impossible to see above a mile or two all round. We had nevertheless a good view of the battleground, where the last scuffle between the Americans and the English took place, and long may it be ere such unnatural quarrelling again set the evil passions of both nations to work. On we whirled, leaving all recollection of these disagreeable occurrences behind. The huge pillar became fainter and fainter, till it shrunk to a mere needle, and then faded for ever from our gaze. (150)

    A parodic echo of the surveys of achievement and potential that emanated from the real and imaginary platforms of pre- and post-Confederation can be heard in Stephen Leacock’s description of the view from the “tall, sweeping church” that replaces the “little stone” “Church of England Church” “a little up the hill from the heart” of Mariposa in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) (55, 58, 53). With its “great reach of polished cedar beams” and its “Hosanna Pipe and Steam Organ” (55, 59), the new church is “high” in the ecclesiastical as well as the physical sense,17 and its splendor reflects the delusive sense of their town’s and region’s wealth and importance that characterizes the book’s narrator, most of his fellow Mariposans and, Leacock’s broadest satire suggests, many Canadians. In due course, the church is intentionally burned down for insurance money to cover the debts incurred by its construction, but in the meantime it affords a view of Mariposa that reads like an ironical version of Murray’s catalogue of the “evidences of energy, industry, and prosperity” in the Niagara region:

... the New Church ... towered above the maple trees of Mariposa like a beacon on a hill. It stood so high that from the open steeple of it, where the bells were, you could see all the town lying at its feet, and the farmsteads to the south of it, and the railway like a double pencil line, and Lake Wissanotti spread out like a map. You could see and appreciate things from the height of the new church, – such as the size and growing wealth of Mariposa, – that you could never have seen from the little stone church at all. (59)

Given the popularity of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – 43,644 copies were sold by the end of 1923 (Spadoni 116) – its exposure to ridicule of the materialistic aspect of the prospect topos may have been one of the factors that contributed to the decline of its use in ensuing decades.18 Certainly, once a genre has been effectively parodied its deployment for serious purposes becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.19

    Of course, the Brock Monument continues to this day as a staple of tourist brochures and local histories, but in the post-Freudian era that dubbed it “Brock’s Cock” it seldom seems to have inspired Canadian writers to think of Canada’s heroic imperial past and great national beauty, let alone its burgeoning economic potential. In “The Valiant Vacationist” (1944), for example, Margaret Avison (1918- ) associates it with genteel tourism and treats it as a pretext to grapple with matters more congenial to the Modernist sensibility such as the banality, ugliness, and unintelligibility of the contemporary world. In “The Ballad of Queenston Heights” (1979), another Toronto poet, Francis Sparshott (1926- ), uses the Monument to cast aspersions not only on Brock’s achievements (“Now all you bold Canadian girls / remember Queenston Heights / its thanks to such as Brock ... / that you sleep safe at nights”), but also on his motives:

Who is that sweating officer
waving a useless sword?
That’s General Sir Isaac Brock
who wants to be a Lord….

And in “Brock’s Monument” (2001), Betty J. Beam serves up a spry description of climbing the 235 steps to the viewing platform around a bathetic account of the Battle of Queenston Height’s and the death of Brock and his trusty horse:

General Brock rode Alfred
  On the daring fateful ride.
Sword drawn, he scaled Queenston Heights,
  British Red Coats at his side[.]
The Americans could not
  Gain the summit, though they tried.
Musket and cannon came alive
  And the man and horse died!


Lines like these and those that surround it in “Brock’s Monument” indicate that the Monument at least retains the capacity to generate child-like sense of derring-do.

    For writers coming to it in the last fifty or more years, then, the Brock Monument has no longer been either a trigger for patriotic sentiments or a “platform” for the inspection and description of similarly affective historical landscapes. One reason for this was the growing preference for reconciliatory over nationalistic sentiment that, as has been seen, was already sporadically evident in the pre-Confederation period. Another was the displacement of cultivated and historied landscapes by the Canadian Shield and the Arctic as icons of Canadian identity that began to appear around the beginning of the twentieth century in the poetry of Archibald Lampman (1861-1899) and Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947) and came fully to the fore in the work of the Group of Seven, A.J.M. Smith (1902-1980), F.R. Scott (1899-1985) and, later, Al Purdy (1918-2000).20 Further reasons were the cosmopolitan orientation and urban affinities of Modernism, a movement that in literature as much as architecture favoured the abstract, the rational, and the international over the particular, the emotional, and the native (or vernacular). “If you write ... of the far north and the wild west and the picturesque east, seasoning well with allusions to the Canada goose, fir trees, maple leaves, snowshoes, northern lights, etc., the public will grasp the fact that you are a Canadian poet,” Smith wrote in “Wanted – Canadian Criticism” (1928): “Canadian poetry ... is altogether too self-conscious of its environment, of its position in space, and scarcely conscious at all of its position in time” (601). Half a century later when Sparshott published “The Ballad of Queenston Heights,” the “great city” that had beckoned Roberts already possessed in the CN Tower (1973-76) a structure that simultaneously testified to Canada’s modernity, furnished Toronto with an internationally recognizable architectural emblem, and provided residents and tourists alike with an unequalled means, not only of assimilating the landscape and magnitude of Canada’s largest city, but also of sensing their participation in the very international world of which it is a manifestation. “Toronto’s 1815-foot CN communications tower blankets a vast area of southern Ontario with television and radio signals,” wrote William Kilbourne a year after its completion. “From its observation deck, the Niagara escarpment from south of Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay is visible on a clear day. The deck also affords a superb panorama of the city and its surroundings” (46). The Brock Monument had a Modern successor.


Karl Fleig: It is becoming increasingly clear that it is also the task of architecture to make visible the spiritual and the cultural aspects of man and his environment.
Alvar Aalto: Height, however, has nothing at all to do with this.
Karl Fleig: But a building can be high even so?
Alvar Aalto: Yes, of course, but it can also be very low.

Alvar Aalto, “Conversation, Summer 1969,” 13

In the exchange concerning “water-towers as landmarks of towns” from which this excerpt is drawn, Alvar Aalto draws a sharp distinction between “monuments” and constructions that serve a practical purpose, dismissing the decorated water-towers that “dominate” “nearly every small town” in Finland as “pompous” examples of “‘open-air applied art.’” “The skyline of the town is no longer accented by a town hall, a church or other prestige buildings,” he adds; “[t]hese water-towers,” some of them with “[r]otating restaurants, look-out terraces, … even art galleries … installed on their summits,” are an attempt “to provide each town with its ‘cathedral,’ but “[t]he real content of a city is its cultural life.” Aalto’s contempt for tall structures that attempt to serve a cultural as well as practical purpose calls attention to the hybrid nature of the CN Tower, the “Ode to Virility” (Ferguson) and erstwhile “Wonder of the Modern World”21 that stands, not in a commanding position on Ontario’s most famous hill, but on the blighted shore between Lake Ontario and Toronto’s financial district. Evidence of cultural prowess, home to the world’s highest observation deck and revolving restaurant, and icon of Toronto that “the world’s tallest free standing structure” most certainly is, it is first and foremost a communications tower: above its tapering hexagonal concrete base and tower (which give a combined height of 1,476 feet [450 metres]),22 stands a steel antenna that brings the structure’s total height to the 1,815 feet (553 metres) given by Kilbourne.

    But even to distinguish between and among cultural icon, tourist site, and communications tower does scant justice to the CN Tower, for the structure’s practical function as a transmitter of radio, television, and microwave signals across great distances is part of its touristic appeal and radiantly iconic of the country that hosted Alexander Graham Bell, produced Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, and, in the wake of the near-extinction of Nortel, still prides itself on achievements in the realm of communication. “Our sense of place, enlarged ... by our own largeness, by the endless horizon of our land, shelters all horizons,” argues Malcolm Ross in his Introduction to Our Sense of Identity (1954); “[t]hus ‘the intellectual radar screen’ [McLuhan’s phrase] of Innis, the incredible movement across time and space.... Thus the eager openness of ... McLuhan [himself] to the world loosening, world-binding potential of the new mass media ... [that] threaten with extinction the ... sense of identity of ... older nations, but ... set to tingling the sense of identity to which no bounds are set, need be set, can be set” (xi-xii). In other words, the CN Tower resembles the Brock Monument in its ability to “set to tingling” a “sense of identity” that is, in Ross’s analysis again, “parochial, self-centred, encrusted” (or Canadian and Torontocentric), but it can also arouse a sense of identity that is borderless, transnational, and postmodern – a “horizontal comradeship” (Benedict Anderson 16) that is post-national as well as national. The fact that its monolithic concrete sides are free of historical and antique ornaments and gestures of the sort that clutter the Brock Monument is but one indication that its soaring verticality is intended to proclaim Canada’s participation in a borderless future rather than to evoke its debt to a military and imperial past.23 Like the skyscrapers that surround it, the CN Tower proclaims the global ascendance of capital, technology, and Canada. Margaret Atwood’s description of it as a “huge inverted icicle” brilliantly captures its pristine and nothern modernity (Cat’s Eye 366).

    “6 months of the CN Tower” by the Toronto poet Pier Giorgio Di Cicco (1949- ) is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, poem about the Tower. Apparently written not long after the structure’s completion (it was collected in The Sad Fact [1977]), the poem begins with a quotation that anticipates the Tower’s impact on Toronto and proceeds to justify its concluding statement that the meaning of the finished Tower is different and greater than originally conceived by its designers: “By the end of 1974, the tallest self-supporting structure in the world will dominate the Toronto skyline ... the blue prints / left everything out” (14). Employing a highly unusual combination of the verb “to butt” and the preposition “from” to convey a sense of the trunk-like shape of the lower part of the structure and the vigour of its upward movement,24 Di Cicco portrays the Tower as a quickly domesticated addition to the city that soon became a marker in time as well as space:

butted from the land when
we first moved in, here on
the 12th floor, as much part
of the room as a lamp, table, book.
it goes up, & one knows time has passed.

“[F]lash[ing] at us now” like a lighthouse, the completed Tower is a Heideggarian place-maker and gatherer whose presence works like gravitational or centripetal force on its surroundings: “the streets fall / into it, as if to say, this is what it all comes to” (14). Following on from the disconcerting suggestion in these lines that there is no more to human life than attempts to defy death and entropy25 through grandiose construction projects, the remainder of the poem envisages the Tower, not just as a distraction from reality, but as a salutary reminder of the non-existence that its existence conceals and as an exemplary means of accomplishing the “upward-looking measure-taking” that Heidegger argues is crucial to “dwelling” (Poetry, Language, Thought 221):

                it fools us / sometimes
people talk about it,  up here.
it reminds us of what it takes up
place for / an absence / something to
occupy us.  in short
it is getting someplace,  under it
the encouragement of a million people
who measure it by where they cannot go
                                    the blue prints
left everything out.

“[T]he blue prints / left everything out” because, in Heidegger’s words once again, “measure-taking is no mere geo-metry.... Measure-taking gauges in between, which brings the two, heaven and earth, to one another.... Man’s taking measure in the dimension dealt out to him brings dwelling into the ground plan” (Poetry, Language, Thought 221). 1, 815 feet is not a measure of “dwelling.”

    In comparison with “6 months of the CN Tower,” most of the poems of the ’eighties in which the Tower figures prominently or appears briefly are philosophically banal, aesthetically weak, or both. All-too-often, they are driven either by sniggering Freudianism or by sneering feminism, and sometimes by the two together. “You are Toronto,” announces David Andrus in “Mestiza” (1980), a five-finger exercise in sexual geography that concludes:

and the tallest free standing
structure in the world
bears the intimation of
my desire

rigidly penetrating your
avenues of hope,
your dream-bright nights
of love and despair.


“Big men are proud buildings” agrees Catherine Ahearn in “Proud Buildings” (1981), a sustained analogy between men and various objects that purports to be addressed to all übermenchen as, among other things, “Proud towers – how impressive – Eiffel and C.N. / All in one” (50).26 Nor are the poems of the ’eighties that use the CN Tower as a pretext for social and political commentary on the inner-city, the cold war, and other matters any better. To Douglas Fetherling (1949- ), the “night birds that strike the … Tower” are “breakfast for [Toronto’s] derelicts” (“Alms from heaven …” [1988]) (Rites of Alienation 8). To Hope Anderson, the “base [of] / the … tower is square” (in fact, it is Y-shaped) and “only built to outlast / Russians,” which explains why it has “no doors … windows / … contours or declensions (“Chateau noir” [1987]) (41). To John Patrick, “a window seat” in the Tower’s “revolving restaurant” is a “good place to jettison / troublesome feelings and thoughts” until the restaurant “turns … / toward its shoreward side,” where the sight of people “pour[ing] in and out / of … steel and concrete tombs / selling themselves and each other” and making “their way / to cafés, bars, theatres, beaches or parks / or wherever and whatever they call home” raises troubling and poignant questions:

How many of them are aware
that they are unique beings,
in a unique time?
how many of these people
ever wonder or ask themselves
what they have done
to deserve this uniqueness?
([1989] 16-17)

After such poems, it comes as a relief that James Deahl (1945- ) entirely ignores the CN Tower in “Toronto” (1984), a Marxian meditation on “the power of banks and the market” that envisages their “net of influence stretching / all the way to New Caledonia” (34) and that in “Tales of ‘Sir Blunderbuss’” (1989) Dennis Lee (1939- ) playfully arranges for it to be attacked and destroyed by a latter-day Don Quixote who imagines it to be a “mighty missile … the nemesis of the human race” (The Difficulty of Living on Other Planets 91).

    Lee has been far from alone in recognizing the humorous possibilities of the CN Tower. A poster published shortly after its completion by Toronto’s Coach House Press delineates the perimeter within which buildings would be destroyed if it toppled. Donia Blummenfield Clenman (1927- ) juxtaposes a fragment of a nursery rhyme with a photograph of it that leaves part of its antenna outside the frame so as to figure the Tower as “the laced / boot” up which the “children” of the “old woman / who lived in a shoe” ascend “to dine” (“The C.N. Tower” [1988]) (17). In addition to likening it to “a huge inverted icicle,” the autobiographical narrator of Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (1988) lumps the Tower in with “the svelte glassy towers that arise around it” as “the sort of architecture you used to see only in science fiction comic books,” an architecture that, when “see[n] pasted flat against the monotone lake-sky,” creates the feeling of having “stepped not forward in time but sideways, into a universe of two dimensions” (366). A later Atwood protagonist describes the Tower as the “tallest lightning rod in the world” and ponders its proximity to the Sky Dome (1986-1989)(now the Rogers Centre): “nose and eye, carrot and onion, phallus and ovum, pick your own symbolism” (The Robber Bride [1993] 370). Ron Charach (1951- ) expresses his affection for “the grand indeterminate space” of the prairie and the mentality that it engenders by identifying what they are not, namely:

… some chatty Queen Street space-girl
with a cell phone cradled between
“the largest free-standing breasts in the world,”
nor a CN tower-by-the-dome
leering with gargoyle fans….
(“Vote Prairie” [1999]) (33)

And Bonnie Day risks the censure of the custodians of political correctness by using the announcement by a drunken “native Canadian” who intrudes on a poetry “workshop” that he has “‘left a bottle of wine / On top of the C.N. Tower’” as the occasion for a playful meditation on the nature of the real:

… I thought it symbolic, that at the peak
Of our earnest search for poetic power
Reality comes, with a brazen cheek,
Like a messenger from the gods,
Bringing us down to earth, so to speak,
And making us face the odds
That there actually may be a bottle of wine
On the top of the C.N. Tower
(“The Classroom Intrusion” [1984]) (31)

Somewhat reminiscent of Tony Harrison and other post-war British poets in its use of rhyme and colloquialism, this stanza has a moment of tonal awkwardness (“brazen cheek”) that may have been dictated by its form, but it nevertheless makes effective, because whimsical, use of the height of the CN Tower. To borrow Robert Venturi’s famous description of Main Street, it is “almost all right” (104).

    Perhaps (if not probably) because the years following the construction of the CN Tower have seen “down to earth” modes of literary thinking in the Heideggarean and ecological traditions gain increasing acceptance in literary circles even in central Canada,27 poems generated in whole or in part by “the world’s tallest free-standing structure” have tended to deploy its (as yet) unrivalled verticality for descendental rather than transcendental purposes. In “Today” (1996) Shula Robin (1920- ) reflects the environmentalism of the times as she first observes the “contours” of the “City skyline … / with its majestic CN Tower” and “solid, mighty skyscrapers / merg[ing] with the pallid, polluted air” and then turns away to revel in the “light breeze,” her “park’s / resplendent beauty, [her] balcony’s flowers,” and other “blessings of life on earth” (Sunshine from Within 15). So, too, does Libby Scheïer (1931- ) in “Sunrise Mourning Poem” (1999), which purports to be written on “the roof28 and posits the notion of “what city would look like / without the city: no / CN Tower stabbing the sky / no Canada Maltings rectangular blight / blocking the sight of lake and island and early light …” (62). Predictably, the “fledgling” folk-singers in Cold Clear Water (2002) by the Maritime writer Lesley Choyce (1951- ) habitually “hike down past the CN Tower and under the highways to get to the lake” when they feel “restless”: to those who align themselves with “the counterculture” like Choyce’s protagonists, water, no matter how “‘big and dull’” if they are those accustomed to the ocean, has infinitely greater appeal than a concrete tower, however spectacular might be the views from its observation decks. The descendental temper of recent years may also help to account for the mawkishness of a number of the poems that use the verticality of the CN Tower as a pretext for grandiose philosophical meditations and the relative success of those that opt for lighter themes: just as unintentional humour is the result of bathos, intentional humour is its antithesis.

    Unfortunately, there is more of the former than the latter in M.G. Vassanji’s No New Land (1991), a novel about the experience of East-African Indian immigrants to Toronto in which the CN Tower is a looming symbolic presence in the life of the luckless protagonist, Nurdin Lalani, and his family. Like the green light of East Egg in The Great Gatsby (1925), “the top of the CN Tower blink[s] its mysterious signal” to the Lalanis in their Le Corbusian apartment building in a suburb above the Don Valley Parkway (43). A “symbol of commercialism” and, more important, the incomprehensible “mystery and the possibilities of the city” (Vassanji, “Broadening” 32), the Tower is “a permanent presence in the ... [Lalanis’] lives, a seal on their new existence, the god-head towards which the cars on the parkway spilled over, from which propitiated they came back” (No New Land 43). As such, it is the focal point of a “daily ritual” “like ... going to a temple, worshipping, and coming back” (Vassanji, “Broadening” 32). For the financially unsuccessful and sexually frustrated Nurdin it is also by turns “the concrete god who ... [doesn’t] care” and an aid to meditation that remains incomprehensible but nevertheless assists him in his struggle to come to terms with his troubled past in Tanganyika (Tanzania) and his disheartening present in modern-day Toronto, a feat partially and clumsily accomplished at the novel’s climax with the assistance of a holy man from Dar es Salaam who is known merely and regrettably as “Missionary” (176, and see 82-83, 169-71, 186, and 206).

    Nowhere is the CN Tower put to better comic use than in The Back-of-Own Head Experiment” (see also: i, ii, iii, iv) that was conducted on its Observation Platform on May 6, 1985 by “The Institute of Linguistic Onto-Genetics,” a group that included, on this occasion, Michael Dean, the Institute’s Director, Christopher Dewdney (1951- ), its “Aesthetician,” and Brian Dedora (1946- ) (“Adrian Fortesque”), its “Minister of the Interior for Decoration” (Dean and Smith 3). Founded in 1977, “The Institute of Onto-Genetics” was the Canadian incarnation of ’Pataphysics – that is, the science of “the realm beyond metaphysics … [and] the laws which govern exceptions” (qtd. in Shattuck 241-42) that was developed in France around the beginning of the century by Alfred Jarry and thereafter practiced by Jacques Prévert, Eugène Ionesco, and other members and associates of the “Collège de ’Pataphysique.” (According to the Preface by the Toronto Research Group in the ”Pataphysics number of Open letter, the double quotation marks in ”Pataphysics signify that the “Canadian contribution” to Jarry’s exuberantly anarchic rejection of physics and metaphysics was a “quotation … of the given … [a] ‘literature of the imaginary sciences’” [7].) “[B]y focusing on language, sight, and hearing,” explain Dean and Steven Smith in an Appendix to “The Back-of-Our-Own-Head Experiment,” “The Institute of Linguistic Onto-Genetics … hopes to find the means by which we can expand, to free our capacity not only for three forms of perception, but also the capacity within us for dreaming” (11).

    In accordance with Jarry’s claim in his Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll (1911) that ’Pataphysics is “the science of imaginary solutions” that “will describe a universe which one can see – must see perhaps – instead of the traditional one” (qtd. in Shattuck 242), “The Back-of-Our-Own-Head Experiment” was a successful attempt by Dean “to see the back of his own head with … [a] high-tech sight enhancer,” the SASAR (for “Sight Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”), a device developed for the Institute of Linguistic Onto-Genetics” by Richard Truhlar (1950- ) for the purpose of “focus[ing] the collective energy of imagination” (Dean and Smith 3, 4). Documented by photographs of the group “at the foot of the CN Tower … contemplat[ing] … the magnitude of the experiment they are about to conduct” and then on the Observation Platform before, during, and after the experiment, Dean and Smith’s Report includes a transcript that renders a physically impossible but imaginatively conceivable moment of revelation as the result of a logical sequence of perceptions in ordinary time and space:

DEAN: I see … I … we’re moving very fast … I can’t make out … my
  God, I feel the effect of water … we’re over the ocean … It must be the ocean … very wide … foreign now, very foreign … this must be Belgium … we’re still moving rapidly, but not with the same propulsion as before.
SMITH: Where are you exactly?
DEWDNEY: Three time zone changes already!
DEAN: I feel the effect of mountains … must be the Urals … trajectory
  must be off …
MERIDIAN: Perhaps you’re out of balance.
DEWDNEY: Time zone change.
DEAN: No, there’s Warsaw … my God, the Sea of Japan … we’re off
  again over water!
DEWDNEY: Time zone change.
DOWNE: Adrian, are you with us?
SMITH: Can you see Victoria?
DEAN: I see land … we’re slowing down progressively … no cities …
  mountains … familiar … I see Banff.
DEWDNEY: Time zone change.
DEAN: A sea of wheat.
DEWDNEY: Time zone.
DEAN: (Long pause)
DEWDNEY: Time zone[.]
DEAN: I see water again.
SMITH: Lake Superior?
DEAN: Land … now water again … now land, brush, scrub-pine, bad
  roads …more water!
DOWNE: Must be [L]ake Ontario.
DEWDNEY: Time zone change.
HOLMES: Can you see St. Catharines[?]
DEAN: It’s slow now, but still rapid … I see a tall structure on the horizon
  … a needle … getting closer … city … yes, yes, it’s the Tower … the CN Tower … there we are.
MERIDIAN: How wonderful!
DEAN: Is there someone standing behind me?
DEAN: Move! It’s getting closer, closer … I SEE IT, I SEE IT, YES I CAN
FORTESQUE: Is it aesthetically pleasing?

(DEAN removes SASER. DEAN collapses into arms of Delegate DEWDNEY. Applause is mixed with guppies, cheers of jubilation, and moans of concern.)
(Dean and Smith 12-13)

Besides proving to the satisfaction of the experimenters that “light waves can bend, that sight can be circular, that Imagination is common to every person and is the same in every person” (14-15), “The Back-of-Our-Own-Head Experiment” serves as a reminder of the linear and materialistic assumptions that undergird most earlier overviews of Canada, whether imagined on the basis of maps or presented as actual observations and realistic descriptions. Indeed, in Dean’s preference for water, his references to “scrub-pine” and “bad roads,” his lack of interest in Victoria and St. Catharines, and his epiphanic response to the beauty of the back of his own head lies an exuberant commentary on a long tradition of cataloguing Canada’s landscapes from a great height in order to emphasize the country’s natural beauties, agricultural wealth, and commercial potential. Dean’s comment that “‘[w]e see what we want to see in the same way that we say what we want to say’” was no less true of Thomas Cary, John Howison, Louise Murray, and all the other authors of platform pieces: perception is always, at least in part, “‘an act of imagination’” (Dean and Smith 1).29

    If there is one poem that captures perfectly the dual role of the CN Tower as a Canadian icon and as an icon of Canada’s internationalism, as an impressive engineering achievement and an exercise in civic one-upmanship, and as a structure whose very shape is an invitation to humour, it may be “Dalmatian” (1997) by Kildare Dobbs (1923- ). Exasperated by his friend Vladimir’s habit of responding to his every observation, however trite or recondite, with a knowing “Of course!,” the poem’s narrator attempts “to be more singular / by deploying [his] personal history” and declaiming

            I am Canadian, also Irish,
though born (adding the clincher) in India.
Vladimir says Of course! Do I deserve this?
Can there be any fact known only to me?
Any thought which this Slav has not thought before?
The CN Tower in Toronto, I scream,
is the world’s tallest free-standing erection!
(Of course. Look in the Guinness Book of Records.)

Listen, I have devised a new theorem
not yet published in Nature or read to the
Royal Society to polite applause,
reconciling sub-atomic physics with
gay liberation, McLuhanism and the
product of half the number you first thought of:
quarks, queers, quibbles, quotient, Q.E.D. Of course.

The final “Of course” is exquisitely deflationary, and strikes exactly the right note to conclude a discussion of the Brock Monument and the CN Tower.


  1. The sources of rivers came to be described as “urns” “[f]rom the practice of representing river gods or nymphs in sculpture or painting [and on maps] as holding, leaning upon, or pouring water from, an urn” (OED). [back]
  2. See the Introduction and Explanatory Notes to Abram’s Plains xix and 28-29 for details of the poem’s debts to Carver’s Travels. [back]
  3. See also History of the British Dominions (1773) 195, 213 for the St. Lawrence River as the basis for a new “kingdom” and Wyman H. Herendeen, From Landscape to Literature: the River and the Myth of Geography, 147 for the rivers of topographical poetry as “agent[s] of geographical and political unity.” [back]
  4. Burwell was probably familiar with the map in Michael Smith’s Geographical View of the Province of Upper Canada (1813) and indubitably familiar with the surveys of his brother Mahlon, who was the surveyor of the Talbot Settlement. [back]
  5. In The Rising Village Goldsmith remarks on “How sweet it is … To gain some easy hill’s ascending height, / Where all the landscape brightens with delight, / And boundless prospects stretched on every side, / Proclaim the country’s industry and pride” and then proceeds to describe what appears to be a combination of the Annapolis Valley and the Tantramar Marshes (441-68). In “Tantramar Revisted,” Charles G.D. Roberts describes the marshes, the Bay of Fundy, and the coast of Nova Scotia from a hill near Sackville, New Brunswick. See also Roberts’s essay on New Brunswick in Picturesque Canada; the Country as it Was and Is (1882-84), 2: 767-68 for a description of Fredericton “from the cupola of the university” that contains some of the same elements as the poem and a similar emphasis on both the physical and the historical aspects of the landscape (“[f]rom the edge of lower terrace sweeps away the broad hillside, clothed with maples all aflame…. Close at hand the white arches of a bridge denote the mouth of the Nashwaak River…. There is the birth-place of the history of the spot” and so on). Goldsmith was born in St. Andrew’s, Nova Scotia (now New Brunswick). Roberts was born near Sackville and attended the University of New Brunswick. [back]
  6. The first use of this phrase recorded in the OED is in a letter of April 23, 1787 in which Robert Burns mentions having made “a few pilgrimages over some of the classic ground of Caledonia.” [back]
  7. Drawing again on Carver, Cary draws Abram’s Plains towards a close by referring to the “lucid lightnings” of “shining fire-flies” as the only points of light as “Darkness shuts the scene” (581-83) and the insects are lovingly dwelt upon by the intensely nationalistic Charles Mair (1838-1927) in “The Fireflies” (1868). Moreover, in The Emigrant’s Informant (1834), “A Canadian Settler, Late of Portsea Hants” describes “the fire-fly” with an eloquence born of pride in Canada’s flora and fauna: “this species of animal may be seen at night glittering in apparent millions, round the heads of the trees that stand upon the margin of the lakes. The effect produced by their magical beauty on a serene evening, contrasted with the sable mantle, and the witching stillness that precedes the night, and sparkling over the tranquil bosom of the lakes – now disappearing – now floating before us with extended brilliancy, illuminating the woods in every direction; then suddenly converging to a fiery ball – and as quietly dispersing, and lighting the air with a profusion of brilliant spangles, throwing their exquisite rays, on the glorious distance – kindle sensations of impassioned, and … thrilling extasies, as when fairies are on foot, and dance away the silent hours of night” (228). See also “To the Fire-Fly” in the July 8, 1823 issue of the Quebec Mercury, where “R.C.” follows six stanzas describing the fire-fly and its haunts by interpreting it as “symbol” of “virtue” and an “emblem” of “innocence.” [back]
  8. See my Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 428 n4 for a discussion of the various other bushes and trees that were subsequently said to mark the spot of Brock’s death. [back]
  9. See Jonathan Vance, Building Canada: People and Projects that Shaped the Nation 258-65 for an account of the inception, finding, and construction of the Monument, including details of a more ambitious design by the English neoclassical sculptor Richard Westmacott (1775-1856) that was rejected as too expensive. Vance also provides an account of the erection of the Nelson Monument (1805-09) in Montreal and the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument (1827-28) in Quebec (251-58, and see Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 43-44 and 32-33).[back]
  10. The inscription is quoted in its entirety by several writers, including Edward Thomas Coke (43) and the author of “Memoir of the Late Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B.” (np) (see above). [back]
  11. Fort Niagara stands on the American side of the border, but it was built by the French and saw numerous conflicts before being captured by the British in July 1759. Immediately following Brock’s funeral, its “cannon … were fired, ‘as a mark of respect due to a brave memory’” (“Memoir of the Late Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B.” np). Brock’s memoirist ends his piece by arguing that the conduct and death of the General and the respect and reverence generated by them in Upper Canada “have done more towards cementing our union with the mother country than any other event or circumstance since the existence of the province” and by quoting in its entirety the inscription on the Brock Monument. [back]
  12. Among the other writers who commented on either the Monument, the view, or both are Edward Strutt Abdy (299), Patrick Shirreff (88, 93), Harriet Martineau (1: 101), and James Taylor (54). Of these, all are enthusiastic, with the exception of Shirreff, who comments that, although “the monument command[ed] a wider range of landscape” than Queenston Heights, it did not “diversify the scene, and certainly [did] not reward the labour of reaching the summit” (93). In the nineteenth century, as later and now, visitors to the Niagara area were much less enthusiastic about the tourist attractions in the vicinity of the Falls, which included various viewing platforms. “[T]he neighbourhood of this great wonder is overrun with every species of abominable fungus – the growth of rank bad taste,” lamented George Warburton in Hochelaga; or, England in the New World (1846): “Chinese pagoda, menagerie, camera obscura, museum, watch-tower, wooden monument, sea gardens, ‘old curiosity shops’ ... ”(1:235-36). “Come – come higher yet, / To the PAGODA’s utmost height ascend,” reads a poem quoted by Warburton, “Come ... see earth, air, and sky in one alembic blend!” See Vance 265-72 for accounts of the construction and significance of the Skylon (1964-65) in Niagara Falls and the Husky (now Calgary) Tower (1966-68) in Calgary, the former inspired by the Space Needle at the Seattle World’s Fair (1961) and both inspirations for the CN Tower. [back]
  13. As, for example, in Sir James E. Alexander’s L’Acadie; or, Seven Years’ Explorations in British America (1849) 1: 283-84: “I wandered to Queenston Heights.… The tall pillar over Brock’s grave … still stood, shattered with gun-powder, and a monument of a ‘sympathizer’s hate.’ Subscriptions to the amount of £4000 sterling had been raised to restore it, towards which in 1848 nothing had been done. I was glad to see that the disgraceful proceedings of the sympathizer Lett had not met with the approbation of his countrymen, for I found written on one of the stones ‘may the man who destroyed the memorial of a fallen foe be tortured with the hell of conscience here, and the hell of flames hereafter’.” Alexander also describes the Monument as a “crumbling mausoleum” “tottering to its fall” (1:221, 218). To Susanna Moodie’s eyes, the damaged Monument was “a melancholy looking ruin, but by no means a picturesque one, [for it] resembl[ed] some tall chimney that has been left standing after the house to which it belonged has been burnt down” (Life in the Clearings 245). “Were a new monument erected on this spot to-morrow,” she opines, “it is more than probable that it would share the fate of its predecessor, and some patriotic American would consider it an act of duty to the great Republic to dash it out of creation.” [back]
  14. As might be expected, “Brock,” the poem that Sangster wrote for the inauguration of the Monument on October 13, 1859 is a celebration of its subject and a paean to Canadians as “one people, one in heart / And soul, and feeling, and desire!” (Hesperus 84). [back]
  15. In Burying General Brock: a History of the Brock Monument, Robert Malcolmson states that Thomas’s “scheme … was initially considered too delicately decorated” but at a meeting of the committee charged with selecting the design on August 15, 1852 “it was chosen the best” of the submissions (30). The extensive formal gardens that now surround the Monument go some way towards reconciling it to its surroundings, but the same cannot be said of the grey and decrepit water tower in the grounds. [back]
  16. In the prefatory note to his Songs of the U.E. Loyalists and York Pioneers (1895), Henry Harrington Date (d.1905) states that the poem was “suggested to the mind of the writer while on a visit to General Brock’s monument, about the summer or 1875 or ’76, [on] the occasion … of the yearly picnic of the society of York Pioneers and U.E. Loyalists,” and adds that his “intention was to produce a national song for Canada” (np). The poem does not describe the surrounding landscape, however; indeed, it is largely given over to the yearnings of the ninety-year-old speaker of the title for “the beautiful Old Countrie” (11). [back]
  17. Leacock positions the new church between the Salvation Army at the lower end of the ecclesiastical spectrum and the Roman Catholic Church at the other and incorporates into the three sketches in which it figures references to “Lenten Services of Sorrow” and the “Athanasian Creed,” both of which are associated more with the high than the low church (see Sunshine Sketches 60-61). [back]
  18. In Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914), which in many ways is the urban complement of Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Leacock again uses a prospect piece for satirical purposes: “if you were to mount to the roof of the Mausoleum Club … on Plutoria Avenue you could almost see the slums” observes the narrator early in the first chapter. “But why should you? … [I]f you never went up on the roof, but only dined inside among the palm-trees, you would never know that the slums existed – which is much better” (2). [back]
  19. In “A View of Montreal, from the Tower of the French Cathedral” (1872), M. Emma Knapp interrupts her survey of the “lofty spires … stately towers” and natural features of the “fair Canadian city” with a meditation on the fact that its “site / Was once a forest vast” (141). “The heart with admiration owns / It is a favoured land,” she concludes, but “religion, wisdom, [and] science, / Must consecrate the place; / Till of the days long past and gone” – days when “stealthy” hunters “chased the deer to its covert deep” and “Indian warfare marked the spot” – “We scarce can find a trace” (141-42). [back]
  20. One of Scott’s most important philosophical poems, “The Height of Land” (1916) is set on the watershed between Lake Superior and Hudson Bay, a locale that allows the poet to envisage, on one “hand,” “The crowded southern land / With all the welter of the lives of men” and, on the other, “The lonely north enlaced with lakes and streams, / And the enormous targe of … [the] Bay / Glimmering all night / In the cold arctic light” (Poems 46-47). One of Smith’s most popular poems, “The Lonely Land” (1936) was partly inspired by the Group of Seven but, after describing the Canadian north in terms reminiscent of their work, moves to generalizations that are by turns abstract (“This is a beauty / of dissonance”) and nationalistic (“This is the beauty / of strength / broken by strength / and still strong”) (51). [back]
  21. See Elaine Marshall’s “Life Decrees: No Wonder, This” for the consternation caused in Toronto by Life magazine’s decision in December 2003 to drop the CN Tower from its list of “The Seven Wonders of the World: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” as selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was replaced by the research facility of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. [back]
  22. The Australian architect John Andrews (1933- ) and his partner Ned Baldwin are credited with the design of the Tower in collaboration with Roger Du Toit and the Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden Partnership. The structural engineer on the project was R.R. Nicolet. [back]
  23. In Up North: Where Canada’s Architecture Meets the Land, Lisa Rochon betrays more than her Modernist bias when she describes the CN Tower as “the poster boy of Canada, its concrete as smooth as young flesh … an elegant body in a state of permanent undress” and proceeds to chronicle its creation by means of the slip form method of construction (see also Vance 267, 275) as “a violent, noisy birth [in which] its wet form [was] tapered by a ring of climbing jacks powered by hydraulic pressure” (216). It is unclear from this description whether the appropriate follow-up to the event would have been a cigarette or a pain-killer. [back]
  24. As a noun, “butt” can refer to the thicker end of a tool or weapon and to the trunk of a tree just above ground. As a verb, it can refer to the act of pushing or sprouting. “Butted” is also evocative of “butte,” a conspicuous isolated hill with steep sides. [back]
  25. In “Prince George Express” (1978), David McFadden (1940- ) interrupts a description of a wolf running across a frozen lake to escape an eagle to put the Tower into spatial and temporal perspective: “try putting / the CN Tower beside that mountain). / And just as sure / as the CN Tower and that mountain / will return to common clay one day …” (On the Road Again 20-21). [back]
  26. A similarly trite, sexual reading of a tower is to be found in Stephen Bett’s pretentiously titled “From the Calgarian heights of the Husky Tower, after Evend and de Chirico” (1983): “Dreaming the critical spaces / of well-oiled Alta, the / agoraphobic cowboy buries / his manifest Derrick / in his split- / level underwear” (14). [back]
  27. While the literary approaches spawned by ecology (ecocriticism) have taken hold in western and eastern Canada, they have met with resistance in Ontario, especially in the English departments of the more traditional universities such as Queen’s. [back]
  28. “Galactic” and “June Sunrise” in the same volume are also located on rooftops, the former on “the roof of the Arcadia artists’ co-op, Queen’s Quay West” and the latter simply “on the roof” (7, 51). Like “Sunrise Mourning Poem” both make reference to the Canada Malting buildings (8, 51, 62). [back]
  29. When Will Ferguson waxes serious at the close of “Ode to Virility,” he places himself squarely in this tradition: “[w]e tend to fixate on the [CN] tower itself and forget about the panorama it offers: a fisheye look at the city, Lake Ontario laid out like a great swath of fabric, the arc of the shoreline, the curve of the earth and there, in the distance, a faint rise of mist: Niagara. You feel as though, if the light is right and you squint your eyes just so, you might even see the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps that is why the CN Tower is such a Canadian icon: in a country as big as ours, it takes a tower this tall just to get a decent view” (48). [back]

Works Cited