Only a fraction of the poetry written and published in pre-Confederation Canada appeared in books or booklets. In both the Maritimes and in Central Canada, periodicals and, especially, newspapers provided the venue for enormous numbers of poems, some of them reprinted from sources in Britain, France, the United States, and elsewhere, many of them written by local men and women or by visitors, and all of them of interest and significance to students and scholars of Canadian literature and culture. It is the purpose of this portion of the Canadian Poetry website to make first a cross-section and ultimately all of the poems published in the major early Canadian newspapers readily available in reliably edited texts and to facilitate access to them further by the provision of an comprehensive index, brief introductions to the newspapers in which they appeared, and electronic links to relevant critical and biographical materials.
The four newspapers from which poems have so far been drawn—The Quebec Gazette, The Quebec Mercury, The Montreal Herald, and The Montreal Vindicator—represent a broad spectrum of editorial dispositions and practices. Whether staunchly conservative (The Quebec Mercury), truculently radical (The Vindicator), or something in between, all four newspapers published poems on an almost bewildering variety of subjects and topics, from the utterly frivolous to the deadly serious. In any year of any one newspaper there are likely to be poems on anything from a bar of soap to the most pressing current event, be it the American Revolution, the latest British victory over Napoleon, or a riot in Quebec City. Nor is the variety of the poems evident only in their political perspectives (or lack thereof) and subject-matter. Even a relatively small sampling of poems is likely to include songs, hymns, odes, elegies, imitations, parodies, satirical squibs, topographical pieces, verse epistles, and tales of love, woe, error, intrigue, and countless other themes in forms ranging from decasyllabic couplets to nursery rhymes.
In the variousness of their contents, forms, and modes, the poems that appeared in early Canadian newspapers reflect a colonial culture that was heterogeneous, dynamic, and increasingly aware of the forces of history, geography, ethnicity, religion, and class that were shaping for its inhabitants a common, if fraught, destiny. “[W]e are here at the making of a nation,” observes the narrator of Sara Jeannette Duncan’s The Imperialist (1903). So too are we in the poems published in early Canadian newspapers. Here are the interests, concerns, tastes, likes, dislikes, whims, fancies, peeves, preferences, prejudices, ideas, ideals, imaginings, and imaginaries of the writers, editors, publishers, and readers who were there at the making of Canada.
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A list of the editorial emendations to any poem or poems on the Poems from the Early Canadian Newspapers portion of the Canadian Poetry website may be obtained by written request to:
Canadian Poetry Press,
Department of English,
University of Western Ontario,
Ontario, N6A 3K7,
All requests must be accompanied by a stamped, addressed envelope.
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I should like to thank all the students and colleagues at the University of Western Ontario who have contributed and continue to contribute to the construction of Poems from Early Canadian Newspapers. Special thanks, however, are due to Gord Nickerson, Gerard Stafleu, and R.J. Shroyer for their generosity and expertise in establishing and monitoring the Canadian Poetry Project’s network of computers and to the four students whose unstinting efforts and unflagging cheerfulness have brought so many components of the Project to happy fruition: Kat Evans, Julia Obert, Jane Powell, and Michel Woods.