Fonds F2017 - Al Purdy fonds

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Al Purdy fonds

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  • [192-]-2012 (Creation)
    Purdy, Alfred Wellington

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Physical description

11.55 m of textual records and other material

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Alfred Wellington Purdy, a prominent Canadian poet, was born on 30 December 1918 at Wooler, Ontario and died on 21 April 2000 at Victoria, British Columbia. Purdy was one of an important group of poets recognised as "working class" poets, or "poets of the people." His formal education ended after only two years of high school, and he spent the Depression years "riding the rails" and worked at a number of jobs in British Columbia.

When the Second World War broke out, Purdy joined the R.C.A.F. and served for six years. After his discharge, he lived in British Columbia, supporting himself and his wife as a labourer. In 1956, they returned east, living for a period in Montreal -- where Purdy encountered the leaders of the contemporary Canadian literary scene, among them poet Irving Layton -- and then settling in Ameliasburgh.

By the mid-sixties, Purdy had found his own voice and was able to establish a considerable reputation as a poet. Purdy received several Canada Council Grants that enabled him to travel to such places as the interior of British Columbia in 1960, to Baffin Island in 1965, and to Greece in 1967, in order to broaden his base of experience. He published steadily in the sixties and seventies, to wide acclaim, and by 1982, had twenty-five volumes of poetry plus numerous works of prose, radio plays and dramas, and book reviews. In 1968, he edited the collection of essays, “The New Romans.” In the eighties, Purdy reached the critical pinnacle of an illustrious career with the publication of “The Stone Bird” (1981), “Piling Blood” (1984), and “The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, 1956-1986” (1986). In 1990, Purdy published his first novel the semi-autobiographical “Splinter in the Heart”, and then the autobiography “Reaching for the Beaufort Sea” (1993).

Purdy's work won him the Governor General's Award for poetry twice; the first time in 1965, for “The Cariboo Horses” (1965) and the second in 1986, for "The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, 1956-1986." He also won the A.J.M. Smith Award for "Sex & Death" (1973). In 1982, he was also rewarded by the larger community with an Order of Canada and, in 1987, an Order of Ontario.

Al Purdy married his wife, Eurithe Mary Jane Parkhurst, in 1941. Al Purdy is survived by his wife.

Custodial history

All purchases and donations prior to 2000 were transferred directly by the creator. Subsequent donations were made through Al Purdy's widow, Eurithe. Records may have been collected and moved from their original locations to facilitate transfer to the Archives.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of manuscripts, correpospondence, photographs and audio recordings documenting the life's work and literary activities of Canadian poet Al Purdy and, to a lesser extent, the life of his wife Eurithe Mary Jane Purdy (b. Parkhurst). Includes correspondence with many of the major figures of Canadian literature including Margaret Atwood, Earle Birney, Michael Ondaatje, Dennis Lee, Timothy Findley, Diane Dawber, Susan Musgrave, George Woodcock, H.R. "Bill" Percy, Margaret Dyment, Rosemary Sullivan, Sid Marty, Fraser Sutherland, Ralph Gustafson, John Metcalf, James C. Deahl, Irving Layton, George Woodcock, Robert Fulford and many others. Carbon copies of many of Purdy's letters, both "incoming" and "outgoing," are also represented. The manuscripts cover all aspects of Purdy's literary activities, foremost as a poet, but also include rough notes drafts and final versions of his prose, plays, articles and reviews. Nearly every publication by Purdy throughout his career is represented, although his work from 1970 to 2000 is available in its entirety within this fonds, with drafts of some earlier works residing with other archival institutions. Also includes notes for speeches, lectures and presentations. Among the photographs are images of Purdy taken by professional photographers for book covers or other promotional purposes, family photographs and documents of trips to Peru, Mexico, Greece, among other destinations. Also includes photos from poetry readings. The fonds also contains published items, such as copies of Purdy's poems, prose and reviews; clippings and reviews of his work; and general articles about the author. Other material represented in this fonds document Purdy's activities judging writing contests, book tours, conferences and his own personal life.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Acquisition of this fonds was made possible with the assistance of the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund. Papers were purchased from Al Purdy, with parts of acquisitions donated outright, in 1971, 1972, 1985, 1987, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Accruals from 2002, 2011 and 2013 were donated by the Estate of Al Purdy.


Arrangement of this fonds has varied greatly since the first purchase in 1971, having been influenced by changing archival practice and standards, as well as by individual archivists' different readings of arrangement of the material. As such, series do not correspond between many of the accruals. A series of Eurithe's files exists in the 2011 and 2013 accruals, containing records created or collected after Purdy's death. These have been maintained as a series instead of a separate fonds, since some of the files contain material created or collected during Purdy's life.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Location of originals

F3 D10
F5 F11

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Open, except select letters from the Correspondence series in Locator 2406. These records are closed until 22 April 2020.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Copyright on original material by Al Purdy is held by the Estate of Al Purdy through Harbour Publishing. Copyright on incoming correspondence or manuscripts submitted to Purdy is held by the individual creators.

Associated materials

Collections of Al Purdy's papers are also housed at the following institutions:

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Further accruals are expected

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Description created on 06/26/2000. Last updated 10/04/2017.
Archivist(s): Jeremy Heil, Stewart Renfrew, Brian Hubner, Shirley Spragge

Language of description

  • English

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  • Shelf: 2071
  • Shelf: 2071.1
  • Shelf: 2071.2
  • Shelf: 2210.4
  • Shelf: 2406
  • Shelf: 5147
  • Shelf: 5147.1
  • Shelf: 5002.1
  • Shelf: 5002.5
  • Shelf: 5021.9
  • Shelf: 5093.1
  • Shelf: SR101-SR106
  • Shelf: SR525-SR560
  • Shelf: SR750-SR757
  • Shelf: SR1048-SR1048.3
  • Shelf: F5 F11
  • Shelf: MI 15
  • Shelf: MI 16
  • Shelf: F3 D10