Poet Al Purdy's home to become writer's residence

The A-frame home built by the late Canadian poet Al Purdy has been bought by a non-profit group and will be turned into a writers' retreat.

Late Canadian poet hosted a Who's Who of Canadian literature at the house he built

Purdy, left, was a frequent host to other poets and writers at the home, including Michael Ondaatje. (Courtesy of the Al Purdy A-frame Association)

The A-frame home built by the late Canadian poet Al Purdy has been bought by a non-profit group and will be turned into a writers' retreat.

Purdy and his wife Eurithe built the home in the late '50s on the shore of Roblin Lake in the Prince Edward County hamlet of Ameliasburgh, Ont., about 16 kilometres south of Belleville, Ont.

After his death in 2000, his widow maintained the home but, now in her 80s, she was looking to sell it, according to Jean Baird, a Vancouver editor and long-time friend of the Purdys.

Baird started the Al Purdy A-frame Association and led a four-year effort to buy the home so it would not be purchased by someone who might have demolished the building and replaced it. 

Al Purdy built the A-frame home in Ameliasburgh, Ont. in the late 50s. (Courtesy of the Al Purdy A-frame Association)

Baird said the home has cultural significance, as Purdy came to the national spotlight not long after moving back to the region (he was originally from the Trenton area). The home, and the local region, featured prominently in many of his poems.

Purdys frequent hosts to other writers

It was also a meeting place for hundreds of writers, including Margaret Laurence and Michael Ondaatje, who talked and drank there with the larger-than-life poet.

"Everybody went to the house, partly because Al invited everybody to the house. But I think in part because they loved the company," said Baird.

Purdy won the first of two Governor General's Awards in 1965 for his book of poetry, The Cariboo Horses.

Donations came in and many established Canadian writers — including Leonard Cohen and Yann Martel — took up the cause. Baird said the campaign managed to raise a little more than $200,000, enough to buy the house from Purdy's widow.

But she said there is still work to be done to establish the home as a writers' residence.

"We still are very much in fundraising mode because we still need to raise money to do the upgrades on the home and also to get an endowment going so we can get a writer in there," said Baird.

She remains optimistic, however, that writers will be able to use the cottage as early as next year.

"It's such an exciting idea to have the property continue to be a place that generates words and discussion," said Baird.