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Literary luminaries attend unveiling of statue of 'people's poet' Al Purdy

Eurithe Purdy sat at the feet of her late husband, renowned poet Al Purdy, on Tuesday as a statue of him was unveiled at Queen's Park.

Eurithe Purdy sat at the feet of her late husband, renowned poet Al Purdy, on Tuesday as a statue of him was unveiled at Queen's Park.

"His pose to me looks so natural, as if he could almost walk away from where he's reclining," she said.

The three-metre-tall black bronze statue has Purdy perched atop two rocks and staring south onto the grounds of the park, site of the Ontario legislature. The poet died in 2000 at age 81.

Literary luminaries attending the event, including Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee and John Ralston Saul, remarked on the significance of having a poet honoured on the grounds of a government landmark.

Lee said the statue signals that the city and province are waking up from a "cultural amnesia."

"This is saying, 'This belongs to the centre of our lives along with all the other important things,'" Lee said.

Husband and wife sculptors Edwin and Veronica Dam de Nogales of Highgate, Ont., created the statue, which is a co-operative effort of the City of Toronto, the Friends of the Poet Laureate and the Toronto Legacy Project.

Scott Griffin, founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a member of the Friends of the Poet Laureate, underwrote the project after first hatching the idea for the statue in 2001.

"Al Purdy is a poet of the land. He's as Canadian as you'll ever get, and he was a people's poet," said Griffin.

Griffin commissioned the project along with Atwood, author Michael Ondaatje, professor Sam Solecki (who was Purdy's editor and close friend) and Lee, Toronto's first poet laureate.

Organizers say the piece, called Voice of the Land, is only the second full-length statue of a poet in Toronto (the other is of Robbie Burns) and one of the very few in Canada. The statue's title is also the name of an award created by the League of Canadian Poets to honour Purdy's contribution to Canada.

Purdy, who grew up in Trenton, Ont., and lived all over the country, was often described as Canada's national poet. His works include 33 books of poetry, a novel, an autobiography and nine collections of essays and correspondence.

The beloved wordsmith also won two Governor General's Literary Awards for Cariboo Horses and Collected Poems and was appointed to the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. His final collection of poetry, Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, was released posthumously in the fall of 2000.