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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Rupert Brooke in Canada

British poets used to come to Canada and comment on it. Oscar Wilde made Niagara Falls a famous marital failure. Less known is that the English War poet, and classically-trained and classically-handsome, Rupert Brooke, spent a year in "North America and the South Seas". His journals were first published in 1916, and are now reprinted by Hesperus Press, in 2007, as Letters from America: Travels in the USA and Canada.

Brooke actually spends much time in Canada. He has precious little good to say about Montreal, which, 90 years ago, to his critical eye, consists of "rather narrow, rather gloomy streets." He noted that Montreal is mainly made of "banks and churches" and has a "double personality" - being half "Scotch" and half French Catholic.

He predicts no French Canadian will ever become Prime Minister again (he was wrong) and detects a tension between the philistine bankers and the more medieval Quebecois. He quickly moves on to Ottawa, which he prefers - perhaps the first, and last, foreign visitor to record such a preference. Brooke fails to mention Montreal's extraordinary setting on the St. Lawrence, one of the world's greatest rivers, or emphasise the mountain in the middle. Nor does he comment - as one would expect - too much on the light, the weather.

One thing may not have changed. At the start of the chapter titled "Montreal and Ottawa" he writes: "My American friends were full of kindly scorn when I announced that I was going to Canada."
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