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#18 The Convict Lover


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#18 The Convict Lover



Bookmark #18 Kingston, Ontario

The Convict Lover, by Merilyn Simonds


The prisoner imagined himself knee-deep in the shallow water where the rock had been born, at the edge of a great Paleozoic sea. Ancient organisms of fantastical shape swam at his ankles, the forefathers of jellyfishes, sea-urchins and fairy shrimp. Multi-limbed creatures scuttled scorpion-like across the mud; archaic snails clung to underwater plants, their shells coiled like rams’ horns. All this before creatures breathed air on bare land, before amphibians, before reptiles, before trees and ferns, before dinosaurs, before mammals, before humans. Five hundred million years before the prisoner stood on the quarry ledge, soft-bodied, boneless creatures had dropped their feces and shed their shells in the mud. Year after thousands after millions of years, layer on layer, lives turned to stone.
 – from The Convict Lover, by Merilyn Simonds, first published by Macfarlane, Walter & Ross. Bookmarked at Kingston, September 30, 2017.

Kingston WritersFest's Jan Walter (original publisher); Project Bookmark Canada's Linda Hughes, Laurie Murphy and Hughena Matheson; Dorothy MacDonald and  author Merilyn Simonds. Photo credit: Richard Cooper.

Kingston WritersFest's Jan Walter (original publisher); Project Bookmark Canada's Linda Hughes, Laurie Murphy and Hughena Matheson; Dorothy MacDonald and  author Merilyn Simonds. Photo credit: Richard Cooper.

Dorothy MacDonald, niece of "Peggy," and Merilyn Simonds at the freshly unveiled Bookmark, September 30, 2017. Photo credit: Richard Cooper

Dorothy MacDonald, niece of "Peggy," and Merilyn Simonds at the freshly unveiled Bookmark, September 30, 2017.
Photo credit: Richard Cooper

 

Merilyn Simonds’ The Convict Lover is the 18th Bookmark on Canada’s literary trail. The installation was unveiled by the author during Kingston WritersFest, in Portsmouth’s Garrigan Park, once the quarry where Kingston Penitentiary convicts did hard time.

In 1987, Merilyn Simonds happened upon a cache of letters, albums, and clippings in the attic of her house in Kingston, Ontario. Among the overflowing boxes and stuffed sugar sacks was a collection of letters written in the months immediately after the First World War. It was a one-way correspondence from a prisoner in Kingston Penitentiary to a young girl who lived on the outskirts of Portsmouth village near the prison quarry where convicted men broke stone ten hours a day. The Convict Lover blends fact and fiction to imagine a more complete story for the real convict, Joe Cleroux, who called himself Daddy-long-legs in his letters, and the real girl, Phyllis Halliday, who was known to Cleroux as Peggy.


About Merilyn Simonds and The Convict Lover

Merilyn Simonds was born in Winnipeg in 1949, and raised in Brazil and in southwestern Ontario. She moved to the Kingston area in 1987 and became an integral part of the city’s literary community, eventually creating Kingston WritersFest and serving as its founding artistic director. 

Simonds is the author of multiple works of fiction and non-fiction. The Convict Lover was published in 1996 and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. It was adapted for the stage by Layne Coleman in 1997 and in 2016 inspired Hot House, a play by Judith Thompson. .

The Convict Lover was first published by Macfarlane, Walter & Ross. This excerpt is used with the kind permission of the author.

 

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The Passage

The limestone split willingly along the rifts, the horizontal layers laid down as true as lintels, half a billion years before. It also cleaved neatly along the joints that opened perpendicular to the layered rock beds. Some joints were obvious, the work of insinuating moisture and cold; others, like the one the prisoner had just tapped into, were barely discernible fissures opened when the primordial ooze suddenly shriveled in the sun, the same sun that evaporated the sweat on the prisoner’s brow.
That this blue-grey rock had once been mud on the floor of a warm lagoon, the prisoner had no doubt. The inner planes of a freshly split block of limestone were soft with rock-sap, smooth and glistening, resilient as flesh. Exposed to the air, the rock hardened quickly. By the time it arrived at the stone shed, where the prisoner had first come to know it, the limestone was dusty white, resistant to the hammers of the men who sat on benches reducing the rough blocks to gravel or shaping them into neat architectural forms – window sills, foundation caps, a plinth to support a courthouse column, steps up to a church.
Darwin’s theories, wondrous on the pages of the prisoner’s library book, became credible in the quarry. The prisoner imagined himself knee-deep in the shallow water where the rock had been born, at the edge of a great Paleozoic sea. Ancient organisms of fantastical shape swam at his ankles, the forefathers of jellyfishes, sea-urchins and fairy shrimp. Multi-limbed creatures scuttled scorpion-like across the mud; archaic snails clung to underwater plants, their shells coiled like rams’ horns. All this before creatures breathed air on bare land, before amphibians, before reptiles, before trees and ferns, before dinosaurs, before mammals, before humans. Five hundred million years before the prisoner stood on the quarry ledge, soft-bodied, boneless creatures had dropped their feces and shed their shells in the mud. Year after thousands after millions of years, layer on layer, lives turned to stone.
The prisoner had spent long hours in his cell, fingering the chiseled face of limestone that framed his bars, searching for a shell, a fern leaf, a bit of bony skeleton that had been trapped in the ooze, their shapes preserved for eternity, the hieroglyphic remains of some ancient form locked in the stone. But there was none. The limestone of Portsmouth, laid down on granite, was pure, even-grained and fossil-free. No record of the living things that had made it. No record of the nameless men who cleaved it from its granite bed and shaped it. All in all, a most desirable building stone.
 

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#17 The Cat and the Wizard


#17 The Cat and the Wizard



Bookmark #17 Toronto, Ontario

The Cat and the Wizard, by Dennis Lee, with illustrations by Gillian Johnson


For round & round
The rabbits dance,
The moon is high
And they don’t wear pants;
The tuna fish
Patrol the hall,
The butterflies swim
In the waterfall,
And high and low
With a hullabaloo
The castle whirls
Like a tipsy zoo!

 
– from The Cat and the Wizard, by Dennis Lee, published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. Bookmarked at Casa Loma, Toronto, September 29, 2016.

The Cat and the Wizard by Dennis Lee, with illustrations by Gillian Johnson, is the 17th Bookmark on Canada’s literary trail and the first Bookmark for children. It was unveiled on September 29th, 2016 by Dennis Lee at Toronto's iconic landmark Casa Loma. This first children’s Bookmark is a celebration of literature and literacy, and an inspiration to a younger generation to find magic in books. 


About Dennis Lee and The Cat and the Wizard

Dennis Lee has published collections of poetry for adults and children, including the Canadian children’s classic Alligator Pie. His writing has received multiple awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Mr. Christie Book Award. The Cat and the Wizard is published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. and first appeared as a poem in the collection Nicholas Knock and Other People, published in 1974 by Macmillan of Canada. Dennis Lee was born in Toronto, and he lives there still.

About Gillian Johnson

Gillian Johnson is the prize-winning author and illustrator of over thirty children’s books, published worldwide and translated into ten languages. Johnson grew up in Winnipeg and now makes her home with her family in Oxford, United Kingdom.

This excerpt and illustration are used with the kind permission of the author and illustrator.


Discover the Bookmark and the story behind it online with a special exhibit featuring readings and interviews with Dennis Lee, and illustrations and animations inspired by the poem. The exhibit is produced by Angela Shackel of Accounts and Records and was made possible with the generous contribution of the Good Foundation Inc. 


The Passage:

Perhaps you wonder
How I know
A cat and a wizard
Can carry on so?
Well: if some day
You chance to light
On Casa Loma
Late at night,
Go up to the window,
Peek inside,
And then you’ll see
I haven’t lied.
For round & round
The rabbits dance,
The moon is high
And they don’t wear pants;
The tuna fish
Patrol the hall,
The butterflies swim
In the waterfall,
And high and low
With a hullabaloo
The castle whirls
Like a tipsy zoo!
And in the corner
If you peer,
Two other figures
May appear.
One is dressed
In a spiffy hat:
The queen of the castle,
The jet black cat.
The other’s a wizard
Of high degree.
The wizard is grinning.
The wizard is me.
 


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#16 The Fishers of Paradise


#16 The Fishers of Paradise



Bookmark #16 Hamilton, Ontario

The Fishers of Paradise, by Rachael Preston


She pulls her muffler over her nose and ears and pushes her legs out in long easy strokes, feeling muscles and tendons lengthen in a glorious stretch. Scratch, scrape, the sounds of Aidan carving the ice behind her begin to fade, his little legs unable to keep up. Her speed builds and with it, the urge to charge alone down the stretch of ice before her. Instead she executes a stiff spin and skates backwards past him and into Cootes again. A sharp turnabout and then, “Get ready,” she shouts, speeding up. “Hold out your hand.” She folds herself into a tuck as she draws close and reaches for him, gripping his arm above his wrist and pulling him along. Now she straightens and they’re flying together down the length of the canal, flickers of light and shadow as they pass under the iron fretwork of the first rail and High Level bridges, and then the oblong of cool cast by the stone abutments of the second rail bridge. As she warms up, Egypt’s strokes grow longer, her speed increases.
– from The Fishers of Paradise, by Rachael Preston, published by Wolsak and Wynn. Bookmarked at Hamilton, June 9, 2016.

Rachael Preston at the unveiling of Bookmark #16.

Rachael Preston at the unveiling of Bookmark #16.

Rachael Preston signing The Fishers of Paradise at the Bookmark location, June 9, 2016.

Rachael Preston signing The Fishers of Paradise at the Bookmark location, June 9, 2016.

 

Rachael Preston’s The Fishers of Paradise is the 16th Bookmark on Canada’s literary trail. The installation was unveiled by the author and Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson, on Hamilton’s Desjardins Trail near the floating bridge. The Fishers of Paradise is set among the fictional residents of Hamilton’s historic boat house community at Cootes Paradise. The novel explores Hamilton in the 1930s, the City Beautiful movement, and considers what it means to live beyond the margins. In 2013, the book won the Hamilton Arts Council’s inaugural Kerry Schooley Book Award and in 2016 it was published in a new edition by Hamilton-based publishers Wolsak and Wynn.


About Rachael Preston and The Fishers of Paradise

Born in Yorkshire, England in 1962, Rachael Preston emigrated to Canada at sixteen. For eleven years she taught creative writing at Sheridan College and Mohawk College, and in 2005-2006 served as the Chair of gritLIT, Hamilton’s literary festival. In 2007, Preston moved to the west coast of Canada, and now lives in Departure Bay, Nanaimo, BC.

Preston received a City of Hamilton Arts Award for her novel the Wind Seller and in 2013 she won the Hamilton Arts Council’s inaugural Kerry Schooley Award (presented for the book most representative of the Hamilton region) for her third novel, The Fishers of Paradise.

The novel was inspired by a walk along this path. Set among the fictional family of the Fishers living in the real boathouse community of Cootes Paradise, The Fishers of Paradise explores Hamilton in the 1930s, the City Beautiful movement, and considers what it means to live beyond the margins.

The Fishers of Paradise is published by Wolsak and Wynn. This excerpt is used with the kind permission of the author.

Photo credit: Christian TW Photography

Photo credit: Christian TW Photography


The Passage

Aidan is already skating back towards his sister, leaning out over his knees, scissoring his arms to help propel him forward. Like most of the boathouse boys, he’s taken to the ice as if born with blades sprouting from his feet, but when it comes to hockey, his size counts against him. As he draws closer, Egypt can see from his fierce little face that the boys gave him a razzing. She slows and falls into line beside him, one stroke for every two or three of his.
“They’re bigger than you, Aid, you’d only get hurt.”
“I can keep up with any of them.”
“I’ll play with you if you like.”
Aidan rolls his head and his eyes, pushes out in an exaggerated sigh. “You’re a girl. And girls are for cooking and cleaning. Hockey is for men.”
“You cheeky monkey.”
She’s too surprised to be mad at him, by how much he sounds like Ray. Looks like him, too. As they glide into the canal that cuts through the Heights she stares down at her brother frowning in concentration, squinting into the sun. He carries his father’s slight build and mousy colouring. And his nose has grown straighter and more pointed, his face more heart-shaped since Ray’s arrival, as if Mother Nature decided to step in and help: see him? He’s yours.
“I’m asking Dad.
“He can’t even skate.”
She deserves the wounded look Aidan throws her, but she can’t help it sometimes. Dad. How easily the word spills from his lips. I’ll ask Dad. As if the man had been a presence in his life, there for all his birthdays and Christmases, and not some stranger who just turned up out of the blue one day. Dad. Egypt tries sounding it out when she’s alone, but whether shouted into the seclusion of the forest or muttered at her ceiling, whispered inside the lid of her desk at school or chanted under her breath as she walks home, it sounds false and feels worse. Like her tongue is in the wrong mouth. 
She pulls her muffler over her nose and ears and pushes her legs out in long easy strokes, feeling muscles and tendons lengthen in a glorious stretch. Scratch, scrape, the sounds of Aidan carving the ice behind her begin to fade, his little legs unable to keep up. Her speed builds and with it, the urge to charge alone down the stretch of ice before her. Instead she executes a stiff spin and skates backwards past him and into Cootes again. A sharp turnabout and then, “Get ready,” she shouts, speeding up. “Hold out your hand.” She folds herself into a tuck as she draws close and reaches for him, gripping his arm above his wrist and pulling him along. Now she straightens and they’re flying together down the length of the canal, flickers of light and shadow as they pass under the iron fretwork of the first rail and High Level bridges, and then the oblong of cool cast by the stone abutments of the second rail bridge. As she warms up, Egypt’s strokes grow longer, her speed increases.