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Heritage group takes on task of saving Al Purdy landmark

Poet Al Purdy built a cabin in Prince Edward County, Ont., where he composed some of his greatest work.

Dennis Robinson/The Globe and Mail

Already supported by financial contributions from the venerable bard Leonard Cohen, novelist Yann Martel, ageless scold Farley Mowat and retired publisher Avie Bennett, the campaign to save a home-built cabin where poet Al Purdy composed his greatest work and mentored a new generation of confident Canadian writers has found a permanent caretaker in the form of Hastings-Prince Edward Land Trust, a local Ontario group dedicated to preserving cultural and natural history.

The effort to save the humble monument, an A-frame cottage on Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County, gained urgency with the proliferation of weekend retreats built by wealthy Torontonians, according to Vancouver writer Jean Baird, who heads the Al Purdy A-frame Trust. The participation of a local organization that "understands the heritage value of the property" is a milestone, she said. "It's as safe as you're ever going to get to protect a property in the long term."

"Absolutely everything is in place," Ms. Baird said, speaking from the porch of the A-frame while Mr. Purdy's widow Eurithe prepared dinner. "We have a ways to go but things are rolling and we're in good shape."

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Finding a permanent steward for the house makes it possible for the trust to launch its "big cheque" fundraising campaign aimed at foundations and corporations, Ms. Baird said. With $100,000 contributed thus far, the trust is aiming to raise a total of $900,000 to acquire the property, perform minor repairs and establish an endowment to cover future maintenance and programming as a cultural facility.

The A-frame marks the local land trust's first effort at cultural preservation, according to its president, Stewart Murray of nearby Belleville, Ont. "We're just delighted by the whole idea," he said, adding that interest among potential donors is running high.

In the meantime, Trenton High School is honouring its most famous dropout by teaching a new Purdy unit to English students. Not to be outdone, students from the shop class have pitched in with a planned renovation of the outhouse where Purdy did his best work.

"Apparently, even years after they got indoor plumbing, Al preferred the outhouse because he said he liked to think there," Ms. Baird said.

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