He­len MacDon­ald was a bril­liant writer with a po­etic soul


Ihave long been an ad­mirer of the po­etry of the late He­len Chris­tine MacDon­ald of Cat­alone Gut. A re­tired teacher, she pub­lished pri­vately three slim vol­umes of verse on Cape Bre­ton land­scape and cul­ture — po­etry “ felt in the blood and felt along the heart,” to bor­row a phrase from Wordsworth.

I had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing her in the early 1990s when she was re­sid­ing at the Vic­to­ria Haven Nurs­ing Home in Glace Bay. I re­mem­ber, in par­tic­u­lar, her dig­nity. She passed away Oct. 17, 1994, at the age of 90 at the New Water­ford Con­sol­i­dated Hospi­tal. In her obituary, there was men­tion of her teach­ing, but there was noth­ing about her po­etic soul or her po­etic legacy. Nor was there men­tion of the fact she was in­ter­ested in lo­cal his­tory, es­pe­cially of the Mira area. She wrote more than one piece on the beau­ti­ful Mira River, con­cen­trat­ing pri­mar­ily on the early French set­tle­ments and later the Scot­tish pi­o­neers.

Her lyri­cal poem The Mira River, con­tains th­ese open­ing lines: “Come sail up the path of the sun­set, that glows from the west,/Up the tran­quil ways of the fisher to some haven of rest.”

He­len C. MacDon­ald was one of a sta­ble of writ­ers who sus­tained the Cape Bre­ton Mir­ror in its brief life as a mag­a­zine pub­lished to re­flect the his­tory and cul­ture of Cape Bre­ton. The brain­child of Nor­man Lip­shutz, a Glace Bay busi­ness­man, the mag­a­zine lasted for over two years, from Dec. 1951, to Nov. 1953. It was en­dorsed by aca­demics and no less a lu­mi­nary than the nov­el­ist Hugh MacLennan, who was born in Glace Bay. Ahead of its time, the Mir­ror died in its in­fancy, done in by lack of ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue and a lim­ited read­er­ship.

He­len’s po­etry ap­peared in the mag­a­zine from the sec­ond edi­tion in Jan., 1952, to the end of 1953. She later col­lected all of her po­ems into the vol­umes, Cape Bre­ton By The Sea (1976) and Songs of Old Cape Bre­ton (un­dated). As well, she pub­lished Po­ems For Christ­mas, Easter and Ev­ery Day.

Na­ture and cul­tural iden­tity, re­mem­brance and be­long­ing, dom­i­nate her po­etry. She wrote much about the beauty of Cape Bre­ton, her Scot­tish her­itage as well as the na­ture of the French in­flu­ence in Cape Bre­ton. In fact, she dis­plays a won­der­ful em­pa­thy with the for­mer French cul­ture.

Nat­u­rally, I am par­tial to any poem writ­ten about the beauty of Cape Bre­ton. In MacDon­ald’s first vol­ume Cape Bre­ton By The Sea, for ex­am­ple, her ti­tle poem is a deeply-felt lyric singing the praises of our is­land. The poem has a very nice de­vel­op­ment. It be­gins with praise for the land­scape and the peo­ple. Then it com­pares Cape Bre­ton with other set­tings thus: “A lit­tle place but they who wan­der wide/Through other lands, and all their grandeur see/No fairer spot than this can ever find/Or nearer Na­ture’s heart can ever be.” Pre­cisely the point that I’ve tried to make in re­cent col­umns.

She con­cludes her poem with th­ese lines: “A lit­tle place, Cape Bre­ton by the sea./A tiny speck upon the Earth’s great face,/But oh! The bound­less wealth of love­li­ness/That God has crammed into this lit­tle place.”

In next week’s col­umn, I shall demon­strate the ex­tent and va­ri­ety of He­len MacDon­ald’s ex­quis­ite lyrics. SYD­NEY — Mem­bers of the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees who work at the Do­min­ion Rink have signed a new five-year con­tract.

CUPE na­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Evans said Lo­cal 850 has rat­i­fied a deal that runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2014.

He says em­ploy­ees will see an 11.5 per cent in­crease over the life of the agree­ment. They also re­ceived im­prove­ments to their lay­off lan­guage.

The deal was reached with the as­sis­tance of a con­cil­i­a­tion of­fi­cer from the Depart­ment of Labour.

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