Strathcona Park

Lord Strathcona

Poem by Pearl Pirie

this was all marine once. dig sand, hit veins
of shells that Rideau River doesn’t explain.

the Epeiric Sea edged off. where’s the bullseye 
of when history starts. an arbitrary shot.

the river’s swampy floodplain, or when it 
was drained? when the flat banks,

the sandstone ripples were people with 
the menfolk, musket crack shots,

when they caught blue herons, cranes, 
and turtles home for supper. is work

the beginning of everything? so, mark
the spot becoming the Dominion Rifle Range

for the Boer War. hail Donald Smith,
the businessman who’d give more

bucks for bangs for his own regiment,
he who hammered the last spike of the CPR,

got the Honorific Lord Strathcona for a 
(perhaps this will be redundant) horrific

war. how many board feet of young men?
7,894 killed in combat. twice that of disease.

double again for number of civilians.
quadruple that for young blacks interred.

but Donny was sworn into history, his namesake?
a 15-acre passage of gardens in 1904.

since then, Mathurin Moreau’s English fountain 
has flowed, egg and dart of beaux arts

with lion paws and maws. the war, like all wars
that parents us all, ignoring the peace between.

peace lets some ancestors and descendants
live. did this place begin when the walking garden

came in on gloriously dirty feet, transplanted 
helleborine, speedwell, and lavender?

out of the cast-iron mouths of fish, water 
to the cherubs and glyphs of seashells.

the swan ponds soon had their mouths filled with soil.
after WWII, not beauty, but economy, economy, my.

what won’t be removed with time? groups lie in sun
in a gradient of skin. families fling frisbees

across racial lines. what good stays? this picnic table
is chained, for security, to the willow, presumably

in case someone would gaze at the tree like a tulip,
pluck it by backhoe force into private hands.

The 2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical

We are pleased to announce this poem as a Finalist for the 2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on historical topics. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of 12 finalists from hundreds of entries. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final. Finalists receive publication on The Coil and publication in the print journal, Footnote: A Literary Journal of History.

PEARL PIRIE is a food columnist, a book reviewer, and the author of three full-length collections of poetry, the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015), been shed bore (2010), and Thirsts (2011), which won the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She has a micropress called phafours. You can find her at

Originally published on 12/28/15.