William Wilfred Campbell

Along the line of smoky hills
  The crimson forest stands,
And all the day the blue-jay calls
  Throughout the autumn lands.

Now by the brook the maple leans
  With all his glory spread,
And all the sumachs on the hills
  Have turned their green to red.

Now by great marshes wrapt in mist,
  Or past some river's mouth,
Throughout the long, still autumn day
  Wild birds are flying south.


by Patricia Life

William Wilfred Campbell was a dramatist, novelist, short-story writer and critic as well as a poet. Perhaps for this reason he is not known as one of the “Confederation Poets” along with Roberts, Carman, Lampman and D. C. Scott. Unlike many Canadian writers of the time, Campbell did not go abroad and instead sought to write his poetry amidst the general indifference prevalent in his young country, and his critical writings chide Canadians for their “lack of interest” in national literature. His poetry addresses nature, society, patriotism, love and death. Some call him “the Canadian Wordsworth” because his best poems address the landscape of his own Lake District – the Great Lakes in general, but the area of the Bruce Peninsula between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron in particular.

Campbell was born in 1858 and lived in a number of small Ontario towns as he grew up. In 1872, the family settled in Wiarton, and Campbell attended the Owen Sound High School. With the intention of following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by becoming a clergyman in the Church of England, he went to Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto and then Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1884, he married Mary DeBelle of Woodstock, Ontario, and they had four children. After ordination in 1886, he served in New Hampshire, New Brunswick and, after 1890, in Southampton on Lake Huron. In 1891, he abandoned the ministry, moved to Ottawa, and joined the Civil Service. There he met fellow employees Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott. He later transferred to the Dominion Archives. In 1917, he was commissioned to document the history of the Imperial Munitions Board. However, he developed pneumonia after contracting a cold and died in 1918. He is buried in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa.

During his university days, he contributed to the University of Toronto’s The Varsity and, in Massachusetts, to Harper’s Monthly and The Atlantic. He published five books of poetry: Sunshine and Snowflakes (1888), Lake Lyrics (1889), The Dread Voyage and Other Poems (1893), Beyond the Hills of Dream (1899), and Sagas of Vaster Britain (1914). He published Collected Poems in1905 and a second collection was published posthumously in 1923. He wrote three novels, a number of dramas, and several prose works on such topics as the lake region and the Scotsman in Canada. He provided the text for a book of illustrations of Canada, and he edited two anthologies of poems. The columns entitled “At the Mermaid Inn” published in the Toronto Globe between 1892 and 1893 included his critical commentary. Campbell was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1894 and, in 1901, served as its president. Aberdeen University awarded him a Doctor of Laws in 1906.

William Wilfred Campbell

Already Winter in his sombre round,
Before his time, hath touched these hills austere
With lonely flame. Last night, without a sound,
The ghostly frost walked out by wood and mere.
And now the sumach curls his frond of fire,
The aspen-tree reluctant drops his gold,
And down the gullies the North's wild vibrant lyre
Rouses the bitter armies of the cold.
O'er this short afternoon the night draws down,
With ominous chill, across these regions bleak;
Wind-beaten gold, the sunset fades around
The purple loneliness of crag and peak,
Leaving the world an iron house wherein
Nor love nor life nor hope hath ever been

William Wilfred Campbell in Ottawa
by Jane Moore

William Wilfred Campbell came to live in Ottawa, and work in the Civil Service in 1891.

• Campbell’s daughter, Faith Malloch, writes: “Our early childhood was spent in a small cottage, enclosed in a smaller garden, under the brow of a hill near the banks of the Rideau River.”

• He lived at 281 Bronson Avenue (Concession) in 1901.

• In 1901, he wrote a poem to Henry A. Harper, who drowned in the Ottawa River trying to save the life of Bessie Blair. The statue of Sir Galahad was erected at Parliament Hill to honour him.

• Campbell lived at 38 Charles St. in New Edinburgh from 1902-05.

• In 1904, he wrote a memorial poem to Alexander Lumsden, who lived on “Fair Stanley Avenue”, in New Edinburgh.

• Campbell lived at 280 O’Connor St., 1906-7

• In April 1915, he bought an old stone farm house in City View, (now Ottawa) at 21 Withrow Avenue off Merivale Road, about three miles outside the ( then) city limits of Ottawa, and named it Kilmorie House.

• He attended Saint George’s Anglican Church, at Metcalfe and Gloucester Streets.

• He died New Year’s Day, 1918, and is buried in Beechwood Cemetery . William Lyon McKenzie King and Viola Markham bought his plot and memorial.


Links: Poetry and More The Poetical Works of William Wilfred Campbell The Poems of WilliamWilfred Campbell

University of Western Ontario, Canadian Poetry

Representative Poetry Online