Duncan Campbell Scott
Ottawa Poet and Indian Affairs Agent, 1862-1947
May 16, 2014:
City about whose brow the north winds blow,
Girdled with woods and shod with river foam,
Called by a name as old as Troy or Rome,
Be great as they, but pure as thine own snow;
Rather flash up amid the auroral glow,
The Lamia city of the northern star,
Than be so hard with craft or wild with war,
Peopled with deeds remembered for their woe.
Thou art too bright for guile, too young for tears,
And thou wilt live to be too strong for Time;
For he may mock thee with his furrowed frowns,
But thou wilt grow in calm throughout the years,
Cinctured with peace and crowned with power sublime,
The maiden queen of all the towered towns.
Source: Poets of the Confederation, edited by Malcolm Ross, McClelland and Stewart, 1960, page 88.
May 18, 2014:
Duncan Campbell Scott was born in Ottawa in 1862, five years before Confederation. He became one of the
Confederation Poets along with Archibald Lampman, Charles G.D. Roberts and Bliss Carman. He was a
cultured, urban man with a tremendous love of the wilderness of the Canadian Shield. He was a product of his time.
He and Archibald Lampman spent weeks camping in the Gatineau Valley, north-east of Ottawa on the Petite-Nation Seigneury,
where they shared a love of nature, the outdoors and a love of literature, especially poetry.
His father, William Campbell, was a Methodist Minister who came from England, first to the Napanee area, along
the St. Lawrence River. Here is the family in the 1871 census of Lennox County:
In his early years, Duncan received his education in the town of Smiths Falls.
His father was the Methodist minister in Jasper, Ontario then. Duncan was also sent to Stanstead in the
Eastern Townships for further schooling.
By the time of the 1881 census, the Scott family was living back in Ottawa and at age 19, Duncan had joined the
Civil Service as a clerk in the Department of Indian Affairs. Sir John A. McDonald
had interviewed him for this position. Over a long career, he rose from a clerical position to become the Deputy Minister.
At the time he "did his duty" which he interpreted as expanding and consolidating British culture and civilization (imperialism)
in Canada. Only with the passage of the years has it become recognized how much damage he did to the First Nations
peoples of Canada. He has become a lightning rod for First Nation's discontent. He was one of the originators
of the residential school system and believed that the aboriginal peoples of Canada should be assimilated.
There is controversy among modern day historians and literary critics about such issues as the fact that the damage
he did may have been partly offset by his apparent sympathetic treatment of native peoples as manifested in his works
of poetry. Or did his poetry even contain references to the native peoples? His wife was apparently a member of the
Metis nation. Recently, the poet Armand Garnet Russo from Chapleau, Ontario has published a denunciation of the
work of Scott in his (Ruffo's) work of poetry entitled "Poem for Duncan Campbell Scott". Ruffo lives in Ottawa
and is a professor of English at Carleton University.
Scott's main contact with the Cree and Objibway nations occurred beginning in 1905 in far northern Ontario when he was the
chief negotiator for the federal government to create an agreement to "share the land" -- Treaty Number 9 was the result.
Over the next couple of months I'll be examining the life and controversial policies of Duncan Campbell Scott. He was
a representative of the sometimes conflicting personality of Ottawa -- "Town" vs. "Crown".
The Height of Land
The height of land is that area in northern Ontario between which the rivers flow either south to the Ottawa River
and the Great Lakes or to the north into James Bay and Hudson Bay. This area was significant for Duncan Campbell
Scott -- one of his most famous poems is called "The Height of Land". This poem can also be found in
Poets of the Confederation, edited by Malcolm Ross, McClelland and Stewart, 1960, page 107-110.
Far Northern Ontario
This area was originally part of Rupert's Land and became part of the Hudson's Bay Company when it was incorporated
Was Duncan Campbell Scott a blatant racist or was he sympathetic to the long-term welfare of the First Nations peoples?
Here are some books which offer arguments for and against:
1. Treaty No. 9, Making the Agreement to Share the Land in Far Northern Ontario in 1905, by John S. Long,
McGill-Queens University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-7735-3761-3
2. Duncan Campbell Scott: A Book of Criticism, by Stan Dragland, ISBN 091966251X, Tecumseh Press,
3. Aboriginal Land Rights and Resistance in Ontario, by David McNab
As I read these books, I'll add more information.
June 1, 2014:
Here is another good book: Duncan Campbell Scott: A Book of Criticism, Edited by Stan L. Dragland, Tecumseh Press,
Ottawa, Canada, 1974, ISBN 0 919 662 51-X
By the way, one of Scott's best friends was the local painter Edmund Morris.
Morris accompanied Scott on his second trip north in 1906. Edmund Morris was one of the important painters of First Nations elders.
June 6, 2014:
Montreal Gazette, May 17, 1948, Memorial for poet Duncan Campbell Scott
at Stanstead College, Eastern Townships, Quebec
June 19, 2014:
My lucky day. Today's snail mail brought a first edition, signed, hard-cover version of The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott,
published in 1926 by McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 339 pages. A good companion on a trip to the Height of Land in September.
This book was signed for his friend John A. Stevenson in 1945. On the poet's death in 1947, he left a large library
containing first editions of all the best books of Canadian Poetry. The literary critic E.K. Brown visited Scott in
1947 in his "rambling, high-ceilinged" house on Lisgar Street in Ottawa.
June 25, 2014:
I'll be working on this page over the next few months. Today I added the two census records near the top of this page.
Also, here is another terrific book by Duncan Campbell Scott -- mostly prose, as opposed to his usual poetry.
This man and his contemporary friends, artists, writers, senior civil servants, First Nations Chiefs, senior managers
at the Hudson's Bay Company (fur trade), lived their lives with incredible passion. My plan is to read all of his works and all
the work by his many critics and take a bunch of old books and books by the Group of Seven painters and re-trace
some of their voyages to northern Ontario. With canoe and camera. As good as it gets!
The Circle of Affection and Other Pieces in Prose and Verse, by Duncan Campbell Scott, McClelland and Stewart,
July 11, 2014:
Here is a terrific book which discusses the contradictions of Duncan Campbell Scott -
Conversations with a Dead Man, The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott, by Mark Abley, Douglas and McIntyre, 2013,
See also: A Narrow Vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the Administration of Indian Affairs in Canada, by
E.Brian Titley, University of British Columbia Press, 1986, ISBN 0774804203.
July 20, 2014:
A descendant of Peter Aylen, Elise Aylen, also a poet, was Scott's second wife.
August 7, 2014:
Yet another book ... Note to me: Keep 'em coming! This book contains short stories about the encroaching urban life upon
the rural villages of Quebec in the late 19th century.
In the Village of Viger, by Duncan Campbell Scott, with drawings by Thoreau MacDonald, Ryerson Press,
August 25, 2014:
Two more wonderful books by DCS:
At The Mermaid Inn by Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott, Introduction by Barrie Davies,
a collection of articles published in the Globe newspaper in 1892 and 1893, reprinted in 1979 by the University of
Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-2299-5, 353 pages. Read this book online at the Canadian Poetry web site.
Beauty and Life, by Duncan Campbell Scott, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 1921, no ISBN.
E-mail Allan Lewis
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