Footprints Through Time

                        with Archivist Peter Bowman



Changes and Growth

In the year 1956, Ida Sutherland Groom attempted to step back from The Tower to take a minor role but it was apparent that she couldn't. The simple idea that she had proposed to the Wives Faculty Club in 1951 had grown wings and was flying like a jet rocket aimed directly at the moon.

Within the Archives, dated April 3rd, 1956, three small sheets of paper clipped neatly together with a safety pin reveal that Ida Sutherland Groom once again was called upon to address the Wives Faculty Club. This is a rare glimpse of her voice outside of her poetry.

"As Mr. Mackenzie Bell once said to me, 'Poets are the most practical people in the world!' so as I am exerting myself more than the rest of you, I request to be allowed to sit.

"We four represent The Tower, a little Annual of Verse by McMaster Associates and others. The Tower has now appeared four times and soon we hope to begin preparing for the fifth. Now this Tower is not a tower of Babel. We argue but we do not quarrel, and we are quite intelligible at least to one another.

"This Tower is gradually breaking through its early mists and becoming visible from afar. The University of New Brunswick has written for a copy. A publication, TRACE of Hollywood has asked for particulars. Dr. Lorne Pierce has consented to be our Honourary President. Yes, Dr. Lorne Pierce is now our Honourary President. In spite of all these advantages, sales in the Book Room still go slowly. But this is only temporary. In time we expect to be known even at home. It was a kind and happy thought of Mrs. Martin and the Committee to give us an opportunity of reading a few of our verses, and they will be few and not take more than a quarter of an hour.

"I will break the ice by reading two. The first I called Jane, Queen of England, and is a miniature biography of poor Lady Jane Grey, crowned against her will and then beheaded. It appeared first in the London Review and I read it at Jean's request."


I think her hands were lissome and long-fingered,
that lavender about her dresses lingered,
that jewels and lace were carefully adjusted,
books well arranged and dusted,
her spinet brightly tended,
and all her music orderly and mended;
Her life was so well laid
that she was thrifty as a serving maid.

She put away her first half-finished sonnet,
and easel with the trivial painting on it,
and, unacclaimed, submitted to the Crown
that bowed her young head down:
When came the call to death
she drew one little sharp and sobbing breath
and passed as smooth as nuns pass
over the daisies of the convent grass.

  Bernard Groom
  (Miss Groom's brother)

"I could not read one of my own poems without reading one of my brother’s so much better poems, so the second is by him though I take a poet’s license in reading it. It is called “After G. H.” (George Herbert). It was broadcast in England being one of twenty-five chosen by the BBC out of twenty-five thousand. The words are those of the Almighty, as He considers man and His policy towards him. I should like if I may to read it twice: it is very short."

AFTER G....H....

If he should plan
That which I shape for him within My mind,
Then might as well the path be undesigned
Which I have made for men.

He must not gain
All that he hopes for, since he then would turn
So proud and hard as never fit to learn
The lessons taught by pain.

He shall not lack
Wholly, his heart’s desires, for till this end
Some light of joy must on his path descend,
When daylight calls him back.

So let him miss
And then succeed; thus win and lose again,
That he may not reject Me in his bliss,
Or spurn Me in his pain.

"Mrs. Clifford will follow me..."

There is no record of the poems that Mrs. Clifford read to the meeting nor were the other two poets mentioned identified. It is interesting enough to gain insight into the speech patterns of Ida Sutherland Groom and her humour. Her poem Jane, Queen of England can be found in the second issue of Tower. Bernard Groom’s poem, After G…. H…. is from the very first issue.

From the black, three ring binders, containing the first Secretaries’ notes the following excerpts have been extracted:

“The annual meeting of The Tower was held at the home of Mrs. C. H. Stearn, on the afternoon of April 6th, 1956. Miss Margaret Thomson was in the chair.

"The treasurer read the financial report which to date of meeting showed a balance of $87.88 in the account – Duncan’s and the Book Room’s receipts will bring the balance to $136.78. It should be pointed out that the cost of the printing of The Tower, has not yet been paid, that cost coming to $190.00. Members swelled the balance by paying their 1956-57 dues after the meeting.

"Miss Groom then read a letter from our Honourary President, Dr. Lorne Pierce in which he expressed a great interest in The Tower, and congratulated the members for their individuality which they have achieved in their book. He continued by saying that The Tower should not become just an academic offshoot. He hoped that each poet could always be himself. He suggested that we expand and try to gather the best talent in the Niagara District. He also promised to give us an annual contribution of $25.00. Consequently, it was proposed that a motion of thanks be tendered to Dr. Pierce for his most gracious offer of financial assistance.

"It was decided that the same judges as last year be approached to read the poems submitted. Each poet was encouraged to send in four poems, these to be sent to Miss Groom.

"The meeting was formally concluded and the hostess served the members a delicious tea.”

Several letters were exchanged between Ida Sutherland Groom and Dr. Lorne Pierce during the latter part of April 1956 regarding the costs of printing the Tower. The two of them were always conscious of keeping quality high and cost low. On May 10, 1956 this letter from Dr. Lorne Pierce to Miss Groom is of particular interest.

Dear Miss Groom,

I don’t see how you can refuse Geoffrey Johnson a place in The Tower. The Fiddlehead, University of New Brunswick publishers, use distinguished poets abroad. I think it might be a good idea if The Tower devoted a few pages to guest poets. In this way you and your brother and the executive could send out invitations to a number of distinguished poets in Britain and the United States, and probably even Australia and New Zealand. In each issue you might give them the opportunity of meeting a Canadian audience.

I am particularly interested in poets in Australia and New Zealand. As you know, a good deal of interesting work is being done in the field of comparative literature, setting the writers of the Dominions side by side.

Cordially yours, Lorne Pierce,

On October 22, 1956 Ida Sutherland Groom received this letter on stationary with the heading: The Ryerson Press Toronto Office of the Editor, 299 Queen St. W.

Dear Miss Groom:

At long last I have been able to complete the forward and have put the final touches on the copy for the machine. I hope very much that we can get this out in time for book week. I should apologize for permitting myself to get so cluttered up with all sorts of odds and ends and so be compelled to delay and postpone so many urgent and important things. I shall try and give you a definite publishing date in a few days.

Kindest regards.

Cordially yours, Lorne Pierce,

The fifth edition of Tower came out on November 9th, 1956. It contained 32 white pages placed between a green card board cover. Sixteen poets were represented including Geoffrey Johnson from Dorset, England, Robert K. Hallam from Steppes by Glasgow, Scotland, and Ruth Cleaves Hazelton from the Cirencester Literary Agency in Niagara Falls, Ontario. There was of course a Foreword written by Dr. Lorne Pierce:

The Tower this year has broadened out, and is quite the best number to appear. It includes the work of five new members in a widening community that takes for its ultimate territory the Niagara Peninsula. In one instance, and a distinguished one, it has included as guest poet Mr. Geoffrey Johnson of England.

"The special strength of this issue is indicated by the long and well-sustained poems reflecting a new interest in, and competence to deal with, the life and world of everyday people. It is also revealed in sonnets and lyrics marked by increasing sophistication and ripeness. Canadian verse is no longer so diffident about discussing people or ideas. That is a sure sign of maturity. The important thing is not facile invention, or new and startling verse forms, but rather fresh insights, the zest and energy of the lines. In this way a poem does not merely exist, but becomes alive and exciting.”

One final selection from this fifth issue is a sonnet, by Jessie L. Beattie:


We walk where millions like us walked before-
As neither sheep nor goats, who cannot find
The starlit mountain way to heaven's door,
Yet scorn the common places of the mind.
Inconstant urge restrains us as we go
With vision's plane between the good and bad,
Our chafing soul's illicit cunning show
As whip of futile yearning drives them mad.
Some mocking fiend condemned us at our birth
To breathe upon the spark that will not flame,
To diligently sow in shallow earth,
To magnify the attributes of fame.
So are we doomed who strive and cannot be
To sip the gall of mediocrity!

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