Interview with Anne Marriot

Bob Harkins talking to Anne Marriot, a poet, who won the Governor General's award in 1941 and lived in Prince George during the early fifties.

Harkins: They don't hand out the Governor General's awards too easily. Could you tell us something about that honor and what it was for?

Marriot: It was for the verse chorus for the documentary radio play about bush flying in the far north. The poems were called, "calling Adventurous".

Harkins: You spent some time in Prince George. That was in the early fifties.

Marriot: Yes, we came here in September 1950 and left in May 1954.

Harkins: You've seen a few changes.

Marriot: Indeed, yes.

Harkins: In that time a lot of dramatic things have happened. From a town it's now a city. What did you do here?

Marriot: The first three years I worked on the Prince George Citizen. I was the social editor or women's editor. It was a very nice job. I think I enjoyed that job more than any other I ever had.

Harkins: The Citizen was a bi-weekly then, was it not?

Marriot: Right, yes.

Harkins: Those were the days when it was owned by Nestor Isowsky, Cliff Warner and Harry Kennedy, some of the people you would have been working with in those days.

Marriot: Yes, Terry Hammond, Blaine MacLeod in the print shop.

Harkins: Also, you spent sometime working at the Library.

Marriot: The last few months I was here I worked at the Library just checking out books.

Harkins: That would have been before the new Library was built at Brunswick Street. Now, of course, it's the old library and the Senior Citizens activity centre but you would have been here at the time it was a little old army hut.

Marriot: That's right. Heat was from an oil heater. I remember once turning it up to four or something. It was a very cold day and I thought l was going to burn the place down.

Harkins: The Librarian then would be?

Marriot: Fran Gibbons.

Harkins: Of course, Fran has always been the Librarian it seems to me. I remember the time the board brought in the first graduate librarian who was Bill Fraser. You would have known Bill.

Marriot: Yes, and Paul Wright who followed him. I'm still in touch with the Wrights.

Harkins: Paul did a lot of freelance work for the CBC when he was here.

Marriot: Yes and he's worked for the CBC in Toronto for a number of years now.

Harkins: Very interesting period in Prince George's history in the early fifties. It was just starting to get its' momentum, its' muscle to become the industrial centre that it is today.

Marriot: I remember one of the people I got to know here was Bob Harlow who, of course, is now a very well known Canadian novelist. He went down and worked in Vancouver for CSC. I did a series of radio talks called, "Boom Town" which was about the growth of Prince George at that point.

Harkins: Bob Harlow, of course, did a couple of his fiction books based on Prince George and some thinly disguised characterizations of actual people, a little bit controversial.

Marriot: One of the interesting things was trying to pick out who they were.

Harkins: People could read that and say that's so and so. Very, very intriguing. Of course, Bob Harlow was head of the creative writing department at the University of B.C. He was regional head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Whet did you do back in the fifties outside of work? What were some of the activities you were involved in Prince George in those days?

Marriot: The in town activity was the Prince George Players. When we first came here, we didn't know anybody. My husband came up to work for the PGE. He was draftsman in the construction department. Through someone he met there, we met the Gibbons. That was the lifesaver of coming to Prince George. Through Fran and George we got into the Prince George Players. I did publicity for them. The first play that was put on when we got here was "Arsenic and Old Lace". My husband was assistant stage manager and also took two male parts. He was two of the old men who were poisoned by the old ladies in that play. Our outside interest was exploring the country around and camping. My husband and I were great campers. We were some of the first people that went through the Hart Highway. All that country was our favorite.

Harkins: That would be 1951, 52.

Marriot: I think it was 1952. We used to camp in the Pine Pass most weekends of the summer.

Harkins: That was Bijou Falls.

Marriot: Right, all through there.

Harkins: Very interesting. In the days of the Prince George choirs, your stage would have probably been the gymnasium and stage at what was then the Senior High School, the Duchess Park. Now it's the Administrative Building for the School Board. That was probably the stage you used in those days.

Marriot: Yes.

Harkins: Interesting and your writing. You've had a very long career as a poet and writer of short stories. What form do you enjoy the most? Poetry or the short story.

Marriot: They are very different. I can't sit down and write a poem to order. A poem is something that happens. I have to wait for it. I can't force it. A short story is something I sit down and do deliberately. In a way poetry is more fun if it works. One can have a lot of abortive poems.

Harkins: Your most recent book of poems, "Letters from some Island", was published in 1985. That was up for prestigious award as well, was it not?

Marriot: It was one of the three books of poetry short listed for the B.C. Book Award last year in the poetry category.

Harkins: I wonder if you could read some of your poetry for us. We were just talking before we went on the air that you have written a poem about Prince George. I wonder if you would read that. We are talking to Anne Marriot, a poet, who won the Governor General's Award in 1941 and spent some time in Prince George in the early fifties.

Marriot: This one I composed walking along George Street on a very cold day. It's called "Prince George January".

 "Hardest to black and white.
Entirest white and black.
The place still aches of spectrum.
Eyes clench against ice-light ice-cold dazzle.
And white and black caught in the frosted latches.
Crack into flashing blues.
Crimsons cut eyeballs.
War past spirit of orange spurt from every snow drift.
Black bulk of lumber track its load horde white.
There's suddenly such fierce pressions for millions.
Mitts hurled to eyes in frantic barricade.
The city is burning up.
The fire runs for rut to roof.
Lapping on cold like oil.
Till sky takes fire.
And all the worlds one red blue bonfire.
Blazing, freezing flames."

Harkins: That was George Street in the 1950's.

Marriot: 1951.

Harkins: That was when we had a wooden sidewalk and a gravel street. It wasn't even paved.

Marriot: We lived in South Fort George. We had outdoor plumbing and a well. I remember that cold winter specifically.

Harkins: Let's take a look at George Street. I can recall seeing George Street. My first experience with it was in 1950. I remember walking up the street from the CN Station early in the morning because the train arrived at an ungodly hour, five o'clock. Nothing was open. You couldn't get bacon and eggs. There was a club cafe with a sign that really took my fancy, "Isowski and O'Rooke". I thought what a wonderful combination. It was a club cafe and Tommy's Pool Room on the corner, Blair's Outfitting and the Ritz Keefer Building and all those neat places, MacDonald Hotel.

Marriot: That was quite the posh place. I remember my husband came up first and then I came and joined him. He took me to dinner at the MacDonald Hotel to celebrate.'

Harkins: The MacDonald Hotel, the motif was tartans and thistles. The owners were two fellows by the name of Shatsky and Levine, obviously good Scots, Highlanders.

Marriot: I remember going to a Burns Night dinner. I was writing up for the Citizen and the Haggis was brought in by an Irishman and one of the Prudente's was the Master of Ceremonies.

Harkins: It has always been a melting pot. I think that's what makes the city such an interesting place.

Marriot: Indeed.

Harkins: Have you made many visits back here since you've left?

Marriot: We didn't come back for quite a long time. I just don't remember which year we did eventually came back but when we came back, we thought it was just the same city. In fact, when we came back two or three years  ago, I thought I could stand on George Street and swear I'd never been there before, certain parts of George Street. In a way I love it as it was. It was just great when it was growing and the highway was new. There were fish in all the creeks. It was a great time to have been here.

Harkins: You've been part of the writing scene in British Columbia for some time. What do you think about the current crop of writers in British Columbia? I'm thinking of a young man from Prince George by the name of Brian Fawcett who has written many short stories. He's also written a lot of poetry, not too much lately, but more into the prose.

Marriot: He was another person who was short listed for the B.C. Book Award last year. His book of fiction was short listed for the fiction award. Like me, he didn't get it but he got a nice certificate and publicity. I think Brian's doing pretty well.

Harkins: What about your favorite authors? Can you tell us about some of them, the people that you like to read?

Marriot: Going back, I think T.S. Elliott was my favorite. I went to a girl's private school when I grew up on Keats and Shelly. When I suddenly discovered T.S. Elliott and wanting poetry, that was a marvellous experience, a real revelation.

Harkins: A very inspiring one, obviously.

Marriot: Indeed.

Harkins: Considering what you did later.

Marriot: In Canadian writers now, I think Alice Monroe is the writer whom I would most like to write like if I could. I think her stories are simply marvellous.

Harkins: And tomorrow night at Mosquito Books at 535 Dominion Street, you will be reading some of your poetry and I'm sure looking forward to meeting some of the people you knew in Prince George in the early fifties to come out and listen to you.

Marriot: If any of them do, I will certainly be happy to see them.

Harkins: I'm sure you will be signing copies of your latest book of poems, "Letters from Some Islands". Is that based 'on geographical areas? Would it be the Gulf Islands?

Marriot: Actually the Islands in the title poem are the Queen Charlotte Islands and another section of the book is about Denmark and the island there is Borinhome Island and the Baltic where I visited several years ago.

Harkins: So it has an international flavor.

Marriot: Yes, it's basically a book of travel poems, different parts of the world but its more than just physical travel. Hopefully, it has a few other meanings too.

Harkins: Ann Marriot, thank you so much for dropping in and talking to us this morning.

Marriot: Your welcome.

Harkins: Your reminiscence of Prince George and a very exciting era. We enjoyed hearing about your experiences here and your writing. Again, Ann Marriot will be reading her poems at Mosquito Books, 535 Dominion Street, Tuesday, tomorrow night, at 7:30 pm. Thank you.