What does it take to carve out a career as a poet? Why on earth would anyone attempt it? Al Purdy Was Here is the portrait of an artist driven to become a great Canadian poet at a time when the category barely existed. Al Purdy is a charismatic tower of contradictions: a "sensitive man" who whips out a poem in a bar fight; a factory worker who finds grace in an Arctic flower; a mentor to young writers who remained a stranger to his sons. Purdy has been called the last, best and most Canadian poet. "Voice of the Land" is engraved on his tombstone.
Before finding fame, Purdy endured decades of poverty and failure. A high-school dropout from Trenton, Ont., he hopped freights during the Depression, and worked in mattress factories from Vancouver to Montreal. He finally found his voice in an A-frame cabin on Roblin Lake in Ontario's Prince Edward County. Built from salvaged lumber by Purdy and his wife, Eurithe, in 1957, the cabin became a mecca for the pioneers of Canadian literature, including Margaret Lawrence, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Dennis Lee.
Fifteen years after Purdy's death, Canada's arts community rallies to save the cabin and turn it into a writing retreat for a new generation of poets. As Al's 90-year-old widow, Eurithe, relinquishes a home full of memories, a young feminist poet moves in and finds herself possessed by the ghost of an old-school male. The narrative is paced by performances of original songs inspired by Purdy. And as the poet's legacy is revived, his untold story is revealed.