Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Bon Echo
Author:
Folsom, Ed
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Bon Echo is a sixty-four-hundred-acre tract of wilderness land on Upper and Lower Mazenaw Lakes in Ontario, 175 miles northeast of Toronto. It is now an Ontario Provincial Park, but from 1916 through the early 1920s, it was the center of Whitman activities in Canada. At the time, Bon Echo had a large inn and cottages, and the estate was operated by the Canadian suffragist and spiritualist Flora MacDonald Denison as a summer resort. Instrumental in founding the Canadian Whitman Fellowship in 1916, MacDonald Denison decided to dedicate Bon Echo to the poet. She held meetings of The Whitman Club of Bon Echo; edited and published The Sunset of Bon Echo, a little magazine devoted to Whitman; and arranged to turn the face of the four-hundred-foot-high granite cliff overlooking the lakes into a monument to Whitman. The cliff was named "Old Walt" and was dedicated during the summer of 1919 (the centennial of the poet's birth) by MacDonald Denison and Horace Traubel (who died at Bon Echo just days after the dedication ceremony).

During the fall of 1919, stonemasons carved an inscription on the face of the cliff in two-foot-high letters:

OLD WALT

1819–1919

DEDICATED TO THE DEMOCRATIC IDEALS OF

WALT WHITMAN

BY

HORACE TRAUBEL AND FLORA MACDONALD

"MY FOOTHOLD IS TENON'D AND MORTISED IN GRANITE

I LAUGH AT WHAT YOU CALL DISSOLUTION

AND I KNOW THE AMPLITUDE OF TIME

(Greenland and Colombo 202)

When Flora MacDonald Denison died in 1921, her ashes were scattered in the lake at the base of Old Walt. Her son Merrill unsuccessfully took over the operation of Bon Echo; it became a boys' camp in the early 1930s, then fell into disuse. Merrill rededicated Old Walt in 1955, the centennial of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, then donated the land to Canada in 1959. Bon Echo opened as a public park in 1965.

Bibliography

Greenland, Cyril, and John Robert Colombo, eds. Walt Whitman's Canada. Willowdale, Ontario: Hounslow, 1992.


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