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Archive for June 10th, 2012

A symbolic role for Lord Simcoe in (of all places) Aquin’s Next Episode

- June 10th, 2012

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The Lord Simcoe hotel, in an undated photo, courtesy of http://robertmoffatt115.files.wordpress.com

Reading Hubert Aquin’s Prochain Episode as Next Episode (translated by Sheila Fischman) took a while . . . definitely worth it, but a challenge. The protagonist is hopelessly conflicted. Even his spy novel within a first-person account from a fictional Quebec terrorist c. 1965 takes a long time before making tracks once more (fictionally or not) for an assignation on the terrace of the Hotel d’Angleterre in Switzerland.

In all the thick non-action & endless drives on twisting Swiss roads, a reference on Page 117 lit up JBNBlog’s day . . . . “I remember a long-distance call I made from the Lord Simcoe in Toronto, and in this funereal room, where I’m a prisoner of nausea and terror, I feel threatened once again . . . I’m stammering in this bed at the Lord Simcoe. Toronto is sinking into Adriatic amnesia.”

Well. The old Lord Simcoe, eh? At various times here, friends of JBNBlog have decried this seemingly sloppy titling of John Graves Simcoe, who was not a lord. Its presence occasionally muddies the historical & journalistic record & so Lord Simcoe pops up as the name of the man & not just a Toronto hotel which was in business for only about 20 years.

Who knows enough about automobiles to date the photo we have here . . . I’m guessing the early 1960s, which would be the right time for Aquin to find a place for the hotel.

Its appearance in Next Episode is in keeping with a novel where much of the action, real or imagined, takes place in swank hotels. The Lord Simcoe reference is one in a series of Anglophiliac overlays which seemingly keep sapping/inspiring our anti-hero’s will to kill . . . he is always around the Angleterre . . . as he or his spy thriller equivalent waits to shoot a supposed counter-revolutionary (maybe the man is just an innocent bystander) at a Swiss chateau, what is there to thrill him? “A very rare engraved reproduction of The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West . . . & when he is down & out in Toronto with just $48 in his wallet, not enough to buy his beloved a one-way flight to Toronto, where is he stuck? The Lord Simcoe. The 1965 novel’s protagonist must have been a guest when the Lord Simcoe was the talk of the town before tax issues, competition & other woes beset it. Still, if you are going to stay in enemy land, you might as well bunk in at the best — even if its name is not truly historical. Now that is JBNBlog’s kind of symbolism.

Here is Toronto composer & wit John Beckwith on Simcoe, man & hotel. (Simcoe is a character in his opera Taptoo! with my father James “Jamie” Reaney as the librettist):

“As to (researcher Eric Domville’s) point that Simcoe’s title needs to be clarified, I agree. Reaney and I had to check over and over about this. In his Queen’s Rangers days he was a major, then he was lieutenant-governor, but mixups continually occur: for example, a magazine illustration just the other day called him Sir John Graves Simcoe, and we Torontonians remember a former hotel, the Lord Simcoe — so called, the owners said, because it was near Simcoe Street, and all the other hotels in the chain were named after lords.”

Those hotels were apparently the Lord Elgin (Ottawa) and the Lord Beaverbrook (Fredericton).

Here is some more background on the ill-fated Lord Simcoe, which like those hotel names is courtesy of Toronto Modern, a blog about modernist architecture in Toronto & the source of the classic image used here.

“Opened on May 15, 1957 at 150 King Street West and University Avenue, the Lord Simcoe Hotel was one of Toronto’s first postwar downtown hotels and certainly the shortest-lived. In October 1979, after only 22 years of operation, the hotel closed its doors and was subsequently demolished to make way for the east tower of the Sun Life Centre.”

As for Next Episode, it won Canada Reads in 2003 . . . if memory serves, its triumph came about after Justin Trudeau, championing Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (a JBNBlog favourite starring a fictionalized Joey Smallwood), suddenly took up Next Episode’s cause. The Aquin novel’s defender was Denise Bombardier. In an effort at reconciliation, moderator Bill Richardson had Johnston & Trudeau on his CBC Radio show months later & Johnston was clearly still angered/puzzled about the switch. Made for some tense, fascinating radio as we drove through the Gaspe that summer.

Here is the cbc.ca account of the decision:

“The result is in, and it’s a shocker! In this final episode of Canada Reads 2003, host Bill Richardson reveals the winner: Next Episode by Hubert Aquin. Objections erupt! A recount ensues! In the end, the vote is upheld and the victory is confirmed thanks to an unlikely vote by panellist Justin Trudeau; he votes against his own selection, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, handing the victory to Next Episode.”

Next Episode also beat out Sarah Binks, Life of Pi and The Lost Garden that year.