James’ Brand New Blog

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

- June 10th, 2012

lord-simcoe-1-v2-mr

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.

Categories: Entertainment

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11 comments

  1. That Toronto hotel wasn't that bad says:

    inside – two generations of family stayed there in 1959 as members
    of a wedding.
    It was the name that had Torontonians laughing at friends involved.
    London, of all Ontario communities, should not repeat that phrase
    which googles, undermining the story of our official Founding of
    London/OHF plaque.
    Toronto today is notorious for getting his title wrong when claiming
    him as their founder,declaring everyone in Ontario has a ‘Simcoe Day’
    in August.. Ha!
    Simcoe enters the military with rank of Ensign in US war, he ends his
    military career as Lt. General in UK. OHF plaque in Toronto snobbily
    uses this post-Canada rank, He’s been historical-person-plaqued here
    and overseas for decades…
    In his time here as an administrator, he’s called ‘the Col.’ by his diarist
    wife who presuably knew what she was talking about.
    But does anyone remember if the hotel reallly did have a naval themed
    ‘Captain’s Table’ Room to compound the failure to get things right ?

  2. That Toronto hotel wasn't that bad says:

    For those not out buying black crepe and armbands re the
    Seals’ demise as just announcd by the Mayor et al from
    steps of City Hall — if you have a Public Library card you
    can read the Globe and Mail’ online archived coverage of
    the opening of the LSH. Pages and pages of it, lots of pix..
    Hilarious, Les Frost bemused by name, hyped as Canadian
    as Maple Syrup with, Pumb Room, Beau Nash Lounge, and
    yes The Captain’s Table.

  3. Defunct Toronto hotel says:

    Pump Room that is..

  4. james.reaney says:

    Pump Room it is . . . who knows, maybe the silly nautical fixation was the start of the Simcoe landing in London business. Well, maybe not.

  5. SIMCOE 1793 "Mostly on foot " says:

    Pump Room as in Bath, Somerset England.
    -Don’t think thoseToronto hoteliers started the idea that
    JGS, Littlehales, Talbot, GIvins, Fitzgerald and their
    native guides paddled from Niagara to this site –
    although the Col seems in Littlehales’ Journal 1793
    to think it’is just a short portage to his new “Thames”..
    That’s too much of a reach blaming that company..Careful you don’t
    start a rumour yourself !
    The ‘Simcoe Landing’ – you do remember that? It was in the Gallery’s
    opening booklet c 1981along with Moriyama referring to Lord Simcoe –
    and was marked where the river cruisers docked below the Old
    Courthouse – seems to have originated with Orlo picking it up in an old
    area history, failing to fact-check and making it fashionable in Press Club
    etc.circles. London 200 in ’93 as no help, the cartoon showing Himself in i
    military uniform , feet in the water [despite the Historical Society's suprise
    LTC bus ad card - Mombourquette drawing?] Asked about it, and one of
    the VIP chaps said they needed to do something to make London’s history
    less boring. Earlier Tingley touched on ithe watery imaget in the Free Press
    didn’t he?
    PUC was asked about the Landing quite a while ago with a sheepish
    acknowledgement of this error from an old timer staffer.
    No doubt London Room has that Gallery piece as would Museums London -
    to verify the ‘Simcoe’s Landing’ recollection.

  6. question says:

    Ok “Simcoe 1793″ so how did he get here…and also, after he ‘landed’ in London, did he ever ‘land’ anywhere in the vicinity of the (Lord) Simcoe Hotel that is being discussed?

  7. Littlehales Journal 1973 says:

    OUR ROOTS/Nos racines U Calgary local histories digitzation project
    has your answer. SEARCH:
    Journal written by Edward Baker Littlehales (Major of Brigade, etc.)
    of an exploratory tour partly in sleighs but chiefly on foot, from Navy
    Hall, Niagara, to Detroit, made in the months of February and March,
    A.D. 1793, by His Excellency Lieut.-Gov. Simcoe.,,] You can print off
    the few pages to share with friends and family.
    There was no ” London” of course See provincial Founding of London
    plaque at forks for that story and arriving on foot, the party did not “land”
    - a boating term.
    When in the family settled in York he might have trod on the soil where
    the hotel was created 150 years later but “Simcoe Slept Here” was not
    a claim the entrepreneurs made according to Globe coverage of the
    opening.
    James’s day lights up for some strange reasons …”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, .”
    The less Londoners repeat that Lord nonsense online, the better – As
    our Founder, JGS is entitled to accuracy. Even the half-century old fed.
    plaque is in error – wrong month of their arrival at this fork.

  8. question says:

    Maybe the sleighs were on the frozen rivers and lakes? Or else, please add more if you know what kind of demarcated path that existed that they could have traversed between Niagra and Detroit in the winter.

  9. TRY THESE DUMBELL NAMES, DEATH DATES, TOWNS says:

    There’s a huge map at LAC of their route, west leg then back eastward
    when they detoured to inspect this fork of the river. Will try to locate
    an image online and report back here.Hardly the first people to travel to
    Detroit from the lakehead…
    - Read Littlehales description – he was there , I wasn’t. Names can be
    looked up online re their Ontario plaques.

  10. LITTLEHALES JOURNAL 19793 says:

    Sorry, picked up another Subject line.

  11. LITTLEHALES JOURNAL 1793 says:

    Interesting map talk here,
    #ldnont History Mystery:
    Who was the first* to map out a Vision London?
    james.reaney – November 21st, 2011

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