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Edna Jaques: Scrapbook Poetress of the West

She wrote some 3,000 poems and published several poetry collections during her lifetime. Through word of mouth, people started buying the book by the caseload, quickly making it a national bestseller.

“Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, We shall not sleep, Though poppies grow In Flanders Fields.” — John McCrae

John McCrae’s famous lines suddenly echoed in the deep recesses of Edna Jaques’ mind, as her fingers toiled to reconstruct the tattered pile of clothing spread before her in the sewing room of Calgary’s Holy Cross Hospital. In a split second, she experienced the mysterious inner voice that she called the “flash,” switching on her creative power.

Edna hurried to find something to write on and quickly wrote down “In Flanders Now,” her response to her fellow Canadian’s plea in his famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”: We have kept faith, ye Flanders dead, Sleep well beneath those poppies red. The torch your dying hands did throw, We held it high before the foe, And answered bitter blow for blow, In Flanders Fields.

The Calgary Herald was the first paper to publish Edna’s poem. Reprints soon appeared in several newspapers across North America. The wartime Everywoman’s Club in the United States printed it alongside the Belgian National Anthem in their fundraising cards for the restoration of the Louvain Library in Brussels. Her poem helped raise one million dollars for the club’s cause, but it earned Edna only $40.

Edna’s first poem was published by the editor of the Moose Jaw Times, Thomas Miller, when she was only 14. By the time she turned 20, Edna’s poems were appearing regularly in the Saskatchewan Farmer magazine. She submitted two poems a month and had a poem published in every issue for nearly 30 years. She was never paid more than $1.50 per poem. Napier Moore, editor of Maclean’s Magazine, saw Edna’s poems in the Saskatchewan Farmer and wrote to her requesting that she submit some of her poetry to his magazine. She also wrote a daily poem for the Winnipeg Free Press during one stretch of seven months. Over the course of 20 years, the Vancouver Province published 10 of her poems every month. Her poem, “Thankful for What,” was published in the November 1932 issue of Good Housekeeping and was named best poem of the year by the New York Times.

She wrote some 3,000 poems and published several poetry collections during her lifetime. Her popularity led to several speaking engagements with the Homemakers Clubs of Saskatchewan from 1933-39 and earned her public approval in a 1952 national opinion poll. In 1976 she was acclaimed Woman of the Year by Ontario’s premier. Edna described her poetry as “clad in homespun and the rough weave of common folks.” Helen Palmer in her critique for The Canadian Author and Bookman stated, “As an exponent and skilled practitioner of this type of verse, Edna Jaques has no peer in this country.” Her verses were faithfully clipped and saved by her many admirers over the years, earning her the title of “Scrapbook Poetess of the West.”

Nina Faye Morey writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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