“The Most Dedicated Scholar of Canada’s Niagara Region Culture”

Today I got a huge compliment from Terry Trowbridge, a sociolegal scholar with many poems and scholarly articles published in a number of diverse journals. Terry commented on my Major Research Project (MRP), completed at Brock University as part of the requirements for my Master of Arts degree, which I received in 2020.

The MRP is entitled The Development of the Poetry Walking Tour of Niagara Falls Using Mobile App Technology, and is available on the Brock University website, my website, on ResearchGate, and Google Scholar. It details some background information on Niagara poetry, the use of mobile apps in tourism, crowdsourcing, print and electronic anthologies, and a detailed explanation of how the Poetry Walking Tour was conceived and executed.


Terry wrote on ResearchGate:

Andrew Porteus is the most dedicated scholar of Canada’s Niagara region culture who I know. I strongly recommend this MRP to anyone who is developing projects in public history, multimedia literature, and interactive tours.

I take this as a tremendous compliment from a scholar who encouraged me tremendously (often at local poetry readings in pubs) in the early phases of the development of the Niagara Falls Poetry Project, and encouraged me to go to Brock University and bring some serious scholarly insight to the site.

Thanks very much, Terry.

Two songs composed by Harris Loewen

Harris Loewen

I just discovered that two
Niagara poems that are on the NFPP site have been set to music by Harris Loewen, a retired Brock University professor. For a delightful treat I’ve embedded the recordings to At Niagara Falls by Anson G. Chester and Niagara in 1882 by John Macdonald. The Macdonald poem was named Peaceful Niagara for Loewen’s choral version.


Popular Cuture Association National Conference, 2023

Andrew Porteus Presenting at the PCA conference
Photo courtesy of Katie Manning

The last few days my wife, Louise and I have been in San Antonio, Texas, for the 53th annual Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association 53rd annual conference. I was presenting  “The Niagara Way of Death: Depictions of Death and Near-Death in the Poetry of Niagara Falls,” a more academic, but briefer version of a presentation that I had done at the Lundy’s Lane Historial Society meeting earlier in the week. The panel that I was on, “Poetry Studies & Creative Poetry IV: Forgetting What the Fox Says: Nature in Pop Culture” included presentations by Li Zhuang, Marlon Fick, and Gwen Hart. and the whole poetry stream of the PCA conference (8 sessions over 2 days) had been organized by Professor Katie Manning. It was a good combination of creative poetry and more theoretical presentations. One of the interesting discussions that followed was about overcoming imposter syndrome, the feeling that despite skills, talents, and accomplishments people have an internalized feeling of being a fraud. That feeling is what prompted me to get my MA degree in Popular Culture after I retired, to give solid academic credentials to the work that I have been doing for decades with the Niagara Falls Poetry Project. The stream ended with dinner at the Iron Cactus Mexican Grill, on the San Antonio RiverWalk.


Mission San José

Louise and I had never been to San Antonio before, so after the PCA sessions finished, we took the opportunity to explore the surroundings somewhat. The most notable feature was the RiverWalk, designed in the 1920s to control the flooding that happened on the river that snakes through San Antonio. The river is controlled by a series of sluice gates that can divert flood water from the area, keeping the water level stable even after torrential rains, which we did experience on the first two days of the conference. The RiverWalk is lined by bars, restaurants, shops, and some cultural attractions, including the Briscoe  Western Art Museum which features great paintings, statues, and artifacts of Texan culture, one of the highlights of our visit there. San Antonio was founded on the backs of 5 Spanish missions, including the Alamo. We took a tour of the 4 outlying missions in the rain one day, which included a stop at an aqueduct crossing the San Antonio River, notable because I say a yellow-crowned night-heron, a lifetime sighting for me. The next day the rain had stopped, the temperature was higher, and we took a guided tour of the Alamo, including the collection that Phil Collins, who has been fascinated by the Alamo since he was a young boy, had donated. 

Unfortunately, our time had to come to an end, so after a boat tour on the RiverWalk and a visit to the Mexican market, we headed to the airport.


One poem leads to another….. (hair albums)

Many of the pre-1921 poems published on the Niagara Falls Poetry Project website are found with the assistance of Charles Dow’s Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls, published in 1921. Chapter 8 of this two-volume set deals with the music, poetry, and fiction published about Niagara Falls in chronological order, starting in 1604. Many entries are purely bibliographic; that is they list the author, title, and source of a poem. Others contain summaries or editorial comments by Dow about the poem, the full text of some of the shorter poems, and excerpts from some of the longer poems.  Dow does have the habit of changing words and punctuation, and sometimes skipping sections without giving indication that he is doing so, so whenever possible, I go to the original source. Dow’s work is monumental, and I am in awe of what he accomplished. If I find a pre-1921 poem that is not in Dow, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, of smugness that I managed to find something that he hadn’t. 

Case in point: in the entry for 1867, Dow cites a poem by M.F. Bigney – Visit of the Sunbeams to the Falls of Niagara in Bigney’s book The Forest Pilgrims and Other Stories. I searched for the book and found a full-text copy online through the Hathi Trust. After adding this poem to the site, I then looked at the rest of his poems, and discovered one called Lines Written for a Lady’s Hair Album, at Niagarawhich I proceeded to add to the site. I admit that I had never heard of hair albums, so I conducted a search for them. My wife, Louise, had known about hair braidings that people (including her grandmother) had framed and hung to commemorate the passing of a loved one, but not albums. The search led to an interesting article Hairy Memories: Hair albums used braided hair to create memories by James Rada, Jr., and to a Brock University Archives online exhibition called Stories Told Through ScrapbookingOne of the scrapbooks in the exhibition is the Bradt Family Hair Album, with locks of hair from the Bradt family (United Empire Loyalists who settled in Niagara) from 1843 to 1976.  David Sharron, Head of Archives & Special Collections at Brock University, tells me that “We love the Bradt hair album here.  It is always a showstopper on tours.”

hair albums

Lock of Susannah (Price) Dunn’s hair
Image courtesy of Brock University Archives


On the exhibition page, a poem from page 11 of the album had been transcribed. Titled Resignation to the Approaching Period of Decline and Decay it had originally been written in 1812, just after the outbreak of the War of 1812, by James Melloy, and dedicated to “The Misses Price.” One of them, Susannah (Price) Dunn, had been born in 1808 and died in 1887.  A lock of her hair had been included in the album.

So today feels like a real win for me. I’ve managed to add three 19th century poems to the website (only one of which had been indexed by Dow), learned about a death rite that I had previously never known about, and added a new dimension to my upcoming presentation, The Niagara Way of Death, to the 2023 Popular Culture Conference in San Antonio, Texas.