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Initiation by Edward Butler

Initiation, Edward P. Butler

James Edward Patrick Butler

J. Edward P. (“Ned”) Butler (poet and history professor) was born 23 June 1902 in Newcastle, New Brunswick. He was the oldest of three sons of Thomas Butler, a barrister, and Mary Anne Holohan. He married Mary Marguerite Hutchinson on 5 September 1932. The couple had one child, a daughter Margaret. Marguerite passed away only three days after her daughter’s birth. Much of Butler’s poetry reflects his views on religion and spirituality, both of which were shaped by the loss of his wife.

Butler received his formal education from St. Michael’s in Chatham. An unusual child, he worked on his poetry for much of his youth, a poetry that he said was “precariously supported by my own hard labour (manual) and the kindness of my neighbours” (Butler 1966 7). He later became the managing editor of the Union Advocate, a weekly Miramichi newspaper, then he went on to study at the University of Toronto before accepting a teaching position at St. Thomas College from 1954 until his retirement in 1968. When the college moved to Fredericton in 1964, he moved with it. In the year of his retirement, he received an honorary doctorate from STU.

He was well respected and received by his students. One recalled that his students were “always amazed at his knowledge” (McKibbon D5). At St. Thomas University there still exists an upper-year scholarship named after him.

Butler was always fully absorbed in reading and writing. An eccentric child who became an eccentric man, he was known for his unusual behaviours in and out of the classroom. His niece Susan Butler, the renowned Miramichi musician, said of him, “He was probably the only person you would see going shopping with a suitcase.”

His early poems appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including The Sign, The Ave Maria, Integrity, Beginnings, and The Atlantic Advocate. One of his poems, “Carol,” was put to music and appears on Susan Butler’s Christmas CD.

Recollected in Tranquillity (1956; Rpt. 1966) is a series of poems that Butler reworked over the span of forty years. In the foreword of the 1966 reprint, which became his collected edition, he says that “[b]oth in matter and in manner these poems are an expression of faith in ultimate order and meaning” (11). The collection is comprised of forty-two poems and one short story, much of which deals with the life of the spirit. Plagued by limited readership and a narrow field of poetic themes, his poetry did not fare well in changing modernist times. Fiddlehead editor Fred Cogswell did speak well of his work, however, especially of his more folksy verse, which recollects the work of New Brunswick-Maine folk poets Larry Gorman and Joe Scott. Butler’s “Pitwood Pete” is an example of the lively vernacular style he displayed too infrequently:

O in nineteen forty-seven
I came to Miramichi,
And there I found employment in
The local industry.

I didn’t have no learning
To do marking in a book,
I didn’t know what beer it took
To run a three-ton truck.

I didn’t know a chord of logs
From a thousand feet of birch,
But they put me shaving pitwood
Beyond the Catholic church. (“Pitwood Pete” 59)

James Edward Patrick Butler passed away on 20 September 1987 at the Mill Cove Nursing Home in Cambridge, New Brunswick. At the time he was survived by his brothers Charles and Frederick Butler and his daughter Margaret.

Maureen Wallace, Winter 2010
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary sources

Butler, James Edward Patrick. Initiation: A Collection of Poems. Newcastle, NB: James Edward Patrick Butler, n.d.

---. The Hound of the Earth: A Selection of Poems. Newcastle, NB: James Edward Patrick Butler, 1937.

---. “Pitwood Pete.” Stubborn Strength: A New Brunswick Anthology. Ed. Michael O. Nowlan. Don Mills, ON: Academic Press Canada, 1983. 59-60.

---. Recollected in Tranquillity. Chatham, NB: James Edward Patrick Butler, 1956. [Rpt. 1966]

bibliography of secondary sources

Butler, Susan. Telephone interview. 5 November 2010.

---. An Old Fashion Christmas with Susan Butler and Family. Miramichi, NB: Susan Butler, 1996.

Fraser, James A. By Force of Circumstance. Fredericton, NB: Miramichi Press, 1970.

McClean, Charles Herbert. “Butler, James Edward Patrick.” Prominent People of New Brunswick. Saint John, NB: Biographical Society of Canada, 1937.

McKibbon, Peter. “Memories of a Day Student at St. Thomas.” L’Étoile [Kent] 18 June 2010: D5.

Obituary [of JEP Butler]. Miramichi Leader 30 September 1987: 2.1.