JOHN CEREDIGION-JONES: SULTAN'S VAGABOND POET

Essay by William E. McLeod

One of Canada's more interesting little historical events occurred in the Chapleau area at Sultan in 1949. Sultan, once home of a bustling lumber mill, is located on the main line of the C.P.R. between Ramsey and Chapleau. It can be reached by driving south from Chapleau along Highway 129 and turning east on Secondary Highway 667.

John Ceredigion-Jones was a Welsh-Canadian poet who was described as being disputatious, argumentative, an inveterate writer of letters to the editor, and composer of poetry, most of it doggerel. As a penniless 64 year-old wayfarer in 1949, he was sent to Sultan by a Sudbury employment agency. There was work in Sultan, and he was given a job in the mill. He worked for a few days and dropped dead of an apparent heart attack. Nobody knew who he was because he had signed his work sheet as John C. Jones -- a name that could be and probably was used by countless men who wished to conceal their identities.

According to John Pousette, the manager of the McFadden mill, Ceredigion-Jones was buried in a rough wooden box with his boots on. Rev. Howard Strapp who was the minister at the Chapleau United Church conducted the ceremony.

Unbeknownst to the folks in Sultan, Ceredigion-Jones was the author of two famous lines of poetry engraved over an archway in the Peace Tower in Ottawa:

"All's well for over there among his peers
A Happy Warrior sleeps."

For many years, it was not known who had penned the lines. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was interested, and his inquiries eventually solved the mystery. With the help of some Carnegie librarians and the Canadian Department of Defense, the author of the couplet was identified in 1939. He was eventually paid eight dollars for his little verse.

Fast forward to the Canadian general election of 1953. Lester Pearson, Canada's Minister of External Affairs, was campaigning in his riding of Algoma East. He was trolling for votes in Sultan, and, after his little speech, he was approached by the mill manager, John Pousette. Pousette had somehow found out who Ceredignon-Jones was. John Pousette then escorted Pearson and J.E. Belliveau, a political corespondent, to the little cemetery. He told Pearson that the locals were wondering if there was some way the grave of John Ceredigion-Jones could be marked and preserved.

Although a brother was located in Wales, and the Canadian Legion began a move to provide cemetery care and there was some local interest, nothing much (if anything) was done to preserve this remote grave.

Belliveau, the political correspondent, wrote an article on Ceredignon-Jones which was published in the November 10, 1956 edition of the Star Weekly. Vince Crichton reproduced the article (with permission) in his book Pioneering in Northern Ontario which was published in 1975. The article was accompanied by a photograph of the grave. But there was no indication of who took the photograph or when it was taken. There was a boulder at the head of the plot, and the grave itself was cordoned off with a heavy chain which was attached to what seemed to be four stout metal pipes.

This story has intrigued me for many years. In late October, 2002, I was doing some research for my first book. Terry Gaffney, a long-time friend and Cambrian College colleague, had always wanted to go to Chapleau. He had worked on and off at a little mining operation near Nemegos in the years 1949 - 1954 and wanted to see what might be left of both Nemegos and the mine site. So Terry and I made the trip to Chapleau. One of our stops was in Sultan to look for the poet's grave.

On the day we were there, not much was going on in Sultan. We located a very well cared-for cemetery behind the Roman Catholic church. I didn't expect to find anything there, as Ceredigion-Jones had been buried by a protestant minister. We were about to give up when a man came along in a truck and asked us what we were looking for. He introduced himself as Norman Derosabils. He told us he belonged to the Knights of Columbus and that he was the person who looked after the cemetery. I told him what we were looking for, and he said that he knew where that grave was -- in a "special" cemetery. He couldn't think of the name for it. "Was it a Protestant cemetery?" I asked. "That's it," he said. "Follow me." He got into his truck and headed a short way down the road towards Ramsey. He stopped, got out of his truck, led us several hundred feet through a tangle of tag alders and, voila! There was the grave. I recognized it instantly. It had hardly changed from the photograph in Vince Crichton's book, 27 years earlier. The stone was pyramid-shaped but there was nothing written on it. The chain and the pipes were intact. There was now a little clear plastic plaque hanging over the stone with an inscription identifying Ceredigion-Jones and his Peace Tower lines. Norman Derosabils had no idea who had put it there.

As we chatted with Derosabils, Terry and I learned that he was a friend of Floyd Laughren, the long-time M.P.P. for Nickel Belt. Floyd and I were office mates back in the early days of Cambrian College, and we have remained close personal friends ever since. Norm spoke highly of Floyd and asked us to call him and give him his regards. I did that as soon as I got back to Sudbury. I told Floyd about Norm directing us to where the poet was buried, and, wouldn't you know it, Floyd told me that he was the man who had arranged with the Federal Government to put that little plaque on Ceredigion-Jones' grave.

This story shouldn't end here. At least not quite. John Ceredigion-Jones is not buried alone. There are a number of other folks interred near him, some with headstones. There are plastic flowers on some of the graves, so they must have been recently visited by some person or persons who knew and cared about the people who lie there. Obviously, at some time, this little graveyard became the final resting-place for Protestants or non-Catholics in the Sultan area. There are not many graves because, for many years, there were probably more bootleggers in Sultan than there were Protestants. There are still parts of a wooden fence surrounding the spot, but the whole cemetery is badly overgrown and neglected. John Ceredigion-Jones may be the most famous person buried there, but the other folks were also human beings who walked the earth among us. Like the cemetery near the site of the Chapleau Indian School, this little graveyard deserves some attention and care. Perhaps some high school students doing their community service for academic credit might consider taking it on in what would surely be a worthwhile project.

Update
When Terry Gaffney and I were looking around the Sultan Poet’s grave and taking some pictures, I thought the place was a little spooky and was happy to leave. I forgot about the spookiness but several years later, Sheryl and I were in Ottawa visiting Sheryl’s cousin Iona Joy and her husband Donald. We were talking about the Sultan cemetery and I was showing them the pictures I had taken. Don became quite excited and asked if I had looked at the pictures closely. I replied that I had not and had essentially forgotten about them after selecting one for the book.

The reason for Don’s excitement was that one of the pictures (not the one chosen for the book) had a clear outline of a ghost hovering above the boulder at the head of John Ceredigion-Jones’ grave.

I
It all came rushing back; the cold, grey and gloomy late October afternoon, the spookiness of the place and my feeling of relief after taking my leave of the cemetery. Never having seen one, I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts. But maybe the old poet was just happy to have a couple of visitors before the long Sultan winter set in. Or maybe he was telling us to get the hell out of there and leave him alone. I just don’t know.

Unfortunately, the color print did not reproduce well enough to post on the web.