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Douglas Lochhead, circa 1940

Douglas Lochhead requested a sofa in his office for his afternoon naps. "You, sir, shall have a divan!" said his boss, Robertson Davies.

Lochhead was the founding librarian at the University of Toronto's Massey College back in the heady 1960s when Northrop Frye, Vincent Massey and Marshall McLuhan roamed the halls seeking inspiration.

He worked closely with Master Davies to establish two special collections: Canadian literature in English and 19th-century bibliography.

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At the same time, Lochhead taught courses in bibliography, paleography (the study of ancient writing) and Canadian poetry. He also taught a course on the history of books and libraries, typically rolling in a book trolley on the last day of class with a bottle of dry Canadian sherry and glasses for his students.

In addition to the sofa, he requested 10 hand presses, five tons of metal type and one of North America's largest collections of wood type. Lochhead believed that the best way to understand text was to print the lines of type oneself. He also set up a papermaking room, where students experimented with handmade paper.

Lochhead, who died at the age of 88 on March 15 in Sackville, N.B., from complications arising from pneumonia, always carried himself with dignity, wore a suit and tie and kept his beard neatly trimmed. Between classes, he was often found by the type case printing his own poems.

Just a few months ago, one of his former students gave the college a $1-million bursary and requested that junior fellows who receive it be called Lochhead Scholars. The donor said his days at Massey College were made bearable by Lochhead's kindness and fellowship.

When he wasn't teaching, Lochhead loved to examine the world around him and describe what he saw in verse. He was a scholar-librarian, who published more than 30 poetry collections. His first book came out in 1959, and the final one was published 50 years later, when the author was 86.

Douglas Lochhead was born on March 25, 1922, in Guelph, Ont., and raised in Ottawa. His father, Allan Lochhead, was an agricultural bacteriologist. His mother, Helen Van Wart, was a Leipzig-trained pianist, who often turned their living room over to recitals. With these influences, it was perhaps no surprise that their son became a meticulous, organized, librarian - and a poet.

Douglas's love for verse rivalled his love for New Brunswick, where he and his brother Kenneth spent months each year at their grandparents' home, romping in the tides and shaping mud pies.

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"We spent summers at Duck Cove, just outside Saint John. It overlooks what we used to call the Shag Rocks and Partridge Highlands," he once said in an interview.

After completing his BA at McGill in 1943, he was accepted into medical school before switching to English literature. "I was being groomed for a doctor," he said. "That would have been a disaster for humanity!"

Perhaps confusion over his career convinced him to join the Canadian military as an infantry and artillery officer that same year. Trained to prepare for an invasion along the coast of England, he arrived just in time to celebrate VE day.

Lochhead found early inspiration from the so-called trench poets of the First World War, as well as from the French resistance poet René Char. Modelling his early work after Char, he wrote a sequence of poems called The Panic Field.

"I think Douglas thought of poetry as a form of resistance," said his friend and fellow poet Peter Sanger. "A form or resistance to non-poetic thinking, to tyranny, to unimaginative views of the world."

In 1947, Lochhead completed his MA in English at the University of Toronto. One afternoon at the Toronto Public Library he asked the reference librarian a question: Would she care to join him for a glass of wine after work? Jean St. Clair said yes, and they were married a year later.

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Jean nudged Lochhead toward library school. In 1951, when he was freshly graduated in Library Science from McGill, they moved to Victoria, where he took his first librarian job at what was soon to become the University of Victoria.

For the next several years, until he was hired at Massey College in 1963, Lochhead went from Victoria to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., then from Dalhousie to the newly founded York University in Toronto. There, he found administrative duties a tad dull. So packed up his skills and headed to U of T.

All the while, poetry pumped through his veins. His daughter Sara remembers bedtime stories as playfully doctored Dylan Thomas poems. "We grew up looking at the world from a poetic point of view," she said.

In 1975, Lochhead's longing for the Maritimes set him off once more, this time to Sackville, N.S., where the Tantramar Marshes by the Bay of Fundy provided magnificent poetic inspiration.

He first saw the marshes from a troop train in the closing year of the war when he was on his way to England. He instinctively felt that this would be a poetic place.

The name Tantramar came from the Acadian French tintamarre, meaning "din" or "racket," referring to the noisy flocks of migrating waterfowl that feed there.

"It's one of these strange places on Earth that seems to define itself as a presence," Sanger said. "There's nothing anonymous about it. Although on the surface it's a huge, flat emptiness, once you start walking in it, you realize it's teeming with life, especially bird life."

Many of Lochhead's poems depict what he called "the sweeping calligraphy" of the marsh.

Sanger considers his friend's poetry as akin to dance: "Syntax made into choreography."

"Douglas's work is immensely physical in its attempt to convey the rhythms of the world, the way the world works, the way it fits together," he said.

In 1980, Lochhead was nominated for a Governor-General's Award for High Marsh Road, a series of poems inspired by his daily walks. In 1989, still caught up with the magic of the marsh, he wrote Dykelands, which weaves history in with the allure of nature.

"Here, right where my foot takes weight, what Acadian sweated and froze in the ever-wind to make these dykes," he wrote.

Lochhead became director of Canadian Studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville in 1975. His responsibilities included designing and teaching courses to promote Canadian literature and art.

E.J. Pratt, Dorothy Livesay, and Al Purdy were a sampling of his favourite Canadian poets. He made sure to tuck their volumes into his suitcase in 1983, when he spent a year as visiting professor of Canadian studies at the University of Edinburgh.

In 1987, Lochhead left his job as director to become writer in residence at Mount Allison. He retired in 1990, but not completely. He penned another 16 books of poetry.

In 2002, he was inducted as the first poet laureate for Sackville. This was his greatest honour, said Sara Lochhead. "These are the people with whom he lived his life. They were the people he wanted to reach with his poetry."

The corner store, she said, stocks his books. And outside the Tantramar Pharmacy, 30 telegraph poles display 30 poems from High Marsh Road directing people toward the marshes.

"You understand? Sure you understand. Everything is poetry," he wrote in a poem called Labels.

Lochhead leaves his daughters Sara Louise and Mary Elizabeth. He also leaves his companion, Janet Fotheringham. He was predeceased by his wife Jean in 1992 and his brother Kenneth in 2006.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story online and in Friday's newspaper incorrectly referred to the city of Sackville, N.S. Mr. Lochhead actually lived in Sackville, N.B. This version has been corrected.

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