The 1958 Canada Council Grants That Changed Leonard Cohen’s Life & How He Repaid Canada

“The truth is without the help and encouragement of the Canada Council I would never have written The Favourite Game or The Spice-Box of Earth. I am profoundly grateful.” Leonard Cohen

 

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I was working in a factory in Montreal at the time and writing, having these wonderful evenings that would go late, and then I had to be at work at seven. It was a good hour drive, so [I was] sleeping very, very little and playing all night and working all day. Then I applied for and was awarded a grant by the Canada Council. A very generous grant at the time, it was about three grand, which was worth a lot in ’59,1 and also a ticket to visit the ancient capitals, because on the basis of Let Us Compare Mythologies, I said I wanted to visit Rome, Athens, Jerusalem. So, I had a round-trip ticket from Montreal to Tel Aviv. I went to England first, and I wrote the first draft of The Favorite Game, and I finished the book which later became Spice-Box Of Earth, and then I went to Greece with my guitar, and I finished another draft or two of The Favorite Game. Then I locked into this living style that would carry me through the next seven or eight years.2

 

Leonard Cohen

 

 

DrHGuy Note: Some sources report Mr Cohen’s first grant from Canada Council for the Arts was in 1959, but the official Government of Canada News Release and The Roots of Culture, The Power of Art: The First Sixty Years of the Canada Council for the Arts by Monica Gattinger (McGill-Queen’s Press: Dec 15, 2017) give the date as 1958.

The Canada Council for the Arts

In 1960, still only 25, [Leonard Cohen] lived in London and made his way to Greece and Jerusalem, the first steps in a lifetime of travel. It was not the random wandering of a beatnik, it was a course of study he had proposed to the Canada Council for the Arts, an immersion in the old ways of ancient capitals, for which the Crown corporation had given him the first of two grants he would receive, totalling $3,000. Of course those trips changed his life and art forever. What struck me is that in 1959, when he received the first grant, the Canada Council was only two years old. It’s as though the thing just came along in time. The Council’s creation was recommended, to a skeptical Louis St. Laurent, in the 1951 report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, chaired by the patrician Methodist diplomat Vincent Massey. The Massey Commission report opens with an excerpt from St Augustine’s The City of God: “A nation is an association of reasonable beings united in a peaceful sharing of the things they cherish; therefore, to determine the quality of a nation, you must consider what those things are.3

 

DrHGuy Note: The 1951 report of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (aka the Massey Commission) is available online at The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences 1848-1951.

 

Leonard Cohen Gives Back

In honour of Leonard Cohen being named the Ninth Laureate of The Glenn Gould Prize DrHGuy constructed this mashup of Ruth Abernethy’s sculpture of Glenn Gould & the image of Leonard Cohen from the cover art of his Old Ideas album.

Toronto, May 14, 2012 – Leonard Cohen donated his $50,000 Glenn Gould Prize to the Canada Council for the Arts at a star-studded concert in his honour at Toronto’s Massey Hall. “The truth is without the help and encouragement of the Canada Council I would never have written The Favourite Game or The Spice Box of Earth,” said Mr. Cohen. “I am profoundly grateful.” The Canada Council awarded Mr. Cohen an arts scholarship4 that helped launch his writing career in 1958, the first year of the Council’s operations. The scholarship was extended for three more years and supplemented with a small travel grant and poetry reading fee.5

And …

Legendary producer Hal Willner put together the event [the Nov 6, 2017 Montreal Tower of Song Memorial Tribute to Leonard Cohen], the proceeds of which will benefit three grants-making organizations: The Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the Conseil des arts du Montréal. Those arts councils “helped sustain Cohen financially in his 20s when, despite his publishing success, he still couldn’t make enough money to survive as an artist,” according to the CBC.6

 

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Mar 21, 2018.
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  1. According to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator, $3,000 in 1958 had the buying power of $26,340 in 2018. []
  2. From The Stranger Music of Leonard Cohen by William Ruhlmann. Goldmine, February 19, 1993. []
  3. From Even Leonard Cohen’s lewd verse touched on vulnerability by Paul Wells. Toronto Star: Nov. 11, 2016. []
  4. According to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator, $3,000 in 1958 had the buying power of $24,140 in 2012. []
  5. From Leonard Cohen donates $50,000 prize to Canada Council. Government of Canada News Release: May 14, 2012 []
  6. From One Year After Leonard Cohen’s Death, Canada’s Greatest Musicians Paid Tribute by Michael Kaminer. Forward: November 7, 2017. []

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