Al Purdy was born Alfred Wellington Purdy in Wooler, Ontario in 1918. He is best known, along with Milton Acorn, Alden Nowlan, and Patrick Lane, as a "working class" poet or a "poet of the people." Raised in Trenton, he left school when he was 16 and entered the workforce without ever completing high school. In his teens, during the Depression, he rode the rails and worked at odd jobs from Ontario to British Columbia. After serving six years in the RCAF, Purdy and his wife Eurithe moved to Vancouver, then briefly to Montreal, before finally settling in Ameliasburg, Ontario.
Purdy began writing poetry as a teenager and was first published in 1944 (Enchanted Echo) but it wasn't until the early 1960's that he was able to make a living as a writer. A restless traveler, Purdy was well known internationally, not only as a poet, but also as a TV and radio play writer, anthologist, editor, travel writer and book reviewer. Purdy won the Governor General's Literary Award in the poetry category in 1965 with The Cariboo Horses and again in 1986 with Collected Poems, 1956-1986. In regard to his status as a "working class" poet, he won the 1987 Peoples' Poet Award (in memory of Milton Acorn) for Collected Poems and received the Order of Canada in 1982. By his death in the spring of 2000, Purdy had published over 600 poems and over 30 volumes of new and selected work. His final new poems were included in Beyond Remembering: the Collected Poems of Al Purdy (2000).