An immigrant to Montreal from Ireland, Drummond graduated with an M.D. from McGill University in 1884 and started practising in the eastern townships (along the St. Lawrence River) to which his dialect poems so often refer. In 1888 he moved to Montreal. It was ten years later, well after his marriage to May Isobel Harvey, that Drummond published his first book of poetry, The Habitant (1897). His preface includes the following remarks:
Having lived, practically all my life, side by side with the French-Canadian people, I have grown to admire and love them, and I have felt that while many of the English-speaking public know perhaps as well as myself the French-Canadian of the cities, yet they have had little opportunity of becoming acquainted with the habitant, therefore I have endeavored to paint a few types, and in doing this, it has seemed to me that I could best attain the object in view by having my friends tell their own tales in their own way, as they would relate them to English-speaking auditors not conversant with the French tongue. (xi)
Drummond's sentiments were welcomed by Louis Fréchette, a well-known French-Canadian poet, in an enthusiastic introduction to this book that closes: "le Canadian-français sent que c'est là l'expression d'une âme amie; et, à ce compte, je dois à l'auteur plus que mes bravos, je lui dois en même temps un chaleureux merci" (x). Drummond went on to publish five more books of poetry, Phil-o-Rum's Canoe (1848), Johnnie Courteau (1901), The Voyager (1905), and The Great Fight (1908), and to become one of the most widely-read and loved poets of his nation. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1899 and received two honorary degrees, the first from the University of Toronto in 1902, and then from Bishop's University in 1905. For a biography, see J. B. Lyons, William Henry Drummond: Poet in Patois (Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1994; PS 8457 R85Z75 1994 Robarts Library).