The British Trader in Canada

Arthur Hawkes in the Nineteenth Century and After Magazine June 1 1908

The British Trader in Canada

Arthur Hawkes in the Nineteenth Century and After Magazine June 1 1908

The British Trader in Canada

Arthur Hawkes in the Nineteenth Century and After Magazine

An Interesting Presentation of an English-Canadian View—Expansion of British Trade in the Dominion Will in the Long Run be Commensurate With the Growth of Canada’s Volume of Business—Development of Canadian Manufactures Not to be Retarded Out of Deference to British Interests.

IF the Commercial Intelligence Committee of the Board of Trade follows up the report of its Special Commissioner on the conditions and prospects of British trade in Canada, it may accomplish more than the cloud of publicists who discourse about Imperial relations upon an abundant lack of first-hand knowledge of the business relations out of which political changes are evolved. For Mr. Grigg's report to the Board of Trade tells of the things he has seen and handled, and blazes the way to action that may amount to something. He is a good Britisher, and almost as good a Canadian. The men who really understand both British and Canadian points of view are so scarce that the most should be made of them. If this work is allowed to be interned in a Blue-book the Board of Trade will belie that newness of life which has begun to distinguish its latter-day career. v h

In fine, there is not much to say about the report, which speaks for itself. It is what those who met the Commissioner in Canada expected it would be. and even more. It has plenty of body, blood and brains. It is what it professes to be. A reporter to a Government department cannot declare the whole gospel that is in him. He can only be half an evangelist. Mr. Grigg could not say whether his investigations illuminated for him the issue between Tariff Reform and Free Trade. Nothing could have saved him from deadly criticism, if

he had approached two steps nearer to an exposition of whatever views he may have gathered on the relation of British and Canadian ledgers to British and Canadian statute books. You could not have a case presented by an investigator, with the politician intervening. Grigg, politician, may not exist ; and, anyway, the whole truth lies with politicians as seldom as politicians lie with the whole truth.

The extent of knowledge of the subject and soundness of judgment exhibited in this report should lead to the writer being given opportunities of opening his mouth in the United Kingdom, where other than official ears can hear him. Some years ago the Foreign Office appointed trade representatives in Europe and the United States. After two years they were brought to Britain to give business men the benefit of their experience. The officer who had the United States and Canada for his parish had not journeyed outside Chicago. When he came to Manchester he had so little to say, of his own volition, that two old-established morning papers and the evening journals each devoted only about a sixth of a column to a repetition of what he had to say.

Happily, we have traveled considerably since then. When the Board of Trade’s standing Commissioner in Canada is at work, he must have a habit of turning up in unlikely places, at unlikely times—in Britain, as well as in Canada. For there is much to learn and much to teach. What is

said here is by one who was neither a Free Trader nor a Tariff Reformer in England, and is neither a Liberal nor a Conservative in Canada. Which is another way of saying that, with regard to Canada and her place in the Imperial housekeeping, it is not safe to dogmatise, and it is very necessary to inquire, to observe, to sift, and to make sure of one thing at a time.

Mr. Grigg is a safe guide for the student of the British-Canadian trade situation. His implied criticisms of British methods are not novel. But they are terribly pertinent. They apply to British trade everywhere. They could be amplified without limit. Canadian methods are not perfect. We export chiefly food that Britain must have. We buy many things which Britain may supply; but which are also made by a seller next door to us, whose effort to cut out the original firm is tremendously advantaged by geography, and by similarity of social and commercial tendencies. Criticisms due to us are rather associated with our painful approximation to the nobler aspects of public life in Britain. But, even in this, the chances of our improvement depend rather on our ability to admonish ourselves than on the vigor of the criticisms of ouirelatives from overseas—an exercise in which they are often uncommonly efficient, and are occasionally useful.


In one particular only does it seem necessary to try to readjust the point of view of the report. Tn advising British manufacturers to acquire firsthand knowledge of Canada —this cannor be urged too often—it says they have relied too much on merchants and ¿gents on the spot. That is only partially true. To judge by one’s own experience, some British fiims employ agents chiefly for the purpose of telling them that they know nothing about the conditions in which they operate. The perfect agent is as scarce as the perfect principal. But the best agent is made to be less than the least of a principal’s servants if he is treated like a disagreeable encumbrance. Some firms must depend

on agents, if they are to do any business. If they cannot trust their agents they should not employ them. The difficulty applies, of course, to firms’ own representatives. It seems a part of the English make-up to act towards our countrymen who have widened their English experience by experience overseas, as though they had contracted their wisdom when they expanded their knowledge. There are whole Downing Streets of head offices of business houses in London and Liverpool and Manchester. In truth, the burden of Mr. Grigg’s appeal to the British trader is only a variant of the official intimations, of a political sort, which in a thousand different forms have been sent to Downing Street from all the corners of the Empire. * * * In the long

run, the expansion of British trade in Canada will be commensurate with the expansion of Canada’s trade. Even if it were not so, the development of Canadian manufactures would not be retarded out of deference to British interests. The most affectionate preference could never suppress an ambition to become a manufacturing nation. “Canada first’’ is the immutable foundation on which every Canadian, by birth and adoption, stands. So that, with the increasing competition of the United States and of Canada, the British manufacturer must always have in view the possibility of becoming, to some extent, a Canadian manufacturer also. He would prefer, of course, to remain as lie is. But he may not do that and prosper. Increase of British trade with the Dominion follows increase in emigration. There must inevitably he emigration of commercial mechanisms, as well as of human material. The firms that succeed do not wait till they are compelled to decentralize. Half the instinct of the great business man is in recognizing the inevitable before its puts its nose round the corner. * * * Keeping pace with Cana-

dian evolutions means keeping pace with United States evolutions. Though Canada is not, and is not likely to be, as Americanized as some

sections of the peerage, the impingement of United States practices upon ours must, from every cause, be considerable ; even if there were not the remarkably heavy investments in branch factories to which attention is called. The proposed correspondents of the Board of Trade are very necessary. No pigeonholing genius in Whitehall must be permitted to nullify their work, as passed upon by a competent live man on the spot, for whom it will be vitally necessary to kfcep in close touch with American plans for retaining pre-eminence in this market.


But that is not all. Nothing can replace the initiative, courage, and innovation that should belong to every British firm that means to become notable in Imperial trade. And, when intelligence and action have been secured, only a beginning will have been made in the re-creation of mutual appreciation that will make this country a primary factor in a readjustment of inter-imperial relations, and in the destiny of the English-speaking race. Mr. Grigg, in his spirited letter transmitting his report to Mr. Lloyd George, laughs at and reprobates the notion that mercantile houses can serve their interests when they send a son or nephew, not long from school, on a trip to Canada which is designed to combine pleasure, education and business, which is admirable as far as the first two objects are concerned, and useless, or worse than that, as regards business. As in politics, as in business—the flying trip; the conversation in a Toronto club, the application of Canadian statements to the pre-conceived ideas which the visitor brought across the Atlantic ; the happy certitude with which one diagnosis after another, reached by the most delightfully empirical methods, is "set forth in imperturbable type—these things are part of our summer hospitality, our autumn ponderings, and our winter expectations for next holiday time.

Blessed is the man who seems to

see, to hear, to understand. Most

blessed is he who, knowing much, knows there is still much to learn. It is delightful to be in Canada in summer, to meet the eminent men in the large cities, to cross the continent in a private car, and more delightful still to feel that now you have found the abiding ground for your Imperial faith. There cannot be too much interchange of ideas, too much coming and going. But the intersection of King and Yonge Streets, Toronto, is no more Canada than Piccadilly Circus is England. Of course, the eminent man in the metropolitan city is of capital importance in sizing up natural conditions, especially if, like most of our eminent men, he was a practical agriculturalist in his boyhood. But the real extent of this country’s interest in the Empire is the extent to which it is realized by the man in the sweaty shirt who saws lumber, and stocks wheat, and drills the everlasting rock. Or, if you want to see*the average man (the supreme elector), you will do well to haunt the smoke-room of the Pullman; and becoming, for the moment, as unEnglish as a glorious heredity will permit, listen to the talk of drummers who travel twenty thousand miles a year in a country which the newly arrived immigrant, who, until now, has never been outside his native country, describes as “belonging to us.”

In time, you will be struck by what will seem like an ungodly indifference to things at “home.” If you have been in Australia and South Africa, the sound of that incomparable word will have been a continual refreshment to you. I remember, on the parched karroo, spending a day with Olive Schreiner, on whose political temperament the war had laid a grievous hand; but who still, native of that land as she was, and of German parentage, spoke of England as “home.” In Canada it is not so. Sometimes you will hear an intelligent-looking man, who should know better, declare that the Englishman is no good. Now, all this is distressing, until it becomes amusing, and you call to mind the amazement excited in

a Wiltshire village by the incursion of a youth from Tyneside. And then you conceive that these light afflictions of apparent indifference are but for a moment, and you think of loyalty, and the South African contingent, and the splendid optimism of the Governor-General, and the brilliant speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. But the feeling of puzzlement comes back. It will recur for years ; because geography is geography, and Canadians do not breathe an English air.


The Englishman nowhere feels himself a stranger on unfamiliar ground. They are all “oot o’ step but oor Jock.” He looks for a secondfiddle England in Canada, and does not find it. A member of the Saskatchewan Legislature—perhaps the most original thinker in the House— who is a thorough Westerner, albeit his utterance is always reminiscent of a London postal district, confesses that he was eight years learning that the mental meridian of the Saskatchewan Valley is essentially different from that of Hampstead. After sixteen years he loves the old land as much as ever ; but he loves Saskatchewan more. Sometimes he speaks of “home,” but it is only because his dead are there. For all living things he is Canadian—Western Canadian; for the East, except as it is reflected in the qualities of the Easterners in the West, is unknown to him. If he had returned to England ten years ago, his discourse of Canada would have been pitched in a totally different key from that in which he talks this day. He is one of many. lie has proved that in citizenship a man may love his mother, and his spouse also.

If that is what befalls a typical Britisher of the brainier sort, what about the scores of thousands of immigrants for whom the Upper Canada Bible Society has printed the Scriptures in fifty different languages? To them the Government is an ever-present entity that has given them fertile land, without obligation to call any man lord. But the House

of Commons at Ottawa is merely an abstraction to them, the House of Commons in London scarcely a curiosity. On the Pacific Coast there is the perilous yellow conundrum which the East, served by a few scattered Chinese washermen, only dimly appreciates. You leave the busy street in Vancouver, where knickerbockers and gaiters are as congenial as they are singular in Montreal, and in five minutes can be inside a Chinese theatre watching the most pathetic movements and hearing the most distressing elocution that Anglican man can endure. In Eastern Ontario the Lord’s Day Alliance make of Sunday a Sabbath indeed. In a Toronto hotel a guest cannot buy fermented liquors with his Sunday dinner. In the Caribou every day is regarded alike. Sunday is on the almanack, and that is all. The French are two millions in Quebec ; the last literal observers, in this hemisphere, of the injunction to increase and multiply. To the miraculous shrine of Ste. Anne de Beaupré thousands of the halt and blind repair, and leave crutches, sticks, and other paraphernalia of infirmity piled before the sanctuary door. In a thousand villages the cure is the managing director of half the business of the parish. The oldest French settlements of the New World are in Nova Scotia. There are fishermen along the South Shore of that province whose names are inherited from grandees of whom Richelieu would have been proud to be an ally. Further east, on the same coast, are Canadians of the sixth generation whose mother speech is Gaelic, and who have never seen a locomotive. Lunenburg is a German town, and the oxen used everywhere in the peninsula are yoked as their forefathers were by the Germans who came to Nova Scotia as the result of immigration literature distributed in Hanover before Wolfe stormed Quebec. Everywhere the American tourist spreads himself and his money, during the summer, rejoicing in the last right of every man—to obtain what he is willing to pay for.

There must be nothing casual in the

study of a market compounded of such a variety of elements. \Ve have passed the season of muddling through crises in trade and Imperial politics. Lord Rosebery once said the Continental peoples disliked England because the Englishman treads Europe as if it were his quarterdeck. Obviously, there is something else for the Englishman to do than to perambulate Canada as if it were his backyard. That is true of trade. It is true of politics. As soon as due heed is given to the kindly, searching admonitions of Mr. Grigg about trade, fruit will begin to ripen in the more sensitive field.


The ripening will be as distinctive as the climate in which it takes place. The multitude of racial and social elements that are unconsciously working out their own salvation are evolving a political individuality as easily recognizable from that of the United States as it is from that of the British Isles, even if there were not the same basic predisposition towards the British idea in government that impels Australasia and South Africa. The extent of what the eloquent French Postmaster-General has called the intellectual preference is differently estimated by different people. The editor of the only Canadian journal which calls itself a national weekly has been much impressed by the demand for information about British men and affairs. The dozen of native journalists told the British pressmen who toured the country last summer that their newspapers were greatly superior to ours. The interest in British things is growing, without any tinge of subservience. But let an interesting fact be noted. Although hundreds of thousands of Britishers have come to Canada within the last seven years, and are entitled to vote much sooner than a man who has changed his abode from Kent to Lancashire can recover his franchise, you never hear a word about the British vote. It does not exist.

There is no sign that it ever will ex88

ist. The Barr colonists, who made the spring of 1903 memorable by their tragically comic trailing from Saskatoon to Lloydminster, started out with the invincible determination to be British in thought and word and deed. Their adventures made them weep then. They make them laugh now. Lloydminster, which, from being 160 miles from a railway, has been over two years an important station on the Canadian Northern system, is still predominantly British with a New Brunswick mayor. The first observation made to a Sheffield journalist who passed that way last year, by a veteran who had not seen England since 1865, was, “I want you to tell Yorkshire to brace up, or they won’t get back the championship.” The colonists who have survived their picturesque ignorance of, and superiority to, prairie conditions, are living examples of what can be achieved by enforced resourcefulness, independence of overlordship in which they were bred, and the satisfaction of the land hunger that never really leaves the race. Here on the border line of Saskatchewan and Alberta there is space, outlook, encouragement to become somebody. The man who knew nothing but bricks and mortar becomes transformed. The farm laborer who knew nothing but land and little wages, and who saw nothing before him but dependent toil, may speak with the old accent; but he thinks with a new mind. When he looks behind he wonders why he didn't move sooner. He does not philosophize on the Imperial aspect of his change. But he knows that, somehow, he has become a renovated creature. Those who have succeeded press on to a higher mark of prosperity. Those who have failed did not count in public affairs in the old country; and they have, therefore, no civic root to transplant to the new.

There is a trade aspect of the metamorphosis of the progressive immigrant, which does not seem to have been noticed. He has changed his clothes as well as ideas. If the vital spirit of colonization were as well understood as it might be by British

firms who look for business in Canada, they could make money by outfitting settlers as they will be outfitted when they have been three years in Canada. It is bad enough for the discerning immigrant to find that his disdain for the letter “h” gives him a curious distinction in any Canadian company he joins. It is worse, sometimes, to feel that his appearance from head to foot is singular and unseasonable. Thousands of families come to Canada plentifully supplied with clothes, boots, and other things, which, in England, they were sure would be splendid assets in the new life. But they learn that Canadian experience has evolved little tricks in clothes that make all the difference between discomfort and efficiency. Apparently, nobody in England has thought it worth while to make things for the settler as they are made in Canada. The point may seem small to those who have not been through the mill. But it perfectly illustrates and enforces the main instruction which this report proffers British manufacturers. It may annoy British men of culture, who are accustomed to dealing with large affairs, to be told that if they desire Canadian business they will be compelled to adapt themselves to Canadian ideas, and that they may only hope for a remote approximation of Canadian ideas to British standards with regard to Imperial questions upon which the colonies affect a rather high and mighty independence. But the choice is inescapable in trade, and the future is a little ominous in politics. The seller must study the buyer, where there is competition. The elder must warily regard the younger where interdependent States are in concert. There are no styles and designs in No. I hard wheat; and in apple packing and bacon curing there is no traditional supremacy to maintain ; and no hoary precedent in staves and hams to guard as though it w ere the ark of the covenant.


It may be, as Mr. Grigg suggests, that relatively the Canadian market is

too small for the manufacturer accustomed to supplying forty millions of people living nearer to his factory than Quebec is to Hamilton. For such, the friendly offices of the Tariff Reform League might be invoked. For the rest, it is axiomatic that if a market is worth cultivating at all, it is worth cultivating for all it is worth ; not so much because of its immediate value, as for its abounding potentialities. So copious have been the outpourings about the development of Canada that one refrains from pursuing a tempting theme in the manner of the roseate boomster. And one refrains from quotation from the report because one would fain leave no excuse for failure to read, mark, and digest the whole document. But glance at two or three considerations, placed in a little different setting from that which is most appropriate to a Government report. I have already shown that the newest railway map the Board of Trade could think of is two years out of date. When I first lived in what is now the Province of Saskatchewan there was only one line of railway between parallel fortynine and the North Pole. Now there are nine. As to what railway facilities mean in that Province take the case of Vonda. Vonda is about twenty miles east of the Clark’s crossing of the south branch of the Saskatchewan River, where General Middleton s headquarters were during the Riel Rebellion of 1885. The rails were laid there in the spring of 1905, and the town site was surveyed in the following Tune. That autumn t00,000 bushels of wheat were shipped from Vonda station. Next season the shipment was 500,000 bushels ; and last August the local member of the Legislature told me he expected the crop tributary to Vonda would produce 750,000 bushels more than was locally required : or enough to supply every man, woman and child in the L nited Kingdom with a one-pound loaf. Again, forests which a few years ago were thought to be almost valueless by men who remembered the flourishing and decay of the square timber trade of the port of Quebec, will be

sources of wealth so long as human beings learn to read. Reasonable care in the cutting of pulpvvood will, in the great hinterland of the St. Lawrence, give an illimitable supply of paper ; and will ensure the exploitation of water powers that are unrivalled, in number and strength, on five continents. Further, the Pacific slope has only begun to disclose its capacity for producing wealth for the trader and racial trouble for the statesman. Once more the building of railroads into agricultural areas has disclosed, on the way, portentous deposits of silver, copper, nickel and iron. * * * What

Mr. Grigg calls “ the American Invasion” is also concerned with the subject. New York has secured control of the asphalt. Chicago has got a certain mastery of the fishing riches of the northern lakes. They believe in “getting in early.” Their advantage does not consist wholly on geography. When geography, shrewdness and capital combine, they have a fine start towards calling political tunes. Much is discreetly said about the loyalty of Canada to British institutions. Britain will retain all the loyalty she deserves—which is much. But study of the science of loyalty is obligatory on both parties to the quality, which may be strained. As our progress towards the nobler aspects of British public life—and Heaven knows we are badly enough in need of that kind of improvement—depends on our criticism of ourselves, so the strengthening of our tie with the old land depends on the old land’s understanding of the slow, inevitable revision of our relations


For the rest, the importance to Britain of the connection with Canada grows faster than the importance of Britain to Canada. In the Imperial balance the addition of a thousand to the population of Canada counts for more than the addition of 3,000 to the population of the United Kingdom.

The predominance of British capital in Canada is a tremendous factor in the political future—it is in itself a problem of the first magnitude. But capital does not always control public opinion when treaties are made, when prejudices are inflamed and when elections are due.

There is nothing in sight likely to produce misunderstanding. There was no resentful disappointment with Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s attitude at the Imperial Conference. Mr. Bryce is at Ottawa just now obtaining the Government’s endorsement of the latest accommodations with the United States. Mr. Bryce was in Canada last year. At a public luncheon the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a cautious Scotsman, spoke with almost embarrassing frankness of the tendency of London nominees to settle international questions too much from a London and too little from a Canadian point of view. Mr. Bryce is understood to have returned to Washington somewhat perturbed over what he had learned. He was the first British ambassador at Washington to take the trouble to gather on the spot his own impressions of Canadian sentiment. His -attitude to us, of which his return to Ottawa is another proof, will always be counted to him for righteousness. With the advent of an ambassador who travels, and of a trade commissioner who searches things out, and who will come again, probably more has been accomplished during the last eighteen months for securing permanent cordiality between Britain and Canada than during any preceding three years. There will always be enough difference in our points of view to save us from becoming complacent and sloppy. Vigilance, sympathy, quest of more excellent ways—these are the approaches to mutual appreciation and profit. In trade, they are embodied in Mr. Grigg’s report. In politics, they must be the subject of further elucidation.