BANQUETS and BANQUETEERS
COLONEL GEORGE H. HAM
IT WAS part of my duties for many years to average at least two banquets a week during the open season for public gatherings of that kind, and this continued so long that my good friend and medical adviser, Dr.
Frank England, of Montreal, finally gave due warning that if I persisted in the pernicious habit he would have me interdicted as a public feeder. About that time the Great War with what was once the German Empire broke out, and banqueting was largely taboo. So the doctor’s advice was timely, and I could honestly follow it and still not miss much.
My first banqueting speech was made at Whitby when upon the departure of one of the citizens, who had just failed in business, we gathered to give him a farewell at the Royal Hotel. As the only representative of the press present—a callow youth who had never thought of speaking in public—I was called upon, and rose to respond with not too much cheerful alacrity. For the life of me, I didn’t know what to say, but I had to say something and so I started out with my heart in my mouth:
“Mister Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.” Then I remembered there wasn’t a blamed female in the room. The audience laughed heartily at what they thought was an attempt on my part to be funny, when I never was so serious in all my life. But I helplessly went on.
"We are all glad to be here and see our honored guest leave town—” then a long pause, and I realized I had put my foot in it, but quickly recovering, kept making things worse by adding—“and we all wish him in his future home the great success he has met with in Whitby.” A dead silence ensued, and I was wondering what in thunder I could say next. There was no inspiration, but lots of perspiration for me, but I had to say something or other. So I wished him and his family—he was a bachelor without any relatives—all the prosperity that his great talents and business ability—(he was a chump of the first water)— I don’t remember whether I finished the sentence or not, but a friend in need seeing my dilemma started a round of applause, during which I quickly subsided, and spent the rest of the evening very uncomfortably in wondering whether I was a mere common garden variety of pumpkinhead or something worse.
OF THE hundreds of banquets that I have attended, none were more enjoyable than those of the Parliamentary Press Gallery at Ottawa, which were always held on a Saturday night. There good fellowship, genial companionship and mirth, both in wit and humor, held unbroken sway until midnight when it was run on Winnipeg time and then on Vancouver time, so that we wouldn’t break the Sabbath. The big men spoke freely and so did some of us littler fellows, and seldom was there a tiresome spell, for the speeches were, by an unwritten law, always brief and to the point. These were before the dark days of the Big War and Prohibition.' They were held from 1870 to 1913, when they ceased altogether during the conflict, but will be revived in 1921.
Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir Charles Tupper, Sir John Carling, Sir George Foster frequently were honored guests, and such senators and commoners as Nicholas Flood Davin, Dr. Landerkin, George Casey, Sir Sam Hughes, Hon. R. Lemieux, Col. E. J. Chambers, Col. Smith, Dr. Sproule, Ed. Macdonald, Senator George Fowler, Hon. Geo. P. Graham, Hon. R. F. Sutherland, Charlie Parmalee, Harry Charlton of the Grand Trunk, John P. Knight, three of the best after dinner speakers I ever listened to, Tom Daly, M.P.; E. G. Prior, M.P.; Robt. White, M.P.; James Somerville, M.P.; J. J. Curran, M.P., and a host of others gladly accepted the highly coveted invitation. My first appearance at one of these was in 1886. The gathering was a comparatively small one, but still very respectable. John T. Hawke, of the Ottawa Free Press and for years subsequently publisher of the Moncton Transcript, was assigned the reply to the toast of “The Conservative Party” and R. S. White that to the toast of “The Liberal Party.” The joke consisted in the fact that Mr. White was about as hard shell a Tory in those days as Mr. Hawke was an adamant Grit. Mr. White treated his subject humorously, reciting as commendable all the faults of the Liberal party, recounting their
electoral failures as due to a stupid public, and winding up with the hope that the party which for the nonce he represented might for many years continue to adorn the place they held in the Commons. The Liberals then were in a hopeless minority. Mr. Hawke was nonplussed by the line Mr. White had taken and his attack on the Conservative party fell somewhat flat. He had missed the joke of entrusting him with the toast.
The president of the gallery always occupied the chair, having the Prime Minister on his right and the leader of the Opposition on his left. For sixteen consecutive years I was honored with a seat next Sir Wilfrid, whether he was in office or out of it—bluff old Harry Anderson of the Toronto Globe could tell you why.
The only reason I can give for being chosen to sit beside Sir Wilfrid all these years was that I never wanted anything of him and didn’t worry him by introducing theological, theosophical, social, scientific or any other subject that was not in complete harmony with the spirit and informality of the evening. And Sir Wilfrid did enjoy a joke. One night I called his attention to the fact that the waiter was removing the silverware between courses.
“Why, yes! What does he do that for?” he asked.
“Well, you know. Sir Wilfrid, he’s responsible for the table-ware.”
“Surely,” remarked Sir Wilfrid solemnly, "he doesn’t suspect me, does he?”
“Not yet, Sir Wilfrid, not yet.”
Then again I remarked to him that I supposed he travelled a good deal, and he said he did.
“And you put up at first-class hotels, too, I presume?”
He acknowledged that he did.
“Did you ever notice, Sir Wilfrid, how small the cakes of soap in the bedrooms are nowadays?”
He said he had, and wanted to know the reason of their diminished size.
“Because the hotels don’t lose so much soap now.”
And the raillery was just what he wanted to indulge in after, perhaps, a vexatious and trying day at his office.
Col. Ham and Hon. Frank Oliver
ACCORDING to a report of one of the press gallery banquets Hon. Frank Oliver, M.P.. shortly after I had delivered what I was pleased to think was a speech, was called upon. The former Minister of the Interior according to the report said he had always felt a personal interest and some pride in Mr. Ham, because he had been the means of giving him his first job in the West. In 1875 he (Mr. Oliver) was the foreman in the Winnipeg Free Press printing office, when a young fellow just up from Ontario blew in, told a joke or two and asked for a job at the case. Mr. Oliver said he liked the jokes and also his style, and engaged him then and there, giving him some,good advice as to how he might get on if he minded himself. I he ex-minister continued: “George took the advice all right, for before many months were over he was writing the editorials for the Free Press and was an alderman of the city of Winnipeg, while I was driving bulls across the prairie.”
That’s all right for Mr. Frank, but it isn't the whole
story. That was 45 years ago, and the reportorial room and the composing room consisted of one and the same room, and we couldn’t even boast of a proof press—we used a mallet and planer—think, you publishers of to-day, a daily paper without a proof press, and the telegraph dispatches were frequently unintelligible. Frank Oliver was foreman and I was a comp. Then I got ahead of him and became city editor, and he pounded a bull train 900 miles across the plains to Edmonton, where he started the Bulletin, a model paper, and got ahead of me. Then I evened up and started the Winnipeg Tribune—not R. L.’s sheet, but, you know, modesty prevents my saying anything further about the two Tribunes. Comparisons are odious. Then Frank forged ahead and was elected to the Northwest Council, and I caught up to himby electing myself aiderman of Winnipeg. Hanged, if he didn’t go me one better and Edmonton sent him down to Ottawa as an M.P. In desperation I collared a school trusteeship and a license commissionership under the McCarthy Act, which was declared ultra vires the next week. He wouldn’t stand for that, so he became a Minister in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s cabinet. Then Sir Sam Hughes came to my rescue, and appointed me an honorary lieutenant-colonel. This was the apex of our greatness. Bad luck set in for us both. Frank was beaten in the Federal elections, and Sir Sam wouldn’t let me go to the war, because he was of the decided and fixed opinion that I would be more useless over there where the bombs and bullets were flying than in Montreal where the prices of everything one consumed or wore were soaring. So no rivalry exists between Frank and me now, and we have agreed to call it a draw.
AT ANOTHER press gathering, w hen I was called upon to speak, 1 began by timidly asking if there were any reporters present, and loud and continued shouts of “No-o-o” convinced me that there were none.
A second question: “Are there any ladies present?” received an equally demonstrative negative.
To a third one: “Will Sir Wilfrid blush?” there was no mistake. He wouldn’t.
So then I told a story, and I could see, by a side glance of the eye, that Sir Wilfrid felt not a little concerned.
But “ Honi soit qui mal y peyese” is my motto as well as that of the British Empire, and so I told a story of the Cobaltdays—it’s an old one now—when on a stormy night a benighted stranger on the Gowganda trail sought shelter in a road-house only to find it was crow'ded plumb full. The landlord informed him that there was no place for him there and that he would have to seek for quarters elsewhere.
“But,” pleaded the weary wayfarer, "there is no place to go—no house within half-a-dozen miles, and the storm is growing worse and worse.”
The landlord was inexorable, but just then his handsome young daughter joined the two and having overheard the conversation, said :
“But, father, you can’t turn the poor man away on such a night as this. We can find room for him, if he’ll sleep in the hired man’s bed. He’s gone away, you know.” The landlord was willing, and the stranger gladly accepted the offer. Shortly afterwards he was ensconced in the hired man’s bed.
Just before blowing out the candle, he heard a gentle tap on the door, and crying out: "Come in," beheld as the door partly opened a vision of loveliness—the landlord’s daughter.
“Would you like a nice bed-fellow to-night?” she innocently asked. (Here Sir Wilfrid looked sharply at me, evidently in great concern. >
“You bet,” was the reply. (Sir Wilfrid's look was agonizing—but just for the moment, i
“Well,” said the maiden, “just roll over then; the hired man’s come back.”
Loud laughter and a sigh of relief which ended in a chuckle from Sir Wilfrid concluded that particular part of my contribution to that evening's gaiety of the gallery.
One day a party of friends were discussing banquets at the Montreal Club, and I expressed the opinion that Continued from page 21
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they were a delusion and a snare; that they were usually commenced at a late hour instead of at seven or half-past, that hour when people generally dined; that the menu consisted of a large variety of uneatable or unpalatable food, and other words to similar effect. Charlie Foster, the assistant passenger traffic manager of the C.P.R., wanted to know what kind of a bill-of-fare I would suggest, and I named common garden soup, corned-beef and cabbage, etc., etc., and so forth. In proof of this I related how at the swagger banquet of the Quebec Fish and Game Association held at the Ritz-Carlton some time previously—quite a gorgeous affair— I noticed late in the evening a worried dissatisfied look come across the classic features of Frank Carrel, of the Quebec Telegraph, who sat opposite me.
“What’s the matter, Frank?” I asked.
“Don’t know, old dear, don’t know, but I feel rather queer. By Jove, I believe I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” I rejoined. And we went down to Child’s and as the clock struck midnight were revelling in savory dishes of corned beef hash and poached eggs. (For which, I might add, we were joshed and jibed at many a time. )
A few days after, a deputation of fellow workers in the C.P.R. vineyard dropped into my office, headed by Charlie Benjamin, now passenger traffic manager of the Company’s ocean service, who mentioned that there was a guy who kicked like a steer at banquet foods as usually framed up by chefs, and as this guy was to have a birthday on the near approaching 23rd August, he demanded on behalf of the large and respectable deputation that the aforesaid guy should himself prepare a bill-of-fare for the feed that was to be tendered him. I was the guy. And here is a copy of the menu:
Sliced Tomatoes Celery Olives
Pea Soup, Thin, Like Mother Used to Make A Little Cold Liver and Bacon Irish Turkey and Cahbage New Boiled Murphies with the Sweaters on
Buttered White Beans a la Orchestra Dear Apple Pie Poor Pumpkin Pie
Tea or Coffee
And, between you and me, no dinner I ever attended filled the long felt want as that one did. Like the Scotchman who boasted that he had gone to bed perfectly sober the previous night for the first time in 20 years, and felt none the worse for it next mornihg—neither did any of us after eating the wholesome food.
A Scotch Banquet
'TPHE only banquet I ever attended in the Old Country was at Greenock, Scotland, in honor of George Wallace, who was leaving home for Winnipeg. Capt. Macpherson, the yachting expert, Neil Munro, the novelist, and myself had returned to Gourock from the launching of the Empress of Britain at Govan, on the Clyde, and were enjoying some scones and tea—at least they were—just before dinner, when a message came from Greenock to go up at once. So up we went, and as the three of us entered the big wellfilled banqueting room of the Tontine Hotel, there was loud applause for my two friends who were very popular. We had a rattling good time, and I was called upon to speak at just the right time, and got off a whole lot of guff which, however, seemed to please the assembled multitude. Why they even laughed immoderately when I told them that they would be greatly disappointed if they should come to Montreal expecting to see only French eople, for they would find only about one alf of that nationality and the other half Scotch (and after a pause) and soda.
I almost laughed at it myself.
Banquets in Winnipeg
BANQUETS in the early days in Winnipeg were occasions for the gathering together of kindred spirits. The St. Andrews’ banquets were largely attended and one could always tell when 1st December came around by seeing an unusual number of dress-suited gentlemen in the places of public resort that morning. St. Andrew was a saint who couldn’t be properly honored in a few hours. The attendance was not exclusively confined to Hielan’men but many of other nationalities gladly joined in the festivities and kept them up
with a merry whirl long after “Gód Save the Queen” had been loyally rendered.
The St. George’s Society also had great gatherings. At one, held in the early ’80’s in the now demolished Royal Arms Hotel, amongst the guests of the evening was Mr. McCrosksie, the architect who repaired the hotel at the corner of Main and Broadway, and made it habitable. The old gentleman came togged up in his Sunday best and wore a top hat, which for safety he placed under his chair. As hilarity began to work its way about the table, this fact was whispered around, and a good many jokers of the practical type quietly dropped a plateful of tipsy cake or plum pudding or ice cream and goodness knows what else into the plug hat until it was nearly full to the brim. Then a devil-may-care party sitting across the table accused the victim of not being an Englishman, and trouble commenced. Enraged at the insult, Mac arose excitably from his seat, hastily grabbed his hat and after a few steps on his way to the door indignantly clapped it, contents and all, on his head. How that slushy stuff did pour down on his head and his shoulders was a caution. Some of us didn’t see the point of the joke—but were silenced by the thunderous laughter that followed.
WHEN H. B. Morphy, a rising young barrister, was appointed British vice-consul at St. Paul, Minnesota, a banquet was tendered him at the old Potter House. There was a very large attendance of legal, journalistic and other talent, and there was no wine. It had all been absorbed before soup was served. This was one of the eccentricities of those days. The chief toast next to that of “Our Guest” was “Our Creditors.” The orchestra struck up the “Dead March” in Saul, the banqueteers rose as one man, and with handkerchiefs applied to their eyes, evidently to hide their tears, followed “J. D.,” now Judge Cameron, around the room in solemn procession, in which were such rising young legal lights as Stanley Hough, Fred Wade, Judge Perdue, Ghent Davis, and a host of others.
Bouquets and Brick-Bats and Democracy
THERE is never a rose without a thorn.
This is official. Bouquets a-plenty have been showered upon me. Sir Thomas White once called me a great national asset—and I am glad he fortunately added the “et”; Collier’s wrote of me as the greatest unprinted wit unbound in Canada, and others dubbed me Ambassador in Chief of the C.P.R., while I have mistakenly been honored by being called the Mark Twain of Canada—save the Mark— and the British, Australasian, American and Canadian press representatives heaped eulogies and showered gifts upon me, and I never got a swelled head over it, because I had experienced bouquets with bricks in them. Once, when I filled the high and dignified position of chairman of the license and police committee in the city of Winnipeg, Chief Murray came to me one day and told me that Schmidt—I think that was his name—had half-a-dozen teams at work and only one license. I instructed him to make Mr. Schmidt, if that was his name, take out a license for each and every team, and the order was promptly and strictly carried out. The matter escaped my mind altogether, until one bright afternoon when entering a street car amongst whose passengers were several ladies of my intimate acquaintance. After bidding them the time of day, I went to a seat forward, where a fat German in a partially intoxicated condition was lolling. As I neared him, he a little gruffly wanted to know if I was Alderman Ham. Imagining he was one of the free and independent electors of Fort Rouge, which ward I was chosen to represent, I pulled down my vest, puffed out my bosom like a pouter pigeon, and courteously acknowledged that I was—in the blessed hope of securing an additional vote at the approaching election. But it’s the unexpected that always happens. He leered at me and shouted, so that everybody in the car could hear:
“You are, eh? Well, you are a damned old stinker.”
It was Schmidt, the teamster man. 1 didn’t mind that, but the ladies all heard him, and laughed immoderately, for which no particular blame could, would or should be, as the case may be, attached to them. But it knocked my high and mighty ideas of glorified officialdom into a cocked hat.
ANOTHER time, when I was editor of the Winnipeg Timex, and happening to be at the C.P.R. station, I noticed a large bevy of visiting girls who evidently belonged to a society or organization or something or other. Although it was not my duty to report anything about them, my newspaper instinct led me to approach them for a news-item. One sweet maiden of uncertain age wanted to know who I was, and I humbly mentioned the fact that I was a reporter.
“Jist a common reporter?” she disdainfully asked.
“Jist,” I humbly acknowledged.
Ami then instantaneously, synchronically and at the same time, we turned our backs on each other.
Another time, but there was no brick in this one, in travelling through the Canadian Rockies an American lady in the observation ear asked the name of a particularly lofty mountain. Here, I thought, was an appreciative audience of one whom I could illuminate. I told her it was Mount Tupper, named after one of Canada’s greatest statesmen, and that on the other side was Mount Macdonald, called after Canada’s Grand Old Man, and that the two mountains had once been united, as Sir John and Sir Charles were, but that in the very long ago the irresistible forces of Nature had split them in twain. The lady seemed greatly interested, and I, in my middle-aged simplicity, went on to point out the “picturesque figure of the Hermit, which with cowl and faithful dog, carved out of hardened rock, had stood watch and ward all through the long centuries of past and gone ages, and that until eternity they would be on guard as living symbols of the wonderful works of an omniscient Creator.” And she said:
“My, how cute!”
Any aspirations I may have had concealed about my person of ever rivalling Demosthenes immediately subsided, and it gradually dawned upon me that as a silver-tongued orator I wasn’t even in the same class with William Jennings Bryan, Newton Rowell or Mayor Hylan of New York.
’ I 'HAT refninds me of something alto-*■ gether different—the mention of Mayor Hylan’s name—which has nothing whatever to do with the case, but as I am writing these reminiscences higgledy piggledy, just as they occur to me, the reader needn’t
When the King and Queen of Belgium visited New York, His Honor was greatly in evidence. He is very democratic, you know, whatever that may be. He introduced His Majesty to one of his friends in this way: “King, this is Mister Jack Walsh, one of our very best officials.” That was the democratic way, all right enough, but he went one better in the afternoon, when there was a grand parade of school children, which was reviewed by Belgium’s royalty. The grouped children to the number of ten or fifteen thousand sang the national anthems of America and Belgium to the intense delight of their Majesties.
After the function was ended, Her Majesty gratefully acknowledged to His Honor her great pleasure at witnessing such a sublime spectacle.
“ Your Honor,” she said sweetly, “I can scarcely express my feeling at seeing so many well dressed, highly cultured young people and hearing their sweet voices in perfect unison singing the beloved native song of my country. You should be proud of them. America should be, for in them are those who will grow up to be the future fathers and mothers of a race that will make the United States a wonderfully great and grand country— perhaps the greatest in the world.”
And His Honor democratically replied: “Queen, you said a mouthful that time.” Then, even Her Majesty smiled, and the others merely laughed.
Always Have Proof
TT IS always advisable to have positive A proof of your assertions, no matter how respectable you may be. I learned this when on a trip on Lake Manitoba in the 80’s. Our party, which consisted of Hon. C. P. Brown, Minister of Public Works, in the Norquay government, Hon. Alex. Sutherland, provincial secretary, F. H. Mathewson, manager of the Merchant’s Bank, George B. Spencer, the venerable collector of customs at Winnipeg—the two latter being prominent in Episcopal church matters—George Dennison Taylor, who wore a plug hat, and myself. We had gone to the White Mud river by train, then took Pratt’s big tug-boat to the upper end of the lake, where we overtook His Lordship Archbishop Macray and his party, who had been nearly a week longer than we had in reaching Partridge Crop river by driving and canoeing. After the customary greetings, His Lordship casually asked Mr. Brown when he had left Winnipeg. “Yesterday,” promptly answered C. P. The Archbishop looked incredulous, as from his own personal experience, that was impossible. So he turned to Mr. Sutherland and to Mr. Mathewson and to Mr. Spencer and individually made the same enquiry, which evoked the same reply. His Lordship could scarcely believe his ears, although he had every confidence in their veracity, and especially of his co-workers and fellow churchmen. So in despair he turned to me, and satirically asked, “Well, then, Mr. Ham, when did you leave Winnipeg?” “Oh, I came with this party and”—producing it—“here’s a copy of yesterday’s Free Press I brought along for you.”
The good prelate was greatly relieved for my positive proof as to the time we left the city had assured him that all men were not liars—as he had really begun to believe the others were. I sat in a front pew the next Sunday in St. John’s Cathedral, and his Lordship preached a thoughtful sermon on the sin of bearing false witness against one’s neighbors and the beneficial advantages of making your statements full and clear.
It has nothing to do with the above incident, but George Dennison Taylor, (who recently passed away in Montreal, deeply lamented), while we were on the tug-boat, persisted in speaking of “Nee-agare-a.” We couldn’t make out what on earth he was talking about, and he finally told us it was about the great cataract. He was informed that in civilized and Christian countries, it was pronounced “Niagara,” but he persisted in calling it “Nee-a-gare-a,” until he was threatened with being thrown into the lake if he didn’t give it the proper pronunciation. When he again persisted in his aboriginal pronunciation of the Falls, Aleck Sutherland, and I—both husky chaps—grabbed
George and threw him overboard. Down he went into the depths—all but his shiny lug, and when he came up we yelled at im, “Niagara or Nee-a-gare-a?” and he answered “Nee-a-gare-a.” Down he went again, but when he came to the surface, submissively announced that the proper pronunciation was Niagara. He was then hauled aboard, and so was the plug, and when he learned that the lake was about forty miles long and only seven miles wide, and goodness knows how deep he cheerfully admitted that “Niagara” was a more picturesque and poetical word than “Nee-a-gare-a.” And so it is.
The Big Show
IN 1915, I was sent to San Francisco to open the C.P.R. pavilion at the Pan Pacific Exposition. Outside the official buildings and the Canadian Government building, the C.P.R. was the most attractive on the grounds, and its spacious rooms were constantly filled with interested seekers after knowledge of Canada. On March 30, the formal dedication of the building took place. A procession was formed at the main entrance to the grounds and headed by the Phillipino brass band and a military escort, directors of the exhibition and several C.P.R. officials with a large gathering of visitors, and paraded to the pavilion, where Mr. Britton, onè of the directors of the exposition made a brilliant speech, in which he lauded Canada and the Canadians and the Canadian Pacific, and then handed me a bronze plaque, commemorative of the occasion. I accepted it as gracefully as I could, and made what I thought was a fitting reply. It was a great event.
Lord Shaughnessy, then president of the C.P.R., was on his way to San Francisco, and the mayor of the city, with the president of the exposition, a brass band and camera and newspaper men went across the bay to greet him and offer him the freedom of the city, a banquet and a round of festivities. The idea was to give the Baron a surprise. Knowing his dislike to being in the limelight, I quickly wired him down the road, and when he reached Oakland, he was prepared for anything that might happen. He gratefully expressed his appreciation of their kindness and politely declined their well meant offers of hospitality. And he saw the exposition as an ordinary, and not as a distinguished, visitor.