Of Christmases and Governors

COL. GEORGE H. HAM December 15 1920

Of Christmases and Governors

COL. GEORGE H. HAM December 15 1920

Of Christmases and Governors


WHEN my hair was lighter but not so gray, and a great deal thicker than it is now, Christmas-tide was the greatest and the happiest time of all the year. We kids counted the days for a month or six weeks before the Day of Days, and were filled with pleasant anticipation of the coming glorious event, which, it was conveyed to our infantile minds, meant “Peace on Earth,

Good Will to All Men.”

They were halcyon days, and Santa Claus was a mysterious and beneficent, sanctified being who scattered lovely gifts with riotous profusion upon all the little ones the world over. Christmas Eve was an ecstatic evening, and when the stockings were hung up, and we all were bundled off to bed, but not to sleep, our little noddles were filled to overflowing with the happiest conjecture and surmises as to what good Old Santa would bring us.

And we wondered how on earth he got down the chimney, especially in those houses which had no fireplaces, and if his reindeers were really truly live animals.

And when, after a restless night, there was a rush for the stockings in the early dawn, joy filled our hearts and a pandemonium of unrestricted pleasure reigned as we gathered our treasured gifts, and really enjoyed the sugar sticks and sweet bull’s eyes which didn’t make us ill, as they doubtless would to-day. We lovingly caressed the beautiful dolls and exuberantly played with the pleasure-giving toys, free of all care and full of genuine juvenile enthusiasm. Happiness was supreme throughout many a household, and breakfast, for which sturdy hungry youngsters were usually eager, was listlessly eaten with no particularly keen appetite.

Of course, then as now, there were many houses in which the youngsters were not so prodigally humored by Santa Claus, but in nearly all their childish wants were partially supplied. How many of us wish we could turn back the clock and enjoy those happy days again. Our sublime faith in good old Santa Claus was far beyond infantile human comprehension and we gloriously revelled in our all-abiding blissful illusion.

But the time came naturally, as we grew up, when our innocent eyes were opened and we learned to our sorrow and dismay that Santa Claus was really no travelling angel in disguise, but our own matter-of-fact parents. It was a sad awakening. Mine came accidentally. I was looking for something or other, and climbed on a shelf, where I found a whistle and a rocking-horse and a variety of other lovely things which I knew would not ordinarily be there. I discreetly kept my mouth shut, but when Christmas morn came, and all these same presents were arrayed in the parlor, I knew Santa Claus was a myth. But I didn’t let on. My father and mother, I figured out, were merely the earthly representatives of the princely gift-giver. Between you and me, I can conscientiously say I actually convinced myself of this fact against my will. But, later on, when I knew it all, I thought that, as is done in this later materialistic age, it is a damnable crime for anyone, man, woman or child, to break a little one’s faith in Santa Claus — as great a crime as it is for an iconoclast to destroy the faith of a child in its prattling prayer at the beloved mother’s knee:—

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.”

A crime—it is diabolically fiendish!

Pawn All But Christmas Stockings /"VNE time, over in London, England, I met Rev. Mr.

Webb and his charming wife, who had lived in Canada, and who were willing and energetic workers amongst the poor of London’s awful slums. Do you know what a

wretched life these poor folk have? It would horrify you if you saw their misery and poverty and wretchedness. Mrs. Webb told me that in all her wide experience there was nothing you could give them that was pawnable that they wouldn’t pawn for liquor — except — except the Christmas stockings filled with sweets and toys for the children. These were sacred even to these hardened sinners. Then why should the illusions of these poor unfortunate kids be ruthlessly destroyed? Why not let them, in their dire poverty and distress, have one little ray of sunshine in their belief in the existence of Santa Claus?

Personally, while my younger days were blissful at Christmas, in later years some were not so pleasant. One Christmas at Winnipeg, we were all disturbed at an early hour by a conflagration which destroyed the city’s fire hall

fire engine and all—and it was a cold and comfortless day that followed. Another time I was storm bound at Myrtle station on the old C.P.R. line between Toronto and Montreal. I had driven out from Whitby to catch the midnight train, and arrived early at the station and spent quite a little while in gazing at the coal fire and reading Folder A, which combined to make superb scenery and admirable and instructive literature.

Then the village folk began to gather—just why they should spend Christmas over at a lonely C.P.R. station is beyond me, unless it was to look at the pictures on the wall, and see the trains go by. But they did, and all they talked about was Mr. Perkins’ new cutter which he had brought from Toronto that day. Finally, Mr. Perkins himself arrived and when questioned a score or so of times, proudly corroborated the satisfying statement that it was the finest cutter purchasable in Toronto, and that it was a real bang-up Jim-dandy. For two solid hours I was regaled with descriptions of that wonderful vehicle, and its superiority over any other cutter that had ever come out of the west. It cost well, Mr. Perkins didn’t say exactly how much it cost, but the dealer didn’t get the best of him, anyway. He admitted that after a whole lot of haggling as to the price, he was finally asked how much money he had with him, and when he produced his wad, they said that that was what it would cost him. And then— and then the train came in and the conductor and the porter wished me a Merry Christmas, and in the recesses of my bed I dreamt that that blessed old cutter was in my stocking, which was hanging up on my left

foot. It was a lovely Christmas Eve’ About the liveliest Christmas I ever experienced was when dear dead and gone Mina Macdonald, ever the good friend of the Boys' Club of Montreal, gave a “sunshine” feed to the newsboys of the city in Victoria Hall, Westmount. It was a rare treat. The speakers of the evening were a certain judge and a Montreal newspaper man. How these grave gentlemen had prepared cautionary and exemplaryaddresses for the betterment of the immature Hebrews, who, in the main, made up the audience! How, after eating the bountiful fare, the little Isaacs, Jacobs and Abrahams listened dutifully to the judge, as was proper! But when the editor appeared, they could contain themselves no longer—but I anticipate.

My good editorial friend had kindly asked me to accompany him to the intended feast of reason and flow of almost everything else. I went. He was all togged up, even to fresh underclothing, and I accommodatingly put on clean collar and a new necktie and we hied ourselves to the hall.

There was a sound of revelry as we entered the well-filled, spacious public room. There were also plentiful signs of rank disorder. Kids with blouses loaded with apples and cakes and other species of effective missiles predominated. Amicable hostilities had already commenced, and the boys just wallowed in the riot of disorderly merrymaking. I discreetly retired to a back bench where I vigilantly dodged volleys of fruit and gooey cake approaching, and my friend went on the stage. Order having been partially restored—in spots—the speaking part of the proceedings commenced. The editor’s introduction was greeted with the same sort of uproarious applause that was given to the previous speaker, which was accentuated by the smashing of a lot of crockery through the falling of a table. He said he was delighted to be with them to-night, and to show by his presence. . . .

“Where are they?” eagerly demanded a score of urchins.

“Where are what?” queried the speaker.

“Presents nothing! I am alluding to my being with you.” (Signs of disapproval.)

He went on to speak of journalism. “It is a noble profession — (say, boys, please keep quiet) — a noble profession—(order, please)—and while you, my brave lads, are merely (will you kindly keep still?) are merely now on the lower rung—(silence, please)—-lower rung, the ladder leads to high places—(for goodness’ sake, keep order!)—to high places which—(great Caesar, listen to me) —high places which have been reached by—(say, won’t you listen to me?)—reached by men who—(hang it all, boys, keep still!)—men who once occupied the positions— (for the love of Mike, order! order! I say!)—the humble positions you do now—(continued uproar)—you are all part—(I say, great jumping Jerusalem! won’t you listen to me?)—all part and parcel of the great work of producing—(say, Mr. Chairman! Where in blazes is the chairman?)

“I was going to say that you boys were—(Oh, shut up, you yaps! you red-headed heretical whelps!) you boys were—(say, am I making this speech or is it a universal recital by the newsies?)—you boys, let me say (Mr. Chairman—Oh, Mr. Chairman—where is that fool of a chairman?)—Mr. Little, Mr. Little, that is “Billy” Little, our circulation manager told me—(Oh, for H»even’s sake, sit still a minute)—he told me that you—-(say Swipesey, sit down)—that you were—(Holy smoke, are you ever going to keep quiet?) Billy Little says—(well, what next? Shut up, you infernal little rowdies, you!) The Sunshine Society is doing good work, and—(say, if you don’t stop that whooping I’ll comedown and pound the tar out of you)—the Sunshine Society—(keep still there—)

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Of Christmases and Governors

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has given you a great treat to-night, a splendid supper and a—(will you keep quiet, you pestiferous little hoodlums, you!) a splendid banquet and a delightful drive—(Oh, Holy Moses, what am I up against?)—and—(shut up, will you?) and you ought to be deeply grateful for— (damn you, shut up!)—for their Christian kindness—(now, keep still, you young slobs)—“Billy,” that is, Mr. William Little, the Star’s circulation manager, tells me the newsboys of Montreal—(oh, say, boys, keep still!) the newsboys of Montreal are the best in America and if that is so, it is something—(shut up, will you?)—it is something you should—(shut up, shut up, do you hear me!)—you should be proud of and we all—oh go to blazes, the whole blooming bunch of you, Sunshine Society and all. I am going down to the Windsor for a drink.” (Sounds of uproarious applause, amidst which we went.)

George Sure BelievesGn Christmas

DREARY Christmases I have spent, as have many others, in country hotels or on the road, but the utter loneliness and longing for home were invariably lightened by the cheerfulness and comradeship of fellow travellers, who, while utter strangers, were filled with the spirit of Christmas, and if it was not a merry one, it was not altogether a miserable day. Many can recall some of their earlier Christmases, as many experience them now-a-days, when they had need of Mark Tapley’s irrepressible disposition in order to enable them to be jolly under rather unpleasant circumstances. To those who catch the spirit of the anniversary in anything like its fullness, Christmas comes with rich rewards. It is the grand festival of the year, is one for all mankind, and for all ages to come, full of pleasant

memories, of kindliest feelings and, above all, of that large hearted noble charity which blesses giver and receiver alike. It is the season which should make all hearts glad—a day of universal rejoicing, for it is the celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world—the coming of the meek and lowly One, who “brought light to the Gentiles,” and “salvation unto the ends of the earth.” Greetings, greetings, greetings, and in the immortal words of Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one.”

Stories of Our Governors-General

10RD MINTO, while democratic in J some of his tendencies, as might be expected from his close and intimate contact with the turf, was more of a stickler for the official proprieties and forms than many other governors-general. When the present king and queen, as Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, visited Canada, he insisted upon his staff personally supervising all arrangements, and while providing for proper respect being shown to Canada’s royal guests, he had it seen to that all honors due to the Governor-General as direct representative of the King were forthcoming. So it happened that at all public affairs in the chief cities, there were two official processions with separate guards of honor and cavalry escorts, one of each for the Prince and the other for the Governor-General.

When calling at Rideau Hall one day, Lord Minto at once commenced recalling incidents of the Riel rebellion, and enquired after Billy Sinclair and Peter Hourie and a host of others, with whom he had been associated during the campaign. He had not forgotten a name, and his interest in them was undoubted. Lord Minto was a splendid horseman, of whom

it was truly said that when on horseback one could not tell where the man left off and the horse began.

Lord Minto loved the outward trimmings of state. For instance it was diplomatically represented to the Deputy Ministers at Ottawa who had been accustomed to attend state functions in plain every day dress suits that the proper attire for them to wear upon such occasions was the Windsor uniform of the second or third class, and the deputies had to dig down in their pockets and equip themselves with the regulation gold-laced suits, swords, cocked hats, etc.

Soon after Lord Grey’s arrival it was intimated by His Excellency that he desired a complete private train placed at the disposal of the governor-general. The request caused some consternation ; but the situation was met by the acquisition on the part of the government for the Governor-General’s use of the two special cars, “Cornwall” and “York,” specially built by the C.P.R. for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Lord Grey had a well-developed taste for real fun, and dearly loved a good story. In addition to the stately functions held at Government House during the Grey régime, when the unrivalled gold table service presented to the first Earl Grey made the great tables in the main diningroom present a scene of oriental gorgeousness with the sheen of the huge and numerous candelabra, trays, vases, dishes, etc., of solid gold, numerous informal dinners, receptions, etc., were held.

One of the closing functions of the régime will never be forgotten. The guests consisted principally of elder parliamentarians and senior newspaper men. After dinner the guests moved to the ballroom, where a well stocked buffet was installed. Then there was a real, oldtime jollification, His Excellency being the prime mover and most active spirit in a jubilee of song and story. Perhaps the piece de resistance was the singing of “Annie Laurie” by the Nova Scotian octogenarian, Senator William Ross, with the chorus by the entire company led by one of the officers of the Senate, who is supposed to be the model par excellence of dignity and decorum.

Earl Grey was never happier than when in the company of young people and inciting them to some fun and frolic. A remark made by His Excellency rather in joke than in earnest, I fancy, had unpleasant results for a certain young lady of the ministerial circle of that day. He was joking with a group of the ministers’ daughters about their curtseys at an approaching drawing-room, and remarked that he thought he should give a prize to the girl who would bob the lowest without losing her equilibrium. A particularly bright, pretty and ambitious girl set herself out to win the wager, but she went head over heels on the carpet in front of Their Excellencies. His Excellency gallantly assisted the blushing debutante to her

The Grand Old Duke

' I 'HE Duke of Connaught was extremely fond of youthful society and particularly that of children. Of all the functions at Government House His Royal Highness appeared to enjoy the children’s fancy dress parties the best, and he would mingle with his little guests and busy himself in the dining-room to see that all had their fill of the good things provided. The Duke possessed in a marked degree the memory for names and faces for which members of the royal family are celebrated and it was uncanny how he would recognize individuals he could not have seen for years. Some of the Senators and Members of Parliament credited His Royal Highness with some remarkable occult faculty on account of his knowledge respecting them when they first had the privilege of meeting him. The Duke, after his arrival, arranged that an appointment should be made for every Senator and member of the House to call upon him in his office in the Eastern Block. When the parliamentarians thus honored entered the vice-regal office they were surprised to find that His Royal Highness not only knew all about their political careers, antecedents, families and business, but led them off into the discussion of their pet hobbies, etc. The explanation is simple enough—he studied his expected visitors’ records in the Parliamentary Guide and I have been told that in addition he had private confidential notes supplied to him

by the Usher of the Black Rod, who is his representative on the staff of the Senate.

While at Government House upon one occasion it was my privilege to be standing in a quiet corner near a desk, which evidently was the working desk of His Royal Highness, and my eye was attracted by a portrait occupying the post of honor upon it. It was the portrait of the Widow of Windsor, our old Queen—“The Queen” —and inscribed on it the motherly words “To Dear Arthur with fond love.” No doubt it was often an inspiration to our royal governor-general, and its position was a touching proof to me of the pure, dutiful human character of the Duke.

When in Ottawa or visiting other cities or towns, the Duke, frequently accompanied by the Princess Pat, had the happy knack of saluting those he met in the early morning strolls, and entering into conversation with them—generally about the town or city or village and its affairs and prospects. He always evinced deep interest in the average citizen who on many occasions was not conscious of the identity of his illustrious companion.

Almost Elephants on My Hands T^E WOLFE HOPPER used to sing about having “An Elephant on his Hands,” but I came nigh going him one better and having two of them. I don’t know whether elephants are worse than warts on one’s hands, but I do know that the very thought of having a couple of these huge animals to take care of gave me the shivers, and that was before the H. C. of L. was perfected.

Charlie Davis, of the Sells Brothers & Forepaugh Circus, ’phoned me from Ottawa one day several years ago that he would like to see me the next day at the St. Lawrence Hall, in Montreal, which was then my abiding place. Charlie and I had been friends from the old days down in St. John, N.B., when he was manager for Frawley, the actor. When we met, old acquaintanceship was renewed, and Charlie insisted that I and all my friends should see the big show, and to be sure to come early as he wanted to have another talk with me.

Taking the balance of the family along, Charlie was met long before seven o’clock. In a few minutes he was sent for by Mr. Sells, and, excusing himself, gave me a card of admission to all the side shows, whose doors were not yet open. At the first one, when I showed my card to the polite attendant, he insisted that we should go right in. And we did. The Wild Man from Borneo or some other outlandish country was one of the main features. And the wild man was as wild as he could be just then. He would be doubly-condemned, he swore, if he would eat any more raw meat and they could all go to Halifax— only he pronounced the word in one syllable. He was a coal black deformed negro, from Georgia, and he was on strike against raw beef and chains.

When we saw Charlie a little later, he introduced us to the animals. The elephants, he explained, were formerly the Sacred White Elephants of Siam, but one day the Siamese priests in attendance got into an altercation in public and one told the other that he “would knock the dom block off him,” and the other retorted that he would “take no backchat from enny dom Kerry cur-r-r.” And pulling off their turbans they went at it. This was too much and it was deemed advisable, Charlie said, to change the character of the animals, as their coat of whitewash was getting a little the worse for wear, and they appeared as Sullivan and Corbett, but they got too fond of fighting, and another change was decided upon.

Then they became Romeo and Juliet and, Charlie asseverated, it made them all seasick to witness their everlasting elephantine love-making. In fact, so Charlie told me, they were eternally tired of them, and if I would only accept them as a birthday gift, he would have them sent up to the house. And, Charlie said, I could draw immense crowds at political meetings, etc., if I named them John A. and George Brown or Tupper and Laurier or any other darned names of public men I pleased.

Like blazes I would, and the next day Charlie got a long distance from me from Quebec to say I regretted my inability to accept his munificent gift but the rules of the great transportation company of which I was a humble and obedient servant revented my acceptance of any present owever desirous I might be of having it.