MY OTTAWA MEMORIES, 1866-
GEORGE C. HOLLAND
THE SENATE of Canada is long on dignity, a stickler for precedents —especially those of the House of Lords—dislikes innovations on the principle that what’s good isn’t new and what’s new isn’t good, and though not exactly fervent is regular and decorous in prayer.
From Confederation, for many years each House Had its own chaplain to invoke the Divine blessing at. the opening of its sittings and pray for harmony among its members. In the senate the spell seemed to work satisfactorily as a rule, but occasionally it failed and a contentious, taxing spirit prevailed, especially during what might be termed the "Alexandrian Era.” One would have expected better things of him, because he was regular in his attendance at the opening devotions and bowed his head as reverently as any of the other Senators while Dean Lauder read the stereotyped form of prayer.
To Senator Melnnes (better known as Doctor Mclnnes) the acrimonious nature of the debates at times seemed anomalous. As he remarked on one occasion, the Senate was paying a regularly-ordained chaplain four hundred dollars per session for a service that seemed ineffective. He did not think that the appropriation could be considered excessive if it accomplished the desired result but when it failed to promote peace and harmony there must be something missing and it was money wasted.
One day he announced to the senate that he deemed it his duty to call attention to what was probably the cause of inharmonious conditions which had prevailed for some time. He had noticed with pain that for two or three years the chaplain had omitted to read prayer number eight which, among other things, besought "wisdom to direct and guide us in all our consultations, and for ‘‘uniting and knitting together the hearts of all persons and estates in true Christian love.” With number eight omitted from the daily petition, was it any wonder that some members had displayed uncharitableness in the debates? As he confided to me after the sitting was over, his objection was taken more seriously than he had expected. Some of his colleagues thanked him personally for having called attention to the omission, and from that time forward prayer number eight was duly read at the opening of every day’s sitting.
The doctor was a big man, of dark complexion, rotund in form, but not excessively so, had black hair (some said a wig), black eyes, black moustache and luxuriant Dundreary whiskers of sable hue. He was of Highland Scotch descent and not at all ashamed of it: on the contrary, he was inordinately proud of the race to which he belonged. He spoke Gaelic, which was his mother tongue, and had acquired command of Chinook, from which the reader may correctly infer that he hailed from the Pacific Slope. He brought with him a distinctly western breeze, strong enough to blow conventions into ribbons.
Had Dean Lauder’s friends been prudent and allowed the chaplain’s salary to run at four hundred dollars, it might have continued indefinitely, the Senate having a pronounced aversion to making changes. The committee on contingent accounts, however, in one of its reports indiscreetly recommended that the amount of the chaplain’s salary be increased to six hundred dollars. That was too much for the doctor. He rose to register his protest. He disclaimed any feeling of antagonism to the chaplain but he was bound to protest against a futile and fruitless expenditure of the public money. He believed in opening every meeting of the House with prayer, but there were other ways of doing it which could not be less effective than the one employed.
HE CALLED attention to a device recently invented by Edison for recording and reproducing the human voice, known as the phonograph. It had proved to be a perfect instrument for the purpose, as anyone could ascertain for himself by visiting the Senate reporter’s room where it was in daily use. For a fraction of the sum paid to the chaplain one of these remarkable instruments could be procured and the first cost would be the only outlay for years. It would be wise, and consistent with the dignity of the Senate, to procure a record of the prayers from some eminent clergyman and use it at the opening of each session, thus accomplishing two objects— it would effect a saving in money, and would give the Senate the benefit of having its prayers offered in the very best style of an elocutionary artist. He did not like to scrutinize the appropriation for the chaplain’s salary too closely, but he had figured out exactly what he was receiving for his services, and found that, for the time consumed—about three minutes at each sitting—the chaplain was the best paid official in the employ of the Senate.
The doctor was taken to task by some of his colleagues
for his irreverent suggestion, but the position of chaplain was soon afterwards abolished, and the reading of the prayers was included in the duties discharged by the Speaker. .
The doctor’s disclaimer of any desire to find fault with the chaplain was no doubt sincere. He was a kindhearted man, but he could not resist the temptation to string a joke on the dignified body of which he was a member, whenever an opportunity offered.
One subject on which he held a decided opinion was the dual language. He looked upon it as a nuisance. One language sufficed for the neighboring republic, notwith-
standing the enormous polyglot population that it was drawing every year from Europe, and he thought if the republic could get on with English, there was really no need for two official languages in Canada. If the constitution had not stood in the way, he would probably have moved to make English the only official language for the Dominion. A change of that nature being impossible, it occurred to him that the absurdity of the dual system could best be illustrated by carrying it to its logical conclusion. He therefore introduced a Bill intituled, "An Act for the use of Gaelic in Official Proceedings,” which was read the first time. Senator Dickey inquired if it was intended that Gaelic should be a dual language. “A triple language,” said the doctor. Then Senator Kaulbach suggested that he might include German, to which the doctor replied that others who were equally interested in the language of their ancestors could move such amendments as they saw fit.
When the bill came up for second reading, Senator Dickey moved the three months’ hoist, and Senator Prowse suggested that the bill should be withdrawn as it was evident that it was intended only as a joke. The doctor rose at once to a point of order, claiming that the Prince Edward Island member had no right to impute motives.
Argument For Gaelic
TN THE debate on the Bill, the Doctor took the ground that Gaelic was the common language of the Celtic race, of whom, including Scotch and Irish, there were—in a total population of 4,324,810—not less than 1,657,266, while those of French origin numbered nearly half a million less. If their numbers entitled the latter to have their language made official, surely the greater number of Celtic origin had at least an equal right to place Gaelic on the same footing. Personally he would be quite satisfied with one official language, but if special favors and privileges were to be extended to the race that was defeated on the Plains of Abraham, they should be given equally to their conquerors. He then proceeded to read a resolution in Gaelic, adopted by a meeting of Highland Scotchmen in the county of Bruce, expressing approval of the Bill, while the bored members listened in silence to the unfamiliar and, to them, unintelligible sounds. Senator Poireri called out, "En Francais!” The Doctor regretted
that he could not translate it into French, but he would give the English version, which he proceeded to do. He wound up his speech by haranguing the House in Gaelic. It sounded very impressive and eloquent, but I was assured afterwards by a Highland senator (who was famous for the brand of whiskey he manufactured) that it was “damned poor Gaelic.” Anyone who feels competent and thinks it worth while to settle the question for himself can find the Gaelic speech in extenso in the volume of Senate Debates for 1890. There is no English version of it: the official reporter did not consider it any part of his duties to provide one even if he had been equal to the task. The Bill was rejected by a vote of seven to forty-two. In the seven were Senator Merner, a German, and Senator Paquet, a French-Canadian. More members of Celtic origin voted with the majority than the number that favored the bill.
The doctor was afterwards appointed Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia where he had a rather stormy career and troubles of his own. To protect the public treasury he considered it bis duty to dismiss his ministers, only to find, he claimed, that the second gang was no better than the first. These he dismissed in their turn and soon afterwards he resigned his position and was succeeded by Sir Henri Joly.
Strangers Welcomed Now
THERE is a rule of the Canadian Parliament, inherited from the Mother of Parliaments, which specifically excludes the public from the two chambers. It has been so long honored in the breach that it is generally supposed to be a parliamentary fiction, and this impression is confirmed by the fact that in both houses in the new building every provision has been made for the accommodation of those who wish to hear the debates. The architects who drew the plans for the new building apparently knew nothing about the rule. Not only is there accommodation to seat hundreds in the public galleries, but comfortable and commodious quarters have been assigned to the representatives of the press and a special gallery, directly above the Speaker’s chair, has been provided for their exclusive use. It is quite evident, therefore, that not only are strangers in the gallery not regarded as intruders, but that they are welcomed, so to speak, with open arms.
But this regard for the press has been a matter of growth and development during the last half century. When the original Parliament Building at Ottawa was erected the architects who planned it and supervised its construction gave no thought whatever to the fourth estate. No special accommodation of any kind was provided for the newspaper men. They had to commandeer the front row of seats in the public gallery above the Speaker’s chair, and they were permitted to use a small room remote from the Commons chamber for preparing their reports, but they were still regarded as strangers and subject to prompt expulsion if any honorable member detected their presence and mentioned the fact to Mr. Speaker. The theory and the practice did not harmonize. It was a very dull day in Parliament when there were not scores of strangers in the galleries, and on important occasions they were present in hundreds filling every available seat, and the press carried on their work of publicity in total oblivion of the fact that they were there only on tolerance. But there came a time when the almost forgotten regulation was resuscitated and enforced in a decidedly sensational manner.
It was in the early seventies, when Sir John Macdonald was premier. The late Hon. William Macdougall had been one of his colleagues but was no longer a member of the Cabinet. He occupied a seat on what was known as the “cross-benches,” and there was no very ardent affection between him and his former leader. Both were distinguished-looking men, prominent in the public life of the Dominion. Sir John Macdonald’s features have long been familiar to most Canadians but Mr. Macdougall’s may not be so well remembered. He was tall, erect and of muscular build with an oval, beardless face deeply pitted with smallpox, an aquiline nose and black hair. He was courteous in manner, but lacked Sir John’s magnetism, and gave one the impression of being cold, stern and reserved. He was one of the most forcible speakers and effective debaters in the Commons.
Senator Miller, of Nova Scotia, was a man of similar type, but shorter and stouter of build, with the brachycephalous head of a born fighter. Though a man of recognized ability, he was the slave of his own passions. As a speaker he was forcible and aggressive, and when warmed under the influence of his oratory, occasionally used unparliamentary language and transgressed the rule of the Senate which forbids “sharp and taxing” speeches.
On one occasion, speaking in the Senate, he harshly criticized Mr. Macdougall, of the Commons, thereby violating another regulation which provides that no member of either House shall attack a member of the other chamber. In the Commons next day Mr. Macdougall called the attention of the Government to the breach of parliamentary etiquette and demanded that they vindicate the rights and privileges of a representative of the people. Sir John, speaking for the Government, replied that he did not see how they could undertake to discipline a member of the other House. Failing to get any satisfactory reply or assurance from the leader of the Commons, Mr. Macdougall announced that as the Government had refused to do their obvious duty, he would take measures to protect himself.
Out of “Mahomet’s Coffin”
NEXT day, soon after the doors to the galleries of the Commons were opened, Senator Miller entered the place specially reserved for Senators, and advancing to the front railing, looked down with a defiant stare at Mr. Macdougall. The challenge was at once accepted. Rising and looking straight at the offending senator, Mr. Macdougall said, “Mr.Speaker,I see a stranger in the gallery.” All business and discussion immediately ceased in the House, as the Speaker ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to clear the galleries, in which at the time were some hundreds of people who thought they had as much right to be there as the members themselves.
It was no easy matter to expel them or explain the situation. However, there was no mistaking the import of the order when the Sergeant-at-Arms, sword in hand, pointed to the exits. Having cleared the public and the Senators’ galleries, he came to the press gallery where the newspaper men were writing with feverish haste descriptions of the unprecedented scene. At that time the oblong box which was dignified by the name of press gallery was a temporary structure suspended against the western wall of the chamber about midway between the top of the Speaker’s dais and the general gallery, the only means of access to which was a narrow, steep, ladder-like stairway with small brass hand-rails. It was only when the Sergeant-at-Arms appeared at the head of this Jacob’s ladder, and, waving his sword, ordered them out, that they realized the fact that they were subject to eviction like all others who were not members or directly in the service of the House. They immediately proceeded to vacate “Mahomet’s Coffin,” as the press gallery was called because it was suspended between' Heaven and earth, and filed up the narrow stairway.
Up to this point the members had watched the scene in perfect silence, but when the journalists began the ascent of the narrow stairway, they burst into a storm of applause and laughter, which vibrated through the empty galleries. This happened before the days of Hansard; consequently there is no official record of the incident. As the representatives of the press had left the building before the doors were again opened, and nobody was present to report speeches, the House adjourned. That was the first, last and only occasion on which any member of the Commons called the attention of Mr. Speaker to the fact that he saw “a stranger in the gallery.”
In the fifty-five years of my experience of the Senate I can recall hut one similar
incident in that dignified body. It occurred as the result of a clash between two Nova Scotia senators, one of them being the same Senator Miller who had figured in the incident above narrated, and a Senator Kaulbach, both of whom have long since disappeared from earthly scenes.
Senator Kaulbach, as his name suggests, was of German descent and,thoughanative and resident of Nova Scotia, was decidedly Teutonic in his characteristics. He was of massive build, with a protruding baywindow front and it is doubtful if he ever caught more than a chance view of his own_ feet. He had a dark, bilious complexion, black hair, a very copious beard and moustache and his movements, both mental and physical, corresponded with his general make-up. tie was ponderous without being dignified and prone to making long-winded speeches without possessing oratorical ability. His deep, guttural voice was muffled by the luxuriant hirsute drapery about his mouth, and senators often remarked that they never quite understood what he was saying, until they saw it in the official report.
BEING the only reporter on the staff who seemed to be able to interpret him to the country or even to himself, I nearly always happened to be in the Chamber when he spoke. His ideas were generally excellent, though badly expressed, and careful revision was necessary to garb them in the Queen’s English. In one of his speeches he indulged in a sharp criticism of Senator Miller. At the next meeting of the House, Senator Miller rose to a question of privilege and quoting from the official report of his brother senator’s speech the most offensive passage, declared that he did not remember hearing such language used, but if he had understood the tenor of the honorable gentleman’s remarks at the time, he would have flayed him then and there until he pierced his cuticle, though he knew it was as thick as the hide of a hippopotamus. Then began an exchange of vernaculous fireworks which so shocked the usually decorous and dignified Upper House that one of the old members, Mr. Montgomery, rose and pointing to the official reporter called the attention of the Speaker to the alarming fact that he saw a stranger. A great peace fell on the Chamber as the Speaker ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to expel the intruder. Being the only stranger present, the reporter folded his notebook, as the Arabs fold their tents, and silently stole away.
“In the game that ensued he did not take a hand,” the doors being closed, while the honorable gentlemen carried their fight to a finish. A friendly and communicative senator afterwards informed me, however, that the conflict was homeric, and “something fierce,” and that the language used was of too delicate and personal a nature to bear publication. There was no rapier-like, or even broadsword-like play about the conflict: it was plain bludgeoning from first to last.
What one senator lacked in oratorical skill he made up for in a vocabulary enriched from long association with men who went down to the sea in ships, and on land to the bar for schooners. He was of the opinion that the wordy conflict ended in a draw. You may search the official report in vain for any record of the incident. By virtue of a gentlemen’s agreement between the antagonists, and by order from the Déliâtes Committee, all allusion to the matter was omitted, and that issue of the official reports could safely be included in the catalogue of a Sunday School library.