A Premier Who Showed a Surplus

JOHN NELSON February 15 1924

A Premier Who Showed a Surplus

JOHN NELSON February 15 1924

A Premier Who Showed a Surplus


A GREAT master of English prose has explained the influence of natural environment upon the minds of men. In a more superstitious and uninformed age the mystery, of the mountains gave us our seers, our mystics, and our poets; the problems of the submerged lands, our craftsmen and engineers.

So, ordinarily, the islands, because of rarer outside contact, help to preserve purity of types and to maintain detachment of view. But when islands lie across the trails of trade, or are caught in the general currents of events, this insularity disappears, and a Britain or a Japan emerges to dominate a western and an eastern world. §

It is rather a coincidence that Can¡

ada is flanked on both its eastern and

its western shores by two islands of incomparable beauty but differing widely in their character

istics. That on the west coast is clothed in forests of almost tropical density, and in places §

as primeval as when Vancouver first saw their towering outlines in the mist. Groves of oaks as old as Columbus and his voyages stand in pastoral I

oases like old world parks. Against its rocky

headlands an ocean that often belies its name ¡

hurls a wild tumult of waters. But the warm

Japanese current gives it a climate which annually ¡

attracts thousands of tourists, while the course of commerce has brought it intimately into the ' L travel tides of the world. ¡

Prince Edward Island—the Isle St. Jean of the

early French—is in marked contrast to her sister on the sunset side of the continent. If one is the Playground of the Pacific, is not the other the ¡

Garden of the Gulf? Prince Edward is the small_

est of the Canadian provinces, and in many

respects the fairest. No stump, or stone, mars its pastoral beauty. The countryside has much of that ordered beauty which leads the English exile to yearn, wistfully, for the isles of home. The Indians called it Abegweit—“cradled on the wave”

—and the name admirably expresses the impres¡

sion it makes upon the visitor. There are no ¡

towering cliffs that speak of granite foundations, fathoms deep, in the floors of the sea. It has rather the appearance of two or three southern English shires which have become detached from =

their setting, and have floated overnight to new moorings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The soil is . a brick red loam, which when graded into roads, which traverse a countryside made startlingly green by rains and shower-like dews, produces contrasts that are vivid and delightful.

Travel Goes Past P.E.I.

'T'HERE are few older settlements in Canada, and none in which the traits of the original stock have so markedly persisted and remained. The old French and Scotch settlers have left not only their names, as in other parts, but in an unusual degree their racial characteristics. Sturdy, frugal, and reverent, their descendants count few men of fortune, but also no poor. It is a rare landscape, the horizon of which is not pierced by more than one church spire. Crime is rare.

Travel goes past the island, but not through it. For a large part of the year, also, the Straits of Northumberland, which divide it from the New Brunswick mainland, are full of ice, and only within the last few years has this Serious barrier to communication with the outside been overcome by the operation of a fine, ice-breaking steamer which maintains a regular ferry service the year round. Previously the trip was made, in the winter, by means of ice boats, which were subject to so many contingencies of wind and weather that the Islanders learned to lean less and less upon the outside world for either material or mental sustenance. Hence the detached and self-contained attitude of their minds.

1 Hon. John Bell, until recently Premier 1 of our baby province, is famed in Prince I Edward Island as “the 7nan who never 1 tires. ” He won success in a hard school.

It also explains a feature over which the visitor is apt to be less patient, namely the vagaries of the train service. There is a casualness about Island trains, inherited doubtless from days preceding the advent of the ice-breaking steamer which is somewhat disconcerting. Normally three hours are required to traverse the fifty odd miles which connects the terminus of the mainland ferry with the provincial capital at Charlottetown. The local timetable so specifies. But experience shows that this is but the expression of a pious hope, and in no sense a promise of things to come. The local inhabitants, with a fuller

knowledge of the facts, accept it on that basis, and neither murmur, nor repine, when five hours are required to make the journey.

f Their resignation is better under-

stood after such an incident as broke the monotony of a recent spring day. The passenger train waited for a few minutes at a wayside station to cross a freight. As the latter approached an onlooker noticed that one of the box cars had left the rails and was travelling on the ties. He flagged the train but before it could come to a standstill the erring car had regained its position on the rails and the train proceeded. Cars on this road have

mu......hi powers of self-correction denied those

of less fortunate lines. Investigation, however, showed that the car in question had been following the sleepers for a quarter of a mile before the attention of the crew was called to it. It had left a trail of broken ties, loosened spikes and other evidences of waywardness behind it. At frequent intervals the ties were broken clean across the centre, revealing a state of dry rot. It was easier after that discovery to adopt the complaisant attitude of the Island travellers to a reduced speed, and to understand the special significance of the slogan of the road which is carried prominently at the top of every page of the time-table— “Our Motto, Safety First.”

The Famous Bells

EVERTHELESS it is a changing epoch that has come to the life of the Island, though some of the men who are playing a part in it carry over the associations and incidents of the older generation to the new. And of these none are more interesting than the former premier of the province, Hon. John Bell.

Cape Traverse is the home of the Bells. Here the island juts out into the tempestuous waters of the Gulf. The families which live there know, the sea in all its moods, and are not the slaves of it. In the old days sailing its waters for salmon or cod, or exploring its bays for lobster or oyster furnished little thrill for the sturdy men who grew up on its shores. A half gale in the fall presented more attractions, but only those who navigated the ice boats across the Straits of Northumberland in the blizzards of mid-winter felt that they had really looked into the bright eyes of danger.

Of all the men who sailed the Gulf in those days none were more famous for skill or daring than Capt. Bob Bell, Hon. John’s elder brother. It is nine miles across from Cape Tormentine to the island. During the summer it is sometimes dirty water. But in winter it presents every variety of climate from bad to unspeakable. And he who crossed by ice boat was often due for an experience. Gay old Sir Wilfrid and his Bluenose successor, Sir Robert Borden, both made the trip and enjoyed it. Theirs was a fortunate passage. Others, less happy, claim that good folk who pray for those in peril on the sea have never traveled in bad weather by ice boat, or they would reserve all their invocations for those who have. The ice itself, constantly shifted, now presenting a smooth and fair expanse, sometimes great hummocks of jammed ice, and again wide reaches of open water. So the boat was equipped with both sails and runners. With a fair wind and clear ice, progress was swift and pleasant, but an adverse wind might in a few minutes pile the ice househigh, and over these hills the boat had to be drawn. Again she would have to be lowered into the water and the intervals between the ice-fields thus negotiated. Occasionally treacherous, soft ice, locally known as “lolly,” would be encountered. This presented a deceptive surface, but would bear little weight and the traveller would break through. If he happened to be wearing a coon-skin coat, his elevation from the water by the others was neither an easy nor a pleasant task. To provide for such contingencies, the male passengers walked alongside the boat, each strapped securely to it so in the event of one breaking through he could be quickly rescued by the others. If the wind failed, the passengers provided the necessary motive power to propel the boat with the luggage and the ladies.

In this trade there were always two boats. One was the government craft enjoying a subsidy. The other, the opposition boat, had none. But as governments, like all things mundane, change frequently, the relations of the two owners to the coveted subsidy constantly alternated. And the expectation that the change might take place at almost any time always kept the opposition boat in business even when trade was dull. It also kept the rival skippers in a constant condition of hostility.

Giants and a Benjamin

THERE was no incident of tide or weather which held any terrors for Capt. Bob Bell. His father, Walter Bell, had brought up his strapping family to fear God, and to fear nothing else. Indeed they had little occasion to quail before the face of man, for, with the exception of Johnnie, the baby of the family, they were men of great physique, and strong fibre and endurance. Ice men, by reason of their occupation, must cast in an iron mould, for so severe w7as sometimes the weather, and so treacherous the ice, that the nine miles across the straits sometimesrequired six or seven hours to traverse. But Capt Bob, though quite fearless of personal _ encounter with his fellow7 men, dreaded the frown of his father long after he was a bearded man. It is related that on one occasion he returned from the Mainland with a black eye, and other marks of combat. To his father’s demand for an explanation he replied that he had had a fight with their rival skipper. There remained but one question, an important one.

“Did ye lick him, lad?”

To this the crestfallen son had to make reply that the odds of battle had been against him, and that he himself had been well beaten. (

“Then get oot of my hoose; you’re nae son of mine,” replied the father.

The captain well knew what was meant and he remained with his married sister until his wounds were sufficiently healed to justify a second encounter. Here again he suffered defeat and wisely failed to report at home. But there came a third opportunity and this time he soundly trounced his adversary. Whereupon he returned with confidence to the old roof tree and was duly received and reinstated as a son of the blood.

Little Johnnie, being ill-fitted physically for this life, developed studious habits, attended college, won honors there, prepared himself as a teacher and wielded the birch at Beams ville and other Ontario towns. Then he read law, practised at Ottawa, and in Manitoba, and many years ago returned and took up his residence and practice in the pretty little town of Summerside in his native island.

But Summerside saw little of him for years. When your delayed tram reached Charlottetown, you would probably find dining rooms dosed and many preparing to retire. But if your visit preceded the last election and if you had rung up 256 J, a soft voiced lowlander would probably have answered, though it were past midnight. For you would be talking to the premier’s office in the Parliament Buildings and the quiet voice at the other end would be that of the ("then) first minister himself— little Johnnie Bell of Cape Traverse.

What’s In the Air?

THEY claim that there is an element in the air or water of Prince Edward Island—some say it is iodine—that gives to the black and silver foxes of that region the pelts of glossy sheen and fine texture which make them the most desired of all in the furrier’s world. This quality which shows in the skins of the animals seems to subtly communicate itself to the brains of the boys of the island. For it has given us President Joseph Schurman, formerly of Cornell and now U. S. minister to Pekin; Sir Louis Davies of the Supreme Court of Canada; and the late Franklin K. Lane, former secretary of the Interior, who but for his birth might have been president of the U. S. In the Hon. John Bell it is evident, not only in the mentality which has brought good government to his native province but in the retention of physical powers which make him, at seventy-six, one of the most remarkable of men.

He is the greatest walker in the island. He is one of its greatest fishermen. He is an enthusiastic golfer, his

favorite hour for teeing off being about six in the morning. He literally never stops working (when not engaged in the diversions mentioned or in sleeping) and is in his office, Sunday and Monday, the year round till well up to midnight.

Yet he is never tired, mentally or physically. He does not use either narcotics or intoxicants. He is never annoyed. “I never remember being either hungry or thirsty,” he says—a rare gift in a Volstead amended land. He drinks water and eats food because he knows that it is a physical necessity but not because he craves either. He plays politics as he would a game of chess. “I am interested in it while it is on,” he declares, “and I enjoy the mental stimulus of debate. But it never worries me. I play the game as well as I know how, and if it goes right, it is well. If it does not, it is also well. I have done the best I know how.”

And so this little island philosopher goes about his duties quite unmoved by the influence or passions that so often sway men. What he starts to do he does with zest, apparently quite indifferent to popular opinion. In the Island the die-hards say he is a poor party man, which being interpreted means that he does not use his office to reward p^rty heelers. Nevertheless (or perhaps as a result) when in, office, he wrung that rare and almost extinct thing,* a surplus, out of the fiscal operations of the year, and the sensible folk of the province counted it to him for righteousness.

“Success” Stories

NOT FICTION, but real life stories, these— stories about Canadian men and women who have done worth while things, who have evolved definite and inspirational philosophies, will continue to be regular features of MacLean s. One will appear almost every issue, and many of them will give readers of Canada’s National Periodical the impulse to obey that mandate, ‘‘Go thou and do likewise.”

Disconcerting Debates

IN DEBATE, also, he chooses his own way, and it is sometimes disconcerting to his opponents. In one of his campaigns he met in debate, a husky candidate who rather patronized his diminutive opponent. The latter, however, developed a brisk and logical argument which carried the audience and rather spiked the big fellow’s guns. Nevertheless sheer inches still have some advantages on the platform, and Mr. Bell’s opponent called them into play. Striding across the rostrum he towered over the offender and thundered in sonorous misquotation:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

Who in hell do you think you are?”

This is still quoted by the partisans of the giant as a rather crushing reply.

Bell carried with him to the House of Commons, of which he was for a time a member, his indifference to popular opinion. When he undertook the instruction of his fellow members he was prodigal of both their time and his own, and thoroughly exhausted his subject and sometimes his colleagues. The climax was reached on one occasion when after analyzing his subject for several hours he turned to the Speaker and said : “That, sir, is the case in a nutshell.”

His own powers of endurance he recuperates by most methodical ways. He is not only a pedestrian; he is a sprinter as well. This exercise, which most men at fifty regard as too vigorous for safety, he regards as a great stimulant to the circulatory system. Moriey and O’Connor have familiarized us with the spectacle of Gladstone, for hours after the House had risen, trudging the streets of London ere that eagle spirit could rest. Walking is not unusual among old men, but the Hon. John Bell indulges in a strenuous form of it, unusual in septuagenarians. True he usually chooses a late hour, perhaps after a night session of the legislature, for these exercises, which consist of a vigorous run around several city blocks. It occasions no comment among those familiar with his habits, but occasionally it is misunderstood. A lady going to her home at a late hour was made suddenly sensible of pursuit by a soft-footed runner and, in great fear, likewise took to her heels. Her flight acted as an unconscious pacemaker for the premier and he moved up into high gear. It was only when the terrified woman staggered into the friendly shadow of a house, and the supposed pursuer

ambled by with the easy lope of an Island fox, that the pursued realized that she was merely witnessing one of the innocent recreations of seventy-six.

He f’shes with the same method and concentration that he devotes to everything. He leaves town on Friday night, and so handy are the excellent trout streams to the capital that in an hour or two he is in mid-stream with reel, hip boots, and creel. The size of his baskets causes the unregenerate to declare that he fishes with fly, bait, net, and spear. The unprejudiced outsider may ignore that calumny as he may also disregard the acrid comments of detractors that the former premier is so lacking in faults or vices as to be uncanny. He can enjoy, with a quiet detachment which many have not the temperament to understand, even those boisterous forms in which many think real mirth can alone be expressed. He is a great reciter, a capital mimic, and a ventriloquist, and these gifts he is as free in sharing with the public as his political views. During a certain session some roystering supporters having decided to make a night of it, were surprised at the height of their potations and their mirth by an unannounced visit from the Premier. Consternation reigned for a moment till a bold spirit, coming to a quick decision solved a critical situation.

“Mr. Premier,” he demanded,” do you wish to enter this sacred retreat?”

“I certainly do,” was the reply.

“Then you may do so on complying with certain conditions.”

“That you will see nothing, hear nothing, forget what you have seen and heard, and that you will recite Shamus O’Brien.”

To the conditions the would-be guest promptly agreed. He contributed, not one, but many selections, and without departing in the slightest from his well-known principles, saw the last of his hosts home, or under the table. The record, derived from the other celebrants, becomes a little involved at this point.

It|is a common mistake to regard a life so closely ordered ¿by method as lacking in the warmer emotions. Nothing could be further from the fact in the case in point. He is not averse to companionship, but, unlike most, it is not essential to him. He loves the woods and the streams and it is there, perhaps, that the deep sentiment of the man finds both inspiration and'expression. Ten years ago that which he loved best, passed out of his life, and perhaps it has left him a little more solitary, a little more preoccupied in, and insatiable of, work.

His Emotions and Loyalties

BUT one has only to listen to him in those moments when his instinctive restraints are suspended, to find that other great and compelling loyalties have developed with the loss of a life companionship. Some years ago he spent five months on a tour of Egypt, Palestine, Greece and Italy, mostly on foot. It is noteworthy that it is of the Holy Land that he most readily speaks, because it made on him the most profound impression. He literally went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, though needless to say, he was careful not to have the same experience as a more famous traveller on that road. Mr. Bell is never likely to need the services of a Samaritan, because some one has taken his money from him. Unsatisfied with the atmosphere of mythical tombs and shrines at Jerusalem, he turned to Nazareth, where for thirty years the world’s greatest Life found human expression. He surmised, probably rightly, that the young Nazarene, dreaming His high thoughts, would be filled with the same repulsion as himself for the squalor of the place, and would seek the uplands. So he used to climb to the highest peak behind the town. From there he could see the Dead Sea, the valley of the Jordan, and the distant snow clad hills whence the Jordan springs. In another direction he saw the land of Moab, and the hills amid which the great lawgiver found his lonely and unknown grave. Far in another direction he could descry the blue streak, low on the horizon, which marked the Mediterranean. And this old Canadian was profoundly moved by the consciousness that from this spot Another had often surveyed practically the same scene—the theatre of His life’s activities and brooded on what it held for Him.

He reacts to other emotions, other loyalties.

When the Prince of Wales visited the island his youthful charm caught the old premier in its toils. Mr. Bell went to Halifax to see him sail. The artist in him was stirred by the manner of the Prince’s going. The heir apparent stood alone on an upper deck, and as his ship passed out by the harbor mouth a glint of light, leaving the rest of the ship in sombre tones, picked out the graceful, youthful figure against the sun.

“And that was as I last saw him—”

The rest of the sentence was broken.

It was in some such way that good Sir Bevidere bade his beloved Arthur farewell. In the story of the realip the common fealties of these two stout old servants of the Crown, bridge the long centuries, and bring something of the chivalry arid romance of Camelot to the quiet land of Abegweit.