How I Found in Canada My Land of Opportunity

No. 1.—Premier Dunning, of Saskatchewan.

JOHN NELSON January 1 1925

How I Found in Canada My Land of Opportunity

No. 1.—Premier Dunning, of Saskatchewan.

JOHN NELSON January 1 1925

How I Found in Canada My Land of Opportunity

No. 1.—Premier Dunning, of Saskatchewan.


IN THE spring of 1903, a group of immigrants, packing their blankets on their backs, filed off of the colonist car of a west-bound transcontinental train at Winnipeg, and scattered, into groups, in the station there. Round the walls hung announcements telling of help wanted by the farmers on the prairies, and the wages that would be paid. The newcomers gathered eagerly about these bulletin boards and discussed the relative advantages of the different opportunities presented.

In one group was a boy from Leicester,

England. He was but seventeen years of age, had little money, and was broken in health. He had not even the practical knowledge of agriculture so often held by public men to be a necessary preparation for settling in Canada. His new friends, one by one, made their selections, and the group dwindled to small proportions. The boy made a rather lonely and pathetic figure in the big, bare depot. The temptation to follow some of those with whom he had become friendly on the journey, was strong.

But if the lad’s body was frail, there was no weakness in the well-set jaw, the keen, intelligent eyes, and in his quiet, assured manner. He scrutinized bulletin after bulletin. It was not, however, until he came on one which stated that ten men were wanted for Yorkton, Saskatchewan, that he offered his services. He had been carefully reading everything he could find on the Canadian West, and the Yorkton district conformed to the conditions laid down by his father.

“Charlie,” said the latter, as he bade him good-bye, “wherever you settle, see to it that there is wood and water.”

That advice reflected not alone his father’s judgment, but his own intelligence as well. At a time when the prairies meant something very different to the great majority of people, he knew it was not all a treeless plain. Only the other day, twenty-one years after that advice was given, his son, now a Minister of the Crown, was the guest of honor at a dinner table in London. Though surrounded by some of the most distinguished men in the Empire, he felt obliged to remind them that Saskatchewan was not a bald prairie but that at least two-thirds of its inhabited section was park-like country.

A Premier Starts at $10

VTORKTON had both water and timber. But in railway * parlance it was a “jumping-off place,” and the farmer with whom the young immigrant engaged to work, lived thirty miles beyond the end of steel. The boy received $10 a month and his board. At the end of his first season he asked the settler for an opinion on his suitability for his employment. He was told he would not do. But again he relied on his own judgment. In the spring he preempted a quarter section of his own, built, with his own hands, a pole-and-sod shack to shelter him from the weather, and made, on the ground, the bed on which he was to get his nightly rest. A year or two later, he was able to bring out his parents. When his mother saw the aforesaid couch she did what many other fondly foolish mothers do in such circumstances —she cried softly. But her son laughed hilariously, and it was the hearty laugh of a rejuvenated youth, no longer a boy, who had found health and happiness on the plains of northern Saskatchewan.

He had found health. But his neighbors had also made some discoveries. Youth though he still was, he had thrown himself with characteristic energy into the task of solving some of the problems which were bringing dismay to these early settlers. Eighteen years from the time he had stood a friendless immigrant in the bleak railway station looking for a $10 a month job, the Lieut.•Governor of the province sent for him. When he came out of that official’s office he was instantly surrounded by a group of his fellow members in the legislature and overwhelmed with congratulations. For he had just taken the seals of office as the premier of the province of Saskatchewan. Such, ever since, he has continued to be, administering provincial affairs with an efficiency and an increasing authority that has made of Charles Avery Dunning probably the most potential and significant political figure in the Canadian West.

The first of a series of articles showing, concretely, why Canada is a land worth living in—a land flowing with milk and honey, for — as Mr. Dunning picturesquely expresses it—“the man who will keep cows and bees, and do the work connected with them.”

Hon. Mr. Dunning returned a few weeks ago from England, There he had gone on the invitation of the Sir Horace Plunkett Foundation to discuss with the legislators of all the British possessions the problem of immigration within the Empire. None was able to speak with greater finality or from larger practical and personal experience on that subject. He was able to demonstrate in his own career that in the short span of less than a score of years an emigrant boy, without money, experience, or the fortuitous aid of influential friends may, in Canada, reach the highest post in the gift of his adopted countrymen.

He Meets His Old Pals

HE WENT back in 1924 to his old home at Leicester.

The Mayor and Council met him, and the town was en fete to welcome him. His former shop mates crowded about him for advice. He had none to give.

“I never once advised a man to go to Canada,” he said; “but if you feel you want to change, leave your wife at home, leave your money at home, come out and take the first job you can get. It will probably be on a farm. Hold on till you can get a better one, and after you have been twelve months in Canada, you will know whether you want to stay or not.

“I am frequently asked what the government will do for people if they go to Canada. Perhaps my experience has not fitted me to view the question sympathetically because I am convinced of this, that while governments may do much in the way of advice, in the way of help of various kinds to those who are willing to help themselves, no government can confer on man or woman the virtues of self-reliance and initiative, which an emigrant to a new land must possess if he is going to succeed.

“If any man or woman in England contemplates going to Western Canada to lean upon the state, to lean upon the province, I am very pleased to advise him to stay at home. We do not want people in Western Canada who will lean upon the state but who will support the state, and make it what it ought to be.”

Those who know best will perhaps agree, that on the

subject of Canadian immigration these words comprise the whole law and the prophets.

Hon. Mr. Dunning’s emigration followed one of those whimsical turns of the wheel of fate, at the time seemingly so tragic, but ultimately so fortunate. His father was a signalman on an English railroad and the family home was three or four miles out of the city of Leicester. When only fifteen, an age when most boys are now just beginning their higher education, he b ecame apprenticed as a mechanical engineer in the iron works of the city. He cycled into his work, leaving home every morning at five o’clock. He also became an excellent swimmer, and proficient at water polo and other aquatic sports. His distinction in these pastimes caused the great turning point in his life. An annual fete was held on the Soar, a tributary of the Trent, and young Dunning finally achieved the mile swimming championship. This he held for two years. Owing to valvular trouble in his heart, he was warned when the annual sports were again held, against entering the contest. But the credit of “The Works” was involved; his fellow workmen would not be denied. Again, amid a torrent of cheers, the boy led the field to the finish. But he did not hear the cheers. When they pulled him out of the river he was still champion—but unconscious.

His swimming days were done. Worse still, the heart strain compelled him to drop all work. Here was tragedy indeed. But the boy was undaunted. He had heard of Canada. Now he read avidly every bit of information he could obtain on it. And when a Canadian emigration agent came to town his first caller was the disabled young apprentice.

Marketing Experiments

THE missionary was Joe Haggerty, of Belle Plains.

Manitoba. He was one of those successful farmers who, under the sagacious policy of Sir Clifford Sifton. were sent back to relate their own experiences to their former townsmen. In young Dunning the visitor found a most receptive listener. The lad promptly booked his passage for the Canadian West.

After he had erected his shack, and filed onhis homestead, the young immigrant made a discovery. He found that cheap land, industry and intelligence were all necessary to success—but that they were not sufficient. His thinking took definite form after his first experiments in marketing. Trudging behind his oxen on a twentyfive mile journey to the nearest railway, with a load oí wheat and oats, he met his neighbor returning. Tht latter had received eight cents a bushel for his oats and thirteen cents for his wheat. The young homesteadei watched his friend wending homeward with this paltrj return for a season’s hard work; visualized the two sides ol the ledger involved; and then turned his patient catti« about, and returned home with his unmarketed load.

Meetings followed that winter to see what could b done. Dunning attended the one at Beaverdale, hi; nearest postoffice, to elect delegates to the central con ference at Prince Albert. He was chosen to attend. Bui $17.50 was all the impoverished settlers could raise for th expenses of their representatives. Dunning and hi: colleagues said they would make that do. And they did But they had to sleep in the basement of a Prince Alber' hotel to do it.

That convention was a momentous one, for it becami the first one of the Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association. A storm raged around the question of hai insurance. The government was about to abandon it: system. A substitute for it must be found. Georg: Paynter, of Tartallon, led the fight for co-operation. At ¡ critical moment the boy from Beaverdale came to his ái« in a speech so logical, forceful and impressive that i carried the day for the principle for which Paynter fought It did more. It disclosed in the speaker those qualifie of vision and leadership which have since had such larg: scope for their exercise.

There followed the organization of the Saskatehewai farmers’ elevator system, an institution the greatest of it kind in the world. Here Dunning’s voice was agaii raised for co-operation instead of government ownership

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and again he prevailed. The farmers raised as much as they could, and took stock; the government loaned them the rest, repayable in twenty-five years. Dunning was at first secretary-treasurer. But in a few years, while still in his twenties, he became general manager. He made a quiet trip to Winnipeg, and studied closely its grain exchange. He obtained the co-operation of its banks. The grain barons, secure and wealthy, at first looked with indulgent indifference on the efforts of these poor farmers, and their youthful manager, to break into the grain business. But they underestimated the determination of the settlers, and the skill and resource of the manager. When they awoke, the movement was well away, and increasing in momentum every month. Mr. Dunning remained with the organization six years, and then resigned to enter public life. But, before he left, 275 elevators, farmer-owned, and farmeroperated, dotted the prairies, handling 44,000,000 bushels of wheat each season. There are more than 350 of those elevators to-day.

He was only a short time in the government when Premier Martin resigned to go on the bench. Mr. Dunning was unanimously selected by the Liberals of Saskatchewan to succeed him.

His position is unique. A flaming prophet of the principle of co-operation, he sturdily combats the idea of the organized farmer in politics. The principle of co-operation, he regards as the solution of the farmers’ economic and marketing problems; he is utterly opposed to its becoming involved with political action. He is an economic disciple of Cobden and Bright; and a stout exponent of the British party system of government.

Following False Gods

When the farmers of Saskatchewan talked of political action, he felt they were following false gods, and told them so. He still attends their gatherings, as a delegate from the little local at Beaverdale. He always has a great reception, for he is the product of the organized farmer movement, as well as one of its sponsors, and the farmers are proud of him. But he fearlessly denounces imperilling the cooperative idea by giving the organization a political character.

Many disagree with him; Alberta and Manitoba, later disciples of the same movement, have taken the other course; but Dunning sticks steadfastly to his position. His seat in the saddle has sometimes seemed shaky, but he has kept it. And his tenacity has convinced many that a sound principle, consistently and persistently held, will in the end prevail.

Such a career must be regarded as remarkable. In one of his introductions to an English audience lately it was described as romantic. Mr. Dunning deprecated the term.

“The weaving of an element of romance around such a life as it has been my privilege to live on the plains of western Canada,” he said, “is hard for me to grasp, because when a man goes along there, as here, doing his work day by day, taking whatever comes in the good old sporting spirit, and, so far as he can, keeping a stiff upper lip, there is no thought of romance, and it is quite strange to be treated in the land of one’s birth as a more or less romantic figure. My wife does not recognize me in that character.”

Spy Out the Land First

HE PERSONIFIES the best type of British immigrant. He admits Canada has treated him well, but he also insists that it has treated him no better than it has, or will, any Britisher who goes out animated by the same ideas, and with the same willingness to work.

“In immigration,” he says, “we should do as the Israelites did: first send some of the family to spy out the land. If the report is satisfactory, it is time enough for the rest of the family to follow.”

That was the healthy principle he adopted in his own case.

His strong British proclivities, the result of birth and circumstance, do not

qualify his robust Canadianism. During the past summer he told many British audiences what he thought of certain views, persistently and erroneously held by some across the water. The idea that any part of the earth’s surface can be held indefinitely for any people, even for our own kin, he brands as fallacious. The trek of the people of the world is too general, too insistent, and too pervasive to make that possible. Equally untenable is the view that Canada can remain the producer of raw materials for manufacture in the Home land and re-sale as finished products in this. Failure of Britons to develop Dominion resources does not, he insists, mean the retention of Canadian markets for the products of British industry, but the development of competition in other, and perhaps alien or hostile hands which .will even invade markets now hr;ld by Britain. He calls for a new orientation of British industry which will expand that term to include no longer the product of the British Isles alone, but of British hands wherever located within the Empire.

Views on Education

HIS attitude toward education has been strongly influenced by his experience. He views with some concern the present educational system whereby boys usually leave the public school at about the age of fifteen and spend the next four or five years—the most adventurous period in every man’s life—in class rooms, bending their spirits to academic standards which they may never use. The period of greatest initiative is thereby taken up with preparation. He thinks some plan should be evolved whereby boys at fifteen might be allowed to follow their occupational instincts, and later return to university or technical school to complete their courses in the light of plans then definitely formed.

“If some means could be found,” he remarked, on one occasion, “whereby boys could be even for part time allowed to do some practical work in the industrial or commercial field after the age of fifteen, at the same time not losing touch entirely with the necessities of higher education, I feel sure that the best type of boy would undoubtedly find his level in an industrial or commercial sense, and so enable his future education to be shaped more intelligently. There would undoubtedly be some boys who would not take a university degree under such circumstances, but it would in many cases be because the attraction of the opportunity to exercise initiative in the business world would be greater to them than the acquiring of an education which might, or might not, fit in with their desires respecting a business career.”

A Trained Wind

THE Saskatchewan premier would be the first to challenge the statement that he is a highly educated man. But if education means a mind trained to think clearly and methodically, and to express itself in orderly, incisive and convincing speech; if it means a taste for the best literature, a wide knowledge of political and historical fact, and the ability to relate these to contemporary problems, then Mr. Dunning is a man of both learning and culture.

His is a prominent figure on the national horizon. The western chief of a great nation-wide organization recently made this emphatic declaration;

“Charlie Dunning is the only public man in the west with a backbone.”

The head of another great national institution phrased it thus: “Dunning of Saskatchewan is the best bet in Canada to-day.”

Long before the Progressives had emerged politically to exercise the controlling influence which they possess in the present parliament, a well-informed Canadian journalist declared that Canada would never realize herself till she found a Prime Minister west of the Great Lakes. That event has already taken place: but not in the fuller sense which was meant. The career of Charles Dunning stimulates speculation along the lines mentioned.