I Discover Canada
Says fhïs commentator: Europe is poorer than Canada but happier; Canadians have wealth and freedom but haven’t mastered the art of living as a nation
FRANZ WERTZEL waits on table in the faded old Leoben Hotel, up by the Semmering Pass. He is a tall, blond Austrian of twenty-two, and when he wears his native Tyrol costume, with leather pants cut above the knees, you can see that he is beautifully built, like one of the statues on the Palace of Schonbrun. But Franz has never been as far from the Tyrol as Vienna.
In the winter time, when business was slack in the Leoben Hotel, Franz used to ski, but now he has found a new game. As soon as he heard I was a Canadian, he wanted to talk about it.
“Hockey!” said young Franz. “Hockey on the ice! We playing it all of the time. We have the Canadian coach. He teaches me speaking English also. Soon,” said Franz, almost overbalancing a tray of sky-blue lake trout and brown treacle in his eagerness, “we are having best hockey team of world. Ja, ja! Good as Canada !”
Hockey is all that Franz knows of Canada, all that any of these Tyrolese know of it. and the rest of Europe knows less. Perhaps this doesn't matter, but, I thought suddenly as I listened to Franz talk, what does matter is that hockey is the only truly unique and distinctive Canadian contribution to the world’s store of culture.
This discovery jolts you. It can only be made properly in a place like Leoben, far away from Canada, among foreigners. In fact, after wandering about Britain and Europe with hardly a day's rest for about four months. I’ve decided that the only way to look at Canada, if you want to understand it, is from a long distance, where you are not confused by the clamor of parish politics and the cheers of the local Chamber of Commerce.
I was too long in Europe to write a book about it. or to imagine that I understood it. But I was there long enough to learn a lot about Canada. And the lirst thing I learned is that Canada isn’t yet a nation.
The Meaning of Unity
TNESPITE our constitutional autonomy, our independent place in the British Empire, our huge trade, our enormous material wealth, we Canadians are not a nation, not in the sense that any people in Europe are a nation : not even as much a nation as Franz Wertzel’s tiny Austriaa poor dismembered thing ruined by the Treaty of Versailles, but still a nation with a culture, a tradition, even a dress of its own.
You know all this, of course, in an abstract sort of fashion without leaving Canada. But you only begin to feel it and really understand it when you have been in a farmer’s thatched cottage in the Wye Valley, in a shepherd’s stone house up in Dungeon Gyll, or in London at the crowning of a King. Then, and not till then, you begin to know the strange, intangible thing called the British Nation, the character of a people who have learned to live together in neighborliness and understanding.
Or watch the French peasants toiling together in little chattering groups among their immemorial fields, or a crowd of Germans reverently viewing the treasures of their nation’s art, or ragged Hungarians standing on the street opposite a swell café, swaying to the gypsy music of their own plains-—then you will begin to see how a common culture and a common feeling about things binds a people together more strongly than railways or radios or acts of Parliament.
The cottage of the Wye Valley farmer is of English design, a thing of enduring beauty planned by Englishmen, cherished as a precious possession. The French farmer’s little field is land fought over, lost and won back again in a hundred wars. The gypsy music of Budapest is native music that was learned out on the plains when Hungary was young. The music, the art, the architecture of these countries we have copied, as they have been copied all over the world. In return, we have given the world ice hockey.
These are the war-mad Europeans you read about, the restless tribes who daily threaten the peace of the world,
They are mad, certainly, in their politics. They have carried their nationalism to the verge of general suicide. But. despite it all. they do have something priceless that we haven’t begun to acquire, something hard to come by —a common feeling about things, the art of living and working together.
“A Babel of Disputing Tongues”
V\ ZE SPEND a lot of time in Canada worrying about W the disunity of Europe, the intertribal strife which makes it impossible for any nation there to trade, prosper or live properly. These peoples have deep racial antipathies to overcome, hates and lusts that go back to the migrations, conquests and rapes which occurred before history began. They are crowded on a small continent, struggling to get enough land to grow their food.
We worry a lot about that in Canada. We ought to worry more about ourselves. We have none of those difficulties to contend with—no lack of land, of wealth in every form, no
tribal feuds, no bad heredity and yet a Canadian comes home, his mind cleared by months among strangers, to find no real unity in his country, not as much national feeling as in the poorest country of Europe.
He comes home to find Quebec noisy with wild talk of independence, farther away from the rest of Canada than ever in modern times; Ontario quarrelling with the Dominion Government; the prairies clamoring for help; Alberta trying to isolate itself completely; British Columbia complaining in one breath that Confederation has been a raw deal for her and boasting in the next that she is leading the nation in prosperity.
He comes home to find Canada honeycombed with sectionalism and parochial politics tuned to local interest. He finds Ottawa, behind the facade of party politics, a Babel of disputing tongues, a capital as confused as the country, unable even to arrange for the amendment of an outgrown constitution and forced to appoint a Royal Commission to do the work of Parliament because ParliaContinued on page 30
I Discover Canada
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ment daren't tackle it. At the same time, Government and Opposition alike are unable to take any definite stand on the simple question of defending the country, because the people themselves can’t agree on it.
Everywhere, local protests and talk of provincial rights. Nowhere, talk of national rights.
This is not because we are an unintelligent people, a lazy people, or a cowardly people. It is because, in the highest sense, we are not a people at all. We are a collection of provinces. It is because, being too busy with other things, we have not learned to think nationally, to put the interests of Canada above the interests of its parts.
Maybe our present confusion is the ordinary process of growing pains in the young, but on this bland assumption we have always relied too much. We may find that these are the pains of an opposite process. Certainly they are not the way of a nation. We don't realize that in Canada, because we are too preoccupied with some local issue —with the tariff, or the B. N. A. Act, or Social Credit. You realize it only when you are out of Canada and can see the country as a whole. It would be a good investment if the Canadian people were to send the entire Canadian Parliament wandering about Europe in a second-hand car like mine for a few months. Parliament would come back with a much better knowledge of Canada.
Having realized suddenly, in some outlandish place like the Austrian Tyrol, that your Canada isn’t a nation yet, you begin to make a second discovery about your own people. You discover that the people of Canada aren’t as happy as the ruined, war-ridden, quarrelling people of Europe. This is a shock indeed, and at first you deny it stoutly to yourself. After a while, after you have watched the Europeans at work and at play, after you have drunk with them in their beer gardens, or danced with them in the wine gardens of Grinsing, and talked to them in the evenings at their cottage doors, you can’t deny it any longer
these poor, illiterate, barefooted people are really more content than we are !
The condition of these Europeans is
appalling to us.......women toiling under the
hard blue skies of the Danubian plain, ragged children in the hot fetid slums of an Italian town solemnly giving you the
Fascist salute, French peasants still bending double over their short hoes in the twilight, Scotch gypsies wheeling their entire belongings in a broken perambulator, lean men digging ditches in Budapest for three pengoes (ninety cents) a day, with bread at twelve cents a loaf.
Under such poverty we would have exploded in revolution long ago. Yet you cannot go through Europe by car, touching at villages where the tourist trains never go, eating in places which would turn the ordinary tourist’s stomach, without concluding that these Europeans, perhaps on the edge of another devastating war, have a contentment which we in North America do not know.
This may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. I don’t know. But doesn’t it suggest that we, with all our material advantages, still have quite a lot to learn about living?
These Priceless Possessions
V\ 7"E HAVE everything the Europeans * Y lack. We have everything to make us rich and happy beyond the dreams of the wildest social reformers, if we only knew how to use them. We have, first, a big country. We take that for granted in Canada—this gift of all the land that any man can want. We take for granted our woods to camp in, our lakes to fish in, our plains to roam, the priceless blessing of solitude.
But how priceless these things are you never know until you get into a crowded country, until you have seen a South English down crammed with cars and picnics to the last square yard, or a Swiss farmer cutting his two-acre hay field on the perpendicular edge of a mountain, or a Hungarian woman carrying a few twigs for miles to make a fire, or a Frenchman in wooden shoes plowing his tiny farm with a milk cow and an old horse harnessed together.
Over in the teeming Ghetto of Budapest, away from the glittering promenade where the orchestras wail and the gorgeous ladies parade in evening dress, I talked one sweltering night to a Hungarian boy who had come from the country to the city, looking for a job. He hadn’t found anything permanent, but had learned a little English when he occasionally drove visitors’ cars for them.
1 drew a rough map of Canada on the
back of an envelope, and a small circle in tine middle of it to indicate the relative size of Hungary. His eyes opened wide. He had only known before that Canada was somewhere near Hollywood, which of course is the most important foreign city in the world to these people. I told him tiñere was enough land in Canada so that every man could have as large a farm as he wanted, but most men didn’t want to bother with it.
The boy’s black eyes lit up. If he could only get out to Canada, he said. If he could only have a little farm of his own ! Perhaps a hundred acres, if he got rich. Maybe, he said, he could get a job on a boat and go to Canada. He might work his way through Austria and Germany to tine coast of France, and get on a boat there. Maybe he will, some day. It would be worth it, to get a bit of land of his own.
In the mountains near old Salzburg we stopped at a tiny village of red roofs and bulbous towers for a lunch of the inevitable schnitzel and cheese. Before we could get out of the car, a young priest, sandy and handsome like most of these Austrians, hurried up and asked us in fairly good English if we had any newspapers. We gave him a few tattered copies of The Times, two weeks old.
“We so much like to know what happens in the world,” he said. “It is so far away, very. You are Americans. No? Canadians! Ah, I am glad to know. Canada! That is big country and so rich. Our country, it is so small and so poor since the War.”
A peasant in feathered green hat and short leather pants came running along the cobblestone street and spoke quickly to the priest. We could see that he was crying.
“I must go now,” the priest said and folded the papers carefully. “This man’s wife, she is dying. With baby. She worked too long.”
We had seen the women working in the fields—too long. They haven’t enough land, as we have; and no money to buymachinery. They must work too long.
And then one day we ate our picnic lunch on the shore of Lago Maggiore, hard by the shoulder of the Italian Alps. An old woman was trudging along the beach, bent under a load of twigs and little sticks of driftwood that she had gathered on the shore. Her grandson, a boy of twelve, was with her, carrying a basket of chips. When they saw our buttered rolls and cold meat and thirty-cent bottle of bitter red Chianti, they stopped and the woman muttered something in Italian, looking hard at the bottle.
We gave it to her, and the remain of the picnic. She and the boy drank deep and ate the food as eagerly as animals. When the woman had finished, she looked at us with tired old eyes full of envy.
“Americans,” she muttered.
“Canada,” I said.
The little brown boy grinned. He spoke some English. “Canada,” he said, “it-is beeg,” and he explained it to his grandmother in Italian. She nodded with a look which said plainly, “These Canadians, they are all rich, and we are hungry.”
Here was the cry of landless peasants for land to work, to sow and reap and harvest—for the vast empty lands of
Canada. True, if they had our land, these Europeans would probably turn Canada into a welter of hostile states. Balkanize it. But if we don't watch out, that is exactly what we shall do with it ourselves within a century or two. The tendency to divide and fight, one section against another, is the most obvious fact of Canadian life today.
Our Precious Freedom
TTESIDES SPACE and natural wealth. -L* we have something else in Canada that no one appreciates until he has seen the lack of it in other places. We still have a considerable measure of personal freedom.
It is true that we have listened to political orators ululating so long about freedom that the word has become rather stale and anaemic, and we are tired of hearing about it, especially if we need a job. We take what freedom we have for granted, and greatly undervalue it, like all common things. We assume that we can't lose it, that it is as much a part of the country as the good soil. We don't think much about it at all. any more than we are thankful for air and sunshine.
After you have been through Europe you won’t feel that way ever again. When you have seen little German boys of eight and nine marching in uniform singing war songs, when you have seen an entire population giving the Nazi salute and murmuring “Heil Hitler” hundreds of times a day, when you have seen the Austrian chancellor’s praetorian guard and the Hungarian police all recruited from little towns so that they lack political opinions and thus are quick to crack down on the enemies of the dictator, when you have seen the marks of machine-gun bullets on the walls of the Socialists’ apartment houses of Vienna, when you have gone yourself for days without daring to talk of anything important, and have read only the wildest propaganda in the newspapers—then you begin to realize that this common thing we call freedom is pretty valuable.
We are happily free in Canada, too, of the military caste. That also we take as a matter of course.
In France you can hardly drive ten miles in the eastern part of the country without passing a column of soldiers sweltering in their heavy blue uniforms and tin hats—boys, nearly all of them, without whiskers, watching the frontier; and, farther along, black soldiers and brown from the French colonies.
In Germany soldiers are everywhere and there are innumerable semi-military organizations, each with a different style of dress, so that every third man seems to be in uniform.
As you drive into Italy, small Italian soldiers with plumed hats search your car for copies of the dangerous London Times, and all through the mountains you see them and their machine-gun nests bored into the living rock.
That is the drain of unproductive work which is bleeding Europe white. We have nothing like that in Canada, no big army to maintain, no forts, no secret police.
We have size, natural wealth, a high standard of living, freedom, peace, security, in a measure which you will never appreciate until you see the contrast in other countries. With all this, we should be able to make one of the greatest nations in the world—great, that is to say, in the happiness and prosperity of its people, in its culture, in its intellectual life.
Instead, torn between envy of England on one hand and the United States on the other, we have never developed a national consciousness—the only thing which can possibly overcome our difficult geography and our regional economic conflicts. Politically we have made a significant contribution to the development of the British Commonwealth but we have not built even the beginning of a distinct Canadian culture. Our record of material achievement is impressive but we have contributed little of real note to the culture of the world. Except ice hockey!
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England is the place to go to sec what a nat ion is.
we stopped one day in a grey stone fishing village on the east coast, where the herring fleet lay sprawled on the glistening sand behind the ancient, mole. The onlyplace where we could find food was in the back parlor of a tiny bakery shop. The baker was a man of education, an artillery captain in the War. who had lost all his money' and now made a poor living selling little cakes to the herring fishermen’s wives. We fell into talk about the abdication of Edward VIII.
“Ah,” said he. “that was a bad business. A lot of us were for the king, you know, because he was for the poor. But once Parliament had decided, there was onlyone thing to doget behind Baldwin. That is something about us, you knowwhen the going is hard, we close our ranks. Oh, we’re pretty stupid. I suppose. We do silly things and blunder pretty badly most of the time. But we do stick together.”
There was no bit terness in this man who had lost everything in England’s wars. More in this windswept fishing village was the complete story of England.
All this is not to say that life for the ordinary man is better in England than in Canada. I do not think, from what I could see of it. that it is half as good. Few Canadians could be satisfied with England or want to live in it. Most Canadians are unhappy over there if they have to staylong. For our restless spirits and casual ways, the regimentation and snobbery of English life, despite its constitutional freedom, is exasperating. Its slow tempo, its stubborn conservatism, its chain-pulled plumbing and dank fireplaces in every room, are not for us. In a material way. we are at least a quarter of a century ahead.
This is not to say. either, that the British people are abler than we are. I am inclined to think that we are cleverer in many ways than they; certainly more enterprising, with more individual initiative and self-reliance. Our population, too. is better educated on the whole and knows more of the world; in fact, the ignorance of the English masses about their Empire is the most amazing thing the Canadian sees over there.
“Canada.” said old Mr. Smith, who keeps the historic horseshoe collection in the Norman banqueting hall at Uppingham. “where that is. sir. I dunno. That’s a little beyond me. sir. Canada is.” Millions like him have no interest in Canada or any part of their Empire beyond the village, and know nothing of it.
No. the English are no abler than we are. no more honest or brave. But they have something we lack, a subtle and flimsy thing, an unutterably strong and unbreakable thing which you can call nationhood or tradition or teamwork, or what you will. It is inescapable wherever you go, if is behind everything, running through every custom and habit of life— in the friendliness of the London bobby, in the pedestrians’ universal habit of directing traffic at a crowded corner, in the game of darts between the squire and the shepherd in the village pub of a Saturdaynight.
This thing alone makes England possible. this crowded island of fifty millions, this paradox of poverty and riches, this weird and splendid chaos of English life.
Ours is the strength of the individual man. able to look after himself in the wilderness or in the market place. Theirs is the strength of the family, living and working together. Toward our country, ours is the attitude of a poor man living in a poor street, who expects to move into a better one and is not much concerned with his present house.
Theirs is the feeling of a man who has lived in his street all his life and never intends to move, to whom every paving stone and tree, every monument from little Eros to Nelson’s great column, is a personal possession, shared with the family but belonging to him.
Ours is a country in which to get rich. Theirs is a country to live in, to be happy in. to enjoy even if you are poor, to take as it is without complaining.
What We Can Become
WE ARE A discontented, restless people, still close to the frontier where men did as they pleased and there was always war of one sort or another. They arc a people who have learned how to get along together, who can blunder and survive despite their blunders, because they stand close, whatever happens. We are a people who can rise to sudden occasions like the War, who can fling three railway lines across the Rockies and heave up cities overnight in the virgin wilderness. But we haven’t mastered the art of living together.
We haven’t felt in our hearts the “togetherness” that every inarticulate Englishman feels; we haven’t sensed our strength or our greatnesshaven’t felt Canada yet, the size and beauty, the hardness and cleanness and splendor of it.
The radical will say. of course, that the whole trouble is our absurd economic system. The Conservative will say we need more tariff protection, and the Liberal that lower tariffs alone will save us.
These things are important, but not half so important as the inner feeling of the people toward themselves and their country. Without a real sense of Canada in our people, it won’t matter what economic system you have, what party is in office. Without that we shall never amount to anything of permanent importance in history. With it, we can easily be the most fortunate and the happiest nation in the world.
Canada, you may say, is young and will grow up. True, but in a greedy world, where mad men stalk with armies behind them, we can’t wait forever for manhood. We can’t delay much longer decisions of such vital importance as our own defense and where we stand on the question of foreign wars. We must begin soon to get closer together in Canada, or we shall begin to fall apart.
We should be able to give to young Franz Wertzel and to the world something more than ice hockey by which to know us.