How Fortunate Are the Canadians!
HILARY ST. GEORGE SAUNDERS
IT IS with diffidence that I write of Canada, which I visited between trips to Chicago and Detroit. I was there for so short a time and went only to six places, Toronto and Ottawa twice, Montreal, Quebec City, Niagara Falls and Hamilton once. Yet despite the shortness of my tour it is hard not to let my thoughts and feelings run away, tempting me to put on paper a long string of panegyrical adjectives about the land and its people.
The atmosphere of Canada at war to one coming as I did from Chicago is like a great wind to a mild breeze. You have only to walk u block or two or mingle for half a minute with the throng in a hotel lounge to reulize that you are once more among people who know that they are fighting for their existence. The expression on their faces, even in Toronto which looks so American, is different, and when they speak of the war there is a personal note in their voices not so generally to be heard on the other side of the border.
In saying this I believe that I am telling the truth, but in so doing I have no wish to disparage the Americans, nor do I. Móst of those I met had grasped the fact that there was a war on intellectually but not emotionally. Their brains told them that America was in it but their hearts were largely governed by their inclinations, and these were still all for peace. It is quite natural that this should be so, and it is in no way to judge them harshly to say that they are not in this respect so far advanced as the people of Canada.
The Canadians have been at war for more than four years, their Allies to the south for two. That fact alone is enough to explain the difference. Moreover, for once history, despite the teaching of historians, is repeating itself. The same situation arose in the last war and must, I think, always arise so long as both sections of the North American continent do not take up arms simultaneously. Be that as it may, there was no doubt about the feeling in Toronto and it was just as strong in the other cities I visited.
The Canadian awareness of war is all the more remarkable since there is so litt le out ward evidence of it. As yet rationing is still on a modest scale and the cost of living, though it has risen, is not so high as it is in the United States. On the other hand, the proportion actually serving of the total number of men eligible to do so is very high, and for essential war work there is a similar ratio umong the civilian population. When it is remembered that the total population of this vast Dominion is only eleven and a half millions, the figures can justly merit that well-worn adjective, “staggering.” Indeed the number of men in the Army had grown too large and a certain reduction had to be made in order to swell the diminished ranks of farm and factory.
It is here, perhaps, that the measure of Canadian achievement can best be seen in all its proportions. With about one half of one per cent of the world’s population, Canada is the fourth largest producer of weapons and munitions of war.
"The atmosphere of Canada at war, to one coming as I did from Chicago, is like a great wind to a mild breeze" — Saunders
Nor is this all . . . Canada was able to export during 1942 over 90 million bushels of wheat and somewhat more than four and a half million barrels of flour, while she also provided the United Nations with 5,249,519 cwt. of bacon and ham, 7,661,817 lb. of dried eggs, and 4,374,640 dozen eggs in the shell, not to mention enormous quantities of cheese, canned meats, canned herrings, canned salmon, and fish oil.
Pockets Not Forgotten
IN STRIVING her utmost to fill our bellies, Canada has not forgotten our pockets. There will be no huge debts incurred to pay for all these necessities. To prevent the bogey of finance from obstructing the free flow of war supplies to Britain various measures have been taken. Up to the end of 1941, by buying back before maturity Canadian Government direct and guaranteed securities held in the United Kingdom, the Ottawa Government provided the British Treasury, whose gold and dollar resources were exhausted, with financial assistance amounting in round figures to somewhat more than 1,500 million Canadian dollars. In 1942 all the accumulated sterling balances of Canada in London were converted into a 700 million interest-free dollar loan, and the Dominion also presented us with the magnificent gift of one billion dollars’ worth of raw materials, munitions, and foodstuffs. By the beginning of 1943 this large amount had all been used up. Once more Ottawa set about providing new means of helping us. All British war plants in Canada were bought outright and the total cost of the RCAF, wherever it was serving, was paid by Canada. In May, 1943, the Mutual Aid Bill passed into law. It was the Canadian version of Lease-Lend and allows her products up to the value of another billion dollars to be distributed on the basis of “strategic need.” These are some of the hard facts about Canada and they were in my mind every time I spoke to a Canadian audience. It was they, the men and women before me, who had made and were continuing to make so fine a contribution to the common cause. 1 had not been in Toronto more than a few hours before I found myself addressing a large gathering of businessmen belonging to the local Canadian Club . . .
The business executives listening to my tale were free citizens of an Empire for which they too had
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How Fortunate Are the Canadians
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fought in their day, which they still prized and which they had brought up their sons to love. I confess without shame that I am proud to belong to an imperial race, and I observe that when the test of war comes the political descendants of the Little Englanders °f niy youth are as fervent in their support of the Empire as their fiercest opponents. It would seem, therefore, that this institution has its points, and I was confirmed in this belief by what I saw of Canada.
That audience at Toronto was the first of 14 to whom I spoke. All of them—and I think, taken as a whole, they were a fair cross section of the Canadian people—had the prosperity of the Empire at heart to an extent which we in Britain do not always perceive. We have too many and too complicated emotions about it. Hearts and minds are simpler in Canada. 1 here the simple virtues of our race are prized because they are simple. Our faults, and perhaps they are many, are equally obvious. Knowing both, the Canadian made up his mind long ago that to be a member of the British Empire was no bad thing. He will never, I believe, willingly throw in his lot with the United States, not because he has anything but friendship and understanding for that great country, but because he has always been proud of being British and sees no good cause why he should cease to be so. Possibly for economic reasons Canada may some day be forced into closer relations with the U. S. A. Once or twice I heard the question of a political union discussed, and while I was in Toronto a high official of Ontario gained some momentary notoriety, while at the same time incurring sharp criticism, for advocating it. One of the gains of this war may be, and if the three of us, the U. S., Canada, and Britain, play the hand skilfully, will be, such readjustment of financial and economic values as will remove the necessity and consequently the desire for any political change.
Generally speaking, the Canadians seemed to be as rude about their Government as we are about our own, but I do not think they would lie willing to change the conditions in which it carries on its functions. The solid block in Parliament of FrenchCanadian members, who occupy in Ottawa a position not unlike that of the followers of John Redmond in 1910 at Westminster, are a source of great irritation to the rest of the population who outnumber them four to one, but no one, I think, would like to lose them to the States nor, if it ever came to the
point, would they really want to go.
The French - Canadian problem is, nonetheless, one oí' great difficulty. It is the keynote of Canadian politics, and upon its happy solution much, perhaps the whole, of Canada’s political future depends. My stay in Quebec City and Montreal enabled me to do no more than realize its existence, but there are, I think, certain small signs which, added together, go to show that its solution is far from impossible, and may be nearer than is generally supposed. I have heard it compared with the problem of Eire. Such a comparison is not only false but odious. The French Canadians may not be very enthusiastic about the war but they would think it indelible shame to behave in the manner of Eire. While the Quebec Legislature is resolutely opposed to conscription for service overseas, the people whom it represents have volunteered in large numbers. When the losses at Dieppe were made known, the recruiting depot of the Fusiliers Mont-Royal was besieged and the gaps in its ranks caused by death, wounds, or capture made good within 48 hours.
In Canada as in the U. S. my job was to talk about those aspects of the war about which I had written. I did not expect to arouse much interest in (Quebec, yet nowhere was I listened to with greater attention. This experience us, of course, no more than a straw in the wind, but after it was over I felt (convinced that, however complicated and difficult their internal affairs may Ibe, French Canadians dislike the Germans as much as we do and are determined to play their part in the overthrow of that detestable people. The inhabitants of French Canada are said to resemble those of France in the eighteenth century. I suspect this to be a somewhat superficial estimate; but they are very unlike the French of today. Their language, for instance, is certainly nearer the French of Voltaire than of Anatole France (they probably disapprove of both), and their general manner of living is more primitive. Despite its harbor and factories the aspect of Quebec City is that of a provincial market town in the heart of the Côte-d’Or or the Cevennes. Its appearance is wholly French, the France of Louis Quinze, and its Government buildings might be a château of the Loire. In their spacious rooms both the upper and lower Houses meet; the first on red, the second on green benches, following the tradition of Westminster. There are also the offices of the LieutenantGovernor and of the Prime Minister.
Monsieur Godbout, the present holder of the latter office, is a professor of agriculture, quiet and imperturbable. He made on me the same impression as had the farmers of Iowa. I stood with him a moment, looking out of the window of his room at distant hills merging into mountains with a green plain in between, across which lay the loops of a flashing stream. We spoke of the starvation in France and in Europe generally. “At least we can help to remedy that,” he said, “when the time comes. I hope next year’s harvest is good. This year the crops will be small and many of the farmers will feel the pinch before the spring.” I remembered his words a few days later when motoring along the Queensway from Toronto to Niagara en route for a parachute factory. That magnificent road runs for miles through country much of which is given over to fruit trees and vines. They bore the marks of a winter which had taken a reluctant departure only a very short while before. In Canada you are far
more conscious of the seasons than in England, and Professor Godbout’s gentle remarks about the plight of the farmers meant, I felt, much more in Ontario than they would in Oxfordshire.
I walked down the hill toward the lower part of Quebec to reach the Archbishop’s palace. It was here, in an audience chamber whose prevailing colors were scarlet and gold, that I presently awaited the summons to His Eminence Cardinal Villeneuve. He had expressed a wish to see me, because, so I was informed, it is his practice to receive any stranger with a tale to tell who comes to his city. That, I have no doubt, is one of the reasons why he is one of the best-informed men in Canada. I was shown to the chamber by a black-clad chaplain who left me, promising, as I thought, to come back and take me to His Eminence when he was ready for me. I waited a minute or two, holding rather awkwardly the American edition of the book on Combined Operations, whose dust cover was just the wrong shade of red to present to a cardinal. A door opened; I got up from the gilt settee on which I had been sitting and took a pace forward expecting to meet once more the chaplain. His Eminence stood before me, a short, thickset figure in black with a red sash and a gleaming cross on his breast. He had come to me, not 1 to him. This courtesy, very typical of the man, who is a Prince of the Roman Church and Archbishop of Quebec, disconcerted me and I stammered when I replied to his greeting.
“Your French, Mr. Saunders,” he said, “is, I am told, much better than my English. Let us therefore, if you will, talk in that tongue.”
Cardinal Villeneuve spoke with eloquence and fervor of the opportunity facing all believers to recreate Christianity on a scale not attempted since the days of Peter. The forces of Evil had never been so strong, had never so nearly prevailed; yet they were being rolled back and would in due course be utterly cast down by the forces of Good which had never been more united than they were today. Their ranks held many men who believed that they were fighting a recrudescence of paganism, a system of life directly opposed to Christian principles.
I have said that farm lands, both tilled and pasture, encroach upon the environs of Quebec City as they do on all Canadian towns. Neither is the real wild far distant, only half an hour in fact in a motor car. The kind-hearted and hospitable Mr. Raff, a businessman of the city, whom I met at a luncheon of the local Canadian Club, took me there to sit a while in the veranda of his fishing shack beside the Montmorency. The shack is a mile or two upstream from falls, loftier than those of Niagara, over which the river pours into the St. Lawrence. Here with my friend Bay Burge, who is such an asset to the United Kingdom Information Service in Ottawa, I paddled a canoe between thick walls of what is still primeval forest. How much more fortunate are the Canadians than ourselves! We town dwellers in England go to a golf course or the esplanade of a seaside town for the week end, but our opposite numbers in Canada flog a stream or fish from a boat in a lake set in country as wild and uninhabited as when Cartier first set foot on the Island of Orleans and Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence to found Quebec.
Presently we came to a concentration of lumber stretching across the stream, the trunks of the trees, felled
miles farther up, lying side by side in the river and forming a solid platform upon which men were walking. These lumberjacks looked exactly like those you see in moving pictures, big-limbed, silent, and wearing check shirts of vivid colors. In their hands were poles shod with steel hooks with which they were guiding the logs toward a machine that hoisted them on to one end of a wooden sluice. Its other end was a mile or two away in the St. Lawrence.
As in the United States, I spent much of my time in Canada visiting factories. Of those I saw two stand out in my memory, both of them, I think, because by far the larger number of workers at their benches were women. One, near Toronto, manufactured small arms; the other, near Niagara, parachutes. The small arms factory had been in existence only a year. It was situated on the shore of Lake Ontario and was a single-story building with a rifle range and a workers’ recreation ground beside it.
I went over one of the nearby hostels. It was run by a professional manageress who was obviously first-class. The place was like a country hotel. There was a large lounge with sofas, armchairs, and tables, conforming in color and design to the general scheme worked out by the decorators. There were dining and recreation rooms, a skittle alley, and an excellent library. The bedrooms held at most only two beds and many were single. Two other amenities helped to make the place so pleasant: an abundance of very good and varied food and an absence of irksome rules of the kind that so often make hostels intolerable, especially when one is young. In such conditions as these, both in and outside the factory, it is small wonder that absenteeism is very small and production very great.
The parachute factory, on the other hand, presented a contrast. Here more than 90% of the operatives were women but absenteeism was very high and was affecting production.
On leaving the parachute factory I spent some hours "relaxing,” as they call it on the other side of the Atlantic. The term is elastic and comprises doing anything not directly connected with work. In my case the relaxation consisted in boarding at Niagara one of the two "Maids of the Mist” and driving up against the current to within a few hundred yards of the foot of the Canadian Falls. The Maid of the MLst on which I was a passenger was manned by a crew of elderly greybeards who had shown heaven knows how many thousand tourists the splendors of the Horseshoe Falls. Splendors is too mild a term. When you stand wrapped in an oilskin on the tiny foredeck of the steamer, smothered in a mist which can be seen many miles away, and descry vaguely through it a mass of roaring water half as high again as the nave of Westminster Abbey, the sensation is one unlike any I have yet experienced. Perhaps when death comes it will be like those few blind, deafening moments —but 1 hope not.
Of the many war activities in full swing in Canada, none is more important than the day-to-day fulfillment on her broad airfields and in her limpid skies of the Empire Air Training Scheme. I saw only two centres of training: one an elementary, the other an advanced, school. They occupy wide, spacious buildings grouped round a large airfield and are completely
self-contained so that there is no need for anyone to leave the centre for any purpose unless he wishes. A swimming pool, recreation huts, a cinema theatre, and canteens provide for leisure. There are dances and a Station band, and life is so organized that the man in training can obtain all he wants both for study and recreation, from a personal lecture on the art of navigation to a partner for the Saturday night dance, without leaving the Station. The general standard and quality of pupils and instruction are as high as, if not higher than, they were at the beginning of the war, and this despite the huge commitments of the RAF all over the world. Here I saw, training in ideal conditions, the pilots or the crews who will hold aloft the torch of victory first lit by their comrades in the Battle of
PUT VICTORY FIRST... BUY
Britain and afterward carried flaming over the Ruhr by Bomber Command and over the Atlantic by Coastal. To speak of their morale or ardor—I prefer the English word—is to be guilty at once of an impertinence and a truism. If ever I have met with men selflessly consecrated to a high and noble enterprise, these are the men.
Training is strenuous and ordered, long hours in the air alternating with others not quite so long spent in the lecture room or in the cockpit of the Link Trainer. This is a devastating machine. I sat in one of them and under direction put it into a spin. Then, following the instructions— exactly, as I thought—I pulled out of it and turned for commendation to the instructor.
“That was all right, wasn’t it?” I said. "I’ve got it flying straight and level, haven’t I?”
The instructor nodded gravely.
"You have,” he replied. "It’s a bit unfortunate, though, that you’re 400 feet below the surface of the earth.”
Only then did 1 look at the altimeter. Up to that moment I had forgotten its existence.
Of all that I heard in Canada I remember best what was said to me at parting by Mr. Todd of St. Anne de Bellevue near Montreal. I met him by chance through the kindness of his daughter, who took me to her home for dinner. Mr. Todd is a farmer and lives in an old house whose garden holds the ruin of a still older fort by the margin of a wide lake.
"What this country wants,” he said, "is more people, young people. It is perhaps the richest in the world, and its resources are hardly touched as yet. A young man who will work will find here that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be enjoyed more fully, more abundantly in Canada than anywhere else. Will the young men who have trained here in their tens of thousands come back when the war is over? The need is great, the opportunities without limits. Will they come back?”
I could not say, but I have a feeling that if I were still a young man . . .