"Come on, Canada, and give expression of yourself! A nation needs its songs as much as it needs laws"
This Happy Country
I AM writing this letter in a house by a frozen lake. It has been snowing all day and there is every indication that it is going to snow all night. The whole scene is like the Christmas cards in Britain which loyally sustain the legend, propagated by Dickens and others, that in the winter it is Britain which has the right to be called “The Lady of the Snows.”
We do have snow occasionally in Britain, but it is an anachronism, a mere caprice on the part of one of the 365 depressions which make their way each year from Iceland to the islands in the North Sea. At such times the ever-adaptable British produce toboggans, skates and even bobsleighs and behave as if they were Swiss. But in a few hours the skies burst into tears and only a dirty fringe of snow on the edge of the streets reminds us that we had had a few hours of honest winter.
This house in which I write is situated in Rockcliffe, Ottawa. With its winding roads and lovely trees it only needs a pub with a creaking sign to be an olde worlde village, except for the plumbing and the central heating, which is entirely of the new world.
My host is Major-General Letson, who is everything that a brother-in-law should be. What is more important, he is an outstanding example of what a man can achieve, if he has a fixed idea. At Vimy Ridge, when he was an 18-year-old subaltern, he was so badly wounded that for more than a year he was in hospital undergoing operations, and* emerged from it with a permanent limp, plus the unalterable conviction that soldiering is the best life in the world for a man. Through the years of indecision between the two wars, he did everything to keep up the military spirit in British Columbia, and when the war came lie was eventually appointed Adjutant-General and is now secretary and chief of staff to Viscount Alexander.
Forgive this digression into family matters, but if one has to have a brother-in-law, Harry Letson is the right kind.
This afternoon we attended the opening of Parliament, which was duly followed by refreshments. The Canadian Senate is an imposing clulmber and it ,was interesting to study the
similarities and the divergences in relation with the opening of the British Parliament.
The Canadian Way
THE Governor-General, as is the fashion of royalty and viceroyalty, was sharp on time and took his seat at 3 p.m. His wife, however, did not sit beside him on the throne (if that is what it is called) but lower down and to his left. In Britain the King and Queen sit together, except that the King’s chair is traditionally three inches higher than Her Majesty’s. This has no real significance but dates back to the good old days of Queen Victoria who was such a little woman that she insisted on the extra three inches so as to be less dwarfed by the Prince Consort.
I was also surprised to see Mr. Mackenzie King sitting to the right of the Governor-General with becoming modesty and a subtle sense of proprietorship, although taking no part in the ceremony.
In Britain the Prime Minister, with Mr. Speaker, merely heads the procession that straggles from the Commons to the Lords where Their Majesties are waiting. But the procession halts at the bar of the House and we look on rather like the poor relations at the gate. The difference, I suppose, is that the British Prime Minister, being a commoner, cannot set foot on the floor of the peers’ house; but we get even by never allowing a peer to set foot in our house except in a special gallery.
There is one part of the Canadian ceremony which is at once impressive and yet slightly amusing. In front of the throne there is the circular plush woolsack, and suddenly it was invaded by six judges of the Supreme Court who sat upon it with their legs trailing over the sides exactly as if they were at sea on an inflated RAF dinghy. I would have liked an encore to this occupation of the dinghy but my card of invitation indicated that we humble folk in the gallery must make no demonstration of any kind.
It took the loyal Commons nearly 10 minutes to arrive, an awkward period which might have been relieved by the music of a band as is done in the opening of the Ulster Parliament. I must say, however, that the booming of the guns in the snowy air outside was splendidly impressive. And the scarlet uniforms of the RCMP gave a vivid effect, even if the schoolboy in us wishes that they were still called the Northwest Mounties.
The Speech from the Throne, whether in London or Ottawa, is seldom of an exciting nature, being, of course, the prepared survey of forthcoming legislation. But Lord Alexander has excellent voice production, even if the voice itself is not specially powerful. He does not suffer from that throatiness which is the curse of so many English speakers, but lets the tone float on the air. I was at the gallery farthest away and could hear every word. Then when Harry Letson took the speech away from him and handed him another Continued on page 37
Continued on page 37
"Come on, Canada, and give expression of yourself! A nation needs its songs as much as it needs laws"
This Happy Country
Continued from page 14
copy His Excellency read it all over again in French, and gave that beautiful language the Gallic elegance which it demands but does not always get. We Canadians are strange in some things. With French as our second language, we seem to feel a pride in speaking only English. From the moment that Lord Alexander knew that he was coming to Canada he worked on his French and is still doing it.
I had the honor of being received by him at Rideau Hall and was interested to have an off-the-record talk with a soldier who has claims to being the greatest general that the war produced. Yet he might well have become the victim of the popular prejudice against what is foolishly called “an unlucky General.” Field Marshal Lord Gort handed over to Alexander’s command the stricken British Army on the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, when Japanese forces were carrying everything before them, he was sent to Burma and conducted that skilful nightmare retreat that saved India from invasion. Would he become known as the Great Retreater?
Later he was given command of the British Army in the Middle East, just
as Rommell had advanced to the very gates of Egypt Would Alexander conduct a third retreat? History answers “No.” It was the beginning of one of the most successful partnerships in the records of war. Alexander and Montgomery (strictly in that order) had become the anvils that were to smash the Germans in the desert and begin the retreat that never ended until the final surrender in Berlin.
Can Britain Learn From Us?
The Governor-General has the clear grey eye of the born soldier, and the alert mind of the man born to command. He does not affect the facile bonhomie of the politician, nor the airs of the professional diplomat. He is interested in people but he does not gush. Like the late Lord Tweedsmuir, he is gripped and fascinated by Canada. He feels, as the whole world does, that the Dominion is on the eve of great, forward developments; and he finds in the character of the Canadians the qualities to make Canada great.
To me, as a Canadian who has lived so long in Britain, it is a splendid and moving thing to see Canada, although absolute mistress in her own house, keeping alive the traditional Inks with the monarchy and the Old Country. If Canada so wills it, she can
appoint J. E. Atkinson of the Toronto Star or “Chubby” Power or any other citizen of the Dominion as the next governor-general. But in Britain we have gained untold benefits from having, in the person of the King, a man and a figure above party politics and sectional interests. I am a member of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, as the sailor at sea is a member of His Majesty’s Navy. When Viscount Alexander speaks of “my ministers,” it does not lessen their dignity, but enhances it, because they permit it.
I drove back from that opening of Parliament through the silent magic of falling snow with a feeling I never had before—that perhaps here in Canada is the truest expression of what is best in British ideology and British tradition. I know that we who were born here are North Americans, partners in territory, in tempo and even in temperament with the great republic to the south. But, although I could not visit beyond Ontario this time, I felt that the day might come when in Britain we shall perhaps have to look to Canada for guidance in the way of life.
One would have to be less or more than human not to be proud of the great crowds that turned out in Hamilton and Toronto to hear my story of what is going on in Britain. I felt the delicacy of being a British M.P. in opposition to the Socialist Government and did not want to attack that government while in another country. Therefore, I tried to balance between praising the Socialists for their honesty, patriotism and hard work, while expressing my complete dislike of Socialism itself. In Ottawa I was particularly careful to maintain this tightrope balance but I did not escape the wrath of the Ottawa Citizen which duly castigated me for fouling my own nest.
Not content with that, they accused me of having been a Chamberlainite at Munich and then forsaking Chamberlain to become a Churchillian when Winston came to power. In public life one does not object to constant attack, providing it is reasonably fair. I have no doubt that the Citizen’s editorial was duly telegraphed to London and that I shall be accused of travelling abroad to work against His Majesty’s Government. By chance I declared in my speech at Ottawa that I was, and am, a Chamberlainite, believing that Chamberlain saved the world at Munich. The only explanation could be that the Citizen’s reporter was listening to some other speech.
In spite of this slight discord I shall go back to London refreshed in body
and spirit from contact with this goodly Canada and its warmhearted people. That is a common experience to so many who make the journey from Britain to Canada. The Queen regards her visit here as a second coronation. Anthony Eden almost found his youth again in his brief visit last year. Leslie Hore-Belisha, rather out of fashion and somewhat discouraged, came back from Canada with a new sparkle in his eye. The only trouble is that Herbert Morrison also returned with a renewed vitality which we of the Opposition felt very sharply.
Shakespeare, Empire Builder
What is this link that binds Canada ar.d Britain together despite the ravages of war and the perplexities that assail the British Commonwealth so sharply at this time? The schoolbooks never cite them as Empire builders but I wonder if Shakespeare and Dickens do not deserve that place. One night, on this visit to Toronto, I sat in the Royal Alexandra Theatre and watched a capacity audience enjoying the magic of Shakespeare’s language as Donald Wolfit played Hamlet. What a heritage that myriad-minded genius left to us, yet he was so completely English in his outlook that he loved England’s friends because they were her friends, and he hated England’s enemies because they were her enemies.
On another evening, at Massey Hall, I listened to my boyhood friend, Sir Ernest MacMillan, conduct a magnificent rendition of Arnold Bax’s Third Symphony. Why don’t you send MacMillan and his orchestra to tour Britain? Why don’t you take a London theatre for three months every year and give us Canadian plays acted by Canadian actors?
A nation’s art should be intensely nationalistic. Tchaikovsky could never have written the “Pathétique” if hfe hadn’t been a Russian living in Russia. Dickens had to be an Englishman to write “Pickwick Papers.” Come on, Canada, and give expression of yourself to the outside world! A nation needs its songs as much as it needs its laws.
The lights are coming on in the houses that nestle by the white shrouded trees. The silent symphony of the snow plays on. Over in Europe the winter is a cruel thing that chills the hearts and souls of people crouching in cellars, trying to survive the siege of cold and hunger.
This happy country, Canada . . . this good country ... It is not easy to say good-by. jç
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