Pages from the Notebook of an Ottawa Correspondent
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 Jan 1942, p. 238-249
MacLeod, Norman M., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Many personal anecdotes including sharing New Year's Eve with Mr. Churchill on a train. Other reminiscences, including the royal tour of Their Majesties, the King and Queen, in Canada a year or two ago. A story relating to the era after the Drury Government was defeated in Ontario and the great public question of the day was how long the Ontario Temperance Act would stay on the Statute Books.
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29 Jan 1942
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Sanderson.
Thursday, January 29, 1942

MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Under conditions of national or international tenseness it is very easy for the newspaperman to profit by the exploitation of sensationalism. That has never been more true than it is under the conditions of the present world situation. But there has never been a time when it was more important that our newspapermen should be responsible men, men of intellectual honesty, men of sound and impartial judgment, men who write from a conscientious and solid conviction. Such a man is Mr. Norman MacLeod who is our guest speaker today. He comes to us as one of the leading men who sit in the Press Gallery at Ottawa. We know his writing; we have had the pleasure of listening to him before; and in your name I welcome Mr. MacLeod once again to this gathering of The Empire Club of Canada.--Mr. Norman MacLeod. (Applause.)

MR. NORMAN MACLEOD: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I would be a very ungracious guest if I did not acknowledge the all too kindly introduction of our Chairman today. This is not the first time that The Empire Club has honoured me by asking me to address one of their luncheon meetings, and familiarity, a growing familiarity with you as an audience, has simply bred a greater and greater appreciation of the privilege that is mine every time you ask me here.

Today, the circumstances are somewhat different. They remind me of a recent personal episode in my life that I was told in my own community I would never have the courage to repeat in public. However, I am going to prove that I have a certain amount. If this is courage, I have it today.

One of my hobbies is farming, on a small scale, and, during the past summer, I took one of my farm hands and went to an auction sale. Our purpose was to purchase a cow or two. They were lined up in the stable. The lighting was none too good, and, if you have ever attended a farm auction, you will know that the custom is to affix to the tail of each cow a little card, telling the approximate time at which that animal is due to freshen-that is, to have a calf and commence milking.

We wanted to get a couple of cows that would freshen at a particular time, and I passed along the line, inspecting tails and reading tags, until I got to one end of the stable where the light was particularly poor. I looked at the card on the tail of the animal and twisted it around. I couldn't read the date, so I called over the farm hand who was with me, who takes great pride in his education as a cattle man. I said, "Lorne, I can't read the date here. Will you see if you can read it. From the top it looks like a pretty likely animal." Lorne took hold of the tail and twisted it around and couldn't read it. At that moment the proprietor of the farm who was selling out passed and I said, "Mr. Cummings, what date does this cow freshen?" Mr. Cummings said, "Well, it will be quite a while, I think. You had better drop that tail. That happens to be the bull of the herd."

Gentlemen, the application of that story is that today I am afraid this cow is not going to freshen. Since I entered the room here today circumstances have arisen which make it impossible for me to deliver the address that I had prepared for this gathering. Those circumstances are entirely beyond my control. I greatly regret them. I realized that I was going to try the patience of this audience considerably with the subject that I had chosen. I realize only too truly that I am going to try you much more greatly by having to reminisce instead, and give you perhaps a few pages from the notebook of an Ottawa correspondent.

The circumstances remind me a little of the first time that I came to address The Empire Club here. I think it was some four years ago. I came to Toronto on the morning train. I had my club bag and I had my brief-case which had my manuscript, and the porter came along and offered to carry out my club bag, to which I agreed. He proceeded to take the brief-case also, but I said, "Oh, no! it is important. I will look after that myself." Then I walked off the train and left it on the, seat. I had a very anxious morning until it was restored to me just before the Club met.

On this occasion there will be no restoration of the manuscript and I simply have to apologize to you for asking without warning for your indulgence.

I have been in the Press Gallery in Ottawa for about seventeen years now. I can't remember any time at which the experience there has not been interesting. I can't remember any time, in my memory, when it has been more interesting than during the past few weeks.

I think we were all getting a little anxious about the safety of our British Prime Minister before we got the welcome news in the press that he had arrived back in England. He had been out of print for so long and the submarines had been such a threat on the Atlantic that, I think, some of us were getting apprehensive about his safety. It was with a great sense of relief, I know, in Ottawa, that we read of his safe arrival.

You, in Toronto, didn't have the great privilege that we had in Ottawa, of seeing Mr. Churchill, face to face. I am wondering if, in this situation, I can give you some adequate word picture of a man whom you admire so greatly, that will perhaps make him a little more intimate in your thoughts.

I was on the train going down to Washington after Mr. Churchill had finished his Ottawa programme. It was one of these sealed trains, that are common in Europe, but are rare on this continent yet. When you got on at Ottawa you were not allowed to leave the train until you arrived in Washington. You couldn't send any telegraph messages or communicate with the outside world at all.

It was New Year's Eve. I had thoughtlessly told my family that I would wire them a New Year's Eve message. When I failed to do so, they didn't realize that it was due to the restrictions, but thought that some catastrophe had happened.

The Ottawa programme had been a very strenuous one. Every person in the party, newspapermen as well as Mr. Churchill, felt very tired, and I have never known a more sombre New Year's Eve gathering than the party on that train. After dinner, some of us gathered in the club car. About nine-thirty, there was a general movement to bed, and, by eleven o'clock, I think every person was in his compartment.

At five minutes to twelve, Standard Time, there was a commotion through the train. The porter went through shouting, "Everyone in the diner. The Prime Minister wants to meet everyone in the diner."

Well, we struggled out. We didn't know what the purpose was. We thought perhaps it was a News Conference. When we got there, there were certain refreshments on the table, and, at one minute to twelve, Mr. Churchill appeared in the corridor from his car, which was the car behind the diner. He had his own glass in hand and he said, "Gentlemen, it is a New Year. It is appropriate that we should toast it."

He gave the toast which, I think, you all read. Nothing could have been more dramatic than the simplicity with which he gave it: "Here's to 1942. A year of difficulty, a year of trial, a year of struggle, but a long step forward toward Victory."

The toast was drunk, Mr. Churchill's face wreathed into a very homely smile that he has, and he said, "Now, 'Auld Lang Syne.' " He formed a chain with the two correspondents next to him on each side, sang a verse of "Auld Lang Syne", not omitting the double time at the end of it, and then the correspondents gave three cheers for Mr. Churchill,--the Prime Minister, as he was called--and Mr. Churchill just responded with the "V" signal.

I have never seen a more enthusiastic display of hands in response to his and he backed out cheerily through the door.

Now, Gentlemen, Mr. Churchill was working on that train. He had the siren suit that is the Air Raid Precaution suit he uses for lounging. He was in the midst of all the work that drives a British Prime Minister in wartime, and yet, with all that pressure of work, and with its importance driving him, it seemed fitting to him that a few moments should be taken at the start of another year to drink it in and to sing "Auld Lang Syne."

Now, I think you will agree with me, it is a man with that sense of values that we want to be behind, a man in whose ultimate ability to lead us we will have far greater confidence than we would have in the dictators. (Applause.)

I think, if you have never seen Mr. Churchill except in his pictures, that the trait that would impress you most would be his simplicity and his homeliness. He is a man with a magnificent mastery of the English language, but without any florid style of oratory at all. He uses the right word with a precision and a simplicity that are simply captivating. You never feel that Mr. Churchill is soaring in the clouds of rhetoric or striving for effect at all. You feel that he is dealing in realities, and, I think, you feel with him that he is a person who is interpreting the ideals, the aims, the hopes, and the aspirations of the mass of the British people. There is no suggestion that he is removed from the people. The feeling that he gives you, rather, is a feeling of his closeness to the people, in spite of the very great brilliance that so distinguishes him from us all.

Well, Gentlemen, that was Mr. Churchill. A year or two years ago, in Ottawa, we had another scene of great enthusiasm, the only scene I remember that surpassed the reception that Mr. Churchill got, and that was the royal tour of Their Majesties, the King and the Queen, when they came to Canada. I accompanied that party from Quebec to the Pacific Coast and to Washington and New York and, ultimately, to Halifax.

There are features of that trip that, I think, foreshadowed what we are experiencing at the present time, that is the great unity of the Canadian people. You started from the Atlantic and you went to the Pacific. The impressive part of that tour wasn't the great reception that you gave Their Majesties here in Toronto. That was rather a thing to be expected. The really spectacular phase of the tour and, I think, the thing that most impressed His Majesty, occurred on the Prairies. As you know, the Prairies have been pretty hard hit, particularly in Saskatchewan, after the years of drought. Money for the necessities of life i' very scarce there and even has had to be supplemented in a large scale by relief. There is a large foreign population and it wouldn't have been unreasonable if the great welcome to Their Majesties had been confined to the larger centres where the English-speaking people predominate.

The contrary was the case. One of the most dramatic things I have ever seen was the heroic measures to which the foreign-born people on the Prairies went to see that their children, a new generation of Canadians, saw Their Majesties.

The Saskatchewan Government allowed farmers to run their cars without any license for the purpose of bringing people in to see the King and the Queen. The older people didn't come themselves. They gave all the transportation space to the children. They piled them into trucks, just the way you would load pigs or sheep going to market. They drove, some of them, 250 miles. They arrived in cities like Regina, without any money for food or any place to stay. The cities had to barracks them in the churches and in the schools, but every child had a little Union Jack. It was just as though these new Canadians of ours, that is, the generation that still have their memory of life in Continental Europe, had determined that their children should see the simplicity of the democracy under which they were living today. It was a magnificent demonstration of democracy. The amazing thing was that there were no casualties suffered among the children who were the subject of this mass movement, and the psychology that it represented, as I say, was not lost upon the King or the Queen, and this was, I think, the most gratifying feature of their whole tour.

I have spoken about the simplicity and the homeliness of Mr. Churchill. I could speak in the same vein about Their Majesties. There was one incident that I don't think was reported, that will illustrate it. They arrived at jasper Park and were given one of the lodges there for the night. The first thing that the Queen did was to dismiss all the staff. She and His Majesty wanted to have a home evening together. His Majesty had some movies that he had taken on the trip, that weren't finished, and they were going to set up their movie camera and run off these pictures and have an evening to themselves.

But, as the Queen was strolling through the park, she noticed a particular type of cedar that, she thought, would do very well in one of their estates in Scotland, and she wanted to question the parks gardener, about it, so she asked the Manager of the lodge if it would be possible for this gentleman to come over during the evening. The head gardener, of course, went over after dinner. He knocked at the door of the lodge. There was no reply, so he knocked again, a little more peremptorily, when the door was opened by a lady who said, "Why, good evening, Mr. Jones, it is so good of you to come over. Won't you come in?"

I imagine that gardener was, perhaps, one of the few people who have ever had the door opened for him by the ueen of England. The apology for the delay was that the noise of the movie projector had prevented them from hearing his first knock.

If I might tell a more personal story: Around Melville, Saskatchewan, they parked the royal train, for the night, just about a hundred yards from where the celebration had been held. The theory was that the celebration would be over, the crowd would disperse, and the King and the Queen would get a good night's sleep. Well, Melville is a town of four thousand, I think, according to our Bureau of Statistics figures. That particular night there were fifteen thousand people in it, and so far they were quite determined that the appearance of the King and the Queen would be a continuous performance. At ten o'clock they were still shouting and cheering and Their Majesties retired to their car. They would stand it for just so long and, then, feeling they really owed something to people who were cheering so lustily, they would go out and make another appearance and, again, there would be bedlam. Then they would go back and still it wouldn't die down.

Finally, the railway authorities realized that the royal car would have to be moved several miles down the road, if Their Majesties were going to get any rest at all.

I was doing some work in my berth. It was quite a hot night and I had stripped to my undershirt. I was sitting with my typewriter on my knee, and had left the shade up because it was one of those long northern nights with a particularly beautiful sunset. At about eleven o'clock one could still see the daylight with the red glow in the sky and the mist coming up on the prairies. It was really a beautiful scene. I was working away and had a psychic feeling I sometimes get that I was under observation. As I looked up, very much in neglige, they were just moving the royal car on the parallel track, and there was Her Majesty looking through the window. When she caught my eye, she waved very cheerfully. The King looked to see what strange man she was waving at and seemed to be a little startled at first, but apparently he thought it was alright and waved, too.

So you can form your own ideas of what delightful people we have in our British Monarchy, and of how close they are to us, their people.

Going back a little hit further in history, I think I will perhaps tell you a story here and now that is prompted by the presence of my friend, Mr. Hatch, on my right here, and may have some interest to him. It relates to the era after the Drury Government was defeated in Ontario. I was in the Queen's Park press gallery at that time and the great public question of that day wasn't Conscription, it was just how long the Ontario Temperance Act would stay on the Statute Books and whether it would stay or go. Mr. Ferguson who hasn't made his reputation for shrewdness for nothing, wasn't enlightening the public very much. It was the really big news that any ambitious newspaperman wanted to break in the press gallery and I went about it by sinister and underhand tactics.

The Mail had supported Mr. Ferguson very strongly for Premier, and I think they had done it out of conviction that he was the man for the job and without any hope of fear or favour or reward. I assured Mr. Ferguson that the Directors of the Mail were just waiting for the quid pro quo, and that, if he didn't treat, them as they thought they should be treated in the matter of news, their attitude might change. Fortunately, Mr. Ferguson wasn't able to check up on my story because the Chief Director of the Mail at that time was on a trip around the world. How it happened that Mr. Ferguson didn't know that, I don't know. However, we finally reached what I might call an understanding. Mr. Ferguson wasn't anxious to antagonize or disappoint The Mail. Neither was he anxious to irritate any of the other Toronto papers by singling us out for favouritism.

So I said, "Well now, Mr. Ferguson, after all; The Mail is known to be reasonably close to the Government, and, if I simply knew definitely what your policy was, I wouldn't care whether I announced it as coming from you or not. I would just put it in the paper. We will put it on the front page with big headlines, and events will bear out the scoop that we had."

Well, things were arranged very much on that line, and I wrote my story and didn't use Mr. Ferguson's name. I left it in the office and went home, feeling that I had done a pretty good day's work.

The late Walter Wilkinson was Managing Editor of the news, and Mr. Hector Charlesworth will remember that he was around The Mail office. He came in from the theatre about eleven o'clock and wanted to know if there was any news. They said, "Yes, MacLeod had got Ferguson's liquor policy." He was greatly interested and got hold of the proof and said, "Where did he get this? Did he get it from Ferguson?" "O, yes, he got it from Ferguson." "Well, why didn't he say so?"

Well, old Mr. Wilkinson went down the proof, throwing in at the end of the first paragraph, "Premier Ferguson announced today exclusively to The Mail and Empire," and then just continued down, "Mr. Ferguson says," and "The Government believes." He made a much more authoritative story of it but it certainly didn't improve my relations with the Conservative Government.

Well, the sequel to it was that, after we had the plebiscite announced, Mr. Wilkinson called me in and said, "You had better get on the train for Kemptville. Go up and get the terms of the plebiscite from Mr. Ferguson." I said, "Well, your memory is conveniently short, isn't it?" "O," he said, "I know there was a little difficulty, but go up and get the terms of the plebiscite."

I had the feeling that I was just going for a ride. T got up to Kemptville and Mr. Ferguson was in bed with a bad attack of influenza. However, I went in and told him what I wanted, and his reply was that all he had wanted was something to live for and now he had it,--it was to get even with Wally Wilkinson. He told me to go back to Wally Wilkinson and take a certain message to him.

The days of Drury, Ferguson, Manion, Doherty, W. F. Nicholls, and Hartley Dewart, were colourful days in our Provincial Legislature. I think that we who knew them will probably never see their return again. We certainly never realized, I think, that they were going to come as they have with Mr. Hepburn. I think that Mr. Ferguson now must be sitting back in retirement and just regretting that he couldn't have learned the lessons in showmanship that Mr. Hepburn would have been able to give him before he came into power. If he could have, he might have been able really to go places.

Gentlemen, these remarks are rambling. I apologize more sincerely than I can say for the disappointment to which I have had to subject this audience. I am not suggesting that what I intended to say would have been any easier to listen to than what I have given, but it would have been better prepared. I do appreciate most greatly the invitation that you gave me to be here, and it has been a most pleasant experience for me, just to turn back a few of the years and chat with this group for these few minutes. I thank you. (Applause.)

MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Mr. MacLeod, I am glad that you began by telling a story, because it gives me a chance to tell one. Probably everybody in the room, with two exceptions, knows my story, but can I tell it to those two people?

It is a story of the blackout in England. It was, as they say in the North Country, "dead dark'". Two cars collide. They are both badly damaged. A man gets out of each of them. The first man reaches into his hip pocket and says to the other fellow, "I say, you look badly shaken up. I am sorry about this--all my fault. Have a drink." The second fellows says, "Well, that is good of you," takes a drink, and hands the flask back.

"Oh! you didn't take much", says the first man. "Take another one." So the second man takes another one, and, as he hands the flask back once more, says "You don't look too good either. You'd better have a drink yourself."

But the first screwed the cap on, stuck the flask back in his pocket and replied, "Oh, no, not until the policeman has been."

Well, Gentlemen, there is a point in that story. The pretended friendliness had no real foundation. And I know that one of the things you will wish me to say on your behalf to Mr. MacLeod is that here he is among true friends.

After we were seated at this table, one of those situations arose which sometimes face a Speaker and a Chairman,--a situation which has to be solved on the spur of the moment, without any possibility of time for thought. Mr. MacLeod, due to circumstances beyond his control, bravely discarded his prepared address. We know how difficult it is, not only to discard a manuscript, but even to discard the very theme upon which one's thoughts have been centred right up to five minutes before one gets up to speak.

Mr. MacLeod had therefore to extemporise literally on the spur of the moment. And, on your behalf, may I say to Mr. MacLeod that he has earned our added admiration, as well as our added thanks, for the brilliant way in which he has demonstrated his enviable capacity of presenting an extemporised luncheon address, which could not have been excelled. Mr. MacLeod, the sustained interest of your audience must have shown how much we have enjoyed your talk to us, and it is my privilege to offer to you our warmest appreciation. (Applause.)

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Pages from the Notebook of an Ottawa Correspondent

Many personal anecdotes including sharing New Year's Eve with Mr. Churchill on a train. Other reminiscences, including the royal tour of Their Majesties, the King and Queen, in Canada a year or two ago. A story relating to the era after the Drury Government was defeated in Ontario and the great public question of the day was how long the Ontario Temperance Act would stay on the Statute Books.