CANADA'S CHALLENGE TO ITS YOUTH
AN ADDRESS BY NICHOLAS IGNATIEFF
Thursday, February 24th, 1938
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen: On the 12th of March, 1931, the Empire Club of Canada was honoured by the presence of Count Paul Ignatieff, who, as the guest-speaker spoke on Russia. He was the Minister of Education for Russia, from 1915 to 1917 and, I believe, the last Minister of Education of the old regime. Today, the son of that distinguished educationist is our guest-speaker and he has chosen for his subject, "Canada's Challenge to Youth." It is, I think, remarkable that after only thirteen year of residence in this country he should be so well qualified to address us on this subject. We have had addresses on current events embracing many countries and also on Canada's natural resources, but what is of greater interest or of greater moment than Canada's youth and the instilling of the ideals and the principles for which this Club stands in their hearts and imaginations. He believes, sand I agree with him, that Canadians do not know their country and I can say, without contradiction, that with possibly few exceptions Mr. Ignatieff has seen and knows more of Canada than most of us. To show Canada to its youth he founded the School Exploration Society, of which he will tell us in his address, which will be followed by coloured motion pictures of some of the country on his trips.
I have much pleasure in introducing Mr. Nicholas Ignatieff, his subject, as I have already announced, "Canada's Challenge to Its Youth." Mr. Ignatieff. (Applause.)
MR. NICHOLAS IGNATIEFF: Mr. President, Gentlemen: I appreciate the double honour you have done me! First, in asking me to address you and secondly in specifying a Canadian topic. As to the subject matter of this address I thought that was known only to me until I saw above the announcement of this address in the paper this morning, the following headlines: "Medicine and Poison May Look Alive." At the end of my remarks you may realize how appropriate this caption was.
During the past few years I have been exposed so much to lectures on the land of my birth given on the authority of a week's, a month's, or even a year's sojourn in that immense country that I can sympathize with you when you are subjected to the same sort of treatment.
Even after 13 years of apprenticeship in this country I would hesitate to speak sweepingly and frankly of your vast problems unless I had become a full-fledged citizen of this land, determined to share with you the responsibilities and the difficulties as well as the privileges implied in that citizenship.
Today I will attempt to outline briefly what seems to me the two major problems which confront both the youth and the educationalist in Canada.
The first problem I must pose as a question because I think Canadians themselves are in no agreement about it.
Are the young people of Canada growing up to inherit a land of untold natural riches and immense opportunities which will provide them with a high standard of living for the asking or are they to inherit a hard, lean earth with a tough climate, an earth whose riches are almost exhausted and which can yield a livelihood grudgingly as a reward for hard work?
I realize that the conception of Canada being a land of untold resources and opportunities was not always prevalent. Even after the building of the C.P.R. the West was often referred to as an arid or frozen waste which would never support a large or wealthy population.
The development that has taken place since has belied these pessimistic forecasts, but there is a growing volume of studied opinion which believes that this rapid development and the zeal of the promoter has given rise to an optimism with regard to Canada's future which has no basis in physical fact and the superstructure of services which has been erected on the basis of these over-optimistic estimates holds nothing but economic disaster for the Dominion.
For example, we have learned recently from the depositions made before the Rowell Commission that the 55 million acres now under cultivation in the Prairie Provinces represent at least 80 percent of the land at all suitable for agriculture in these three provinces. The Department of Agriculture agreed with this opinion. The Minister of Agriculture for Saskatchewan asserted there was difficulty in finding agricultural land in that province to place those who wish to leave the drought areas.
That is a very different picture from the one still drawn in Canada's official statistics which claim there are Zoo million acres of land suitable for agriculture in the three Western Provinces. It is also a different picture from the one envisioned by those who believe Canada could support a population of at least 40 or 50, if not 200 million people.
Even with regard to the new-found mineral wealth, opinion is divided. There are those who believe the mineral wealth has been barely scratched and those others who are now asserting that the mineral outlook of Canada has been exaggerated beyond :all shadow of truth for promotion purposes.
This question of establishing an approximately true picture of Canada's resources is very important to Canada's youth, for an education founded in extravagance, based upon the assumption of untold resources easily converted to great wealth is ill-designed to prepare Canadian youth for the struggle that is ahead of them if these estimates of wealth should prove greatly exaggerated.
In other words, are we preparing them to live in a fool's paradise?
Personally, my impression is that the boom psychology of the promoter has cast a false light on the whole Canadian scene and in a measure is responsible for the difficulties Canada has to face now.
But neither do I agree with the outlook of the pessimists.
I believe Canada's future depends entirely on those qualities of character which Canadians will choose to cultivate and develop.
Time and again I have marvelled at the examples I have seen in Canada of the qualities of imagination, initiative, courage and hard work conquering the hardest environment and achieving spectacular triumphs where the expert and the arm-chair economist would have prophesied nothing but failure.
I have seen men create flowering gardens in the drought areas of Saskatchewan or establish prosperous homes up to 150 miles from railway transportation in the Peace River country. I have witnessed men who prove that farming in Northern Ontario can be carried on profitably even though the majority of their neighbours were on relief and the average person thinks that colonization up there is doomed to failure.
In the mining field you know yourselves how unlettered prospectors with courage and determination have confounded experts time and again.
And more spectacular than anything I know to prove what courage and intelligent co-operation can do is the story which comes now from the Peace River where the settlers, despairing of outside aid, are literally cutting their own road to the Pacific.
I believe Canada's physical environment presents a stiff challenge but a fascinatingly interesting one. Granted the right qualities of character, imagination, determination, courage, the application of the true spirit of co-operation and with the help of modern science, Canada is capable of building up a remarkable civilization and driving back her northern frontiers beyond our fondest dreams today. That to me is the great romance of Canada.
But before this can happen education must awaken to this challenge and youth must be inspired to meet it. Unless they will be prepared to roll up their sleeves and go to work the West may become again an abandoned waste, the Northland a series of desolate shaft-heads until a hardier race appears.
The second problem which Canadian youth faces today is the challenge of ideas and systems which are directly opposed to the ideals and principles embodied in British democratic institutions.
If Dictatorships continue to score material successes, as they are apparently doing, by use of blackmail, intimidation, ruthless force, deceptive propaganda., and more important, by compelling the service of all citizens and all wealth to the use of the nation, may not the allegiance of youth even in this country be seriously affected. I believe the youth today is extremely practical--yes, even perhaps cynical--at least inclined to be very impatient with time-worn slogans if they suspect them to be merely words. They will be inclined to judge principles by practical results and the apparent orderliness, drive and power of Fascism may easily win them.
I neglect Communism only because I believe it is waning at the moment. In Russia it has been failing during the past year. I think the menace today is more that of Fascism than Communism, until the next few major wars may again raise its head.
I believe there is only one way to meet this serious challenge. To prove to them by our example the superiority of those principles we claim to represent and inspire them in a continued devotion to these ideals.
I do not believe it is possible to educate youth in a strong allegiance to democracy or British institutions by merely preaching, waving the flag or heaping ridicule on rival systems but only by proving that in times of difficulty and stress such as we are experiencing today we are capable of voluntary and efficient co-operation for the welfare of the nation; that we can sacrifice individual, municipal and provincial narrow interests and greed for the common weal, with even better effect than is possible through forced service under the heel of dictatorships. Only by such example can we insure that the youth of today and the citizens of tomorrow shall remain loyal to those principles which we claim to be ours.
Now, let me outline to you briefly an experiment which was started at Upper Canada College and which has now broadened to include other schools, an experiment in education for citizenship having regard to those particular factors which affect Canadian youth.
Three years ago we made a beginning by taking groups of boys to the North country of Ontario and Quebec to show them the amazing development which is taking place there, to stimulate their imagination and interest in the northern frontiers.
Next this experiment was broadened in two directions to include a wider horizon.
Mr. Biggar of the staff of Upper Canada College arranged a carefully prepared system of summer visits by our boys to Quebec where they stayed in French-Canadian homes to achieve greater understanding of that important part of Canada.
On the other hand we undertook two summer expeditions to the Northwest. On the first one I took a group of boys with local guides and horses from the Peace River District into the Rocky Mountains which we crossed eleven times and travelled 300 miles in perfectly unsettled country to Mount Robson.
Last year we co-operated with a number of Eastern schools and four Masters and a Doctor took thirty-two boys to the Peace River country where with 86 horses we crossed the Rockies into the Fraser Valley and then in boasts, specially built for us at Summit Lake, north of Prince George, we descended along the route made famous by Sir Alexander MacKenzie and Simon Fraser down the Peace River through the Rockies back into the Peace River Country.
I believe this sort of thing has a three-fold educational value. First, it opens up the eyes of young Canadians to the romance, the grandeur, the immensity of Canada and its vast problems as nothing else can. It may teach them to think in terms of national development and inspire them with the idea of national service. Secondly, it challenges there to meet hardships unflinchingly when hardships are but an adventure and thus may help to revive the spirit and courage of the old pioneers. Thirdly, a hard long journey of this kind teaches the value of voluntary cooperation and comradeship-the very foundations of all democracy-in a way this cannot be taught in the classroom, playing field or by preaching.
In order to extend the education value of this work, this winter we have formed a Schools Exploration Society of Canada with the enthusiastic interest and support of His Excellency the Governor-General, Lord Tweedsmuir. On our, board we have leading Canadians representing every section of Canada. We have done this in order that we might build up an Associate membership from among those who think this work worth while so that with funds thus made available we could carry those boys, carefully selected, who might most benefit by this sort of education even though they might not be able to afford the cost of our expeditions. So far the expeditions have been financed entirely by the parents of those boys who have taken part.
As we find and train responsible leaders, if we exercise great cave for the safety of the boys, and limit the size of our parties, we can extend this work until it becomes of real national educational value.
It may be possible to establish contacts with a similar society that has flourished in England for some years and foster mutual co-operation and interest between British and Canadian boys.
We plan to use the work of the Society to foster an interest in the country's past and make the study of Canadian history more inspiring. Thus, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sir Alexander MacKenzie's epoch journey from the Peace to the Pacfic we hope to carry through an expedition following exactly in his tracks taking an historic film in colour for educational purposes, enacting the various incidents along the route--the boys themselves preparing the scenario--unless Hollywood beats us to it.
These are the plans. How far we will succeed depends largely on the interest and helpful co-operation that you--the parents and the public--extend to this whole idea.
I believe the development of this work can go a long way to stimulate the imagination of Canadian youth to the realization of a greater Canada and make it unnecessary for so many boys to wonder what they can do with themselves in a country such as this.
.... Mr. Ignatieff's address was followed by moving pictures of the trip into the Peace River country, described in his address ....
PRESIDENT: Mr. Ignatieff, there is only one regret we have, that is that time did not permit you to speak longer and show more of your beautiful pictures. I think the fathers have really had something put over them and you will probably have a lot of applications from fathers next year. We are grateful to you for the work you are doing on behalf of the youth of Canada, and we thank you on behalf of this Club for your most interesting address.