The Building of a Nation
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Feb 1927, p. 18-28
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Thorson, J.T., Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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Building a nation in this new land of Canada. Charged with a great responsibility with two functions to perform: as architects to draw the plans for a noble edifice, and as builders to carry out those plans in order that our building may endure. Using the materials at hand. Materials available in Canada for the building of a nation. The foundation upon which we shall build in Canada. Binding together the material for nation building. Responses to the questions: "Has there yet developed in Canada a consciousness of nationality? Is Canada a nation: What is the status of Canada." Canada as a dependency, not a sovereign state. Canada's legal status. The Dominion of Canada existing as a legal entity due to the British North American Act of 1867. Legislation subject to review and disallowance by the government of Great Britain. A change in attitude of Great Britain to Canada upon the granting of responsible government to her. Self-government as conferred upon us by Confederation. How economic progress has played its part in our national growth. Canada's participation in the Imperial Conferences as another factor contributing toward national development. The kernel of Canadian nationality ripening still further during the war. Progress since the war, with specific examples. The growing demand that Canada should have the right to determine for herself whether her judicial system should be self-contained or whether appeals should lie to the Privy Council. Equality with Great Britain in the enjoyment of constitutional rights. The recent Imperial Conference, which declared definitely that equality of status which had gradually been recognized in practice. The door open for an increase in Canadian autonomy. Questions as to whether Canada's steady and rapid growth will continue and also, "can it cease?" Why we should concern ourselves with a national consciousness. What the speaker means by this term. How to overcome obstacles. Dealing with four distinct economic sections in Canada. Keeping in mind the needs of Canada when defining economic policies. Economic unity and prosperity of Canada dependent upon the manner in which sectional difficulties are solved. The need to develop in Canada a greater knowledge of the economic needs of the various sections of Canada, a sense of national interdependence in order that each section of Canada may develop according to its needs, for the common welfare of Canada as a whole. Racial problems in Canada and suggestions for solving them. Freely recognizing that this Canadian nationality is now and probably always will be a dual nationality. Basing Canada's democracy on the eternal principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. An illustration from the speaker's native City of Winnipeg.
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10 Feb 1927
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English
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Full Text

AN ADDRESS BY J. T. THORSON, M.A., M.P., DEAN OF THE MANITOBA LAW SCHOOL. (Links of Empire Series) 10th February, 1927.

THE PRESIDENT introduced the Speaker as a distinguished Canadian, and welcomed him to the Club.

DEAN THORSON: was received with cheers, and spoke as follows: Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the Empire Club of Canada, I wish to express my appreciation of the honor which was conferred upon me when your Secretary invited me to address your Club, and I wish also to thank your Chairman for the very flattering remarks which he has just made concerning myself. I hope that I will be able to live up to the good wishes that he expressed on my behalf.

I have chosen the subject, the Building of the Nation, for my remarks to you this afternoon. If any of you are not agreed with the statements that I shall make during the course of my address, that I regret, but the statements which I propose to make, I make in all sincerity and in all honesty.

In building a nation in this new land of Canada we are charged with a great responsibility, and in discharging that responsibility we have two functions to perform. As architects we must draw the plans for a noble edifice, and as builders we must carry out those plans in order that our building may endure. Moreover, we must use the materials which we have at hand, our own materials. What materials are there in Canada for the building of a nation ? We have sound men and women of various racial origins, courageous and aggressive, and we have tremendous natural resources, fertile fields and vast forests, rich mines, and waters teeming with fish. Our industries are expanding and we have built and devised great systems of transportation and distribution. Of all these assets we in Canada are justly proud, but they alone can never make a nation. Bricks alone do not make a building; they must be truly laid upon a firm foundation, and they must be securely bound together. Upon what foundation shall we build in Canada ? How shall we bind together the material for nation building that we so plentifully possess. These are questions that I should like to discuss with you briefly this afternoon.

It has been said that the inhabitants of a country are a nation when they feel themselves to be a nation. Has there yet developed in Canada any such consciousness of nationality ? Is Canada a nation ? What is the status of Canada ? If I were to answer that question in a purely legalistic sense, I would say that the status of Canada is that of a dependency, and not that of sovereign state. The Dominion of Canada owes its existence as a legal entity to the British North American Act of 1867, a statute passed by the Parliament of Great Britain. That statute is the charter of Canada, beyond which its legislatures, whether federal or provincial, cannot validly act; and all legislation passed by the Parliament of Canada is subject to review and disallowance by the government of Great Britain. The Parliament of Great Britain, according to the terms of the British North America Act, possesses paramount legislative authority in all matters over the Dominion of Canada. We have heard a great deal recently of the Imperial Conference and the declarations made at that conference, but keep in mind that the Imperial Conference had no legislative authority, and the legal status of Canada has not changed one iota since Confederation. But the state of the law does not always reveal the true state of affairs. We had from the Privy Council very recently in the case of Rex v. Naden a startling reminder of Canada's inferior and subordinate legal position. But practice develops into constitutional convention, and constitutional conventions have political sanctions behind them, equal in force, at least, although different in kind, to the sanctions of law, and it would be wrong to say that the present status of Canada is to be found solely within the four corners of the British North America Act and its amendments. The husks of the law do not entirely conceal the ripening kernel of Canadian nationality. Prior to Confederation there were several British Colonies in British North America, each with a measure of self-government, each having its own separate political and economic entity. Their attitude of mind was colonial and provincial, and any idea of distinct nationality was indeed remote. Yet there were men in those days who could see visions of the future; Macdonald, Cartier, Tupper, and Magee, to mention only a few of the Fathers of Confederation, were real statesmen. They had the image of a united Canada before their eyes and they were not afraid to hope for the future. Their dreams of yesterday are becoming the realities of today. They sowed the seed of Canadian nationality, and that seed has grown with marvelous rapidity. Time does not permit me to do more than merely outline the stages of that rapid growth.

Upon the granting of responsible government to Canada there was a complete change in the attitude of Great Britain to Canada. Government from Downing Street is a thing of the past. Confederation conferred upon us a large measure of self-government. The checks on Federal Legislation have been rarely exercised, and there has been a complete recognition of our autonomy in the spheres of jurisdiction respectively assigned to the Provincial Legislatures and the Federal Parliament. We have been encouraged, by the wisdom of Great Britain, to solve our own problems in our own way, and our political independence and self-government in the spheres of jurisdiction assigned to us has developed a pride that comes from self-respect.

Economic progress has also played its part in our national growth. We are beginning to feel that in this. Canada of ours we have a heritage of value, that this country is not a barren waste of ice and snow but a land of wealth and promise. The cultivation of our Western prairies, once regarded as worthless, the exploitation of our mines and our forests, and the development of our water powers, have given us the feeling that we are not paupers, that we can take our place with the other nations of the world and stand solidly upon our own feet, and we face the future with optimism and confidence. (Applause).

Prior to the war another factor contributed toward our national development. I refer to our participation in Imperial Conferences. The Dominions were called into the councils of the Empire on terms of equality as partners. At those Conferences our Canadian Premiers from Sir Wilfrid Laurier onward, and regardless of their political affiliations, have constantly maintained an independent attitude, and stoutly insisted upon the rights of the Canadian Parliament to determine for Canada what the course of Canada should be; and British Statesmen have freely recognized the justice of the position so uniformly taken by our Canadian leaders. And during the war the kernel of Canadian nationality ripened still further. No nation in the world played a more heroic part than Canada in that great drama that began in 1914. And Canada emerged in that war with a new status in the eyes of the world. She signed the peace treaty, and was recognized by Great Britain and by the powers of the world as a nation. She has taken her seat in the Councils of the League of Nations, and she proudly holds her place in the ranks of those nations that have undertaken the arduous march toward the goal of world peace. (Applause).

Since the War further progress has taken place. We in Canada are thinking and speaking in terms of Canada more than we ever did before. The Canadian Clubs have begun a new lease of life. On every hand we see such organizations as the Native Sons of Canada springing into existence. From coast to coast groups of thinking men are being formed for the sole purpose of studying Canadian problems and promoting good will and mutual understanding among the various sections of Canada. Canada now negotiates her own treaties with other nations; she has at last appointed an Ambassador to Washington, her first representative at a foreign capital; and Washington has reciprocated. There is a growing demand that Canada should have the right to determine for herself-whether she exercises that right or not is another matter-whether her judicial system should be self-contained or whether appeals should lie to the Privy Council. And we have settled for all time I hope that responsible government means in Canada exactly what it means in Great Britain, nothing more, nothing less, that in the last resort responsibility for political policies and political conduct 'shall be to the electors themselves. In the enjoyment of constitutional rights Canada has equality with Great Britain.

Now we come to the recent Imperial Conference, which declared definitely that equality of status which had gradually been recognized in practice. While that declaration of equality by the Imperial Conference has no legal validity, it nevertheless marks a great stage in our own development, for certain agreements are therein implied. Great Britain has impliedly agreed that she will not exercise the sovereign powers which she legally possesses, except with the concurrence or upon the request of Canada. The door is open for an increase of Canadian autonomy. Canada has simply to make the request, and the request will be granted. A little over a year ago I had the pleasure and the very great privilege of hearing the distinguished Canadian orator, Sir George Foster, speaking on the subject of Canada. He outlined very much more ably than I could hope to do, some of the stages of development that I have mentioned, and he made one statement upon that occasion which I should like to repeat to you today. No nation in the world of the size of Canada can point to as great an achievement as Canada has accomplished in the short space of half a century. The pulse of Canada is quickening and national consciousness has become a real factor in the public life of Canada. Our national growth has been steady and rapid. There axe two questions which I should like to leave with you for your consideration. One of them is this, shall that growth continue ? And the other question is, can it cease ?

You may well ask me, why should we concern ourselves with the development of a national consciousness in Canada, a sense of nationality distinctively Canadian. If we have self-government and material prosperity, what more do we want ? What is the value of a national consciousness, a sense of nationality distinctly Canadian. Let me answer that question by turning to the lessons of history, but before I do so I should perhaps endeavour to explain to you what I mean by the term. I am not using the term in its original sense, for that implies community of racial origins, and that we do not possess in Canada. Nor am I using the term in a purely legal sense, implying solely community of allegiance, for we owe that allegiance in common with India and the Gold Coast. I am using the term perhaps in a special sense, I mean by it the spirit that holds the inhabitants of a country together, that places the country in which they live first in their affection, brings them from periods of adversity to periods of success, makes them a united force ready to defend their country and give their lives if need by in order that the honour of that country be preserved and that it may continue free and prosperous. I mean by the term the same spirit that inspired Leonidas and his noble band of Spartans to lay down their lives at Thermopylae that the Persian horde might not over-run Greece the land they loved; the spirit that moved Drake with his tiny English fleet to attack the Invincible Armada and sweep it from the seas, and so saved England from the maw of Spain; the spirit that held the British line intact at Waterloo and saved Europe from Napoleon; the spirit that actuated the French at Verdun, expressed in the words "They shall not pass" that kept the German troops out of Paris; the self same spirit that held the Canadians fast in that hell of poison gas at the Battle of Ypres. (Applause). Is the spirit that enables men to do these things, that keeps a nation steadfast, intact and strong, likely to be cast aside as a thing of little value ? And yet there are many in this land of ours who would stifle our very growth toward nationality and nationhood. They raise the cry of disloyalty. To them the quickening of the pulse of Canada spells disintegration of the Empire, the breaking of the ties that bind Canada to Great Britain, the abnegation of British institutions and traditions. Gentlemen, their fears are unfounded. (Applause). There is no one in this audience who more ardently admires British institutions and British traditions than I do. Great Britain is the mother of liberty, she has been the leader of the world in system and political development. She stands in the very forefront of the nations of the world as the home of law and order, a model of commercial and political morality for other nations of the world to follow. Yet nowhere in the world is there greater national consciousness than in the countries of Scotland and England. Has the national consciousness of Scotland weakened the ties of Empire? Then why have fears for the development of a national consciousness and a pride and love of country in Canada? I have no fears for the future of Canada; there is developing in Canada today a national consciousness and I am proud of it. Let it .be our duty, yours and mine, to develop that consciousness, nourish it, so that it may grow clean and strong.

We have accomplished much in this short space of half a century, and much remains to be accomplished. Our pathway is beset with obstacles, economic and racial. We have many problems still to solve. How shall we overcome the obstacles in our way ? How shall we solve the problems that confront us ? Canada, unfortunately, is not an economic entity, and is fighting a. difficult battle against natural geographic barriers.

Our provinces have been described as a row of pearls loosely strung on the thin threads of our transcontinental railways, British Columbia thousands of miles from Nova Scotia. We have-and this has been repeated so often that I hesitate to repeat it today-four distinct economic sections in Canada. The Maritime Provinces isolated in a corner, the central provinces with their industrial ambitions, the agricultural prairie provinces, and British Columbia over the mountains by the Pacific Coast. Each section has its own economic needs, and they are widely divergent. There is discontent in the Maritime Provinces and much talk of Maritime rights. Central Canada demands protection for her industries; the west battles with the east and insists upon the claims of agriculture, and British Columbia is specially concerned with the solution of her own problems. Sectionalism with its attendant discord threatens the national economic harmony. And to the south of us for over four thousand miles we have a wealthy and powerful neighbor, friendly, it is true, but nevertheless constantly acting as a magnet, drawing from us thousands of our best young men and women with the lure of greater opportunity, and at the same time peacefully acquiring economic control over many of our industries, and many of our natural resources. These are great problems; far be it from me to attempt their solution today, but may I in all humility make certain suggestions ?

In defining economic policies, let us not be led into vain competition with our wealthy neighbor, but keep in mind the needs of Canada. We are at times prone to envy the greater monetary wealth of that powerful neighbor. Let us cast out from our souls any spirit of envy, for we need feel no envy if we develop properly what we have ourselves. (Hear, hear, and applause.) Canada is richer in natural wealth per capita than any other country in the world, but we must develop that wealth in concord and harmony. Most of the economic problems of Canada are problems, because they are sectional problems, and our economic difficulties will continue to be in the main sectional difficulties. Sectional demands, therefore, must be granted if those sectional demands are just, and if the granting of them is essential to the development of the particular section involved. The health of the body depends upon the health of all its organs, and the economic unity and prosperity of Canada depends upon the manner in which sectional difficulties are solved. We must develop in Canada a greater knowledge of the economic needs of the various sections of Canada, a sense of national interdependence in order that each section of Canada may develop according to its needs, for the common welfare of Canada as a whole. And our national consciousness must include in it that essential spirit of co-operation based upon mutual understanding and good-will.

And we have racial problems in Canada, considered serious by some. The extent of that seriousness depends upon our attitude to the problem. We have a mixed population in this land of ours, of French, British, and non-British origin. How shall we weld all these peoples into a united whole ? It has always seemed to me that we ought to draw some distinction between French Canadians and other Canadians of non-British origin. The latter came to this country ready to build a new home in this new land. They have purposely broken the ties that bound them to the land of their birth; they have purposely pulled their roots from the soil of their native land and planted them in Canada. Each group, and there are many of them, particularly in Western Canada, will have its contribution to make to the national life of Canada. And you and I will have to accept that contribution whether we like it or not, because the groups are here. But what that contribution will be depends upon our treatment of the newcomer. He must be trained to the task of nation-building, even as you and I must be trained. He must become familiar with the plans that we have drawn, he must learn to breathe the spirit of Canadian institutions and tradition, and you and I must be prepared to teach. (Applause.) But the French Canadian, in my humble opinion, is in a vastly different position. He is not an alien coming to a strange land; his fathers have trod the soil of Canada and breathed its spirit for over three hundred years. Different in racial origin, different in language, different in religion from the majority of other Canadians, he has remained different for over 150 years since Canada came under the British flag. He has clung to his language and to his religion with that fervid intensity that must command our admiration, and in my humble opinion he will continue to cling with that same fervid intensity. And why interfere ? True national unity does not depend upon uniformity of any race or creed. We cannot, even if we should desire to do so, press men into a common mould. Quebec cannot be made English, and I imagine that Ontario will not willingly become French. And why try ? Why not face the facts ? Why not freely recognize that this Canadian nationality of which we speak is now and probably always will be a dual nationality ? What Belgium and Switzerland have done, Canada likewise can do. The plans which we have drawn for this Canada of ours are the plans of a great democracy, and true democracy is founded upon the eternal principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. These are to constitute the foundation upon which we shall build the Canadian nation. Liberty of self-development, equality of language and religion, and the fraternity of a common love of Canada. (Applause.)

I trust that you will pardon me if I make use of an illustration from my native City of Winnipeg. In that city we have splendid Parliament Buildings, situated on Broadway between Kennedy Street on the east and Osborne Street on the west. In front of these Parliament Buildings there are four statues. Upon the statue nearest Kennedy Street, the farthest east, there are engraved these words, "May the new Province of Manitoba speak always to the inhabitants of the Northwest the language of reason, truth, and justice." What a noble sentence. Manitoba has not always spoken that language, but Manitoba must learn to speak it, and every province of Canada must learn to speak it to every other province if Canada is to be the great land that we plan it to be. These words were spoken by Cartier, a French Canadian Father of Confederation, of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, and it is his statue which stands there nearest Kennedy Street, the statue of a French Canadian. And then proceeding westward we come to a statue presented by the Kingdom of Iceland to the Province of Manitoba. (Applause.) It is that of a man called John Eggartson, little known in the history of world politics, but he is known in Iceland, a man who fought for political independence in that small island in the northern seas. Many pass that statue day-by-day and wonder who that man is with that foreign sounding name. To me that statue signifies more than merely that obscure statesman. It symbolizes to me the presence in our midst of the descendants of our foreign-born who left the land of their birth and came to Canada, that their children might enjoy the freedom and the liberty of this great new land. And in front of the entrance to the Parliament Buildings Queen Victoria sits on her throne of bronze, a constant reminder of our unbreakable Anglo-Saxon ties. (Applause.) And furthest west, in the direction of the setting sun there is a monument erected to our fallen soldiers, erected by their next of kin, and upon that monument are engraved the names of Canadian heroes of French, British, and non-British origin. United, those men fought in war against a common foe, and gallantly those men gave their lives for Canada and for liberty. Equal those men lie in the fields of France and Flanders, equal in the fraternity of death. And shall we not be worthy of those gallant men, and that national consciousness of which I speak breathe those eternal principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity ? Then we shall have the cement with which to bind together the material for nation-building that we possess, and we shall complete that edifice according to our plans, and it will be ours, and our children's, and our children will keep that edifice throughout the ages with pride, and that edifice we shall call Canada, our home and native land. (Applause.)

The thanks of the Club to the speaker were tendered by Dean Falconbridge of the Ontario Law School.

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The Building of a Nation


Building a nation in this new land of Canada. Charged with a great responsibility with two functions to perform: as architects to draw the plans for a noble edifice, and as builders to carry out those plans in order that our building may endure. Using the materials at hand. Materials available in Canada for the building of a nation. The foundation upon which we shall build in Canada. Binding together the material for nation building. Responses to the questions: "Has there yet developed in Canada a consciousness of nationality? Is Canada a nation: What is the status of Canada." Canada as a dependency, not a sovereign state. Canada's legal status. The Dominion of Canada existing as a legal entity due to the British North American Act of 1867. Legislation subject to review and disallowance by the government of Great Britain. A change in attitude of Great Britain to Canada upon the granting of responsible government to her. Self-government as conferred upon us by Confederation. How economic progress has played its part in our national growth. Canada's participation in the Imperial Conferences as another factor contributing toward national development. The kernel of Canadian nationality ripening still further during the war. Progress since the war, with specific examples. The growing demand that Canada should have the right to determine for herself whether her judicial system should be self-contained or whether appeals should lie to the Privy Council. Equality with Great Britain in the enjoyment of constitutional rights. The recent Imperial Conference, which declared definitely that equality of status which had gradually been recognized in practice. The door open for an increase in Canadian autonomy. Questions as to whether Canada's steady and rapid growth will continue and also, "can it cease?" Why we should concern ourselves with a national consciousness. What the speaker means by this term. How to overcome obstacles. Dealing with four distinct economic sections in Canada. Keeping in mind the needs of Canada when defining economic policies. Economic unity and prosperity of Canada dependent upon the manner in which sectional difficulties are solved. The need to develop in Canada a greater knowledge of the economic needs of the various sections of Canada, a sense of national interdependence in order that each section of Canada may develop according to its needs, for the common welfare of Canada as a whole. Racial problems in Canada and suggestions for solving them. Freely recognizing that this Canadian nationality is now and probably always will be a dual nationality. Basing Canada's democracy on the eternal principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. An illustration from the speaker's native City of Winnipeg.