AN ADDRESS BY JOHN FISHER,
C.B.C.'s Roving Commentator
Chairman: The President, Tracv E. Lloyd
Thursday, October 2, 1947
GENTLEMEN: The Empire Club of Canada, on this, its first Regular Meeting of the 1947-1948 season, welcomes as its guest of honour, Mr. John Fisher, C.B.C.'s well known roving commentator, whose voice is so well known to Canadian radio listeners.
Mr. Fisher is a native of Sackville, N.B., and is a member of the Bar of Nova Scotia. He graduated from Dalhousie University, Halifax, and spent several years in newspaper reporting and editorial work.
Mr. Fisher has a wide knowledge of Canada and of Canadians and in his "Canadian Yarns" series, he took his listeners from Coast to coast visiting large cities and small towns and out of-the-way places regaling them with the facts of Canadian folklore. It is interesting to note that requests from listeners for copies of these talks set a record in Canada--over 27,000 requests having been received for a series of thirteen broadcasts. Mr. Fisher is bilingual and occasionally appears as a guest in French over stations of Radio Canada.
Many of us listen to Mr. Fisher each Sunday at 5 :03 to 5:15 on 'John .Fisher Reports' and this program is recorded and transmitted over the C.B.C.'s new international service to Europe. Our guest has won many radio awards in recognition of his services to radio and in 1945 was awarded the LaFleche Trophy for the most outstanding contribution to Canadian radio as a commentator.
We welcome Mr. John Fisher who will now address the Empire Club on the intriguing subject "Cobwebs".
MR. FISHER: Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
I was out in the City of Winnipeg the other day and in the Hudson's Bay Store there I saw an old Red River cart. A man standing there said, "Those carts will never roll again, because the frontier has gone." I was tempted to say to that man, "You are all wrong. Now there are many new frontiers, because we have today the aid of the thing called "Science". Even the plains gone over with the Red River cart many years ago present a new challenge now. Talk about forests! There is a whole horizon here, too! And there is a frontier in our lakes! To know what to do with conservation there. There is a frontier in spring floods! But, the biggest frontier of all cannot be seen. It is the frontier of the mind.
It is awfully easy for a man to get things into, his Noggin, but it is very hard to get them out. We can't push the cobwebs that get into people's heads, with bulldozers or with science. That has to come from the heart and reason. And I suppose the worst cobweb that gets into the mind is resistance to change. The genius is to know how to strike the balance: what to preserve and what to cast aside.
In a world made one by science and the aeroplane, we have to start to project our minds beyond the 49th parallel, beyond the Empire, beyond the United States, beyond Finland, China, etc. There has to be a new family approach about other peoples. We have to strike out of our thinking the miserable word "foreigner", because now with the aid of an aeroplane it is possible to go to England within a few hours. But I know this, that if you just look back to Orville Wright in 1905, he went 40 miles an hour. That was only forty years ago. The other day the Royal Air Force went 650 miles an hour. If you take it just in simple progression, in another forty years, we will go fifteen times faster. If we keep that speed up we will be able to go to England in the time it takes you now to go to North Toronto. If you can go to London it means you can go to Paris-to Prague (unless the Iron Curtain comes down too hard). So we must have the new approach. Now Wendell Willkie was away ahead of his time: he talked about "One World". It is generations away, yet we must start thinking of a world community, and we must start devising some way in which we can all live, and we have to realize the other fellow has as much right to live as we have, providing he does not interefere with the rights of others.
It is so easy to let the cobwebs get into the mind and say, "The world is going to rot." You can read about all the rows in the Security Council of the United Nations at Lake Success. When Trygve Lie was in Winnipeg, I heard him say, when some woman said, "Why don't you pull out of New York and go to Geneva?" he said, "There is no room in Geneva." Geneva is full of all kinds of international societies working for the betterment of mankind, on medicine, on tariffs and exchange. That is the sweeter side of the United Nations we don't hear about, because we have developed a kind of psychosis that we have to have something sour. The other day I read a column in the paper about a man who found his wife with another man in a hotel bedroom, and he murdered her. But over on the other side, in a little obscure corner, Mr. and Mrs. So and So celebrated their 60th Wedding Anniversary. There is the sweet side of life. This was pushed up into the corner. Same way in international affairs--we are too anxious to reach for bad news.
It is so easy to become a defeatist and to let the cobwebs completely clutter up the mind.
Now what has that got to do with this Dominion of Canada, which your Chairman said I cross several times a year. That Dominion of Canada means a great deal to me, not because my people came here in 1783 as Loyalists, or because I was born here and have spent so much of my life here. It means a great deal because I think the Dominion of Canada is the most fortunate nation in the world today; (a) it is part British and can draw on its British heritage; (b) it is next to the United States and can draw on that American dream. We are Northern, and we have to work a little harder, which is a good thing. It is a northern country, and we have a wonderful future ahead of us if we can just get rid of a few of the cobwebs, if we will stop trying to be someone else and just realize the wonderful heritage we have here.
You hear a great deal of talk in this country about what we are going to do in Canada in the future, and about the brains going across the border into the United States. I maintain we should form a 2 CC Club in Canada. We should have Conservation simultaneous with Dominion of Canada.
You will hear a lot of people say, "We are cutting down our wood". It is not so much that we are cutting it down, but we are not employing the magic of science to the greatest of all Canadian heritages, the Forest. It is the forest which supports the greatest manufacturing industry in the Dominion of Canada. More people are employed in the Pulp and Paper industry than in any other industry of Canada. It is a magnificent story of the fruits of free enterprise. But do you know that in two years Spruce Bud worms in this country spoil more forest than the Pulp and Paper industry cut in nine years!
Col. Bennett, you spoke to me about Shediac just before luncheon and told me that your wife came from Shediac. Just last year they had a fire outside the town of Shediac, in that little corner of Canada, which burned a greater area than Sweden loses in 12 to 13 years. The Swedes and some of the other Scandinavians have practically abolished forest fires. They have done it by selling the importance of the forest to the man on the street; by opening up roads. It is absolutely amazing now what an engineer can do with a square mile of trees. He can beat Nature three or four times. You give a forest engineer a free hand, and he can produce three or four times the timber that Nature would do if left alone. Through selection and the wonders of science he can perform magic.
The Swedes have been cutting more and more each year, but their forests still stand. I am told in this country we could double or treble the production of our Pulp and Paper industry, and still retain that Canadian heritage if we could sell the idea to the public, that our forest is our greatest resource and we must manage it properly.
We have heard a great deal about the English giving the Indians independence. A grand thing! But we don't hear about the most priceless thing the British left the Indians-they left them the greatest Forest-managed system in the world. The British think in terms of 100 years. Today in India they have the finest Forest-managed System in the whole wide world.
There are wonderful things we can do with forests and streams if we get a few of the old cobwebs out of our mind.
You know the idea is--we have had so much bush--the idea was to burn it down, clear it away, "I must make myself some kind of land", consequently we became immune to the value of conservation. Since we started taking inventories of the forest, over 60% of the forest area of Canada has been burned.
Science now has developed over four thousand uses for wood. We are living in a Waod Economy, not a steel economy. The demands for paper and paper products are increasing and increasing all the time, and as the democracy of the peoples of the world grows, up shoots the demand f or paper. 400 million Indians--400 million Chinese--as they go forward, they will want more paper. The basis of Democracy is paper. As people increase their standard of living, they will want more and more paper. I suppose at some time in the future, for hygienic reasons, we will be eating off paper plates and drinking from paper cups.
The forests are going down all over the world and Canada has one of the great last stands of soft wood. The eyes of the world are turning to us. And if in forty years we developed the greatest manufacturing industry of Canada, look 'what we can do in the next forty years to come. But we must sell the heritage of the forest to the Canadian people. We must see that more roads are put in, and the protection is there.
We have had the wrong idea about the bush-"that is where the black fly is--get rid of the bush." It is the greatest heritage we have.
Then we have another problem in conservation: Conservation of the Brains. Every day people cross the U.S. border to feed in green pasture land. Most of these are young doctors, young scientists. Why do they go to the United States, Is it alone to feed on the green pasture there? Is it because they get more money there? Not entirely. It is largely an attitude. Some young Canadians feel they will get farther in the United States. Recognition will come quicker; that they won't run into so much stuffiness as we have in Canada. You could see that in the American Army during the last war. They put a little more of a premium on youth, and they are willing to put a little more gamble on a man's talent. It is true, of course, that you will always find somebody there who will be willing to take a handsome percentage of the proceeds for promoting you.
We have made a poor selling job about Canada. We have not talked enough about--our Canadian "pastures". I think it is time we took the draw out of the American magnet and featured our own green pastures.
Twelve million people inhabiting this country of ours! Not enough people to begin with. And how little we know about Canada! Take that old slogan "Canada stretches from sea to sea"--that is a myth. The Arctic has a longer coast line than the Atlantic and the Pacific put together. 5,000 Islands in the Pacific and Atlantic and more than 25,000 islands in the Arctic. There is one island in this Arctic part of Canada called Baffinland. If we put one end of it on Toronto it would stretch to Winnipeg. We have mountain peaks unnamed in the Arctic which are higher than the Rockies. We have 3 islands in the Arctic which are bigger than England. Do you know that Canada is as high as it is wide? We think in terms of "Halifax to Vancouver". If you start at Pelee Island and go North to Cape Columbia in the Arctic it is the equivalent of Sydney to Victoria.
But what are we doing about that north land? There is another side to that Arctic land. It is time that Canadians gave a little snore thought to what we have up there, because, just remember, our position in the world; we live between the two giants! Yet this is a curious trait of Canadian genius: we have a society called "Arctic Institute of North America". This year they offered two scholarships of $2,000 each. Seventeen people applied--two of them came from Mexico, two from Finland, one from Holland, one from China, ten Americans, and only one Canadian! Why is that? Why is it, in this country, that we have developed a positive genius for playing-down, de-glamourizing almost everything we touch? Why is it, in this country, that you never have any pilgrimages to Ottawa, in the same terms as they have in the United States? Did you ever hear of a Canadian taking his family to Ottawa to see it as a national shrine? The American can take his family from the Lone Star State of Texas, and he can go to Washington, and hate "that guy in the White House", but he can still say to his children, "That is the White House"--"Grant's Tomb"--"The symbols of our country". But Washington does not express the personality of the United States as accurately as does Ottawa ours. Washington is beautiful, it is well-made, but you don't feel the rush and roar of Detroit's Assembly Line, you don't feel the glamour of Hollywood in Washington, nor the expanse of the Plains. But Ottawa symbolizes the personality of Canada-cold and unaffected! (Laughter.)
I talked about the bush. Canada's history is linked with the bush. Those brave and courageous men that came out to found a continent always had to travel on rivers. They always had the bush and the black fly.
Within a stone's throw of Ottawa almost, is the black fly.
A waterfall within a few hundred yards of the Parliament buildings--very Canadian is a waterfall--and here you have the meeting of the Rivers, the Gatineau and the Ottawa. From the Chateau Laurier you can look out at the twinkling lights of the habitant villages in the Province of Quebec. Here at Ottawa English and French face each other. On one side you can be in the wild bush country, and on the other side you can get into the soft English side of the Rideau.
Why is it we have no Canadian jokes--I mean the kind I could tell over the radio? Why is there no joke about the Canadian, such as you hear about the the Irishman, the Scotsman, the American?
Why is it we have never developed Canadian dishes, and it is very hard to find native food? You can get hot dogs, true, and apple pie a la mode; but about the only Canadian dish you get from coast to coast is Pea Soup.
Take this great city of Toronto-a magnificent achievement! As a city compare it to any of the American cities and see how it stands out! If you want to get native food, Canadian food, unusual dishes, in the City of Toronto, you will starve to death. But you can go to Buffalo, just across the line, and you can get all kinds of American food and local specialties. The Americans allow their color to come even into their food.
Oh, yes, we have cowboy songs in Canada, but Prince Edward Island is the only place where they really sing them. Although we have a wide lone Prairie we imported from across the line our cowboy songs.
I am perpetually in the dog house. Canadians are so touchy regionally, but our national hide is just like a rhinoceros. I can go on the radio and bang the life out of Canada, and no one says anything. But let me say something kind or unkind about Toronto, and I am licked. Call the place Souris out on the prairie Souree instead of Souris, and you get the dickens. There was a gentleman in Charlottetown, Mr. Justice Arsenault, who wrote me a letter: He said:--"Last night on the radio you said Canada stretched from Vancouver to Halifaxbut you are all wrong, it should be, from Sydney to Victoria:" Well we have to be diplomatic on the radio, and I had to reply to him, "I am sorry, judge--you are right; it should be Sydney to Victoria." But then he wrote me again. He said: "I am tired of you Upper Canadians overlooking Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of Confederation." I had four letters from the man, and three times he called me an Upper Canadian, who did not know where Prince Edward Island was. Well the truth of the matter is that Canada starts at the Straits of Belle Isle and ends in the Yukon, not Vancouver Island.
I finally had to write him, and I said in my letter, "Dear judge, you always insist that lawyers marshal their facts in the court. (a) For your information I am not an Upper Canadian; (b) My mother got off the Prince Edward Island boat just in time for me to be born; (c) my grandfather was born in Prince Edward Island; (d) I spent all my summers in Prince Edward Island; (e) My uncle was Chief justice of your own Court."
Two weeks later I picked up a paper to see that Mr. Justice Arsenault had resigned. (Laughter.)
You would be surprised how you can arouse Canadians on a regional basis. If I am talking about the West, I must mention the Maritimes.
Why have we developed a kind of see-saw in Canada? I think it is because of the shadows. There is the great American shadow. When we were young it was always so much bigger, and it made us feel a little conscious that we could never do it on that scale, consequently we leaned over a little bit. The British culture in the old days was so refined, it probably made us feel a little inferior and Colonial. And consequently, everything we do is influenced by these shadows. If you have a new law, you find out that somebody in Queens Park has studied a similar British or American Act and they have extracted from it here and there, and made it one for us. I think that has formed a kind of naked personality, which we call Canadian, which, although it makes me mad, may be a great gift. It will never be nationalistic, it will never belittle we should have a sound international outlook because of the shadows. We have always had others who could do it bigger and better, therefore our approach to those outside is a little humble, and maybe that is what the world needs: a little humility.
CONSERVATION and CANADA should be simultaneous. The boys have been going to the United States because we have not been selling our country to them. We have brought into this country more than four million people since 1867. A big immigration scheme! But for nearly every person we brought in, we lost one to the United States, and the population of Canada today is just the result of normal growth. That immigration we had was vitiated almost completely by migration-and worse, because the migration was of Canadian stock which went through Canadian schools.
Gentlemen, I think it is time that we thought of the world a little more, and thought of opening our gates a little more. I don't see how we can inhabit this enormous land with 12 million people! I read something said by Professor Griffith Taylor-he said: "In fifty years time in the Province of Alberta there will be half the population of Canada." Some people will say; "It will upset our economy to bring in more people." Economy be darned! In the name of humanity, and in the name of buttressing tomorrow, we have to fill up some of these spaces, and we have to fill up some of the land to the north. They used to say "that blasted rock! It will never be any good for anything but black flies!" Well-look! 93 % of the world's nickel! 99% of the world's platinum! Almost the whole production of radium and uranium!
They say we have no unity in Canada. I would like to use a very crude expression-I will spell it rather than say it, "N U T S"! No unity in Canada. The enthusiasm we had in this war, the enormous industries we built up during the war! The things that Canada has done have never been equalled by 12 million people in this world! But our unity is not expressed in the way of spiritual things-not expressed in monuments, songs, clothes, food and jokes. We have not developed a love for our national capital.
You get a Canadian in the parlor car of a train, and he is the most self-conscious person in the world. If you get a bottle of whiskey into him, he always starts attacking the same subjects:
(a) The French Canadian (b) Billie King.
And the French Canadian talks about "Les maudits Anglaises".
Then we always talk about the Americans with just a little British reserve. And then some Canadians rant on the subject of the English. "Oh, you know the English are slow." But you don't get an Englishman in the smoker of a train using all his energy in the discussion of his country. He is more interested in Cricket! And an American will tell you what a So and So John Lewis is, or he will go on with a discussion of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But he will not go into an examination of where his own country is going. The British and Americans have given up talking about unity, and they have gone past that stage long ago.
Canadians have not quite matured yet, because of the shadows. We have been made to feel a little inferior, but I think we are now on the open road.
I have been talking today about Canada and Conservation.
Now the third great thing is extremely important. It is the conservation of a man's right to lift himself up by his own boot-straps, without filling out forms in triplicate to satisfy the whim of some bureacrat.
Now I think Canada, because of those shadows, will never suffer from excesses-that is the curse of the world today, excesses and abuses-too much reaction! But the Canadian thinking is neither to the American right nor the British left, but again it comes between. We compromise, we middle-road everything we touch. We do it politically and in economics too. That's a good thing. That is why we don't have Canadian jokes, Canadian foods, nor Canadian glamour. We love this see-saw business. Everything in Canada is double.
We are middle roaders, but we neglect the spirit. Funny thing! We have an Arctic Institute, and it seems everybody in the world wants to get into it but Canadians. We have the greatest tuna fishing tournament in the Maritimes, and they would almost fall down dead if a Canadian entered. We have Rocky Mountain Gamehunting. Scores of Frenchmen, the British, the Australians, partake, but no Canadians. Are we too close to it? Why is it that we have this kind of a complex?
Contrast our cautious middle-road-straight line complex with the U.S.A. In the United States everything goes like the spokes of a wheel. Even their accents vary--they allow color in everything-excesses. For instance, down in Boston they talk differently within the CitySouth Boston-Black Bay Boston and Harvard twang. Get to New York and you get the Brooklyn or New Jersey talk. In Philadelphia you get still another accent different than you get in other States. And a Texan would be highly insulted if you thought he came from Montana, by his talk.
But in Canada we all speak the same flat Englishlike the C.P.R. and C.N.R., our speech goes in flat, straight lines. (Laughter). We love straight lines. We build great railroads right across the continent in a straight line. We have an organization like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which goes Coast to Coast. In the United States their radio air lines go into every direction; so does their speech. In Canada, we are inclined to be dull, de-glamorized, but, efficient! True, there is a little variation in Cape Breton. If you were going to Glace Bay they might say, "Would you be after going to the Bay, Boy?" In Kitchener, when a man comes into the store, he will say, "My molasses is all." In the Ottawa Valley you might hear some Irish expressions.
Everything is "Sea to Sea". 'Ale take our cue from the Fathers of Confederation. They talked of Dominion from Coast to Coast, so we have been talking and preach it ever since. We love twins. Caution again.
We have a resort at jasper, so we must have another at Banff. In this country, if you talk about Wolfe, you must mention Montcalm. We love twins. (Laughter). If I talk about that great man, Sir John A. McDonald, someone gets sore if I don't also bring in Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In Halifax, if you mention Halifax harbor, you must also mention St. John Harbor. In Victoria they joke about that little pimple on the Coast called Vancouver. You would think they never had a rain drop in Victoria. In Calgary every morning they read the papers to see how much Edmonton has grown overnight! (Laughter). Regina will never forgive Saskatoon for having a university. We have a C.P.R. We have a C.N.R. We have a C.P.A. and a T.C.A. Yes, we have Eatons and we have Simpsons! (Laughter).
Well, Gentleman, those are just a few reflections starting with the subject of Cobwebs. We must have a new and fresh approach to our country.
I believe, as I said to you before, that we are perhaps the most privileged people living on the face of the earth today, because of our partnerships with the bigger ones outside. That may be turned into a terrible and wretched curse if the world should ever go crazy, because we will be the Belgium of the next war! And that is why we should be getting our cobwebs out of our minds about this country, and especially our Northland. Once we thought it was worthless; but look at the cities that are springing up there! Look what they are doing with the mines in that country! With the aid of science we can go anywhere and do anything now. We have to start thinking now about the new frontiers of Canada. But before we can do that, we must attack the frontier of the mind, which makes ,people afraid of tomorrow. I am not afraid of tomorrow. I think there is a rainbow over this country provided we are sensible enough to preserve that dream, that a man can go forward on his own initiative-that we can take that "English know-how" and that "assembly line genius of the United States": we will always have that British softening in there, and their recognition of noblesse oblige. That I think is a pretty fine combination.
I will say to you, Mr. Chairman, it is a wonderful show here, because we are not bloated and never will be, but I can't see how in the name of humanity we can continue to hold this country with so few in it!
I thank you.