THE MESSAGE OF WESTERN TO EASTERN CANADA
AN ADDRESS BY REV. G. C. PIDGEON, D.D.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
May 10, 1917
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN, You will not misunderstand me in speaking on this topic. The West is not posing as the instructress of the East: she is not issuing any manuals on how children should bring up their parents; but some of us went West to see how she was assimilating the teachings that we had been so diligently giving her for the past quarter or half century, and after coming in contact with the vigorous life and incisive thinking of the West we were glad to sit at their feet and learn the lessons taught by their experience. Of course we had to send teachers to the West. We gave them their start in material things, and if their progress was to be intellectual and moral as well as material we needed to help them along this other line also. But I doubt if we ever really appreciated the difficulty of reproducing Eastern in Western -Canada. After all, the determining element in the life of any community or country is the atmosphere in which its people live. Now, you cannot transplant an atmosphere. You may take men who have been literally moulded by the spirit of a certain place and send them to another place, but they cannot take with them the atmosphere that made them what they are. They are different in the new environment; their surroundings are different; the people they meet are different; and the atmosphere will be different.
It is said that the most prosperous and ambitious Western University undertook to transplant Harvard Law School to its own site, thinking by their greater resources to attract a large number of Harvard's best men. But the Law School did not go with them; it stayed where it was, and its traditions, its ideals, and its spirit moulded the new men just as they had moulded the men who had previously been taught there. Those men had come at an earlier date into that atmosphere; it had established their teaching far more than they realized; and when they moved they could not take it with them.
The same is true as to the effect of the East on the West. There are entirely new elements entering into the life of that country. There is the land itself, and I doubt if we realize how varied are the influences that the country itself is bringing to bear on its people. You have the mountains and the valleys of the interior of British Columbia bringing up a proud and sensitive Highland race--just as proud and just as sensitive as any of those from the Old Land. You have those vast prairies, where they mark their farms by the parallels of latitude, with all the influences brought to bear upon the men there.
You have the human elements. Eastern Canada has contributed one; the United States has contributed another; the old Motherland has contributed two or three; Europe has contributed many; and all those different elements coming together on that new soil will produce a national temper and spirit and outlook peculiarly their own. We must recognize that when those tributaries flow with increasing volume into the stream of Canada's public life it will not only add to its size and depth, but it will change its whole character.
When you go West certain things impress you. I suppose one finds very largely what he looks for, or sees things in his own line; but I fancy there are some things that would strike every observer. The first of these is the hopefulness of the West. That is manifest even in these days of reaction; they have unbounded confidence in their country and in themselves. In the old days they used to divide men into two classes--knockers and boosters. The knocker was a public nuisance, no matter how well-grounded his pessimism; they would very gladly accept that modern definition of a pessimist--"The man who Fletcherizes his quinine pill." We all have our bitter doses to take; if you have, bolt it and be done with it, and turn to something else. On the other hand, the booster was a public benefactor, no matter how ill-grounded his optimism. A friend of mine, visiting one of the rising communities of the West, met a recent immigrant from the South who had brought into this new land all its optimism. He said, "This is the grandest country on earth, and this is the finest town; we've got them all skinned to death already." My friend the next morning counted the houses and shacks, and they numbered just 23. I think we can all see what evil effects that spirit has had. You will certainly be able to understand it if you have studied any way closely the story of Western booms and collapses, or if you have ventured your savings on the absolutely certain growth of a certain town of which you never heard before and are not likely ever to hear again. But after all, it has had its benefits on the life of the community. Here was their problem; they tried to make one dollar do the work of ten; as a matter of fact they succeeded only in making it do the work of seven. That extra three dollars, on which with true Western hopefulness they counted and lost, has meant disaster for very many of them; but the fact that made the one do the work of seven will be reckoned as an achievement well worthy of our race. When you study the growth of a community like, say, Calgary or Vancouver, over a period that would cover their different economic changes, you cannot but feel that its progress has been phenomenal. One of the chief factors of that progress has been the spirit and courage of its people; and I feel that we need that in Eastern Canada as well. We have just as much to be proud of as they have.
Where has nature been more lavish than in the coal fields of Nova Scotia, or the forests and streams of Quebec and New Brunswick, or the oil and the orchards of Ontario, and the agricultural resources of them all? And then there is no beauty like ours. I remember coming, one autumn, from the Rockies down to the valley of the Metapedia, just after the first frost, and the magnificence of that valley made me feel that the East has nothing to apologize for in scenery even when compared with the grandeur of the West. Yet you rarely hear the Eastern province man magnify the possibilities of his own province; arid simply because of that temper our best have gone out from us to accomplish great things elsewhere. I think if we had a little more of the optimism of the West it would be better for all concerned.
Another thing that I noticed in the West, particularly on, my last visit, was the resoluteness and confidence with which they are taking hold of their problems. They do not feel that years of agitation should be necessary to bring about any needed reform. Once convince them that a measure was wise and just, and in the public interest, and they felt that they would immediately put it into effect; that was the attitude; and if you have studied the recent history of their political house-cleaning as well as some of the moral reform movements that have swept over the country you will see how prevalent and how practical that temper is.
Perhaps we might criticize them in this regard from one or two different viewpoints. First, they have not taken advantage, as they should have done, of the mistakes that the older lands have made. They talk about them readily enough; but if you study the province of British Columbia and see how its immense natural resources have been alienated not so much for purposes of development as of speculation, you would feel that they have lost a magnificent opportunity for making the most out of the country they received. Then, very often their practical spirit is a handicap. A thoughtful young fellow was told by a friend of his, after hearing a testimony on some general principle, "The West doesn't want that sort of thing; they want something practical." He replied, "That's just what is wrong with you; you are not willing to study the great principles through, by which alone you can understand the character and direction of your action, and then you are surprised when you see the outcome." They have made that mistake; they have been so immersed in the problems of the moment that they have forgotten the larger issues. Yet the West is correcting that mistake. One of the Western professors said to me, "The proportion of the students who are choosing the cultural subjects against the practical is about five to one," and while they are insisting that their universities, on which they are spending lavishly, shall keep in close touch with the lives of the people, they are also insisting that on the great subjects that are included in sound scholarship the instruction they have shall be of the best.
Another feature that one notices in Western life is the courage with which they have broadened the basis of our democracy. Of course we have manhood suffrage as well as they have; but manhood suffrage means something different in the West from what it does here-such an immense proportion of their population are new immigrants. The statement was made at a conference in Saskatchewan that of their population of 750,000, 300,000 were foreign-speaking. In British Columbia large numbers of men who have votes under this system are what John Pringle used to call "the loose of foot"--men who have no binding home-ties, no stock in the country, no fixed habitation, who live in the lumber camps, construction camps, mining camps; and the fact that those men have the franchise means that often they will choose that which gratifies the desire of the moment rather than that which is for the country's ultimate good, and they will listen to the leader who appeals to--well, not the best that is in them. Social reformers have been sorely perplexed by the delays that this element has caused; yet the West has gone on the principle that it is better for the people to find out what is best for them, even by their own mistakes; than to impose the best on them by an autocracy, no matter how benevolent. They find, moreover, that when people meet to consider conditions under which all must live they will choose the right thing.
I remember a friend of mine living in the Klondike in the days of the Miners Council, and he said, "We had a lot of characters in that Council who would be regarded as pretty wild, reckless men; and yet when you got them together to make rules or laws under which all had to live, these men would invariably choose the right thing." The West has worked on that principle; and while everything is not smooth, it has worked.
Look at the development of the West in the last two years, the political results in provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba, and you cannot deny that the democracy is sound at heart. I know that some of those elections, when you look at them in the light of the present depression, are very much like any man would be the morning after the night before when he realizes what he has done, and he hits the first thing in sight; but study the whole thing at first hand, as some of us have had the privilege of doing, and you cannot deny that democracy is sound at heart.
The West has led in giving the vote to women. The basis underlying that is that the government of a democracy ought to represent all shades of opinion; that it cannot be truly representative unless it does. Now, most men spend their lives in business concerns, while women spend theirs in the atmosphere of the home. The first concern of the man is to provide the wherewithal of life; the first concern of the woman is human life. In a democracy both those viewpoints ought to be represented if you are to have a sound, sane policy that would meet the views of all the community; one must not be emphasized to the exclusion of the other. That is the principle on which they have gone.
Speaking as a citizen, and not as a preacher, I doubt very much if we have realized the change that the abolition of the liquor trade and the giving of the votes to women is going to make in the public life of these provinces. I am not going to discuss the barroom; but it has been a political factor, has it not? Now it has gone, and a great many people are without any political anchorage, and the man who may appeal to all classes of voters as now constituted will necessarily be of a different type from the one who could appeal to the narrower constituencies of the past.
Another thing that strikes one in going to the West is the new community spirit that is springing up, especially on the Western plains; and I do wish we could learn that lesson. We have been so inclined to take all that the community would give us, and let it go at that, without realizing how those benefits were brought into vogue. While in Winnipeg I heard the story of a self-made man who was very proud of the job, who was showing some friends over the mansion which he had built, and he said, " I have earned every dollar myself; I never got a cent from anybody; I borrow from no man; I lend to no man." At that moment the electric lights went out, and a man ran in and told him the company had cut off the current because he had forgotten to pay the bill. Then the rich man woke up to the fact that he was a member of a community. That is the new spirit in the West, that has arisen, as I see it, from the following things:
First, there was the old idea of Western liberty. I recently read a distinction between the French conception of liberty and the British conception of freedom- -the latter being the maintenance of the rights of the individual under the laws of the land, but in strict subordination to those laws; while the French idea was rather that the man should have the privilege of doing what was right in his own eyes, and also what was wrong in his own eyes, if he so chose. Now, the West had this latter idea of liberty; that was one of their traditions, and they worked it through, and they found it was not good.
Then there has been the fearful isolation of life, particularly on the prairies, so fatal to the mentality of many men, and also of women. A few days ago a splendid young fellow was brought down to the asylum in Regina stark mad. People had to get together, else they would go mad; they had to co-operate in that country in buying seed and other things. That has led them to look at things from the community viewpoint, and all their thinking is in terms of the community. They value the school not merely for the education it brings the child, but from the contribution it makes to the community life. When members of the government as well as social leaders were in conference I have heard them say, "In a foreign community, if you can get a teacher, male or female, preferably both,--that is, a married man-who has caught the social viewpoint and the spirit of social service, you have solved the problem of that place." In one place, if a married man will take a school, bringing his wife with him, they will give him ten acres of land, the work on which must be done by the scholars as part of their school course, as is the work in the home to be done by the girls under the direction of the teacher's wife. The immense possibilities of a teacher's work in such a foreign community can be seen. This illustration shows their idea of the school as a social centre. They are making the same issue of the church as a social centre. They are not turning away from what is vital in the church. Those Western men are not limiting the church's religious work, but they insist that the religious work should be fitted into the needs of the community in which that work is done, and they aim to make the whole life of the entire community higher and better than it is. I have no time to develop this; but when you think what that means in the way of town planning, or in regard to the social conditions of the community as a whole, you will realize its importance. You cannot divide a town into watertight compartments and say that the evil from which this little district suffers will not affect the whole a moral infection or a social wrong anywhere will affect the entire place.
When the Western spirit catches the East, and we view the problems of all our cities in the light of the life of the community as a whole, when we see that it is one thing for the community to provide the means of living and another thing to provide the real living, we will rise to a higher life and escape many of the evils from which we suffer today.
Another interesting thing in the West is the new national spirit, the spirit of Canadian nationhood. The need of this is very, very urgent, chiefly because of the volume of our immigration. When the flood of immigration was at its highest in the United States it never in any year exceeded one and one-half percent of the population, but Canada's immigration was four and a half percent in 1912-I3; it was five percent in 1913. When you consider than an unassimilated body in a nation's constitution is as dangerous as an unassimilated mass in an individual's stomach you can see the menace that means to the whole life of the country. Therefore you see influences at work to develop a narrow nationalism, insisting in some of those nations that they should conserve their language and their customs, and so build up a nation within a nation. There were actually congresses called for that purpose, but before they convened they had to be cancelled. That influence had been countered by the efforts of Canadian movements among the people themselves. I have seen resolutions from a convention in which one censured the government for teaching only their own language and things which, they said, were nothing but the memorials of an unhappy past.
In one district in Northern Alberta the recruiting for different regiments was carried on, and from this district the recruits that went into one regiment were 65 per cent. Ruthenian; in another, 85 percent Ruthenian; and in most cases those men were going to fight for the land of their adoption against the land of their fathers' birth.
There is one young man there whose story is most romantic. He was a Russian of noble blood; he fought in the Japanese war. After coming back, owing to some wrongs he turned into a fiery revolutionist, and led out movements against the government until he had to flee. He came over to Canada with those ideas in his mind. Here the idea of patriotism and religion got hold of him and he has thrown himself into the movement of swinging his countrymen into the strongest devotion to Canadian ideals. Months ago he heard of a meeting of Ruthenians that was to be held in New York for the purpose of organizing the Ruthenians of the United States for help to Austria in the present conflict. He got leave from the principal of the college where he is a student in the West, visited American cities on the way, and took with him to New York delegations from those cities to the meeting. When the meeting opened he took the floor and succeeded in carrying a resolution against the very purpose for which that meeting was called. His name is P. C. Cross; he is studying in Saskatchewan.
The problem is not wholly settled, but this movement is at work, and is producing great results on the life of the country as a whole, and I think the West has a right to speak to us along the lines of national unity. Think of the contribution they have made of their men in the great war.
"If blood be the price of sovereignty, Good Lord, they have paid in full."
The testimony of the West is that unity of all races and creeds is absolutely essential to the national life and national health of Canada. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the schismatic is abroad in our land. It is so easy to arouse suspicion and sow the seeds of mutual disagreement and dislike, instead of cultivating those enormously larger things that all races and all creeds in Canada have in common. If our people are let alone they will grow together, which is the natural tendency. Men of thought and men of action must set their faces like flint against the schismatic, or mischief will be done in the present crisis that will be almost irreparable. We have great problems in Canada, but we have also great possibilities, and it will take the utmost efforts of all our people to make this country what it ought to be. A friend said to me the other day, after speaking of the rather discouraging fight we had along certain lines, "Yes, but when you think of the very bigness of the things you have to grapple with here you ought to be proud of the opportunity." That is just it; but it will take the most arid the best that is in us to rise to that opportunity and make Canada a united nation, standing for principles of liberty and righteousness and justice as in our dreams we picture her in the days to come.
Dr. Goggin moved a vote of thanks to the speaker, which was seconded by Rev. Dr. Hall and carried.