Bahamas, West Indies, Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 25 Oct 1911, p. 40-47

Grey-Wilson, Sir William, Speaker
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Item Type:
Social, political, and commercial aspects of the Bahamas and the West Indies. American tourists in the Bahamas. The unrivalled climate and bathing waters of the Bahamas, with an anecdotal example. Travel from New York or Florida to the Bahamas. A geographical picture of the Bahamas. The need for better and more regular communication for commerce. The tendency of the present day to order in much smaller quantities at much more frequent intervals. The essential feature of establishing relations between this country and the West Indies that of regularity of transport. Political difficulties. The constitution of the Bahamas, similar to that of Canada. Equality of suffrage. The success of British justice. The possibilities for a political union between Canada and the Bahamas.
Date of Original:
25 Oct 1911
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Full Text
An Address by SIR WILLIAM GREY-WILSON, Governor of. the Bahamas, before the Empire Club of Canada, on October 25, 1911.

Mr. President and Gentlemen,--

I can hardly tell you how great an, honour I feel it to have received an invitation from this Club to address you today, and I thank you for the heartiness of the reception you have given me, which I attribute to my connection with the late Governor-General, who, I understand, was universally popular throughout Canada. (Applause.)

Gentlemen, this Club is affiliated with the Royal Colonial Institute-a Society with which I have been connected as a fellow for the last thirty years-and I feel sure from my knowledge of that Institution that this Club could not have in. the Old Country a more zealous, a more active, a more sympathetic, a more loving, partner, than the Royal Colonial Institute.

I have been asked, gentlemen, today to deal with the question of the Bahamas and the West Indies. Incidentally I shall refer to the West Indies, but my remarks will chiefly be with regard to the Bahamas, of which colony I have had the honour to be Governor for the last six' years. I shall consider my subject under three beads: the social, the political, and the commercial.

Now, as regards the social element, I think the strongest argument in favour of the advantages that we offer tourists to the West Indies is the fact that the people of America, with its large tropical possessions in Florida and semi-tropical possessions in California, with its Island of Porto Rico, and its semblance of control over Cuba, come down to the Bahamas in vast numbers to enjoy the pleasures that we are able to offer them in, I venture to say, a climate that is unrivalled in the world. When you remember, gentlemen, that during the time of my administration of that colony I have not seen from the last of December till about the middle of May, sometimes the twelfth or thirteenth, more than seven wet days, you will realize what an exceptionally, attractive climate we have. When, added to that fact, I state that the temperature varies from about 62° to 76° or 77° during that period, you will agree with me that our climate is exceptionally fine. The absence of rain, while very charming for our visitors, is a somewhat serious matter for the residents of the colony; because we are entirely dependent upon rain water, and we have to be very careful in our efforts to see that it is not abused. Then gentlemen, I may say the bathing in the Bahamas is the most perfect the world offers. If you can imagine all the hues of the rainbow reflected in the water, I am not exaggerating when I say you will find them in the waters of the Bahamas. I have known of the most distinguished artists coming down from New York with the intention of painting the waters of the Bahamas, and after six weeks, leaving with the confession that they had not dared to put brush to canvas, because they felt sure it was an impossibility to reproduce on canvas the marvellous effects we see there. I will give you an illustration of an amusing episode that occurred two winters ago. A leading member of the New York Yacht Club was down there, and his vessel being an English one and consequently not registered in the United States, he was unable to ship, his crew there. He had rather a miscellaneous crew, among whom I regret to say was a butler who was an Englishman. This butler, having imbibed more than was good for him on the occasion of a luncheon party which consisted of about 15 people, proceeded after luncheon to gather up the plate in a pail and dump the silver of the day overboard. The master's face was one of very great horror. but, when he looked over into the water, he was able to distinguish clearly, as in a basin of water, every single item of his lost treasure.

Now gentlemen, I think I should pass from the social aspect of the case. That is a matter which is within the range of every gentleman in this room to test and to prove beyond possibility of contradiction whether the picture that I have drawn is an accurate one, or is in any way overdrawn; and I trust a great many of the gentlemen who are here today will avail themselves of the facilities which are offered. Those gentlemen who dislike the sea can reach the island in seventeen hours by going over to Florida and crossing over in that way, but I presume the pleasantest way to go is by New York. I regret there is no satisfactory method of getting from Canada, because the only vessel that runs goes so irregularly that you might be waiting in Montreal for a week or ten days before the steamer would have sufficient cargo, or could make arrangements to enable her to start. If you leave New York, you get down there in three days and, within thirty hours after leaving New York in a snow storm and blizzard, you are in a temperature where you can sit- on the deck and enjoy a charmingly equable climate. With that, gentlemen, I will pass on from the social question to the next, which is the commercial aspect.

Now, I would ask you to picture the Bahama Islands in your minds, geographically. They are very large, substantially they are the largest of the West Indies. In population they rank a very long way down the scale. They cover something like 450 miles, stretching from the neighbourhood of Bermuda in close vicinity to Cuba and Haiti. On a fine day on the south of the islands, Cuba and Haiti are distinctly visible. If you will picture that in your minds, you will see clearly that the main commercial steamship lines of the world intersect the Bahama Islands. Whether ships come from Europe, or from America, or from Canada, vessels going to the Gulf,-and the vessels going to the Gulf, I need hardly remind you, will be greatly increased in the near future by the opening of the .Panama Canal-will pass through the Bahamas. The main through traffic will pass through the Bahama Islands. Now, the reason for that is this: When you look at the map, you see a nice open clear passage skirting Florida and passing Key West and turning westward and opening straight into the Gulf, and you naturally say that that appears-to be the obvious route for the steamships of the world passing through from Canada and America or from Europe. But that is not the case, and for this reason. The Gulf stream, coming out from there, comes up and hugs the shores of Florida and creates a stream running between three and four knots an hour and that, for the low power tramp of the present day, is a very serious obstacle. Naturally he seeks to avoid it, and he does so by getting outside and then piercing straight through the Bahamas and striking into the Gulf. Then, there is another reason. Not only is this serious detriment to progress evident but the sets caused by the strong current are a very dangerous element to shipping. There have been numerous wrecks on the Florida coast due to miscalculations by the captains as to which side or in which direction this current was sending them; and consequently that channel is more or less barred. Well, gentlemen, the Bahamas are not peculiar -the West Indies are in the same position-with regard to what we require. The produce of the north is not grown either in the Bahamas or in the West Indies. Nearly 80 percent of the imports of farm produce comes from the United States, and about two and a half per cent. of them from Canada. Now, I think there can be no doubt that if there was better communication, -and regular communication is of far greater importance than quick or frequent communication, you could do a large business with us. The very essence of establishing business relations rests, I believe, upon the foundation that we must have absolute regularity. If steamers start at uncertain intervals, I don't care if they are the' greyhounds of the Atlantic, they will fail to attract and certainly fail to hold an adequate share of the commerce of the Americans. That is obvious. In the old days it was the custom to order very large quantities of things, but I think that you business men will agree with me when I say that those times have changed, and that the tendency of the present day is to order 'in much, smaller quantities at much more frequent intervals. I remember once going down to the sea, and a man waived his hand with great pride and pointed to a stack of chests of tea, and said, "I have there- a supply that will last us for three years." (Laughter.) Any man who would now import tea to last him for three years would, I think, make a grievous mistake. I think that is the tendency of the day. There are in the first place so many more small dealers who are not capable of booking large orders, and even the larger dealers are inclined to place much smaller orders at much more frequent intervals. In that view, the essential feature of establishing relations between this country and the West Indies appears to be absolute regularity 'of transport. Now, gentlemen, I ask you why-that 80 percent that is now imported from the United States could not be imported from Canada? (Hear, hear.) I believe that Canada is in a position not only to supply goods of equal merit, but to supply superior articles. (Applause.) I say that it is a reproach to us who desire to cement, to bind together, to draw together, the outlying portions of the Empire, if we are unable to do something to divert this trade. I should like to see the whole of that trade with the United States transferred to Canada. (Applause.)

But I must pass to the political aspect of the case. The political aspect of the case no doubt is to a large extent, if we are to have anything more than a commercial alliance, the crux of the whole situation. You may ask me why it is not possible to have a convention which would be satisfactory to the West Indies and satisfactory to Canada, and which would yield results thoroughly satisfactory and adequate to our ambitions and our needs. The answer I would give you is this, that there is no immutable stability about a commercial convention. I will not touch upon local politics, but we have seen how uncertain within recent days was a commercial convention that a few weeks ago was' regarded as almost a foregone conclusion and a certainty. If that be the case, it is equally applicable even where a convention has been signed, and delivered. Therefore, I do believe that if commercial unity is to be adequately secured, it can best be done by political fusion. (Applause.) I should like to invite you to consider for a few moments what are some of the difficulties, and how it seems possible those difficulties might be met and overcome. Now, the constitution of the Bahamas, like the other three B's of that portion of the Empire, is on a suffrage that is almost equivalent to yours in Canada. I have examined them. separately and I think they are very much the same. That is to say, any member of a community who is in possession of a house of the value of $10 a year, is entitled to vote. That, of course, is practically manhood suffrage. That vote is common to the blacks and to the whites. The inhabitants of the Bahamas are one quarter white and three quarters black. The result of our elections has been for many years past-and I would remind you that the Bahamas have a constitution almost as old as Newfoundland-that the black man almost invariably elects a white man to represent him. And why is that, gentlemen? You here are conversant with the horrors of the situation in the Southern States of America. In the Bahamas we have no such position. (Applause.) I say that a white woman in the Bahamas, in the most isolated position, is as secure today as if she were in this room now. (Applause.) I defy any one to say that about the Southern States of America. Now, gentlemen, why is that? It is not because we have treated the black man as the equal of the white; no. He admits himself--the most intelligent of them with whom I have spoken-he admits himself that he is the white man's inferior. He admits that he is of a child race, undeveloped; but it is because, being a child race, we have extended to him, as we have to all the other races of the Empire, that universal unswerving British justice which is our common heritage. (Applause.)

Gentlemen, I have spent a considerable part of my life in West Africa, where a handful of white men control the situation amidst hordes of blacks, and I say, unless that British justice, of which we are all so justly proud, was dispensed in an even handed and absolutely righteous manner, we could never hold many of the possessions that we own today. If the white mart does wrong to the negro, he is punished with the same certainty as if he were in Toronto; and if the, black man does wrong to the white, he will receive absolutely even handed and equal justice.

Now, gentlemen, I do not for a moment suppose, if it ever came about that political union was possible between Canada and the Bahamas, it would be expedient that the representative that we would send to the federal parliament should be elected on anything like that suffrage. I do not think there would be the slightest trouble in getting over that difficulty in this manner. Naturally, no reference would pr should or could be made to the question of colour, but a satisfactory result could be produced by putting the qualifications of an elector so high that they would automatically shut out the ignorant blacks of the colony. That would shut out, it is true, some of the whites, but I do not think that would be a serious grievance.- Till they show they are qualified to ,hold a substantial stake in the colony, I do not believe they should be entitled to seek to send a representative to the northern parliament. I have heard it advanced by statesmen of this country, that the problem, as presented by the Bahamas, is too small to be considered and that consequently it roust either be the whole of the West Indies or nothing at all. Now, if you examine the different constitutions, the divergence of interests, the geographical separation of the West Indies, I believe that any proposition of that sort must end in a wrecking of the whole scheme. I do believe that with its geographical advantage and from the population point of view solely-the whole population being only about 80,000 at the present moment=-that, if the experiment were to be tried with one portion, and if it were a success, the rest of. the West Indies would tumble over one another to come in at some time, and then they might be added. (Applause.) I see no reason why that province should not gradually grow and grow and grow. It would not be necessary; and probably not desirable, that you should create a number of West Indian provinces, but you could gradually, by accretions of those portions that wish to come in, make eventually a substantial, a useful, and an important portion of this colony. Well, gentlemen, I do believe that in this way the risks would be so small, that, if by any chance the thing was a failure, it would be on such a small scale as to be unimportant; whereas, as I confidently believe, if it were a success, the rest of the West Indies would come in the immediate or near future. Now, gentlemen, how does this matter stand? Both houses in the Bahamas, the legislative assembly which is nominated by the King, and the house of assembly which is purely elective, have passed practically unanimous resolutions asking that commissioners may be appointed by Canada and by the Bahamas to examine this problem in detail to see if it is of advantage, for Canada and for the Bahamas, and, if so, how and upon what terms this fusion can be carried out. That is the position of the case today. If those commissioners are appointed, and if they investigate this subject, Canada will be in no way committed to accept the proposition laid before her, more than she is at this moment. She will be absolutely free, when she considers and has examined this question in its various aspects, to say, whether she shall sanction it or whether she shall reject it, and therefore it is only an enquiry at the initial stage that is asked for. I think that business men on both sides, who will be able to map out and see the prospects, will be in favour of this project.

Gentlemen, I think my time is much more than expired, and I thank you very sincerely for the manner in which you have heard me. Let me say in conclusion that I believe that the elevating influence of Canada in coming forward to help a small and insignificant portion of the Empire which has been sorely crushed by the American tariff-for those are the true facts-that the stretching forth of the right hand of fellowship by Canada to this small insignificant colony, will do you -good as well as us. (Applause.)

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Bahamas, West Indies, Canada

Social, political, and commercial aspects of the Bahamas and the West Indies. American tourists in the Bahamas. The unrivalled climate and bathing waters of the Bahamas, with an anecdotal example. Travel from New York or Florida to the Bahamas. A geographical picture of the Bahamas. The need for better and more regular communication for commerce. The tendency of the present day to order in much smaller quantities at much more frequent intervals. The essential feature of establishing relations between this country and the West Indies that of regularity of transport. Political difficulties. The constitution of the Bahamas, similar to that of Canada. Equality of suffrage. The success of British justice. The possibilities for a political union between Canada and the Bahamas.