Democracy on Wheels
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Dec 1925, p. 364-375

Sandwell, Professor Bernard K., Speaker
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A discussion of the results—economic, social and political—of the vastly increased mobility of the common people. What the speaker means by "common people." The text from which the speaker addresses us: the common people are becoming moveable. Events in Florida as the first sign of a general mobility of population, and what that might mean for the future. A certain amount of mobility characteristic of the human race for several hundred years: a brief historical review. Developments that made people more mobile, such as the development of the railway. The institution and development of the taking of holidays, permeating down into all classes of society. The working man who can now afford to take holidays, combined with his power of transportation, the cheap automobile. One serious obstacle to this increasing mobility of our population. Where Canadians might go for a winter holiday.
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3 Dec 1925
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DEMOCRACY ON WHEELS An ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR BERNARD K. SANDWELL. Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, December 3, 1925.

PRESIDENT BURNS introduced the speaker.


Mr. President, and old friends of the Empire Club of Canada,--I do not know that I am going to do anything to make you any happier; as a matter of fact I am here to impart to you a solemn warning of a new danger that threatens the Empire, or this portion of that Empire, for whose defence your Club, as I conclude, mainly exists. It is true that the danger I propose to point out is somewhat a remote one. It cannot be very serious during our lifetime, possibly not during the lifetime of our sons, or perhaps our grandsons; but as things move with such appalling speed in these days it is possible that the warning I give you today may be looked back on ten years hence, or perhaps less than that, as one about which something should have been done. Heaven knows what. I don't know what to do about it-not the slightest idea- -laughter)--but that does not prevent me from warning you.

You gentlemen are accustomed to deal with very practical and very immediate problems; but as an ex-professor of Literature I am not very strong on practical and immediate problems; I like to view


He graduated from the University of Toronto with a gold medal in classics. After completing his course in Arts, he spent some time in journalism. Later he became a professor in McGill University and is now English Professor in Queen's. He is one of the founders of the Canadian Authors' Association, and was its secretary.


the world in a vast prospective, and look 200 or 300 years back and 200 or 300 years ahead. I want you to join with me in taking a vast and distant gaze into the future, and see what we can discern there that is new and interesting, and which may be predicated from certain recent developments in the economic world.

I propose to discuss the results--economic, social and political--of the vastly increased mobility of the common people. By common people I mean myself--the people who work, (laughter) work for a living, I mean, (laughter) who have no resources in accumulated wealth, in ancient possessions from which to gather the fruits of the earth, and who therefore have to occupy themselves in labour for their daily bread. The common people are becoming moveable, and that is the text from which I wish to address you briefly.

I am apt to refer to the recent economic developments in the State of Florida, not because I have any relator interests in Florida; I do not own anything in Florida; t am not an agent for any lands in Florida; I am not trying to buy any land in Florida; I have never been there; but I have heard a very great deal of economic discussion of what is now going on in that State, and still more, what the economic phenomenon that is going on there represents. The thing that is happening in Florida is not a miracle; it is nothing at all suprising; it is the first sign of a general mobility of population; the first indication of the fact that at no very distant date, certainly within the lives of our grandsons, a very large part of the population of this wealthy and fortunate and beneficent but somewhat overtaxed continent will not be compelled, as it is at present, to subsist in one place for twelve or even eleven and one-half months of the year. We are going to be able to live where it suits us to live at given seasons; and as an inhabitant of Montreal I am quite certain that it will not suit me to live in Montreal for the whole twelve months of the year. (Laughter)

Now, a certain amount of mobility has been characteristic of the human race for several hundred years; as a matter of fact it goes further back. In the Roman Empire the aristocratic population, the real Roman citizens, enjoyed a fairly high degree of mobility. In England this summer I found very extensive indications of the remains and habitations of Roman aristocrats and commanders and governors and officers of legions and their families in Britain-men and families who were obviously living a Roman life, in spite of the fact that they were then at what was the end of the known world. This was due, of course, to their enormous capacity to command human labour. They had not any very great advantages in the way of machinery, but the power of the Roman aristocrat and official to command labour was almost unlimited, and they could have their persons and goods transported over their excellent Roman roads at almost no cost.

In the Middle Ages which followed the break-up of the Roman Empire, each community was bound very much to one spot--was thus bound as much as it ever was in the history of the race. But after the Middle Ages we began to develop that process of rapid increase in mobility of which we are now at perhaps the climax. The dawn of modern civilization dates from the discovery of easy sea navigation. Our civilization is built upon mobility, the constantly increasing possibility of getting from one place to another, and of moving both goods and human beings freely from one place to the other.

In the early days of this dawning mobility, travel was only done by people of three classes-people who travelled for war, that is, who were sent by their commanders and governors; people who travelled for commerce, and they were few and small in number in those days compared with those engaged in the actual processes of production; and an insignificant class of people who travelled for pleasure, and who did rot travel very far. Most of you are familiar with the growth of that curious phenomenon of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--the "grand tour"--a rapid run through France and Italy, exceptionally to Greece--but not very likely-to Switzerland and a little bit of Germany, constituting the necessary part of an aristocrat's education as far as travel was concerned; a performance made after a youth left college, accompanied by a tutor whose chief function seems to have been finding out the places where he could have the most riotous time (laughter); and he returned from this experience thoroughly equipped with all that travel could give him, and it never occurred to him to travel any more after that during the course of his life. In other words, travel for pleasure in those days was very temporary and very limited in extent.

Then with the development of the railway, pleasure travel naturally became very much easier, and the power to obtain it passed into the hands of people lower in the economic strata of the population. Not merely the landed aristocrats and the rulers travelled, but many of the better-to-do classes of England, France, Germany and the civilized nations of the world acquired an ability to move about fairly freely. That condition brings us up to the present time. There has been no great change in mobility, and there was no great invention for increasing our power to transport ourselves from one place to the other until the advent of the automobile.

But there has been another development, which I think contributes even more than physical inventions toward making it possible for large classes of human beings to move about on the surface of the earth. There has been a very great development in the habit of taking, and in the power of getting, holidays-these being quite a modern invention. You can read through any book of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries without finding very much reference to the habit of holiday-taking. What are the historic holidays? The institution of holidays goes back into early European history, but they are all one-day affairs; they are all religious holidays following a feast-day of the Church; they are nearly all on Mondays--an admirable arrangement, by the way, and I wish we could go back to it and drop this business of changing one of the most important holidays every time we get a fresh King, or something of that kind, and celebrate it without regard to whether it falls in the middle of the week, when it is no good to anybody, or whether it falls near Saturday and Sunday, when it is exceedingly useful. The holidays, oneday affairs, were characteristic of a population which could not afford to chuck up their day's work for any length of time; but the habit of more extensive holidays began to develop among the classes with a little money in the nineteenth century; and the point I want you to bear in mind is that it is now permeating down into all classes of society.

Personally, of course, I have always belonged to the class that could obtain a modestly substantial holiday. (Laughter) Two miserable, paltry weeks were all that I got as a cub reporter, as assistant editor, as city editor, as financial editor, or any other kind of an editor in the newspaper on which I was employed, and at that time I was considered to be among the privileged classes. Then when I was transferred to the acedemic sphere I acquired a holiday of four months, which is really the ideal time. (Laughter) One could get along on three, and I imagine that when the ideal industrial organization of the world is reached we shall find by working moderately hard for about nine months of the year we can very easily spare the other three for enjoyment and culture. I do not think we have quite reached that stage yet. ,

The rise of modern factory industry took place at a time when the working classes were not accustomed to holidays. You will recollect that factory industry grew largely out of the collapse of the old agricultural economies in the chief states of Europe. Now, in the sphere of agriculture there are holidays, but they are determined by the forces of nature; you lay off when nature does not happen to be providing you with anything to do; and from my observation of modern farming I should say that was fairly frequently; ii; looks to me as if the modern farmer laid off a good deal; but occupies his time when laid off in worrying about what he ought to be doing, or about what nature is doing, and I don't think he is conscious of having a holiday. (Laughter) The factory system grew up without holidays, without any holidays that the employee could take in a season which suited him, when he wanted and his family wanted to go away. Goodness knows that the average factory worker gets a reasonable amount of off-time in the year, and some years too much, but unfortunately he does not pick and choose that, and it comes mostly at a time when it should not occur; so the industrial fabric has been built up on the idea that he shall work when there is work for him, fifty-one weeks of the year, with certain one-day holidays dropped in. I venture to say that that is not going to be permanent. I think that the industrial worker of this continent is going to claim and to obtain, without giving a great amount of trouble to anybody, at least as much in the way of vacation as I used to get when I was a cub reporter, and I do not think it would be any harm to him to get a little more. I have no doubt that industry can be arranged to allow of that amount of vacant time to the employee without any particular trouble; if not, he is going to take it. What is it that has kept him on the job for fifty-two weeks in the year, when the employer wanted him, for the last one hundred years?-the fact that some one was ready and waiting to do his job, the fact that the job was a precious thing not to be lost.

A certain proportion of the working population have always taken holidays when they wanted them; but they had to pay for them by waiting around to get back into employment. I do not think that method is going to last very much longer. It is not lasting in England, where the working men, as I noticed this summer, are quite ready to take a holiday when they feel like it; one reason being that if they cannot get employment when they return they can go on the "dole" until they do--a circumstance which has its difficult and embarrassing economic side, but which is not to be dismissed too lightly as being thoroughly undesirable. I went to England with a very deep prejudice against the dole, the prejudice being based on the old-fashioned economics; but I came back with a rather open mind on the subject, and the conviction that if administered with a good deal of wisdom and proper restrictions it might possibly do more good to the community, through making the lot of the individual easier, than it would do harm through making some individuals comparatively lazy and ineffective. However, that is a problem which England will settle for us before the end of our lifetime, so we need not concern ourselves with it very greatly.

My point is that the working man can afford to take holidays; that he is now getting wages which make it quite possible for him to lay off for a month in the year and enjoy himself without any very serious consequences. Combined with that, he has now a power of transportation in the shape of a cheap automobile, which has consequences of which we cannot dream. The working man who has a car does not need to be bothered about railway fare from Montreal to Florida; he simply piles himself and his family into his car, and they start off. They do not have to get to Florida; they can stop anywhere and come back if funds run out; gasoline is not very expensive; there are cheap eating houses on the way down, and they can live in a tent. They are mobile in a sense which nobody could have imagined twenty-five years ago. People who do not belong to the working class look upon a car as rather an expensive thing; they insist on having a good car to begin with, and it has to be varnished every season so that the wife will not be ashamed to drive around, and it is in a garage a great deal of the time, and high-priced workmen are paid all sorts of figures to keep it in order. The working man does nothing of that with his automobile; all he wants is a motor that will take him about, and he looks after it himself, being mechanically inclined, and it is one of the cheapest amusements that any family can possess. You all know how extraordinary has been the growth of the supply of cars to all classes of the population.

When our ancestors landed in this rather severely-wintered climate, fuel was a by-product which cost nothing; the trees were being cut down anyhow, and they had little limbs that had to be chopped off, and all that was needed was to cut them and use them for firewood; but with every succeeding decade the cost of keeping warm in a climate like ours has increased. I can remember when in Toronto the price of coal at five dollars per ton was considered ruinous. That is a long way back. (Laughter) The cost of keeping warm in this climate is a strong factor in favor of going to some other climate for at least a portion of the winter, to a climate where it doesn't cost anything to keep warm; and I doubt if a working man will lose very much in the way of cost of upkeep for himself and family by going to say Florida for two or three months in the winter.

Of course the principal thing which has encouraged the transportation of the working class to Florida is that population is growing so rapidly there that there is now a demand for every kind of labour. Of course this will not go on increasing with such rapidity, but by the time it becomes stationary a large element of the working class will have cultivated the habit of going down there whether there is work to be had or not.

There is one serious obstacle to this increasing mobility of our population. At present the chief obstacle is the institution of education. The educational institutions insist on functioning during the winter. They got that habit from the early days when it was supposed that everybody who would come to school or university came from the farm and therefore could not be taught except in winter. That habit still persists, but there are signs of its breaking down. The Chicago University and others are now open for twelve months, running four quarters, and a student can study in any two or three quarters of the year that he prefers. The development of summer schools in our own universities in Canada is a sign of some slight progress in that direction. So long as education can only be imparted in the winter months I suppose people with families will have to leave them behind, or else remain in the place where they permanently reside; but I can envisage a time when education will be imparted very much as gasoline is at the present time, by filling-stations all the way down the road. (Laughter) Education is today a perfectly standardized article; why should not a man take the first five lectures of philosophy in Toronto, the sixth in Buffalo, the seventh in New York, the eighth in Washington, and so on down the line until he reaches Florida, where he can finish the course? (Laughter) This seems to me to be a simple, ideal, natural development of the present standardized condition of education on this continent. Education could then be controlled by a trust, like gasoline, and all operated from one headquarters, and the same kind of education imparted to everybody in every part of the continent.

Now, for the serious side of this consideration, which is really more serious than perhaps you will have gathered from the tone of my remarks, for when I face an audience of business men who have to face the serious cares of life for so many hours in a day I cannot refrain from trying to cheer them up by imparting a little humour to my subject. Still, this is a serious subject, and for us in Canada it has its serious side, as we have no sub-tropical place to which our population can migrate in the winter. Of course I realize that you have almost a subtropical climate in Toronto compared with our winter in Montreal. (Laughter and applause) I think Winnipeg may be deemed to have a winter; Montreal claims to have a winter; Edmonton I know from temperature statistics, must have something resembling a winter, although they tell you you do not feel it when you are up there. (Laughter)) All these places will provide candidates for the migration I have in mind; and where are they going to migrate to?

It is a law of geography that if you are seeking warmth you must move either south or west, to the western edge of your continent, as the western sides are always warmer than the eastern. That provides us, thank goodness, with British Columbia, which will be able to look after the warmth-seeking population of the prairies, and those seeking other things (laughter); but it does not do us much good, though it helps the Prairie Provinces, as it is too far from Montreal. My suggestion is that you gentlemen should give your attention to the promotion of closer relations between this Dominion and such of the British West Indies as are capable of providing a comfortable home for four or five months in the winter. (Applause) Our aristocrats are already setting the example by hibernating in the British West Indies, but that involves transportation by water, for I cannot conceive our ever being able to get there by automobile. But could we not arrange with Mexico to acquire some desirable portion of the territory of that noble-republic, is it?--yes, I think it must be a republic; or with the United States, to give us a sort of lease of a portion of some State on the Gulf of Mexico which they can afford to do without? The reason why I advance this idea is that I have very little doubt that by the time our grandsons are grown men the United States will not be allowing any of us in, as they are getting more and more particular as to the kind of people they do not seem to want, and these will doubtless flock to Canada, and Canada will, in the long run, begin to consist largely of the people who are not eligible for the United States. (Laughter) By that time I have no doubt there will be a fairly complete barrier set up against our getting into the United States for any purposes except that of transit. It will be highly desirable, therefore, that we shall have some place under the control of the Dominion Government, if possible, on the southern side of the United States, for purposes of hibernation. This is merely a suggestion, not for immediate consideration, but for bearing in mind for the next twenty-five or fifty years that our Dominion needs to be rounded out. It is not yet a complete unit, geographically, of the kind that it ought to be, and the West Indies will help us, but a portion of the mainland would be still more useful. We already have large business interests in Mexico; I remember losing some money in one of them not long ago. (Laughter) Possibly that might be employed as a lever towards getting a sort of Canadian concession on the shores of the Mexican Gulf.

May I conclude, sir, by putting myself in direct competition with Mr. Vachel Lindsay, and read you one of my own poems? It is a kind of disgusting and degrading thing to read one's own poems, and should not be done except for a large fee (laughter); but I am willing to throw in this one. It is hitherto unpublished. As a matter of fact I cannot remember two lines of it, but I hope you will not notice that one verse lacks two lines. It contains a philosophy that may commend itself to you. Mr. Lindsay's poetry is poetry plus jazz (laughter); but mine is merely poetry. The title of this little poem is:--

WINTER IN MONTREAL. The winter is a pleasant time; The sun comes down and hides the grime; The grime comes down and hides the snow; By June they both begin to go; That's winter. The furnace coal goes up in price, But the refrigerator still needs ice; Girls wear wool stockings under silk; Tall ice-caps grow on bottled milk; The young take out their skates and skis; The old, insurance policies, In winter. The kids upon the sidewalk slide, The cat is all electrified; The car is full of anti-freee; Church congregations loudly sneeze, In winter. The winter is a pleasant time In Florida or some such clime; To Florida I fain would go To write these poems about the snow (Loud applause) In winter.

PROFESSOR WALLACE expressed the thanks of the Club for the address.

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Democracy on Wheels

A discussion of the results—economic, social and political—of the vastly increased mobility of the common people. What the speaker means by "common people." The text from which the speaker addresses us: the common people are becoming moveable. Events in Florida as the first sign of a general mobility of population, and what that might mean for the future. A certain amount of mobility characteristic of the human race for several hundred years: a brief historical review. Developments that made people more mobile, such as the development of the railway. The institution and development of the taking of holidays, permeating down into all classes of society. The working man who can now afford to take holidays, combined with his power of transportation, the cheap automobile. One serious obstacle to this increasing mobility of our population. Where Canadians might go for a winter holiday.