- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Nov 1919, p. 392-404
- Brittain, Sir Harry, Speaker
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- Item Type
- What our great Empire did during the war. Remembering all those who made the noble sacrifice, without which there would have been no armistice days to celebrate. The speaker's personal recollections of a previous visit to Canada, and the book he wrote afterwards. The object of the speaker's current visit to Canada; discussing with his good Canadian newspaper friends some of the outlines for the second Imperial Press Conference, to be held in Canada in the summer of 1920. The speaker, acting as the unofficial link between his friends of the Home Press and of the Empire Press Union and the editors of the Canadian papers. Memories of the first Imperial Press Conference, born in Canada and held in Winnipeg. The speaker's organization of a meeting of the British Press. Some of the results of the first conference. The far more powerful indirect results of the gathering; the opinions taken home to all ends of the empire, the knowledge gained by those missionaries of the Empire who came to the capital. The speaker's participation in a series of interesting gatherings of Canadian newspaper men since he arrived in Canada for this visit, in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Reference to the conference of next year. The idea of using British warships to transport trade agents not only from the British Isles to the Dominions overseas, but from other parts of the Commonwealth to see various other parts as well. Pleasant memories of Toronto which the speaker will take away with him after this trip.
- Date of Original
- 11 Nov 1919
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- THE PRESS AND THE EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY SIR HARRY BRITAIN, K.B.E., M.P.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
November 11, 1919.
MR. A. E. GILVERSON, Chairman, said: Gentlemen, on this first anniversary of the memorable day that witnessed the glorious vindication of the cause of the Allies in the field, with the words of the King fresh in our minds calling upon us to exercise venerable remembrance, I take it as peculiarly fitting that we should pledge our beloved Sovereign, and I ask you to 'rise and drink the toast to the King. (After the toast, and the National Anthem, the chairman proceeded.) I want to say how glad I am to have with us so worthy a representation of our own Toronto press. (Applause.) We are here to greet a veteran of the craft and to enjoy the treat we have in store. If I were to say a word of our press it would be this, that in sane thinking and in clean writing they are easily the peers in personnel and practice of any journalistic group this side of the big water. (Applause.) We of the Empire Club naturally have a warm place in our hearts for a man who devotes his splendid abilities and rare talent to the patriotic work of building up the Empire. In the person of our distinguished guest we have such a man, one who, by his achievements in the world of journalism and of letters, has won international fame (Applause.) as an outstanding champion of fraternal Anglo-American relations, suggesting strongly all the possibilities of Anglo-Saxon entente, as a pioneer in the movement for the promotion of knowledge between the different parts of the Empire, one of another. I have very great pleasure in introducing Sir Harry Brittain.
SIR HARRY BRITTAIN was received with loud applause, and said: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Empire Club, I have come over on this occasion for a brief nine days' visit to Canada to accomplish certain work and to receive a tonic. I sincerely hope that some of the work may be accomplished, and I have no doubt whatever about the tonic. I put in a certain amount of preparation for this visit in August, for I went up to latitude 80 north and spent six interesting days on the Island of Spitzbergen, which should be of interest to Canadian citizens, for it is entirely surrounded by the national drink of North America-ice water. (Laughter and applause.) Among the many kindly invitations that were awaiting me from innumerable American and Canadian friends, the vast majority of which I was unable to accept, there was one from -the Empire Club and from Toronto, and the names of both seemed good to me, (Hear, hear and applause.) and therefore I gave your chairman roughly, the date when I expected to be in Toronto, and afterwards arranged with Mr. Coombs definitely for today. I was rather bothered as to what line of talk I would inflict upon you, but as I was coming to Canada for a certain purpose I thought I might take the opportunity of saying a few words upon that purpose, hence the title, "The Press and the Empire." I am ashamed to say that my intentions of preparing an address have been entirely torpedoed, and since I sent the telegram I have been absolutely inundated with work, and at the-moment am striking for a 12-hour day. (Laughter.) When I fixed today as the date for my address I did not realize that I was fixing a date which will be forever a letter-day of gold in the common history of our Empire-(Hear, hear and applause.) the day on which the Teuton colossus, after four years of struggle, fell. (Hear, hear.) There is no Britisher alive who has been through that day who will ever forget it, in whatever part of the Empire he may have been. It was my good fortune to be in the centre of our old Empire, in London, on the day of the armistice.
I remember so well the crack of the maroons at eleven o'clock in the morning-the crack which on earlier occasions gave information of another kind, a visitation from the sleuths in the air; but we all knew on Armistice Day what the maroons were for, and there was a common impulse in the hearts of the Londoners to make our way to the palace of our King. (Applause.) From every part of the great metropolis armies of Londoners and those who temporarily sojourned in London made their way to Buckingham Palace, to form around it one of the finest and most enthusiastic crowds I have ever witnessed. All our race were there, and it was indeed a glorious family party. (Applause.) My wife and I took our two small children to what we felt sure would be scenes they would remember the whole of their lives, and they were lifted up by soldiers of Canada and Australia to see their King. (Applause.) Never will I forget the cheers which rent the sky as our democratic King stepped out to meet his people-the King who has in very truth worked as hard for this victory as did any of the subjects of his realm. (Applause.)
What our great Empire did during the war we all know, and today we were also reminded by the two minutes' silence, the beautiful idea which has run around our Empire, of those splendid millions of the dead who are no longer able to celebrate with us these armistice days, but without whose noble sacrifices there would have been no armistice days to celebrate. We shall never forget their memories. The prowess of the great dominions we know well in the Old Country, and I think from time to time we did our best, in the press of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to say what we thought of the gallant deeds of the men from overseas. (Hear, hear.)
As an Englishman I am not ashamed of what our little island did. (Hear, hear and applause.) We are told that we Englishmen are bad advertisers. Well, it may be so; at any rate, we did our best to do our duty, and we are perfectly prepared to leave it to the verdict of history to say whether that duty was properly done. (Applause.) We fought together for the ideals of our race, for that freedom and liberty recognized in days of Magna Charta. Only recently a well-known American, in a speech at Pittsburg, asked himself the question why Westminster was known as the Mother of Parliaments, and he gave his own answer in these words: "Because all the political and religious liberty which the world enjoys today had their birth on that island." Well, gentlemen, we have together gained a great victory, and we must see to it that having gained it we do not let it slip away. (Applause.) We are in very truth today sister nations; we must see that we really co-operate together from a. common centre, and we must see that we put in every effort to work together for our common benefit. (Hear, hear.)
I was asked on entering the hall just now if this is my first visit to Canada. I have had the pleasure of travelling your great Dominion from end to end fifteen times, I think, and have visited it north and south from Yukon to Labrador. I think it was about twenty years ago when I made by first visit, and I am reminded by a little slip which I believe was sent around to the members of this Club that I was guilty on that first visit of writing a book, and I really feel that it is up to me to explain that impertinence to you. (Laughter.)
I will tell you why I did it. As I wandered through the great Dominion and made my way to the west I was somewhat annoyed to find a very curious idea of the average Englishman. I soon discovered the reason. The reason was the individual known as the "remittance man" (Laughter.) who seemed to be about the only type of individual from the Old Country who had ever wriggled beyond the Great Lakes. Well, I determined in some way to try and fix that if I could, and so I wrote a book-not in any shape or form to inform Canada, but trying to do my best to persuade a few educated English friends that here was one of the finest tourist grounds in the world, and that it was up to them to come and show themselves. (Hear, hear.) I am very glad to say that from several hundred letters which I now have in my possession, that hint was taken, and taken to the full enjoyment of those who obeyed it.
I have many happy recollections of the Dominion with which I certainly do not intend to bore you today, but there was one from which I gathered a wonderful idea of the progressiveness of this country some eight years ago, when I went as the guest of the premier of British Columbia up to what they call the "New British Columbia." We took the first automobiles that ever went up the old Caribou road, and a mighty good time we had with the horses we met en route. Well, he had been premier, I think, for nine years, but had never visited that part of his wonderful province before, and it was the last great west; and the men there came out in hundreds to meet us, those splendid fellows-miners, trappers, lumbermen and fishermen who were up there to find what they could, away from civilization. They were a splendid crowd, and I never wish to meet better. They may have been a bit rough exteriorly, but their hearts were hearts of gold. Each of the little places we visited was bedecked with flags, and each one was shrieking at the top of its voice that it was the only spot on the map. I remember a little place called Kennell on the upper Fraser, where we had a wonderful meeting with the leading citizens, one of whom took me around-it would take perhaps a minute and a half to get around-but when we got to the starting point he turned and looked at me and said, "Well, my friend, I will have you know we have a real slap-up city here; we have everything but a street-car service and a steam laundry." (Laughter.) The same thing when we got to Fort George. I never will forget Fort George. There were three Fort Georges, each one howling out that the others didn't amount to anything. The first thing we saw was the bank; I read in large letters, "Bank of British North America." Behind that was a little shack with some steps up to it, and there was a young man bending over the most paleontological printing machine. I found he was the printer, editor, manager and everything. He had run out of bourgeois type, and he was printing in italics, (Laughter.) and if ever a leader was worthy of italics, this was. He was having a go at a certain well-known paper in the east of Canada which appeared once a week, and which in his opinion had intimated that there was no such place as Fort George, or if there was it was not worth anything. The leader began, "We Don't Give a Damn for the Seven-Day Opinion of a Half-Boiled Lobster Down East." (Laughter.) "We mean to be a Bull-Dog if We Only Live a Minute." (Laughter.
Well, gentlemen, after all it is that type of spirit which has driven Canada forward. (Hear, hear and loud applause.)
Now it is up to me to tell you, as shortly as I can, what is the object of my visit to the great Dominion. That object is to discuss with my good Canadian newspaper friends some of the outlines for the second Imperial Press Conference which is to be held in Canada in the summer of next year. (Hear, hear and applause.)
I think I was referred to just now as an ancient newspaper man. I have nothing to do with any newspaper. Among other crimes, I am a member of Parliament, and I do all sorts of other things, but I have nothing whatsoever to do with the newspaper world today. But I was a newspaper man once, and I suppose, on the lines of the old saying-"Once a newspaper man, always a newspaper man"-I am still allowed a place in that category. I was asked by my good friends of the Home Press and of the Empire Press Union, of which I have the great privilege of being the one honorary member, whether I would act as the unofficial link between themselves and the Dominion, and if I could come over here and discuss with the editors of the Canadian papers any pros and cons in reference to the conference, and carry back home any suggestions which the Canadian editors desired us to pursue-for I need hardly say that we are coming over as the guests of this great Dominion, and naturally we are only too ready to carry out whatever line Canada suggests to us.
Now, the first Imperial Press Conference, which it fell to my good fortune to conceive, was born in this great Dominion of yours, and occurred to me some twelve years ago when I was in this country as the guest of that grand old Canadian, Lord Strathcona. (Applause.) We were dining at the Government House, Winnipeg. I was sitting next to a very delightful individual, whose name I have now forgotten, who was a member of the local legislature, and we were chaffing one another, in the way that Britons will, as to the mutual ignorance of the Home Country and the Dominions as to one another. Well, perhaps he landed on a rather difficult nut, because it has been my good fortune to have traversed the Empire, but he did not know that when he started. After he had had a pretty good turn on me I said, "Well, my friend, now may I ask you a question?" He said, "Certainly, that is only fair." I said, "Tell me what are the states of Australia?" I saw I had him right away. (Laughter.) He did a lot of very rapid thinking, and after a tremendous effort he brought forth, "Victoria"-that was all. On our way home that night I could not help thinking, if that is the type of knowledge entertained by an intelligent citizen, not only here but in the Old Country and all other sections of the Empire, what small thing can one do to diffuse a little more knowledge around the Empire, not only between the Mother Country and the Dominion and vice versa, but the Dominions interse. Then suddenly occurred to me the idea, why not call together a conference of the great editors of the Empire's leading papers at the heart of the Empire, there to learn what the Old Country has to show them, there to come and teach us many things that we have to learn, and there to meet one another? I discussed this idea the next morning with a very good friend of mine and a very able Canadian editor, John W. Dafoe, the editor of the Manitoba Free Press, (Applause.) and again, when I came back to Ottawa, with another very dear old friend who is not with us today, Lord Grey, late Governor-General of Canada. (Applause.) They were both most enthusiastic, so much so that when I got back home I invited together a few of our leading newspaper men, to whom I put forth this plan. They were all for it, and said, "We must have a meeting of the British press," which was accordingly called, and which was the first time the whole British press had ever assembled, even in our islands, under one roof. I put before them this scheme, what I believed would result from such a gathering of the men who are molding opinion throughout the Empire. It was unanimously agreed to, and I was harpooned into it as organizer.
Well, it took me two years to get up that conference, for it was an entirely new idea, and it is always difficult to push forward a new idea in the Old Country. But I knew it was worth while, and I knew that I was doing something which would very materially help on anything that might be developed by means of the Imperial congresses of statesmen and politicians; for, after all, the politician is here today and gone tomorrow-sometimes gone to-night-(Laughter.) whereas in the ordinary course of events the editor of a great paper holds his position as long as his life and health endure. Accordingly we sent out invitations to every part of the map colored red, asking to London as many visiting editors as we thought we were able to take care of. We received them as our guests from the time they left their native land until we had the privilege of putting them down once again on their own door-step-which hospitable precedent has been followed by the great Dominion of Canada. (Applause.) Those men arrived and were welcomed by the biggest banquet of newspaper men we had ever had in the Old Country. I think, 800 or 900, and they were welcomed by a speech which those who listened to it will never forget, by a man who has often been described as the orator of the Empire, Lord Roseberry. (Applause.) In London they met not only their colleagues of the press, but also every one of our statesmen of all parties, and in the foreign office, in a large private room which was lent us, we were able to discuss the many outstanding questions which were not only of great interest to ourselves as newspaper men, but which, as was proved afterwards, were of enormous interest to the Empire.
It was also our privilege to be able to arrange, in their honor, reviews of the British navy and of the British army; and only the other day I came across a little cutting of an article which I wrote in 1910, which I think contains a little prophecy which has come to pass. I was asked to write an article on certain phases of the Imperial Press Conference, and I wrote as follows: "It has not often fallen to the lot of a body of laymen, if indeed it ever has before, to have the honor of reviewing the sea and land forces of one of the great powers. That this honor was sincerely appreciated was very evident to all who were with the delegates on these two most interesting occasions. That the interest will serve a useful purpose in helping to bind together for mutual defence our scattered race may be felt in years to come." (Applause.)
After our conference was over in London we took the delegates to see every part of the United Kingdom, visiting the north of England and Scotland. I remember one little incident in a big steel works in Sheffield, which entertained me somewhat at the time. I was showing the editor of one of the Transvaal papers the breech of a new British gun, and asked him what he thought of it. He said; "My dear Harry, it looks excellent and is most interesting, and what equally interests me is the fact that up to now you have never given me the opportunity of looking down your gun from this end." (Laughter.)
It is of course impossible to describe all the results of that first conference. There was an immediate reduction in press cable rates to many parts of the Empire; and apropos of that I had a conversation with the heal of one of the great press agencies in the Old Country, and talking to him about the effect of that reduction to Australasia, he said, "Ever since the Imperial Press Conference which reduced the press cable rates to Australasia by 25 per cent. we have had an automatic demand for more, and since 1909 have sent out 50 per cent. more home news to Australia and New Zealand than had ever been the case previously." (Applause.)
It was another Boer editor who, writing about the conference, also wrote in a form of prophecy which I think is worth repeating. This man was in the fight we had with the Boers, one of the crack shots of the Boer army. The last time I met him he was over with that fine old Boer, General Botha, at the Peace Conference in Paris. (Applause.) Dr. Queensberg wrote as follows: "We are a little country and we are poor; we cannot present dreadnaughts, but this I can promise, that if ever a foreign foe attacks the Empire in South Africa it will be the unerring rifle of the Boer which will give Great Britain's answer in the wild and lonely veldt." (Loud applause.)
But, gentlemen, it was the indirect results of this gathering of the Empire's editors which were far more powerful than the direct results. It was the opinions taken home to all ends of the Empire, the knowledge gained by those missionaries of the Empire who came to the capital, who were able to mould the opinions of readers of their own papers on their return-the results of which cannot be over-exaggerated in what was done during the fateful years between 1904 and 1914. From my own personal point of view, and what small part I had in that conference, never shall I regret the two years' work which I gave in doing what I could to help to organize it. (Loud applause.)
Since I came here it has been my privilege at Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto to take part in a series of most interesting gatherings of Canadian newspaper men, and I am sure I am telling you no secrets when I tell you that at each of those gatherings the idea of this next year's conference, on the invitation of Canada, was backed by the most entire enthusiasm. (Hear, hear.) You have indeed much to show us from the Old Country, and news paper men from the other Dominions from beyond the seas. There are many things which can be seen here and in no other part of the Empire; and even on the suggested skeleton programme which I have had put before me--for of course nothing is definitely settled yet-I know that those who come will be absolutely thrilled by what they will have the privilege of seeing, and I equally know that an absolutely royal welcome awaits them. (Hear, hear and applause.) I also sincerely hope that this conference of the Empire's editors in Canada next year, may be frequently followed in Canada and other parts of the Empire by as many conferences as possible of all kinds and sorts of professional men and women who are interested in trade, in which they may get together and exchange ideas. (Hear, hear.) It is the getting together which is so important for Britishers. It is only by these means that we knock off something of the rough edges, and are able to see the angle of the other man. I remember that at this first gathering to which I referred, Lord Roseberry suggested that in his opinion it would be an excellent idea if a British warship were chartered to take British editors from Australia and other parts of the Empire to see something of the Dominions overseas. (Applause.) Well, there are a lot of warships doing nothing, or doing very little at the moment, and no enemy navy, and I do not see why they could not be used to transport trade agents not only from the British Isles to the Dominions overseas, but from other parts of the Commonwealth to see various other parts, as well. (Hear, hear.) Of course, it might be that those that did not quite agree with the Government in power might lie in wait for one or other of those ships and use the modern method of torpedoing them; but they have to take that chance. (Laughter.) Some time ago I saw quite an able paragraph suggesting that the British warships might be used to take commercial travellers from the centre of the Empire to foreign parts, because of the difficulty in getting transportation from the mercantile marine going to the far east, and that idea I believe owes its inception to my very good friend, and a good Ontario boy, Sir Hamar Greenwood, (Applause.) who is at the present moment making more than good in his present job as director of overseas trade in the Old Country. (Applause.) Of course I don't know whether the warships will be used for such purposes, but the suggestion opens a tremendous vista of what may happen in the development of trade among the various sections of the British Empire.
I had a chat with the Governor-General only two days ago at Rideau Hall, and I found great enthusiasm towards this idea of inviting the editors to the colonial conference in Canada, and I have no doubt that this enthusiasm will grow and prove a valuable asset to the Empire. (Applause.)
I shall take away with me from Toronto on this occasion, very pleasant memories, not only of my visit to Rideau Hall, but my visit to Hart House in this city. I do not know how Hart House appeals to you, but it appears to me that your Toronto architect has achieved a veritable triumph. I think I have seen practically all the great universities of the world, both in the old world and the new, and from my experience in those universities I can say that I have seen absolutely nothing in the world like the Hart House. (Applause.) I shall carry in my memory my pleasant visit to Hart House in company with Sir Robert Falconer, and also a pleasant memory of the delightful gathering today in this room, and the other gathering which I attended last night here, in which I listened to paeans of the Victory Loan, when this room was crowded with the most enthusiastic audience, I think, I have ever met anywhere in my life. I was told they were all expert salesmen, and they were also doubledyed enthusiasts, and likewise choral singers of the first order. (Laughter.) I learned that Montreal has issued a challenge to Toronto in the Victory Loan. Far be it from me not to wish well to both great cities, but all I can say for Montreal is that they will have to gallop mighty hard before the end of the week; 80 million dollars for Armistice Day is indeed an achievement of which any city might well be proud, and if I had only known ten days ago all these facts I think I should have altered the name of my address to that of "Ontario, Unlimited." (Laughter and applause.) I told you that I had found Toronto a tonic. I have found Torontonians born enthusiasts of a type which the world needs very badly today. It is surely the duty of each one of us throughout the Empire to work himself up to a spirit of enthusiasm to do all he can to make good and follow those who have done such magnificent work in this country, so that when our time comes we may each one feel there is something to hand down to posterity-a happy and contented Empire for which so many of our bravest and best have given their lives in that great war which is past. (Loud applause.)
Note: Sir Harry Brittain visited Canada many years ago, and on that occasion was struck not only with the prevailing ignorance of the Mother Country about her sister nations, but the ignorance of those great nations about one another. It was this thought which prompted him to originate and later to organize the first Imperial Press Conference which was held in London in 1909. His present visit to Canada is in connection with a similar Conference which is to be held next year. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Colonial Institute and of the Central Committee of the Overseas Club, and through his interest in the Empire he has written a book on Canada, and in many ways has done much to draw the various parts of the Empire closer together. In 1902 he was one of the founders of the Pilgrims' Club, in connection with which a great American newspaper said that he was "perhaps the most active living champion of fraternal Anglo-American relations." During the war his activities have been so numerous and many-sided that it is impossible to mention them in detail.