Journey to Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Oct 1974, p. 36-45
Johnston, Sir John, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Personal reminiscences of young childhood, and World War II. Changes in Canada and Britain in the post-war years. Now, a description of the Britain left and the Canada to come. Central question: what, in October 1974, have Canada and Britain to say to each other, and to do together? Discussion follows as an answer to that question, in a world context.
Date of Original
10 Oct 1974
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.

Views and Opinions Expressed Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the speakers or panelists are those of the speakers or panelists and do not necessarily reflect or represent the official views and opinions, policy or position held by The Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Journey to Canada
CHAIRMAN The President, > Sir Arthur Chetwynd


Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is always a very important occasion when the Senior Officer representing the British Government in Canada pays an official visit to The Empire Club of Canada. Today is very special indeed. We have the opportunity of welcoming the newly appointed High Commissioner to Canada, Sir John Johnston, along with his wife, Lady Johnston. We are most honoured that Sir John has chosen this occasion to make his first official speech in Toronto.

The last time we were privileged to hear from a British High Commissioner to Canada was January 7th, 1971, when our 68th President, Dr. Harold V. Cranfield, who is one of our head table guests today, introduced Sir Peter Hayman, whom Sir John recently succeeded.

The topic of Sir Peter Hayman's speech, approximately three and a half years ago, was "Britain in 1971". The intervening time, although relatively short, has seen world events move at an incredible pace. In the ever increasing confusion and speed of life, one small quote from Sir Peter Hayman's speech in 1971 has great significance to me and I believe to our guest today. Sir Peter said, in part, and I quote, "I think for an Englishman, or a Briton, this is the most important and exciting post you could possibly come to in the foreign and Commonwealth service." I am sure that his successor, Sir John Johnston, agrees with that statement and I can assure him that we in Canada reciprocate this feeling. Close and fruitful bonds exist between Canada and the United Kingdom--bonds of culture, blood, trade and industry, which have made an inestimable contribution to Canada's development as a viable progressive nation in the world community as well as a senior partner in the Commonwealth.

Sir John Johnston has had a most distinguished career. Born in Cumberland, England in 1918, he received his early education at Banbury Grammar School and Queen's College, Oxford. He served his country with distinction in the Second World War in the Gordon Highlanders with the rank of Major, he took part in the DDay landings in France. Those who were involved in that terrible conflict and survived acquired a special kind of instant maturity.

Our guest speaker joined the British Colonial Office in 1947. The list of his appointments and positions is quite staggering: Assistant Secretary to the West African Council, Accra, Principal Private Secretary to Mr. Oliver Littelton (the late Lord Chandos), Principal Private Secretary to Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, now Lord Boyd. He was Assistant Secretary and Head of the Far Eastern Department of the Colonial Office, preparing for the independence of Malaya, Deputy High Commissioner in South Africa, the first Commissioner at Freetown when Sierra Leone obtained its independence in 1961, High Commissioner in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1963.

Recalled to London in 1965, Sir John Johnston became Assistant Undersecretary in the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Deputy Undersecretary in the Combined Commonwealth Office, and was appointed British High Commissioner at Kuala Lumpur in 1971. In recognition of his outstanding service to his country he was made a CMG in 1962, a KCMG in 1966, and, a KCVO in 1972.

In a more personal vein for a moment, Sir John must have subscribed to the notion that "he who travels fastest travels alone". What is known in the trade as a usually reliable source informs me that he remained a bachelor until 1969, or in cricketing terms, until he had reached his half-century! At that time his curriculum vitae indicates that Sir John conceded that two minds were better than one and succumbed to the superlative diplomatic blandishments of one Elizabeth Mary Crace. They have one son, John, aged four years.

Up to 1974, eleven distinguished men served in the Office of British High Commissioner to Canada. The first, Sir William Clarke, came to us in 1928. Sir John Johnston took up his appointment in Ottawa as the twelfth British High Commissioner to Canada in June of this year.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present to you His Excellency, Sir John Johnston, KCMG, KCVO, British High Commissioner to Canada, who will address us now and tell this gathering something of his fascinating and long "Journey to Canada".

Your Excellency.


I was born, like the rest of mankind, at a very early age. My journey to Canada began in 1918. It has been a fascinating journey, through many changes of scenery: and with glimpses of Canada in the distance all the way.

When I was eight, one of my farming uncles emigrated to Canada. When I was about ten, I was taken to a lantern lecture--if anyone in these televisual days can remember what that was--by Dr. Grenfell, about his work in the mission he had founded in Labrador. I still remember it vividly.

I grew up with that unbelievably magic invention, the radio. In the thirties, we all sat around it after lunch on Christmas Day, spellbound by the BBC's round-the-world Christmas broadcast. And always there was a Canadian voice: sometimes a farmer; sometimes a Mountie or a lumberjack; once, I remember, a children's choir singing in French from Quebec; each year joining in the exchange of Christmas greetings between our kinsfolk round the world. I found it very moving. My father and I could scarcely look at each other lest we betray the emotion which so strangely overcame us in feeling ourselves part of that miraculous world family.

John Buchan was one of my father's heroes-the son of the manse (which I was also) who had worked his way through school and Oxford to become the Governor General of a great dominion. I have read that, in those years, Canadians themselves felt some uncertainty about their own identity. To a boy in England there was no uncertainty. Canada was there, like Everest or the Tower of London: the immense strong country of peak and prairie, the magnet for the adventurous, the shining hope.

It was a time when hope was needed, for I remember also unemployment and poverty: the photographs in the newspapers of the serried ranks of the hunger marchers. I see now, with hindsight, the borderline of penury on which my farming uncles subsisted during the years when I walked round the harvest field after the horse-drawn reaper and binder, trying to work out how any machine could be so ingenious as to tie a knot in a piece of twine. I see too, looking back, how circumscribed were the horizons of the people of those days, hemmed into a locality by long hours of work and the struggle to keep going; with a week's holiday in Blackpool, and a shilling left under the doormat to pay the final fling of a taxi when the holiday and the savings for it were spent.

Canada, I know, had if anything an even grimmer time in the great depression, with drought and grain failures adding to the desperate toll of world recession. But it was then a less communicative world, and we were perhaps less aware of each other's misfortunes than we would be in today's age of instant and visual communication.

Then came the change from undergraduate to soldier, as the peace we were all just beginning to enjoy disappeared into the cauldron of war. The landscape of my journey changed dramatically. But Canada was still a part of it, as in the liberation of Europe we fought alongside--and for a time, in the case of my own battalion, under the command of--General Crerar and the 1st Canadian Army, until we reached the gates of peace again.

That was thirty years ago. And what a different journey it has been since. Something happened after those six years of war that was born not only out of the war, but out of the 20s and 30s which preceded it: it wasn't just rebuilding, it was in some ways a new creation. May I ask you just to set aside for a moment the pressing anxieties of the present, and to sit God--like on Olympus and look at what has been achieved in those thirty years. It is only when I recall Britain as I knew it in my youth, and then look at the British people today that I realise what an immense silent revolution has taken place in our society.

We have brought about an enlargement of opportunity and horizon, a level of personal security, and a transformation in the quality of life for ordinary people, which would have been dismissed as Utopian dreams in my boyhood. There were twelve universities in 1939: for most young people a university education was out of the question.

There are forty-four today, and no one capable of a university education need go without it. Music, the arts, drama flourish as never before. The man-in-the-street takes his holidays in Europe. And as for the young, the world is their oyster. They roam it as freely as I roamed the English countryside on a bicycle. They have a social conscience towards the disabled, the aged and the under-privileged which puts to shame the self-centredness of my youthful generation.

You have only to see the quality of the applicants for Voluntary Service Overseas, or the queues for the concerts or the ballet, or the compassionate causes for which they so eagerly work, to realise that we have bred and brought up a new Britain, which will yet surprise the world.

My own journey over these thirty years has lain not so much amongst this new creation at home, but with the new creation abroad: for in those same thirty years Britain has accomplished a task of decolonialisation unique in the world's history. And while we are sitting on Olympus--and please don't come down for a minute or two-let us note with Olympian perspective what a brief period in Britain's thousand years of history was occupied by the British Empire: effectively, not much more than a hundred years, during which by the accident or genius of the industrial revolution, the people of our small island found themselves the leaders of the world.

I believe that during that period they contributed something of lasting value to the countries of whose destinies they were the guardians: and that in bringing independence to their former dependencies, they have responded to the human imperatives of the last two decades with equal wisdom and understanding. I make this claim not on the grounds that the British take an extra-large size in haloes: it's just that they have a very long experience of sin.

I saw these great processes at close quarters, for I served in the Colonial Office for the first ten years after the war, as the final preparation for that independence was being made, before (in 1957) I moved into the field of Commonwealth diplomatic relations. And as always, at intervals along the road, there were the glimpses of Canada, a strong ally in the great transformation of Empire into Commonwealth, and a source of many Canadian friends and colleagues on the way.

There's an old saying that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. I wish you to know that it is not true. For now, in 1974,1 have after this long journey, arrived in Canada: and this is the best of all.

I have presumed on your indulgence to describe the journey a little, and have had the temerity to show you into seats on Olympus (and you can come down now), not to avoid having to refer to the fact that it is Election Day in Britain, but because it is Election Day. Because I very much want you to understand, in proper perspective, what sort of a Britain it is that is having an election. It is a new, lively, questioning, evolving Britain, engaged in a passionate and wholly democratic internal debate about its own ends and means in the last quarter of this century, a debate of which today there will be an interim stocktaking: but a debate that will go on, as it must in every free society. It is this new and contemporary Britain which I am proud to come to Canada to represent.

And to what a new Canada do I come: a Canada in the full flood of consciousness of its own immense potential; a Canada alive with creative activity, economic, social and cultural; a Canada taking a place in the world's top ten of greater importance and greater influence than ever before in Canadian history; a Canada, perhaps-as more than one writer has suggested-entering into its Golden Age.

The question to which all this long preamble leads is this: what, in October 1974, have Canada and Britain to say to each other, and to do together-Canada, changing, drawing its identity now from its own soil and not from its origins, and Britain, changing, drawing its identity now not from an Imperial past, but from a pragmatic present? And the answer to that question is, plenty.

Plenty, because I believe that not only do Canada and Britain have a very similar idea of the kind of world we both want to see evolve, but we are together in almost all the instruments which may help to create it. We are together in the United Nations. We have a common concern for the less developed countries, and parallel programmes of aid to the third world. We are together in the Commonwealth, that remarkable aggregate of common denominators of communication between peoples of the utmost diversity whose relevance was so signally reasserted in Ottawa last year. We are together in NATO for the defence of our freedom.

There is between us, I think, a natural convergence of instincts and policies, sustained by an invisible web of countless ties of personal relationship and friendship, of a strength which--in the 14,000 miles I have managed to travel inside Canada in the last three months--I have found deeply moving.

So there is work to be done together, for today and for tomorrow. Today's work inevitably dominates the horizon. The last eighteen months have seen the economic assumptions of the post-war world swept away, with the shattering rise in the cost of oil and of almost all natural resources, and a world-wide disequilibrium of economic uncertainty. No country is immune from the consequences of the new equation. Britain as a major importer of oil, food and raw materials, has been badly hit by the avalanche of extra cost.

Last year our import bill went up by ten thousand million dollars, completely masking the fact that in the same year we increased our share of world trade for the first time since the War. Let me not seek to minimise the gravity of the problems facing my country, any more than any of us wish to minimise the gravity of the problems facing the world. Indeed it would be difficult to make light of them at a time when, to the uniquely British capacity for predicting the worst, and for publicising those aspects of our national life which we ourselves find most unsatisfactory, is added the accepted hyperbole of the electoral hustings.

Let me say just this. Two thirds of our massive adverse-balance of payments represents the cost of oil: we should be self-sufficient in oil from the North Sea by 1980. The other third represents the risen cost of imported raw materials, food and manufactured goods. Since last December we have reduced that share of the deficit by 48%. The terms of trade which were moving so remorselessly against us are levelling off. And the volume of our exports is rising faster than the volume of our imports. We face some hard years ahead. Do not expect anything different. But do not doubt that we shall emerge on top, unless the world itself loses its will to win.

For it is in a world context-as was so clearly recognised in Washington last week-that the battle for the future of all of us, Canadians and British alike, has to be fought. This is the work we have to do together now: and I find it immensely heartening to see how closely is matched the determination of our two countries to fight to sustain the levels of world trade, and to avoid the deflationary policies which could so easily lead the world into a slump of nightmare proportions.

And there is specific positive action we can take in the purely bilateral context. It is this: quite simply, to see that trade between Canada and Britain, both ways, reaches its maximum potential. Last year we sold a record £414m of exports to Canada: we also bought from Canada a record £700m of imports. I won't conceal from you that I would like to rectify that imbalance more than somewhat. But above all, we must keep the wheels of trade, in which we both have so great a national interest, turning between us to their maximum revolutions.

There is work to be done together for the future, in a larger perspective and against a more distant horizon. It is not spectacular or theatrical work, and it won't often make the headlines. It is the search for ways forward for the world: the patient co-operation in a hundred different fields, seeking to put brick on brick in the construction of an international order that has less inequality in it, and less tension, and less famine and privation.

It is the ongoing task of mankind. And it is one in which we are so well equipped to work together, because we are similar peoples: peoples whose economic preoccupations are not an end in themselves, but spring from factors of humanity; peoples who believe in the rights and dignity of the individual; peoples who are each, in their own way, trying to create a compassionate society.

Can you wonder that I am glad to have completed my journey, and to have arrived in Canada? And that I am very grateful to you for the opportunity you have given me today to share with you some of the thoughts that are in my mind as I begin my mission in this so richly blessed country?

If I have dared to ask you to lift your eyes above some of the heat and turmoil of the day, it is not to avoid the turmoil, but because the massive truths of the community of our endeavours and aspirations can all too easily be veiled in the smoke and the dust. Let us not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment. It is to the deepening and strengthening of this whole compass of interest and affection between Britain and Canada, that my wife and I will give the best of which we are capable over the years ahead.

And it is my belief in the rich and boundless potential of the comradeship of our two countries on this troubled planet which, for me, makes my journey so worthwhile, and my arrival so infinitely welcome.

Sir John Johnston was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club of Canada by Dr. Harold V. Cranfield, a Past President of the Club.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Journey to Canada

Personal reminiscences of young childhood, and World War II. Changes in Canada and Britain in the post-war years. Now, a description of the Britain left and the Canada to come. Central question: what, in October 1974, have Canada and Britain to say to each other, and to do together? Discussion follows as an answer to that question, in a world context.