- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Nov 1921, p. 295-310
- Grenfell, William T., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's impressions and feelings on travelling to a large city centre. The speaker's conviction that some day we will be a great deal prouder of Labrador and the surroundings than perhaps we are today. The long time if takes for any man to work out his own vision of how he is to introduce a better condition of things; the speaker's memory of his landing in Labrador 30 years ago in a sailing boat from England. The speaker's support of Newfoundland and Labrador coming into Canadian confederation. Indications that this will happen. Explorations of recent years that have shown that there are sufficient assets in timber to ensure an industry. A discussion of fish as the real asset in Newfoundland and Labrador. Attempts, failures and consequences of price fixing. Signs of improvement in the economic situation in Newfoundland. Successful efforts now being made to sell salmon on the foreign market in a fresh state. Competition from British Columbia. Attempting to develop more than one industry. Specific figures with regard to the public debt in Newfoundland. Monies from the fur industry. Differences between Labrador and Newfoundland. Medical services provided. The speaker's 21 children and their desire to stay in the land in which they grew up, coming back after receiving education elsewhere. Admiration by the British people and the British Empire for the genius for the seas that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador possess. The seemingly built-in seafaring skills of the speaker's people. The resourcefulness and contented nature of the people. Running a partial survey of Eastern Labrador. The many large fiords of which practically nothing is known. A new fiord on the map this year, called Karririktu, and what the speaker and his colleagues found at the bottom of it. Development in Labrador. The introduction of a large number of small industries.
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- 17 Nov 1921
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- STORY OF LABRADOR MEDICAL MISSION
Art ADDRESS BY WILLIAM T. GRENFELL,
C.M.G., M.D., M.R.C.S., L.L.D.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
November 17, 1921.
PRESIDENT MITCHELL,--Today we have the honour of welcoming Dr. Grenfell who will speak to us about his home, the Labrador, which he has brought very close to us, by his work. I am sure we all realize that, however far away Labrador seems, it is an integral part of Canada; and is the first piece of Canada one sees in coming from the Old Country in the summer. A few minutes ago, in order to satisfy my own curiosity, I asked Dr. Grenfell why it was that Labrador was usually called "the Labrador", and he said he thought it was the result of the old sailing days, when the old sailor himself shortened the term "the Labrador Coast" to "the Labrador"; and so, in speaking of it as "the Labrador", I Want to introduce to you "the Grenfell". (Applause)DR. GRENFELL
General Mitchell and Gentlemen,-You don't know how small a man feels when he comes straight from the wild lands of Labrador to these elaborate buildings and faces men who are driving the commerce of this enormous city. I only rode in last night, having come straight up from the Coast by the "Manoa", which is the new service that has been inaugurated this last year between Labrador and the mainland, which I think is going to pay, and going to do a great deal of good. One cannot help feeling, when one sees these rows of electric lights, these enormous factories, and these crowds of human beings, that one is going to be asked, "Why don't you move up out of Labrador and come and live up here?" A great many do. Unquestionably a great many Newfoundlanders leave the country and come to Toronto, and no doubt there are a number of those meeting here, because of the contributions of cities, the conventionalities which men like, and many of the things that have become almost essential to human happiness-at least, so we think. But I want you to understand that I am an extreme optimist, and that though it is not always easy to demonstrate the future value of any particular action, and much less of any particular country, I have a vision in my mind, and have always had-and I have been thirty years on the Coast-that some day you will be a great deal prouder of Labrador and the surroundings than perhaps we are today. (Applause)
Now, it takes a very long time for any man to work out his own vision of how he is to introduce a better condition of things; and it is exactly thirty years since I landed there in a sailing boat from England. I was a young surgeon, and my idea was that my contribution to life should be through the healing of the human machine; but long experience on that Coast has brought to my mind the fact that very often the human machine is not worth improving, after all. I have seen many a patient come to my operating table when it was exceedingly questionable whether it was advantageous to prolong his existence, and whether, for general purposes, it would not have been better to shorten it. Therefore I have learned that the practical contribution of any one human being is not limited to the immediate part or craft that he is to specialize on.
Before I begin to speak of Newfoundland and Labrador I want you to understand that I have lived there thirty years, and my family was born there, and I do not want to say anything that may be in the slightest derogatory to Newfoundland or Labrador, which are not in the advanced condition yet that you are in Canada. While I have lived there under the autonomous government that rules it, I am an ardent federationist, and I believe that long ago we ought to have come into federation with this country. (Applause) We have to come, if you will take us, a little later on; that I am pretty sure of, though I am not here to discuss political questions, because that is one thing I am not-a politician. In the North Where we live, we are pretty well separated, divorced from the difficulties that beset men who are supposed to arrange for all our big problems, and we just forge ahead in our own way. All the same, I am absolutely convinced, and I think every right-thinking man is, that we shall never be in our right place until we are federated with this country. I have seen, during these last many years, the tide coming down our way. Canadian commerce has been pushing its way down the Gulf, and whereas, when I went there thirty years ago, there Was not a single worth-while lumber or timber proposition, you might say, between Quebec and 900 miles of our Coast to the Eastern seaboard, yet today there are quite a number, and they are all the time pushing towards us. The shores of Labrador not only have rich fisheries, but it has valuable assets in its trees and its water-powers.
Now, you may think that I am trying to "boost" the country, but I have no wish to "boost" at all, or to knock it, but I would speak about it as I see it. There is no question that the explorations of these last few years have shown that there are sufficient assets in timber to make it certain that within a short number of years we shall have, quite up to the Atlantic ,seaboard, timber and paper projects working, much as you have up here. I remember a few years ago when the Abitibi and Iroquois Falls proposition was being undertaken, that they sent down to me to send them up a hundred men because they thought it was a very cold proposition there; and I remember our men coming back, a number of them, and they said it was too jolly cold up there, it was much warmer down our way. (Laughter) However, you know what a splendid thing that proposition has become, and so it has at Chicoutimi and at St. Augustine and St Louis Bay, as it will even further north, when the tide of commerce runs as it was doing before the war in full strength, and the needs for those things are more apparent.
People often say to me, "Well, if there is distress am need for help on a coast like that, why don't you comp to places where there is no need?" Well, there is no such place. There is no place in the world today when there is not some poverty, where there is not sometime unemployment; and I myself believe that there need be no time in a great country like that where there need be any unemployment; and along those lines I am going to speak a word or two.
First of all, of course, our fish is our real asset. Whey the cod rush in on the shore in the spring of the year, it sounds like a fish story to say that you can hardly said through them; but I have often seen the sea so thick with codfish that they almost bring your boat to a stand-still. Now, people have said that the codfishing is declining, and there is not as much caught as used to be That is not so; there is as much caught today as there ever was. This year we have had very fine fishing, and we have got nearly every schooner loaded, and only one or two places had any scarcity of fish. But, of course the war has had a very serious effect on that industry because, unfortunately, we still put up our fish in the antediluvian fashion that we have always had--just plain salting it and drying it. It is easier to handle and get rid of in that way, and then it becomes the food of the poor; but well-off people do not eat much of our salt fish. When I got aboard the "Manoa" a few days ago it was a pitiable thing to see this large steamer coming back from our little colony almost empty, though they picked up a few barrels of oil and a few potatoes on Prince Edward Island. All the trade in the way of flour and produce, etc., has to go down to Newfoundland, where of course there is a very large market for the produce. But that has told against us in the was because, fish being a food for the poor, and being very oddly a desirable kind of food in tropical climates where you have great heat and dryness, that kind of fish seems to be much more stimulating than other forms of food. I have often had that from men who could afford other things, and yet have found that to be a fact. The Greeks and the Italians, South America, and the West Indies, above all the shores of the Mediterranean are our markets. These people simply cannot pay today the price that it costs us to catch our fish. We still have to pay high prices for twine, paint, canvas, and the things that we are obliged to use to get our fish, and especially for salt; and this year we find that the foreign markets cannot pay our prices.
Those of you that follow the story of Newfoundland know that last year their Government tried to put up prices on our staple product, fish, by interference with the ordinary economic laws, in one of those efforts that have always failed. Some of us are familiar with the attempt of Roman Emperors like Diocletian to fix the price of everything, from salt water fish to the writing of a letter, or from an advocate's fee to the price of a cabbage, and then if people did not sell and buy at the prices he made they were crucified for it; if they paid too high they were killed, and if they sold too high they were killed-it didn't matter which. As one goes through history and reads of the attempts to fix prices he sees what an awful failure it has been. However, they did try that in Newfoundland last year; and we were not allowed to sell in the Mediterranean under a certain price, which had to be put up before the fish left Newfoundland. Whether from private reasons, or from more general reasons, that failed and hurt a great many of our merchants. Many of them were very hard hit by it, and we did not get the prices that we wanted. This year these people do not seem able to pay any better prices than before. Now, this is very serious to us, because of course it is our one and only produce yet. It need not be, at all, but so far it is; and as the Harmsworth people were held up from giving us employment by the very big strike, that also has left a great many people out of employment in the winter; further, the discouragement of the paper and pulp industry by the position of trade outside has left us in difficulties there this winter.
These are temporary difficulties, but Newfoundland is a country that recuperates very quickly. I was there in 1895 when our two Banks failed and the bank notes in our pockets were no good, when nearly all the merchants closed up, and yet in a few years we were swinging clear again and everything was going gaily, and during the war we were probably more prosperous than any other little place. But there are signs of improvement. These improvements must come through more scientific handling of the things that we have. For instance, very successful efforts are being made now to sell our salmon on the foreign market in a fresh state. I may say that British Columbia competes with us in that, and there is a lot of tinned salmon in British Columbia stored up, and so on. That is what they told me in Washington last spring when I was down there; but as a fact we have methods now of putting our salmon from the North Atlantic on the British table so that you cannot tell the difference between salmon from the Tweed and those from our own home rivers. This year we sent nearly a million pounds of fresh salmon home, and made a great deal of money out of it for those who bought it, and doubled the price for those who caught it. At the same time, in between those places and many large places, in Labrador, for instance, I saw tons of salmon coming in just as it used to come, just split and salted and slung on big wharves, and nobody would buy it; yet there is no better food in the world than North Atlantic salmon. You that have eaten the British Columbia salmon and those who have caught ours may know how different they are. While this is a little thing, it is one that is going to help in the future a great deal, to keep our population from the vicissitudes of only having one industry to depend upon.
A great many things come into one's mind when one speaks about the possibilities of the country, because you who have been studying Newfoundland, must know, that we have been heaping up debt, and that our little population is carrying a very high public debt now, something like $51,000,000; which makes taxation high, and the difficulty of living greater. But still, in spite of that, I am sure of this-that it will pay any country to take Newfoundland under its wings and join with it; and when the time comes to federate, as it will come, I hope that Canada will not think, as she did once before, that we should be dear at $9,000,000. We shan't be dear at $50,000,000; of that I am sure, when you take us in.
There are many other things. We have been trying to develop other lines of activity, because one asset of every human being is time. Fishing can only be carried on over the North of Newfoundland and the whole of Labrador during a few months of the year, and it is quite obvious that there must be many months of the year in which time hangs on people's hands; and how to occupy them successfully is one of the problems that every man has to face. The fur industry gives us a good deal of money.
Labrador and Newfoundland are different. The average Newfoundlander does not like to be mixed with Labrador. I often hear a Newfoundlander say, "Oh, you mix us up with the Labrador", and the Labrador men say, "Oh, for God's sake don't mix us up with the Newfoundlander." (Laughter) It has been my lot to have a good deal to do with both of them, because in the work that we do of course we pick up a great many children. Even in spite of our surgery some men die and pass out, and in spite of all sorts of precautions children and helpless people are left. It has been our privilege to take care of a great many of them. We have now got two large homes, one in the North of Labrador and one in the north of Newfoundland. As children grow older we try to have them educated along mechanical lines and turn them into plumbers and electricians and mechanics, some into business courses, some into nurses; and we have just added a student of Upper Canada College from North Labrador, and he seems to be holding his own all right, although he has only had such preliminary education as we could give. (Applause)
I have twenty-one children up at the present minute, and of these I want to say that you might suppose that when they have seen motor cars and moving pictures and all the attractions of city life up here, and the opportunities in these parts, that most. of them would not want to come back to a country where they cannot get those things. Now, it is a very strange thing that they nearly all do come back; in fact, every one has come back except the very few of whom we felt it was not wise for them to do so; that is generally along the lines of trained nurses, for we cannot afford to pay a child as a trained nurse what you have to pay here, so you get the benefit of our trained nurses, and you also get the benefit of the ones you marry before they come back. But I am not looking out for the handsomest and sending them up here, because they are an investment, and all my specialist work is done by returned children. I was talking to the head of the big Methodist College in St. John's not long ago. He was up to Columbia taking a degree, and he was telling me what success he had had in twenty years in educating the young Newfoundlanders and passing them through the higher University examinations like matriculations, and so on. I was very much interested, and asked him in what capacity the list which he showed me was serving their country, and he told me that every one of them had left their country. Our education is just the very reverse, because, don't you see, that for those who are educated along the lines of classical education, or along lines of work that demand that sort of life, we have no opening yet. We are going to have it some day, but these come back full of idealism, and full of the idea that they have got an asset that they must give to life.
Now, that is my own vision of life. I am speaking to an Empire Club, and I am a member of the British Empire and naturally I love it; but I don't think that any Empire is worth preserving if you don't have people in that Empire worth preserving. (Applause) Education that does not impart to a person the idea that life is a joyous venture which you go into for what you can give out, instead of going into it for what you can get out of it, is a rank failure. So, when I see our people coming back, as they are doing, and as you will see them on the Coast, if you come there, taking far less important positions in life, as far as dollars and cents go, and taking positions in which they can see that they can contribute very definitely what they have to give for life, you will see that they are just as happy and just as long-lived, and when it comes to thinking over things, they have as much to rejoice in as those that have the wider opportunities. They see in the concrete their adaptation to the Empire. When you can take a portion of the Empire like that and see it grow up in character and development, as I think it has,-and there are some in this room who have been down to see us, and who have seen our people--you will realize that the last thing you would want to do would be to take our people and send them up to the city.
Now, the British people and the British Empire have always depended upon and loved and admired the genius for the seas that our people have. You know, as well as I can say it, we almost owe our existence today to our seamen of the sixteenth century and the centuries after, and that blood is born and preserved in our people They are real sailors from the word "go", and I have seen them under every possible circumstance of life; for I am a master mariner, I run my own ship, and I have been running it over there all these years. I know a sailor when I see one and as far as our people are concerned they are real seafaring people. That type does produce a character that is very attractive not only to Englishmen but to everybody. They are very resourceful. When trouble comes such men do not wait for others to act; they look to themselves to do it. When you see one of our men with that vision of life setting out to improve his condition, he calls upon almost every capacity he has got. This you don't always have in civilization, because you recognize that if you can earn dollars you can pay for some one Who can do it quicker. The seafaring life also develops another characteristic which is very attractive, and that is, the simplicity and hospitality and the simple faith in life itself that our men have. You rarely ever hear of a suicide in Labrador and Newfoundland, however poor in circumstances a man may feel there. I only remember one, and that was where a man was starving and desperately hopeless, and that was the first year we got there. He was so isolated he could not get food for himself and his children, and, as a matter of fact, he sent out his wife and his daughter and eldest son and then shot himself; but he happened to be at an extremely remote place away from any help. It is a singular characteristic of our people that, as a rule, they are much more contented than people you meet in later age in civilized life.
I just want to say a word or two more. Canada has been recently pushing down the coast still further. This year you had one of your boats surveying on the Grand Fiord in Eskimo Bay. I was talking to some of our politicians the other day, and they did not seem to be aware of the fact, and they said, "But what are they doing down there, those Canadians?" (Laughter) I said, "I guess they are fixing the boundary line." I can tell you this, as far as Labrador men go, they don't care how far east they put it. They were surveying that up. As I can give time, I have been gradually giving a week or month or two to running a partial survey of Eastern Labrador. I first began some years ago when we had an old Scotch Governor out, William McGregor, who was always much fonder of shooting a star than a bird or a deer, so we had a little survey as far as Hudson Bay Straits; but in Labrador itself there has been very little done.
I may say that latterly there must be at least a hundred large fiords of Which practically nothing is known. Those who know the great fiords of Norway, Iceland and Greenland have been attracted by their wonderful cliffs and fiords. There must have been some who have visited the fiords in Iceland, or the Norway fiords. It has been my lot to visit them all. I began in the North Sea, but I tell you there are none finer than what I have been up this summer. I joined a friend who made a big tour of that coast, and had a little surveying, and a Princeton lad came with me, and in one fiord we could not find any trace of human life, and I do not think anybody had ever been up there before. I found fishermen fishing in the mouth of it, and I found fish perhaps twenty miles up where the fiord begins to divide. It divides into three fingers; one ran outside of the great granite mass which is the basal rock of which Labrador Peninsula is formed, and that runs for thirty or thirty-five miles, and though it is full of cold water that had been fairly well known to the Eskimo, a number of Eskimos there have fished it out for sea trout; as to those other arms, I could not find anybody who had been up. We chose the middle arm and went up forty miles from the headland. The average cliffs on both sides were about 2000 feet, sometimes rising 4000. The fiord, by my recollection, is never more than a mile or a mile and a half wide at the utmost, and we came "plunk" up against the head of this fiord with a 3650-foot cliff, which we scaled, and tried to make our charts or cross observations from the top. Like one of those big glacial valleys, it has been scooped out, and in the top of it ran two heavy valleys filled with grass. Those are north of the tree line there, but full of willows. We anchored in the very deep water all the way up. You can only anchor by dropping your long line and pulling into the shore and putting your anchor at the outer end, and then tying to the shore, so that you get a sort of talus that has been dropped by the subsidence. When we woke up next morning, looking on the bench I saw a herd of caribou roaming on the beach. We were somewhat in want of meat, so we went up and brought a couple of big bucks down for eating. As we walked up: this hill where we were going to take our observations, out of all those side valleys filled with little gushes from t the streams coming down, would fly those large ptarmigans, and the seals were playing around us in the harbour itself. When we went back it was that same thing, and we came up again, and in the morning here were the '. caribou back again, but we did not want any more. The next night we went up into the other valley, and there we had the same shooting if we wanted it-a lot of caribou there; and I thought there must be lots of people now in Canada who would love to see things like this.
We put another fiord on the map this year-we have not finished the drawings yet-about 150 miles south of that. We went up a new one which is called, Karririktu. I had never been up it, though I know some people that have been; perhaps a dozen of our men have been up it. When we got to the bottom of it, we came to a large river; so we got a large motor-boat to go up this river, and I had a couple of men that I got from the outside, halfbreeds, who had been up the river before. As we' went up in the big motor-boat we shot all the geese we wanted; there were hundreds of them swimming about but they did not take much notice of us, and we also picked up a lot of black duck. A few miles farther up we came to a fall, thirty or forty feet high, the whole width of this broad river. We climbed the hills and made charts of them. Then we came down and fished in the river. The salmon in all those rivers take flies, I did not try those other rivers in the north because I did not have flies; but an eyespecialist from Chicago came down to give me some eye-work this year, and he went up one of our rivers, the Eagle River. I do not know how much dependence you can put on a salmon fisherman's first experience (laughter) but he holds the world's record for shying a salmon line, and he had eleven medal and had won the championship for throwing a fly, and he never caught a salmon in his life. But he used to throw them on the Midway Plaisance in Chicago; that is where he threw the fly. (Laughter) However, he came down this year and said he caught twenty salmon in four hours, and they weighed over twenty-four pounds; that is the record he is going to give at the fisherman's dinner in Chicago. There were a great many taken this year in, that river, and as my friend from Hartford, Connecticut, has been up a number of times, and was up fishing a little before I came back, he will no doubt be down again.
We went up another bay, called Holytoke, and we are going to one or two next year. I cannot conceive any better fun for a man with a yacht than to go down the Labrador Coast with one of those pilots, and the next year go down himself, and have the excitement of going up to places where nobody else has ever been. That is one of those things that will induce a big tourist traffic one of these days. There is no hotel, and you have to stick to your boat, and you cannot see those places in the ordinary way, I do believe that we have a tourist paradise on the east coast of Labrador, as I can demonstrate with my pictures, when I get them into order again, and am able to show some.
Now, I have wandered about a great deal in what I have said, and have not mentioned what I wanted to say; but I have put in thirty years there, and I want you to take that as a guarantee that I believe in the country. I believe in it for its physical assets, for its proximity to England, and I believe in it because we are already conquering all those things that are in hostility to us, if I may say so.
I met a young Australian the other day, and he said "I am coming down to see you this winter." I said, "How are you coming?" He said, "I am going to fly down; I have secured a hangar, and we are coming to put up a permanent one." I said, " We have a few hospitals and schools, and in the schools of industry we have gone in for work, and I am very glad to see it." He said, "I am going to make a wireless telephone; I will make half a dozen, and I am going to give you one of those, and I shall be able to get you while I am flying, and get you on the exchange, and talk to you." (Laughter) He is going down to connect our electric light station, and he is going to locate the salt for the boats when they come down on the ice-fields. He is sure he can do it. That is one of the many ways in which the place can be opened up.
With regard to the reindeer, that is another one of many ways it can be opened up. I brought 300 reindeer about twelve or fifteen years ago, into North Newfoundland. I meant to put them in Labrador but, owing to the earlier winter I could not land them; the sea froze up before I got them over. They multiplied very rapidly; we have never had to feed them; they cost next to nothing. I raised 1500 of them, but I did not get the protection I needed. Under the autonomous government which we have, the touch between the member for the district and the people is so intimate that I could not persuade him to prevent his electorate from shooting my reindeer, (laughter) so eventually I had to move the reindeer on to Canadian soil, and now they are under the Department of Indian Affairs on the Canadian Labrador at a place called Baie de Riche, where they are doing very well. I am sure there is a great future for them, because they use a country that cannot be used otherwise, arguing only from experience in other places; because you know Stefansson and the Hudson Bay Company and others are taking up the matter on a large scale, much like the Americans. I do not want to refer to that too intimately, because that is only one of the things that I know must be. Those of us who know the country will know that it will supply millions of those things, and that the broad fields will become more and more valuable, and that we need only to fly in the air and dive under the sea.
We are introducing a large number of small industries. We can run shipping perfectly well there, but every ship we brought in suffered from the dogs; but we are getting over that. We have introduced looms, and home-spun and other work. It has always been my idea that when a doctor has healed a patient and sent him back to the conditions that produced the disease he has made one mistake and it would have been better, if it cost another year, to keep him under his care rather than send him back to die from that disease. When we have convalescents we put them into a place where they can make toys or home-spuns or mats and other things that we finish for the market. This year we have started, in addition to other things, a co-operative weaving company, because the people in the winter used always to go into the country to haul fire-wood, and in some places they found it difficult to find fire-wood, but by opening that work we found they make a great deal more.
The other day I tried two girls out to see what they could make at weaving at seventy cents a yard on homespun cloth, and they were able to make seventy cents an hour; they could make the very best high-classed homespuns at the rate of a yard an hour. In three hours the first girl had done three full yards, and in two hours and six minutes the other girl, with a finer warp, had done two yards and six inches. When we develop those things as we are developing them, we can see them coming on slowly, and I am sure that while our poor markets have made it a little difficult, and while the colony itself is feeling the pinch of the aftermath of war, I want you to think of us not as a people who come to you for help because there is no future for us, but rather as a worthwhile section of the Empire, one that is going to be a benefit and a credit to Canada in time to come, not only for what it gave you during the war, but for what it will give you as a people of the finest of the sea-genius of our race. (Loud applause)
MR. JUSTICE CRAIG said that he was glad of the opportunity to move a vote of thanks, because he was interested in a work similar to what Dr. Grenfell had outlined-the British and Foreign Sailors' Society. He was sure that Dr. Grenfell could not devote his life as he had done for so many years unless he believed the people were worth saving, were worth spending his time on. He had been impressed with the speaker's remark that no man could do his work well unless he loved it. Simply working for dollars did not imply successful work; but the thought that the work achieved something both in the worker's own mentality and in the life of the nation made work valuable and meaningful. No man had conceived and worked that idea to a fuller extent than had Dr. Grenfell. (Applause) There were a few real heroes in the history of the world, and the Club had one present today. (Applause) Dr. Grenfell loved humanity and then loved good work that would produce something for humanity. The Club had listened to a remarkable address. If Newfoundland, as Dr. Grenfell had hoped, would come into the union with Canada it would solve one of our legal problems as to who owned Labrador. (Laughter) He was sure he was expressing the pleasure of the whole Club in moving a hearty vote of thanks to the speaker of the day. (Loud applause)