The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Jan 1941, p. 298-308
His Excellency the Right Honourable The Earl of Athlone, Speaker
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Item Type
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club.
England and the English Inheritance. England referred to as "the Old Country." Some history of England. Challenges to the rule of the British Empire. An examination of the causes which have led to the dissolution of the great Empires of history. Characteristics of the British Empire. The ultimate destiny of this or any other Empire and upon what it depends. Bonds that can keep the Empire together: a united determination to do what we believe to be right whatever the cost; an unswerving loyalty to the Throne. Some verse from a great English poet to illustrate the philosophy of our war effort. Bringing us to the ultimate goal of victory.
Date of Original
20 Jan 1941
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, The Honourable G. Howard Ferguson.
Monday, January 20, 1941

A Joint Meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club was held in the Royal York Hotel, Toronto, on Monday, January 20, 1941.

THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: Your Excellency, Gentlemen: I am sure that the fact that we have such a very large and representative gathering here today will convey to His Excellency the feeling of good will and enthusiastic devotion entertained by all classes of people in this great city of Toronto. We rather pride ourselves, Sir, that in this city burns eternally and more brightly as time goes on, the light of sincere, wholehearted devotion to the person and throne of His Majesty, the King, and to his representative in Canada. (Applause.)

Looking back to the epoch-marking visit of Their Majesties recently, it seems to me that we can trace to a large extent the fact that we are honoured today by having one so closely allied with the Royal Household representing His Majesty in this country as our GovernorGeneral. (Applause.) The King and Queen, as they travelled from end to end of this extensive country of ours and found everywhere among all people, without exception, such enthusiastic devotion as was shown them and such entire and whole-hearted respect for the Empire and the institutions that it represents, that I am sure they were impressed with the importance of Canada as one of the great pillars of the Empire structure. It seems to me that it must have come to the mind of His Majesty that this splendid country of ours, playing such a marvellous part, both in time of peace and in time of war, in the maintenance of our way of life, in the upholding of the principles represented by British democracv, the principles of liberty, justice and security for all individuals, was important enough that he should respond to the outburst of loyalty that he found prevailing in this country, and when it became his duty to select someone to represent him in Canada he made the choice of one of the most eminent and devoted public servants, closely allied to the Royal family, as his representative in this great Dominion. It is opportune, I think, at a time like this, when we seek continuously to uphold the light of liberty, to direct the path to freedom and to constantly encourage our people to maintain the principles which have prevailed for centuries in the Old Land and which we have inherited as a rich birthright, and natural, I think, that he should choose one whose background, whose history, whose alliances with his own activity has been so marked and so successful.

His Excellency, as you know, and I do, not propose to go over a biography, has served the Empire well as a soldier, as a distinguished leader in the forefront of those who resisted aggression, and those who sought to establish and develop the Christian principles upon which our democracy is founded. Not once, but twice in South Africa was he engaged in military activity and received a great many marks of distinction by way of reward. But even in the broader field of the great missionary work of spreading the cause of Empire, no man in England has played a more eminent or a more successful part in developing the Imperial spirit and an intelligent knowledge of what Imperial organization means than has His Excellency, our guest today. In South Africa, as Governor-General, they loved him and his charming wife, Her Royal Highness the Princess, so well that they kept them there for seven or eight years, rather than the ordinary five. Then I think he had to escape through the wild bush land in the north country to be able to get away. We are fortunate indeed that His Majesty made his choice and that His Excellency accepted so readily the task, burdensome as it be, of travelling this country, disseminating the doctrine with which he is so thoroughly imbued, and keeping alive constantly the doctrine of Empire, and the great leadership that is given by the British Empire to mankind throughout the whole universe.

Your Excellency, it gives me great pleasure to present to you this magnificent audience, representing as it does, every class in this community, in business and in idleness, and every degree of intelligence. I will ask you now to be good enough to address us. (Applause.)

HIS EXCELLENCY THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF ATHLONE, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., D.S.O., A.D.C.: Gentlemen: I am greatly honoured to be your guest here today. This gathering is one more example of the kindliness and hospitality with which a Governor-General is greeted on taking up his duties in your midst, and I am indeed most grateful' to you.

May I thank you also, Mr. Chairman, for the kind things you have said about me. I can assure you that the prospect of making a speech is greatly, relieved by the feeling that I am here in this friendly city and in the presence of some of its most distinguished citizens. Moreover, it seems to me particularly appropriate that this should be a joint meeting of the Canadian Club and the Empire Club, for one cannot think of Canada without the Empire or of the Empire without Canada.

There was, I believe, a slight prejudice at one time against the use of the word "Empire" in relation to Canada. It was, I think, a natural prejudice, for such expressions as "Empire" and "Imperial" carried with them a flavour of domination on the one part and subservience on the other.

My own feeling is that Canada has by now reached such a degree of complete independence and self-assurance as to render unobjectionable the use of a word which connotes a brotherhood of peoples of which we are all justly and mightly proud. The expression British Commonwealth of Nations is, of course, an explicit and correct term with which to describe the self-governing parts of our Empire, but we must not forget that the British Commonwealth of Nations is only a part of that vast collection of peoples of many races, colours, religions and languages which go to make up our Empire and for whose happiness and prosperity we are all, to a greater or less extent, responsible.

Now, Gentlemen, I have been wondering what I should talk to you about and it occurred to me that I might offer you a few observations on a subject that is very much in our minds today. Quite simply I propose to speak to you about England and the English Inheritance, for England is, after all, the fountainhead of our modern civilization, the mainspring of our democratic way of life, the sure bulwark against our enemies.

When I travel about Canada, nothing delights me more than to hear England spoken of affectionately as "the Old Country." I notice that on this side of the Atlantic people have a peculiar aptitude for finding words and expressions to describe exactly and vividly some quite familiar object but I have not come across any expression which so accurately reflects the sentiments of those who use it as the expression "the Old Country."

At one time England was a remote and almost unknown island lying outside the sphere of the civilized world. The discovery of America and the ocean route round Africa to the East altered the whole centre of gravity of the world in such a way that England became the starting point of a vast maritime movement and a world power, and subsequently the clearing house of transoceanic commerce and finance. It is, I think, interesting to reflect at this time that perhaps nothing has contributed so much to England's greatness as the discovery of this continent.

From a small island nation of five millions there grew an Empire of four hundred and ninety-three millions, ruling one-quarter of the globe. That rule is now challenged. The toughness of its fabric is being tested just as in the past the structure of other Empires has been tested. They have not all stood up to the test. It is well, I suggest, to examine the causes which have led to the dissolution of the great Empires of history and we find at once that in every case their fall was due primarily to two causes, one basic and the other merely factual. To what extent are those causes operative in the case of the British Empire? Upon the correct assessment of that factor must depend, to some extent, the degree of confidence with which we face the future.

In the first place the great Empires of the past were in essence militaristic, not only in their origin, but in their continuance. They thought and acted in terms of antagonism. Subject peoples were held down by the constant application of force and they broke away when that force was slackened. In consequence, the tendency was always towards a tightening of the bonds of control; and bonds that are continually overstrained must eventually snap.

Rigidity and inelasticity characterized the old Imperial rule; personal ambition and selfishness directed its policy. Peace could never meet its ends. That is the sort of control the totalitarian states are seeking to impose on the rest of the world today. The point about it is, that it is hopelessly out of date. Its worthlessness has been proved over and over again centuries ago.

So much for the basic weakness.

The second cause of collapse is simply stated. Rulers and people alike went soft. Luxury and ease corroded their moral fibre. Too much loose thinking, too much intellectual self-satisfaction, too little sense of duty, too much talk and too little work left them unfitted to withstand the shocks which their policy had rendered inevitable.

And what of ourselves' The basis, fortunately, is not the same. We do not think in terms of antagonism, but in terms of co-operation and compromise. Our Empire is held up not down by common interests and loyalties. So far as concerns that part of it which comprises the British Commonwealth of Nations, there is no central control and there is, therefore, no strain. Our Empire is flexible in structure. The common sense of the man in the street predominates. It is a free association of peoples inspired by a deep respect for the past, coupled with a determination to ensure the security of a great inheritance. For these advantages we have not only ourselves to thank. Our geography has helped us, and we must give credit to our forefathers, for they laid the foundations and handed down to us a legacy of wisdom.

They came from many races, and they brought a variety of experience to the tasks before them. And they enable] us to solve a problem that no other race has solved so successfully except perhaps our neighbours to the South, the problem of reconciling the freedom of the individual with executive efficiency on the one hand and popular control on the other. By finding this solution, and that not by any game of hide and seek, nor even by a conscious effort to formulate constitutions, but by boldly facing such situations as arose and by making many mistakes, our ancestors and we have been able to avoid the sudden violent revolutions that have afflicted other nations while achieving quietly the changes that flow from revolution.

It is this same broad experience of practical things that has engendered in us not merely a spirit of adventure, but a sense of historical perspective, a certain tolerance, a capacity to see the other fellow's point of view, a sense of fairness and a balanced outlook which enables its possessor to have that priceless asset, a sense of humour--the immediate recognition of the incongruous.

Experience too has bred in us a certain dislike of the

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He all their ammunition
And feats of war defeats,
With plain heroic magnitude of mind
And celestial vigour arm'd,
Their armories and magazines contemns,
Renders them useless, while
With winged expedition,
Swift as the light'ning glance, he executes
His errand on the wicked, who surprised
Lose their defence distracted and amazed.

There you have in simple language the whole philosophy of our war effort. Could any words more aptly describe the spirit of our people than "plain heroic magnitude of mind"? That is the quality above all others that has evoked the admiration of the world for the people of England. And I am certain that if we in Canada were called upon to face the same ordeal of destruction as our brothers and sisters in the Old Country, we should face our tribulations with the same dauntless courage, the same loftiness of spirit and the same determination to see this thing through.

That idealism coupled with a sound practical endeavour to put forth all our strength, will enable us to prepare what the poet calls a "winged expedition" and so bring us to the ultimate goal of victory. (Applause-prolonged.)

MR. R. A. COURTICF (President of the Canadian Club): Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency, Your Grace, Your Worship, Gentlemen: This has been a great meeting and I am sure that we have all been inspired by the beautiful address which has given all of us privileged to hear it, a real sense of pride in our Governor-General and in our British connections (applause) and further affection, if that be possible, for that wonderful little island, the centre of it all; inspired also, I believe by the feeling that in acclaiming His Excellency we are through him paying the most sincere personal tribute that we can to His Majesty, The King, who has become a symbol to the whole Empire for courage and devotion to duty. (Applause.)

Your Excellency, in concluding this meeting which you have so graciously honoured, it is my privilege to extend to you the compliments of the Empire and the Canadian Clubs, which I do with the prayer that long before you leave our shores Your Excellency and the Princess Alice may enjoy your stay in Canada in a world again at peace. (Applause.)

THE HONOURABLE HOWARD FERGUSON: Your Excellency and Gentlemen. I am not going to add a word to What Mr. Courtice has so well said by way of appreciation of His Excellency coming here today and giving us such an inspiring talk on the theme that is uppermost in all our minds. I do want to draw your attention to this fact, that in this audience, perhaps unknown to us because of his modesty, is a gentleman who has been a sort of Nemesis to me--he turns up everywhere I go. He began yesterday the ninety-eighth lap of this marathon. It is a great pleasure to us all, I am sure, to have with us at this table, our good old friend, Sir William Mulock. (Applause.) This audience knows well--perhaps Your Excellency may not know as well as I do--what his sphere of influence has been in this country. He was Chief Justice of Ontario and he ran all the judicial system. He was Prime Minister of Ontario and he ran the Ontario Government, and down at Ottawa he had another friend who allowed him to run the Ottawa Government. He kept that up until we all went on strike and resisted further to be guided by one who had such personal motives and ambitions as he had. But it is indeed a very great pleasure to us to have Sir William with us today. I am sure you all appreciate his presence. Perhaps he will get up and thank me for saying this. (Applause.)

SIRWILLIAMMULOCK: Your Excellency, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ferguson: Mr. Ferguson is always rejoicing in putting me in an awkward position. I think he has been most successful on this occasion. Why I should invade this magnificent audience with any words of mine I do not understand, but I do thank the audience for their welcome to me.

It is not my fault I am still on this earth. It is true I have entered upon another year of life, but I am not going to say what sort of a career I shall carry on when

I start my second century. That will take care of itself as time goes on.

I mustn't refer to the subject we are gathered for. I have only one thought in my mind--in fact everything else is ousted by what I read at twelve o'clock noon. Perhaps you have not seen the report which is to the effect, if correctly reported, that last July, Great Britain landed wonderful resources and sent a few officers to the southern part of Africa which is associated, of course, with His Excellency, to stir up the natives of South Africa. They succeeded in supplying the natives with arms. today's twelve o'clock paper announces that the Ethiopians have risen in enormous masses and cleaned out every Italian in Ethiopia. There isn't one to be seen. And it also announces that two Italian ships of war carrying Italian soldiers to the number of two thousand were sunk in the Adriatic and two thousand poor, unfortunate Italians drowned. How one would like to be present this day in Rome and listen to the conversation between Hitler and Mussolini that we are told is going on at this moment. This is the only thing that is in my mind at this moment--the triumph that is awaiting us and who is there who would dare to think that Great Britain shall ever go down! It is impossible for any British subject to believe. (Applause.)

THE HONOURABLE G. HOWARD FERGUSON: YOU know, as usual Sir William has had the last word, and we have listened to His Excellency's charming address, so the function is at an end.

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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club.
England and the English Inheritance. England referred to as "the Old Country." Some history of England. Challenges to the rule of the British Empire. An examination of the causes which have led to the dissolution of the great Empires of history. Characteristics of the British Empire. The ultimate destiny of this or any other Empire and upon what it depends. Bonds that can keep the Empire together: a united determination to do what we believe to be right whatever the cost; an unswerving loyalty to the Throne. Some verse from a great English poet to illustrate the philosophy of our war effort. Bringing us to the ultimate goal of victory.