Confessions of a New Canadian
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Jan 1924, p. 45-61
Sclater, Rev. Dr. J.R.P., Speaker
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Item Type
The speaker's acquaintance with Canada and Canadians on the sand fields of Flanders. Memories of Montreal. Coming to Toronto. Remarks on the "wider" life that seems to be presented in Canada; a suggestion of freedom. Contrasting life in Canada with life in Scotland as the speaker experienced it. Impressions of Yonge Street. Canada, now beginning to have its great opportunity; that the super-structure is just beginning to be added to the magnificent foundation which has been laid by the power and the energy and the backbone of our ancestors. Regions in which Canada has a particular contribution to make. Canada's government, and literature. Making true the words of the great Canadian National Hymn.
Date of Original
31 Jan 1924
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"CONFESSIONS OF A NEW CANADIAN" AN ADDRESS BY REV. DR. J. R. P. SCLATER. Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, Thursday, January 31, 1924

PRESIDENT BROOKS introduced the speaker.

Rev. Dr. Sclater was received with loud applause, and after expressing grateful thanks for his reception to Toronto and the invitation to address the Club, suggested a slight change in the title of his address as printed, so as to convey more clearly the proper idea as to the impacts upon his young and fresh and very innocent mind. (Laughter) The word "Impressions" would not do, as he suggested the mental habit of the gentlemen who goes to India, spends three weeks there, and then writes a book explaining all the problems of that wonderful country. (Laughter) Anything more abominable than that type of mind it would be difficult to conceive. The word "Confession" was perhaps the best, except for the fact that the speaker was a Scotchman, and no Scot ever had anything to confess. (Laughter) He would therefore, with the permission of his hearers, fall back on the word "Admissions," although, to be quite frank, he thought that was almost as difficult a word for a Scotchman to use as the one he had rejected-because a Scot very seldom admits anything; he leaves it to the other fellow to do that, or if he does admit anything it is with an


Rev. Dr. Sclater is a graduate of Cambridge University, England. While there he was president of the Students' Union. In Edinburgh he was pastor of the New North Presbyterian Church--one largely attended by the student body. For a time he supplied the place which Henry Drummond had held. He is a recognized Dante scholar and is the author of works on literary and religious subjects.


underlying feeling in his own mind that is expressed in the old familiar toast, bowdlerised slightly so as to be suitable to the times--"Here's to ourselves; wha's like us? gey few!" (Great laughter)

I am reminded of an incident told me by a Scottish friend of mine. One dark night he saw a kilted regiment on the Quay of Havre, swinging along up to Harfleur, and grabbing at the lapels of a very English staff officer standing next to him he shook him and said, "Man, if I wasna a Scotsman I would cut ma throat." (Laughter) "Aberdeen and twal mile round, and where are ye?" (Laughter) There is the Scottish attitude; we must admit it; and if any admission is to be made, let us start with that one. We are so made, apparently, that we look on life with eyes of that type. Therefore perhaps the word "Admission" is not just precisely perfect, but it is the best that I can get, and with your permission I would make a few admissions before you publicly.

In the first place let me make my admission of complaint--what is the good of being a Scotchman if he can't grumble? That, again, is supposed to be a faculty which we have raised to a considerable artistic level. (Laughter) What is the good of being a Scotchman, particularly a Scotch Presbyterian, if one cannot find some thing to grouse at? (Laughter)

There are just three matters of varying degrees of importance which I submit are matters of complaint. The first is, I can't stick Canadian stamps on Canadian envelopes. (Laughter) I don't know why it is; I could manage Old Country stamps all right. Whether there is a difference in the quality of, gum, or whether there is something peculiar in the moisture that I apply to it--(great laughter)--but I cannot stick on Canadian stamps, and whenever I get hold of my son I give it to him to do. (Laughter)

The second thing--and I speak as a person who has no knowledge of the reason for it--is that I have to pay 10 cents duty on imported theological books. Now, that strikes me as hard, for books are abominably dear at any time, especially theological books--I suppose they have to make them dear because so few people buy thin--(laughter)--but to pay 10 cents more is hard lines. You can understand how that hits the nerve-centre of a Scotchman--(laughter)--so, it being assumed that all books that enter Canada are educational books, of the sort of that would harmonize with Dr. Whyte's favorite quotation: "I never read a book but to make myself a better man," is it not possible that if other goods are kept out of Canada for some good reason, ideas should come into Canada free? (Laughter)

And the third thing--in which I dare say a great many here would perhaps feel with me, for it is one of the "losses of the gains" of coming to this splendid country--is the lack of the hills. To see again something of the sunset falling upon those heathercovered hills of the West,--ah! just for a moment or two one would like to see that. But there is a credit side of the balance to set against that, and the question of hills we have to settle with the Almighty. I quite realize that if you go far enough you get hills, enough and to spare, but it is an awfully long walk to the Rocky Mountains,--(laughter)--and my poor legs do not carry me sufficiently steadily to be there of an evening and back to preach in Parkdale on the Sunday.

Now, having got that off my chest and made a kind of a grumble' let me tell you something. My acquaintance with Canada as a body, a community, was not made here nor in Britain, but on the sand fields of Flanders. The first vision that I had of Canadians directly-not indeed with my own eyes, but through those to whom I was Chaplain before the war-was in that tragic moment, big with fate for the whole future of the things that we love, during that first gas attack that was made outside Ypres, when for a while the way lay open and undefended to the Channel Ports. You know well how at that time it was the Canadian troops that went up to fill that so dangerous gap. You remember how the native troops of the French Army, the Turcos, came rushing back, flinging their arms away, crying that all was lost; and up against that unknown danger, men present here today, I dare say, or their brothers and sons, went and stood in defence of the things that we cared for most.

So you can imagine, gentlemen, that any admission one has to make concerning Canadians and the things of Canada is an admission of excellence. There is one story in connection with this gas attack which, I believe, is not generally known, but which I believe to be true. It was told me one night about one o'clock in the morning in a lovely German house as we sat, a group of us, looking over the stillness of the Folksgarten in Cologne. The officer who told me held high rank in the British Army, and during the attack was holding a position behind the lines where the break came. As the fighting went on, when the Canadians had gone up, gradually the wounded began to come back. The whole air was filled with foreboding and great anxiety. The men in charge did not know precisely what it was, that now they were faced with, and therefore naturally did not know how to cope with it. In the midst of the anxiety a dying Canadian Engineer Officer was brought in; he was still conscious, and just able to speak, though barely in a whisper; but in a whisper he repeated the same sentence over and over again--"Cut off my buttons!" Then, struggling with the final pangs which were to make the things of earth become dim to him forever he still said, "Cut off my buttons!" Fortunately somebody there was alert enough to understand what he meant. I do not know about these things, and possibly I am using the wrong words, but I understand that he meant that the gas oxidised on the metal buttons. At any rate, the man to whom he spoke understood what he was trying to get at; so the buttons were cut off and sent home to a famous chemist, Professor Haldane of Oxford, and the gas was analyzed and in an incredibly short time gas masks were sent to the front, and saved the situation. (Applause) If any man proved the spirit of patriotism, and the spirit which was concerned with one thing, it was that dying officer. You may possibly know him; he may have a relative here present; if so, you may be proud. For with his last dying breath he was using his knowledge in order to defend his native land. I say he did great honour to the name of Canada. (Applause)

Therefore, gentlemen, you can understand that any admission that one is inclined to make is an admission of excellence of Canadians, who proved themselves of the same breed with those amongst whom I had dwelt. We were proud in Scotland--and you will understand me when I emphasize it--we shall be proud of the sons of that land of heather who went out as soldiers and fought for Scotland and for the Empire. We do claim that whatever little foibles of unworthy conceit we may have, we are not unworthily proud of the lads of our own dear land who died for us. But with them we rank the sons of this great place. They, too, just like our own sons,--

Wore their wounds like roses Who died before their prime.

They, too, are united in the same great enterprise and the same great cause, and no Scotsman who knew anything about the work that Canadian men in the war did can do anything but give reverence and acclaim to you and the land from which they sprang. (Applause)

Well, when I first came out here the first thing that struck me vividly, was when I was taken up by my friend Dr. Duncan of Montreal for a drive towards the mountain--that wonderful mountain at Montreal which is a sort of a mountain, from the Scotch point of view. (Laughter) What struck me was that you have not got fences around your gardens. A number of you people know Edinburgh, and particularly our Edinburgh habits, and they will understand how amazing, how startling, how topsy-turvy a fact that was. We have arrangements there, not only whereby we have fences as often as we can get them, and good high walls around our gardens, but we have arrangements whereby we can lock the front garden gate from the inside of the house door (Laughter)-and when the bell rings the housekeeper can slant the blind back a fraction of an inch and see who is standing at the gate about 30 yards away, and if she does not like the looks of him--or more probably her--well, then nothing happens. (Laughter) So, as you can understand, to discover a country not merely where that does not occur, but where there are no fences around the gardens, and where you have added to the beauty of the surroundings by showing them, was to discover something in Canadian life which was new to us, and almost entirely admirable.

And then one came from Montreal to Toronto, and in the leading of Providence became Minister in Parkdale, and in the further leading of Providence; found that there was an apartment to let in Tyndall Avenue. Now, anybody who takes a walk down Tyndall Avenue, which costs nothing, so that a Scotchman need not be afraid to go--(laughter)--will find that spirit of community exhibited almost in its completeness-a broad avenue with hardly a fence from end to end, everybody sharing in the good of all; a wide street indicative of a wide life; all sorts and conditions of men tarrying together, and, as far as they can, throwing their common possessions into the creation of a common beauty which shall be possessed by all.

It is a fact, gentlemen, that the thing that strikes one first in coming to your land is that life is wider than it is at home, especially for the young; that it is possible for a young man here to experiment; to find out what his metier is to be, and that subsequently, when he has so experimented, he can change from one line of life to another; and particularly that all lines of life practically are open to him, with none of those absurd barriers and social distinctions which have so very effective and very living a power in the land from which I come.

It is something to have this suggestion of freedom, of the unfenced life, and of the life held in common, with the production of the good which is shared by all. It is something to have that suggested, and to be a fact in the lives of young men coming out; and certainly from my own point of view as a minister, with a family to whom I am quite reasonably attached, about whose future one has the usual parental anxiety, I would have no hesitation whatever in suggesting to every man in my position at home that for the sake of their children there is a great deal to be said for Canada, even in comparison with the rich and dear land in which we have lived.

Just think of it. At home a boy's future is very considerably settled the day he is born. It is certainly almost entirely settled the day that either he or his father chooses a business or profession. It is natural that he should succeed his father. The Levitical succession in medicine, in law, in business,--and even in the Church is a very emphatic and ordinary mark of our Scottish life; and when one thinks how many men have made a professional or business decision, or it has been made for them in their late 'teens, and who afterwards would have given the wide, wide world to get out of it, one sees that you have here something that is indeed a great gain and a great good.

Then, besides, there is the absurd social distinction and social barrier which does not regard all work as. service, but regards some of it as suitable service and some of it as unsuitable labour, so that men cannot move from one kind of activity to the other at all. Even those who think they are free from all snobbish attitudes, who believe that at bottom they do hold the Christian view of the Brotherhood of man could not, for their children's sake, take certain decisions in respect of work which are taken every day in this country. For instance, to those who do not know the pressure of the social atmosphere at home, and perhaps conspicuously in Edinburgh, it may sound like a very ridiculous thing, but it is a fact, that it would be almost impossible for a professional man to settle his son in retail business in the city in which he lived. I would never have dreamed of it for my own sons in Edinburgh. You can see at once how large a part of extremely useful service to God and the community is denied because of this absence of freedom of choice.

A clever friend of mine in this city who visited the Old Country this year told me that incidentally she paid a visit to Winchester, which is famous for one of the greatest of all Cathedrals, and conspicuously famous for one of the most distinguished of all schools--saving the presence of any possible Etonian or Harrovian present, I am sure that Winchester is not perhaps just the very best of British schools. She met the head master, and amongst other things asked him, "Do you teach agricultural subjects here?" (Great laughter) Well, if any gentleman present has been to Winchester, and knows the particular brand of man that becomes head master of a great public school at home, he will realize the kind of shock it gave that chap; and his answer, I believe, was this, "Agriculture! Why this is a school for gentlemen's sons." (Laughter) You see, there you are! (Laughter)

Well, now to get from that and come into a community where at any rate lip-service is paid to the idea that all honest work that helps the wellbeing of the community is to be regarded as honourable work, and that the man who does it is to be respected for his own qualities, is a really great gain; and I trust that that attitude will always be retained by Canadians. (Hear, hear and applause)

Not long ago I happened to be "listening-in." I have got a "listening-in" set. You don't know what a remarkable statement that is. Not a Scotch Presbyterian Minister possesses a "listening-in" set. (Laughter) Well, why are you surprised? There was not one minister in the City of Edinburgh that I knew of that possessed a motor car. Why, I have bought a Rolls-Royce since I came to Toronto. (Laughter) I must admit it was made by Mr. Henry Ford, of Detroit--(laughter)-but it takes me about like a Rolls-Royce, anyway. (Laughter) Well, as I say, I have got a "listening-in" set, and the other night I happened to hear a gentleman in the United States, somewhere near New York, addressing postal employees. We landed right into the middle of his speech, which was a very good one. He seemed to be expressing the grievances of postal employees. Judging by the applause with which he was greeted, the postal employees in the States have grievances the same as they have in Scotland and everywhere else.

Among other things he said, "Think of your work as service, and remember how romantic it is." Well, I rather stuck on that adjective. It never seemed to me a very romantic job to have a bag on your back and go up and down Tyndall Avenue and shove letters into the thing that holds letters, and then go on and do the same thing in the next place. It does not sound very romantic. But this speaker said, "Remember, you are the last link in the chain that holds together scattered friends." Upon my word, it is true. That very morning I got the home mail from some friends of mine who still remain as true and dear friends as a man can possess-none the less true and none the less dear because one has new friends now here. That very morning I got one, and it brought the remembrance and the intimate little news of those people from across the sea to my door, so that I was able almost to hear their voices again. Why?--just because the postman had carried it and put it into my box. Romantic? The binder of scattered hearts? Why, there is a service for you. Let no man ever again be anything but proud if he is a postman. (Applause)

I believe there used to be a habit in the Navy that after a fight was over, those who had taken the spectacular part of it gathered upon the deck and called up another section of the ship's company and cheered and cheered and cheered them; and they were given the place of honor by the fighting officers and by the fighting men. Who are these?-the grimy squad from the stoke-hole. (Applause) The Navy can teach men many things, gentlemen, but in that act, in giving honor to, those who did nothing but that awful toil down in the depths of the ship, who had none of the chance of the high spectacular, obvious things that give men fame, but did the dirty, hard work-unseen-and if danger came were those who would receive the most of it, going down like rats in the sinking ship--in that act of giving rich honor to them when the victory was won, the Navy taught a lesson that all men should learn. (Hear, hear, and applause)

The, second thing that hit me in this land particularly, if I may say so, was Yonge Street. (Laughter) I went out in my car with the two youngest children--I have three of them--and drove up Yonge Street. We said we would go and see Yonge Street. Well, we went on and on and on and on, and finally the twilight began to fall in, and knowing that we had a mother at home who might get anxious-she does not think much of her family's driving-(laughter)-we thought we had better turn home. We had gone 32 miles; we came back 32 miles, that is 64-you can calculate for yourselves what that cost in petrol- (laughter)-; and so far as we know, Yonge Street is still going in a dead straight line to the North pole. (Laughter)

Well, gentlemen, it seems to me that that is a most significant fact, and a fact that does great honor to this same land. It reminds one of the attitude of the Romans of old, whose similar streets one can see in the Old Country. It reminds one of the kind and quality of men that those same Romans must have been. In a war with the soil to bring it under civilized sway, they went straight over hill and dale, over moor and fen, dead straight to their objective. And the very fact of the straightness of Yonge Street and and many other streets like it, indicates that here too we have a community which is all the more to be honored because it suggests that it is not far from the point when men, with their lips shut and their wills firm, had to take Nature by the throat and conquer. And I do say, for those who came from the Old Country, and especially for those who come from a sea-gray city half as old as time, there is something very impressive in watching how men can take the earth and make it a place for homes, a place where the higher life of man can be lived and developed. I say that it is greatly to your honour.

But, gentlemen, that suggests my last word, and that is, that now it seems to me that Canada is beginning to have its great opportunity; that the super-structure is just beginning to be added to the magnificent foundation which your power and the energy and the backbone of your ancestors has laid; that now the things have to be done which will make Canada not only respected through all the earth because of what it has done in pioneer days, but will make it give its peculiar contribution in the various regions of the activities of the mind.

The super-structure is now beginning to be added. One of the things that struck me especially a year ago, when I happened to be out on a visit, was that for a few hours I was taken up to the University presided over by its distinguished Principal, Sir Robert Falconer--(applause)--and I remember then the surprise with which one saw those splendid buildings; the perfect amazement--I have not got over it yet--which flooded one's spirit when I first saw Hart House, and the still further surprise when one found that Toronto University was the biggest English-speaking University in the whole Empire. (Applause)

The super-structure has began to be built, and begun to be built very nobly. Mr. Lloyd--George, when on his visit here not very long ago, remarked that in the war Canada had gained for itself the title of Nationhood, and was now itself a Nation-not indeed, that that separates it in the very least from its unity in the Empire (hear, hear and applause); anybody who thinks that national consciousness brings any fissure into empire loyalty has forgotten Scotland. (Hear, hear and applause) If ever there was a people that was instinct with Nationhood, that was passionate for its own land, it is that little bit of Great Britain; end yet it is incorporate as. I suppose nothing else is, first with the British Islands, and then with the Empire as a whole. So when we hear of Canada being nationally self-conscious we simply mean nothing but good for the vitality of the free nations to which we are so proud to belong, and which make up the Empire as a whole. (Hear, hear and applause)

Yes, but Sir, Canada is a young nation; and that is all to the good, too, and even to the better. I do not suppose there has ever been such an anxious time as the times of today. If ever people could apply the word "climacteric" to a period of the World's history you can apply it to this period. Wherefore, we can use it in respect of Canada as a nation the words so often quoted from Wordsworth. After the French Revolution, there came the hope to him, you remember, that he was about to see the dawning of universal peace, and in the exultation of it he said:--

Bliss was it in that day to be alive But to be young was very heaven.

As a National unit Canada today might say that. Bliss is it for all people, who desire great opportunities of service; bliss is it in these desperately anxious days to be alive; but to be young is very heaven.

There are regions in which it seems to me Canada has a particular contribution to give. To the problem of Government. It only needs a glance at the map to see that here, as the population develops, it is inevitable that in the councils of the Empire Canada must playa more and more important part. The thing cannot be helped. In the experiments of government here there are unique opportunities for inventiveness. But specially, it seems to me, in the region of the things of the mind there is about to be a demand upon great people for help and leadership. In one particular, I think that you are singularly favored, especially in this part of Canada, that is in regard to climatic conditions. Literature has been affected very considerably by climate, and the result has been that great national literatures have developed which have all had one particular characteristic.

We have, for instance, the literature of the Icelandic Sagas, the related literatures of the Norsemen; we have their descendants to-ay in thei sombre worship. We have the peculiar poignan and very wonderful literature of Russia; each o these having its particular characteristic because o the situation, the natural situation in which its creators live. Think, for instance, of the Norsemen looking out across their stern fields, and hearing the dreary, weird sounds of the wind beating across their seas and ice-floes. There is no wonder that they spoke sternly and thought sternly of destiny and of life. And thus, too, arises the sadder note, that still more passionate note that we recognize almost uniformly in the great Russian utterances. Then down in the South you have a completely different type produced-more gay, in its severity much more--shall we say--colorful in its register. Italy, like Russia, responds to its land.

Now, here in Canada you have the north and you have the south together. Your people are brought up under the influence of those natural surroundings which are never to be escaped so long as there is a touch of the Canadian Winter. But then you have your Spring, you have your Summer, and it seems inevitable that if opportunity is given to the young Canadian mind to seek its own natural development, a literature purely Canadian, purely distinctive, is bound to be the result. We look forward to that time. It may not be in our day when it will come to its fullness, although already there are so many signs of it. There will come a day when there will be great Canadian names that will be as famous in the literature of the world as any names which hitherto have adorned it. Meantime give a chance, every chance, to those who may hereafter bring such a contribution to the, world.

In the old days in my country it was Kings that made Universities; it was Kings that built colleges and built schools. Kings cannot do it nowadays, poor chaps (laughter); but there are other good people who can. There are Toronto millionaires represented here- (laughter) -I take it that everybody here present is a millionaire or about to be one (laughter); and here, indeed, is the thing that can be done-to give a chance to the lad who is a dreamer, who is not much engrossed, perhaps in practical things, but who may some day possibly wake up and give voice to things that are in his soul. I think, if I may be free to say so, that one of the things that has done great honour to this city is that Dr. Banting has been set free from all ordinary sublunary anxieties to dedicate his conspicuous gifts to the service of mankind in research. (Hear, hear and loud applause) Gentlemen, if it be that someone arises-as he is bound to arise=who can do the same kind of service in the things of abstract thought or in the things of beauty, let it be he that he will have his free chance, too.

There was one thing, gentlemen, that I learned long ago about Canada; one other little happening that has always stuck very vividly in my mind. I was born on the 9th of April--not the first, but the ninth--(laughter); that was the day that the Canadians went over the top of Vimy, and I am very glad that my natal day is coupled with so great a happening in the history of warefare. For a couple of days afterwards I happened to be wandering about a nice quiet lane--I had one of the very "cushy" jobs in the war a long way back-and in the course of that I happened to meet a very intimate friend and colleague of the commander-in-chief--Lord Hague--who happened also to be a friend of mine--and I said, "Hello, how are the Canadians getting on?" He said, "Oh, top-hole, they are doing splendidly; why, this morning the Chief"-that is Lord Hague-"the Chief was whistling Psalm tunes in in his bath." (Great laughter)

Well, Mr. President and gentlemen, may you and I who are workers together in this great country now, so bear ourselves that all who care for good things throughout the world will be able to say of us, when they think of Canada, "They whistle Psalm tunes in their bath." (Laughter and applause)

You have a great Canadian National Hymn, set to a very noble music, and I take it that it is the intent and purpose of all men-business men who are employed, and men who do employ, men of the professions, men wherever they may be, that the word contained in it shall be made true, and the prayer in it shall be their prayer: "Lord of all lands, make Canada thine own." (Loud and continued applause)

SIR ROBERT FALCONER: As a Canadian whose ancestors came to this country 150 years ago, I have the privilege of thanking one of our newest fellow-Canadians; and it will give me a very great deal of pleasure if you will allow me on your behalf to express our gratitude to Dr. Sclater for the words he has spoken. I have rarely listened, as I am sure you also have rarely listened, to an address so courteous in its expression, so subtle in its apercu of our Canadian life, so rich in humour, and expressed with a delicacy that is almost poetry throughout, from beginning to end. (Hear, hear and applause) Many years ago, when I was a student in Edinboro, the man who rivited the attention of the students was Henry Drummond, and for six winters I used to go in the evenings to hear Henry Drummond, long after I knew what he was going to say, because he had repeated himself again and again, but there was a charm, and there was a gathering of men. Many years after I left, the successor of Henry Drummond was the gentleman who has just addressed you, Dr. Sclater; I do not mean in the Church, because Henry Drummond never had a church; he was not ordained. But the successor of men in the affairs of the students of that great university--a university whose students are not only men of unusual ability but of very great critical faculty, as you would well know if you dropped into some class; if they do not like a professor they very soon let him know (laughter) Dr. Sclater entered into that inheritance, and possibly we in Toronto are. hardly yet aware of the great gift that Scotland has again made to us in sending us the gentleman who has just addressed us. I hope that we shall treat him worthily, because he deserves the very best treatment we can give him. (Hear, hear) I thank you, sir, for allowing me to express the vote of thanks, if I may do so on your behalf, to Dr. Sclater for this address. (Loud applause)

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Confessions of a New Canadian

The speaker's acquaintance with Canada and Canadians on the sand fields of Flanders. Memories of Montreal. Coming to Toronto. Remarks on the "wider" life that seems to be presented in Canada; a suggestion of freedom. Contrasting life in Canada with life in Scotland as the speaker experienced it. Impressions of Yonge Street. Canada, now beginning to have its great opportunity; that the super-structure is just beginning to be added to the magnificent foundation which has been laid by the power and the energy and the backbone of our ancestors. Regions in which Canada has a particular contribution to make. Canada's government, and literature. Making true the words of the great Canadian National Hymn.