This speech was made in the Railway Committee Room of the House of Commons, Ottawa, before an audience of three hundred club members, including the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier, of whom Kipling unkindly observed that “lie looks even as Jameson said, a French dancing-master” (CK diary, 19 October 1907).
In seconding the vote of thanks, Laurier made play with Kipling’s “Our Lady of the Snows,” whose allusion to Canadian winters had given offence in Canada.
MR. PRESIDENT, and gentlemen of the Canadian club,—I am more proud of the reception that you have given me than I can well express, and I am proud that it needs no apology from me, because I know in my heart, what you know in yours, that the welcome and the acknowledgment which you have given me includes all the men, not the mere writers and talkers, but the real men who have borne their share, each in his place and degree, in the constructive work of our empire. (Cheers.) I count it the greatest of my privileges to have known many such men; through every period of my life to have met them in the hour of their victory, and to have seen them in the hour of their many defeats, concerned maybe for the empire, but for themselves in no wise concerned, no wise dismayed. Whatever of good you may have found in certain aspects of my work, I have learned not a little at the feet and by the side of these men; I learned more in the example of their strong, devoted lives, and therefore I think, as I said before, very probably the welcome you have accorded me is proof of the success of their teachings. And I wish that some of those men could have been with me on my recent wonderful trip through the breadth of your fair Dominion. They would have rejoiced, as I rejoice, at the existence of an assured spirit of nationality, without which the greatest country on the map can only be an ethnological museum.
This was an end that we were all hoping, working, and praying for, because you realize that it is as impossible to consolidate and administer an Empire out of peoples who have no such national spirit as it is to administer a big business through a board of young gentlemen, all under twenty-one, who have never spent anything but their fathers’ money. (Cheers.) In each case, gentlemen, you will see there are a vast number of subjects to be discussed. No one underrates, no one ever underrates the peculiar difficulties that beset Canada on her path to nationhood. The ocean it is said can make a people of almost any tribe, but in your case shall I say the antiseptic treatment of a round of salt water baths was denied. You, of course, have the most difficult task of all, to search for your soul within sight and earshot of the crowd. This is not an easy task for the individual, for the nation it is especially hard. There were days in your progress, anxious days shall I say, but I do not think you realize perhaps how largely Canada bulks, has always bulked, in the imagination of the other members of the imperial family. 1 do not think perhaps you imagine how keenly all over the world men watched in those years to see what part Canada would take, among the quicksands and pitfalls prepared and awaiting her, before she set her feet on firm ground. On the one side, as you remember, there was apathy, not in Canada only; there was poverty, doubt, dissension, and ridicule. On the other hand there was the awakening instincts of a nation in search of its soul, a nation perhaps a little wiser than some of its leaders.
Between these two forces was bom, I believe, we all believe, the spirit of the land. One sees it now by a thousand signs, one sees it now as much by what is not said, as by what is said, but we behold its spirit in its own likeness and none other, ready to impress itself on the child that is born within the land, and on the stranger who comes through the land. This being the case, we believe, we know it to be the case, one’s natural impulse is to take everything else as easy, but neither an individual nor a people having once found their soul can keep it except at the price of continuous struggle. I doubt whether unremitting and undeserved prosperity is good for the individual. I have no doubt that even deserved prosperity can be bad for the soul of the nation.
Some time ago 1 read a statement—I merely quote from memory—a statement to the effect that Canada was one of the places where a man was free from the sins of his fathers. As a matter of doctrine I should be inclined to think there is but one place where his release could be effected, and that would be Heaven, and Heaven only. (Laughter.) I should be inclined to restate that proposition on this line: “Canada is one of several places, where, thanks to the valor and wisdom of our forefathers, and to the labor and self-denial of our brethren elsewhere, a certain place has been secured in which a man may sit down and grow strong and wise against whatever chance may befall him.” (Cheers.) To be strong against any chance of good or evil that may befall, the first need of a nation is its own national spirit; the second is men, not merely hundreds of thousands of men, but millions of men—men to fill up and make strong the land.
Now this question of men is the very kernel of the whole thing, and the national feeling may be, or
may be used to mean a certain danger. It is only human instinct to desire that our land shall be filled by the increase of our very own flesh and blood, that the multiplying generations shall succeed in filling it without improvement from the outside. But we of the newer generation, we of the younger nation, as I say, we have neither the patience nor the time to wait on these slow methods. The world has filled, is filling up, and there are in the world a hundred nations that perhaps do not look upon us with the eyes of awe and reverence that we look upon ourselves. I know that many people consider it is wrong, almost wicked, to recognize a fact like that. But the worst use you can make of a fact, gentlemen, is to deny it. But even if it were not so, even if all the nations were to live together wrapped in universal love, even if we could be sure that the just contention of the smallest nation would be always favorably and justly considered by the largest nation, even then we are face to face with a law from which there is no escape, the law that affects occupation, and that law says that if a nation holds territory or resources which for any cause whatever she does not develop, that territory and those resources will, directly or indirectly, be developed by other nations. The material result of that development may be very splendid, but there is a danger in the process of that development that the original genius, the original ideals of the nation, may be overlaid, distorted, debauched, and in the long run destroyed.
Wherefore on all accounts it seems to me our need is men to develop the land and to develop the resources of the land. Our need is men at this time. There are not enough men in the land now to develop it even on broader national lines. But most important of all the family life, on which the future of the state is based, suffers throughout the Dominion for lack of adequate and honorable domestic help which shall release the mother of the family to her proper work. At every step of my trip through the Dominion I have been struck by the strong persistent cry for more help, more people. At the same time I have been struck by the existence of certain forces which wish, or seem to wish, to deny that want.
Let me give you an instance: When I was on the west coast the other day there came in a consignment of Hindoos, and I was assured that their presence was not required, and that they would add to the already large mass of unemployed in the streets. I did not see that large mass of unemployed, but I made it my business to talk to our fellow subjects, and they told me that although they had been only a few hours in port, the majority had been already engaged to go to work at unskilled labor which the white man would not handle. There is no need that any white man should handle that type of labor. The white man is wanted, urgently wanted, in positions requiring skilled labor, to fill posts where he would oversee the unskilled labor of which I am told there are more posts than there are white men to fill them. (Cheers.) Wherefore, gentlemen, I do not understand, what I am so often given to understand, that the question before this country is the exclusion of certain forms of labor. I do not understand how the Dominion proposes to control the enormous Oriental trade, and, at the same time, hold herself aloof from the Asiatic influx which is the natural concomitant of that trade. Above all I do not understand why, with all the white immigration of the motherland only to draw from, why with all these resources the Dominion should fear, or be represented as fearing, the consequences of that influx.
As I said before, everywhere I was impressed by the cry for more men, for more people, for more labor. I was also impressed, as you realize I must have been impressed, by the existence of an organization or organizations, the evidence of a desire translated into a policy to exclude, or to regulate to the point of exclusion, all labor except what labor was lucky enough to be on the spot at the time. (Hear, hear.) This, I take it, is your problem. It is a problem that in a measure affects all the other interests. For myself, and speaking only for myself, I do not see how the existence of that desire to exclude all labor and the desire to regulate all labor to the point of exclusion, can, in the long run, lead to anything except to starve the body politic and fetter the mind of the nation. (Hear, hear.) Still less do I see how it can in any way help the interests of a nation which ultimately must assume nothing less than the very headship of the empire, as the Dominion eventually must do. (Cheers.) Truly as I believe that, deeply as I believe in your future, I cannot see that your destiny is anything lower than this—if for any reason, or at the bidding of any portion or subsection of your community, you lay the groundwork—if in the fabric of your state, which is the reflex of your soul—if you develop your state fabric on the line of a close and selfish corporation, that glory and that leadership will pass from you to some other nation that deserves it better;—(applause)—and with the glory will go the power, will pass the prosperity, and with the prosperity will pass your freedom. You have now your own national spirit. Your first and last need is men—men of your own stock and ideals to develop and to fill your land that it may stand erect above the shadow of any fear from without or within. (Cheers.)
You must forgive me if I have spoken perhaps very seriously. (Applause.) But you see I take you very seriously indeed—very seriously, and I think you perhaps do not realize how great Canada bulks in the imagination of the other great communities within the empire. I am sure that you cannot realize how all that she does, how every act and word is watched, and keenly watched, throughout the empire. A false step, a hasty word, an ill considered weakness here, is felt, seen, and heard wherever our flag flies—is watched and discussed by the remotest races and religions that abide under that flag. Now there are certain things which a man cannot, must not do, merely because it is quite possible for him to do them—there are certain things which a man must do precisely because it appears impossible that he should do them. (Cheers.) That obligation lies a millionfold heavier on a nation—it is as a nation among nations that you stand today, it is as a great nation among nations that you will be judged. (Loud and long continued cheering.)
—The Ottawa Citizen, 22 October 1907.