Canada - The Life Of The People
( Originally Published 1915 )
SOME one has said that the life of a nation is but the shadow of the units composing it or the life of a nation is but the replica of the life of the individuals in it. Massed figures on gross exports are but the total thrift of a multitude of toiling men. Wheat production to feed a hungry empire is but one farmer's tireless vigilance multiplied by hundreds of thousands of other farmers. What manner of man is the Canadian behind all these figures attesting material prosperity? What manner of being is the Canadian woman, his partner? Is the Canadian a Socialist, or an Individualist? Does he believe that each man should stand upon his own feet or lean upon a state crutch? There is no state church in Canada. Then, what part does religion play? Is it a shadow, or a substance? Is it a refuge for the unfit and the weak to shift the responsibility for their own failure to the fatalism of the will of God ; or is religion a terrible and dynamic force that compels right for right's sake independent of compromise? How does the Canadian live in his home? Is he beer drinking, lethargic, dreamy and flabby in will power; or is he whisky-drinking, fiery, practical and pugnacious? Why hasn't he a distinctive literature, a distinctive art? Nature never was more lavish to any people in beautiful landscape from the quiet rural scenery of the maritime provinces, Quebec and Ontario, to the far-flung epic of the fenceless prairies and the Homeric grandeur of the mountains. Why are quiet rural beauty and illimitable freedom and lofty splendor not reflected in poem and novel and ballad and picture? The Canadian may answer. We go in more for athletics than aesthetics : we are living literature, not writing it. In our snow-covered prairies edged by the violet mist, lined in silver and pricked at night by the diamond light of a million stars, we are living art, not painting it. That our mountains are dumb and inarticulate, that our forests chant the litany of the pines untranslated to the winds of heaven, and that our cataracts thunder their diapasons inimitable to art is no proof that though we are dumb and inarticulate, we are not lifted and transported and inspired by the wondrous beauties of' the heritage God has given us. The Canadian may say this theoretically, but is he strengthened in body and made greater in soul by the mystic splendors of his country? In a word, has the Canadian found himself? He is not self conscious, if that be what is meant by finding self ; and that may be a good thing; for self consciousness is of one of two things—the vanity of femininity in its adolescence, or the picayune pecking introspection of natures thrown in on self instead of exuberantly spending energy in effort outside of self. Self-consciousness is too much ego, whether it be old or young ; and the devil must be cast out into the swine over the cliff into the sea, before there can enter into men, or nations, that Spirit of God which makes for great service in Destiny.
Has Canada found herself?
Without any brief for or against Socialism as a system, it may be said that for many years Socialism will play little part in Canadian affairs. In areas like Germany, where the population is three hundred and ten per square mile ; or France, where the population is one hundred and eighty-nine per square mile; or England, where the population is over five hundred per square mile; or Saxony, where the population is eight hundred and thirty per square mile--one can understand the claim of the most rabid and extreme Socialist that the great proportion of the people can never by any chance own their own freehold; that the great proportion of the toilers are not having a fair chance in an open field; but in Canada where there are millions of acres untaken, where the population is not quite two to the square mile, it is impossible to raise the cry that every man, and any man, can not have all the freehold he is manly enough to go out and take. The grievance be-comes preposterous and a joke. There is more land uninhabited and open to preemption in Canada than is owned in freehold. There are more forests standing in Canada than have been cut. There are more mines than there are workmen, and only the edge of Canada's mineral lands have been explored. There are more fish uncaught than have ever been hooked. I have heard soap-box orators in Canada rant about the plutocrats gobbling the resources of the country ; and I have gone to their offices and shown them on the map that any man could become a plutocrat by going out and gobbling some more, provided he had brains and brawn and gobbled hard enough instead of gabbled; and I have been answered these very words : "But we don't want that. We want to inflame the masses with hatred for the classes so that the laborer will take over all industry." When I have pointed out that there are "no masses" nor "classes" in Canada—that all are laborers, I have been met with a blank stare.
The case is a standing joke in one province of a man who as an agitator used to rave at "the British flag as a bloody rag." The police were never quite sure whether to arrest him for treason or let him blow off steam and exhaust. They wisely chose the latter course. Prosperity came to the town. The man sold his small bit of real estate for something under a hundred thousand. He didn't stay to divide his unearned increment among his fellow agitators. He hied him to retire to the land where "the flag was a bloody rag." This, of course, proves nothing for or against Socialism as a system. There was a Judas among the apostles; but it illustrates the point that Canada is still at the stage where every man may become a capitalist, a vested righter, the owner of his own free-hold. When every man may have a vested property right in a country—not as a gift but as the reward of his own effort in a fair field with no favors—it is a fairly safe prophecy that the vested rights earned and held by the fit and the strong will never be handed over as a gift to the unfit and the weak and the don't trys The savings of the man who has not squandered his earnings on saloons and reckless living will never be taxed to support in idleness—even an idle old age the feckless who have spent on stomach and lust what other men save. Sounds hard; doesn't it, in the face of almost universal nostrums for the salvation and propagation of the useless? But it is like Canada's climate. Perhaps the climate has a good deal to do with it. Hard it may be; but the issue is clean-cut and crystal clear work, or starve; be fit, or die; make good, or drop out; here is a fair field and no favors!
Gird yourself as a man to it, and no puling puny whining for pity !
Can Canada keep a fair field and no favors? Her destiny as a power depends on the answer to that question. In every city in Canada to-day are growing up crowded foreign quarters peopled by men and women who have never had a fair field—with class hate in their hearts for inherited social wrongs ; derelicts, no-goods, unfits, born unfit through no fault of their own. Have they no claim? Can Canada as a foster mother redeem such as these? Her destiny as a power depends on the answer to this question, too. These people are coming to her. In every city are tens of thousands of them. She needs these people. They need her. Will it be a leveling down process for Canada or a leveling up process for them? Be-fore the nineties the average number of inhabitants per house in urban Canada was three. By 1901 the average was up to four. By 1911 it was up to five. In the crowded centers as many as twenty a room have been found. If this sort of thing continue and in-crease, Socialism will become a factor in Canada. It will become a factor because every man or woman who has not had a fair chance has a right to demand a change to a system that will give a fair chance. Canada's economic stability and freedom from social unrest will depend on getting her foreign denizens out to the land. Unfortunately high tariff fosters factory; and factory fosters cheap foreign labor; and cheap foreign labor as inevitably leads to social ferment as heat sours milk.
What part does religion play in Canada? In marked distinction to the United Kingdom and the United States, Canada is a church-going nation. You hear a great deal of the orthodoxy of the Britisher; but if you go to England and go to his church, even to a festal service such as Christmas, you will find that he leaves the orthodoxy mostly to the clergy and the women. I have again and again seen the pews of the most famous churches in England with barely a scattering of auditors in them. Of churches where the hard working manual toiler may be found side by side with the cultured and the idle and the leisured—there is none. You also hear a great deal about the heterodoxy of the American ; but if you go to his church —with the exception of the Catholic—you find that he, too, is leaving his heterodoxy to the clergy and the women. A few years ago it was almost impossible to gain entrance to a metropolitan church in the United States, where the preacher happened to be a man of ability or fame. Try it today ! Though church music has been improved almost to the excellence of oratorios or grand opera, unless it be a festal service like Easter or Christmas, the pews are only sparsely filled. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say this is as true of the country districts as of the city. All through New England are count-less country churches that have had to be permanently closed for lack of attendance. But between the churches of the United Kingdom and the United States is a marked difference—it is the air of the preacher. The Englishman is positively sublime in his unconsciousness of the fact that he had lost a grip of his people. The American knows and does not blink the fact and is frantically endeavoring by social service, by popular lectures, by music, by current topics, by vehement eloquence to regain the grip of his people ; and it must cut a live manly man to the quick to know that his best efforts on salvation are too often expended on dear old saintly ladies, who could not be damned if they tried.
Now the curious thing about Canada, which I don't attempt in the least to explain, is this : whether the preacher pules, or whines, or moons, or shouts to the rafters, or is gifted with the eloquence to touch "the quick and the dead" ; whether the music be a symphony or a dolorous horror of discords ; whether there be social service or old-fashioned theology ; whether, in fact, the preacher be some raw ignorant stripling from the theological seminary, or a man of divine inspiration and power—whatever is or is not, if the church is a church, from Halifax to Vancouver, you find it full. I have no explanation of this fact. I set it down. Canadians are a vigorously virile people in their church-going. They do it with all their might. I sometimes think that the church does for Canada what music does for continental nations, what dollar chasing and amusement do for the American nation —opens that great emotional outlet for the play of spiritual powers and idealization, which we must all have if we would rise above the gin-horse haltered to the wheel of toil. "The Happy Warrior" in Watts' picture dreamed of the spirit face above him in his sleep. So may Canada dream in her tireless urgent business of nation-making ; and religion may visualize that dream through the church.
Understand the Canadian is no more religious than the American or the Britisher. He drinks as much whisky as they do light wines and beer. He "cusses" in the same unholy vernacular, only more vigorously. He strikes back as quickly. He hits as hard. He gives his enemy one cheek and then the other, and then both feet and fists ; but the Canadian goes to church. One of the most amazing sights of the new frontier cities is to see a church debouching of a Sunday night. The people come out in black floods. In one foreign church in Winnipeg is a membership of four thousand. I think of a little industrial city of Ontario where there is a church—one of three—with a larger membership than any single church in the city of New York.
Canadians not only go to church but they dig down in their pockets for the church. In little frontier cities of the West more is being spent on magnificent temples of worship than has been spent on some European cathedrals. Granted the effects are sometimes garish and squarish and dollar-loud. This is not an age when artisans spend a lifetime carving a single door or a single façade ; but when a little place—of say seventeen thousand people—spends one hundred thou-sand dollars on a church, somebody has laid down the cash; and the Canadian is not a man who spends his cash for no worth. That cash rep-resents something for which he cares almightily in Canadian life. What is it? Frankly I do not know, but I think it is that the church visualizes Canada's ideal in a vision. We love and lose and reach forward to the last. Where? We toil and strive and attain. To what end? Our successes fail, and our failures succeed. Why? And love lights the daily path. But where to? Religion helps to visualize the answers to those questions for Canada.
Another characteristic about religion in Canada, which is very remarkable in an era of decadence in be-lief, is that the church is a man's job. Unless in some of the little semi-deserted hamlets in the far East, you will find in Canada churches as many men as women.
In the West you will find more men than women. The church is not relegated to "the dear sisters." Shoulder to shoulder men and women carry the burden joyfully together, which, perhaps, accounts for the support the church receives from young men. An episode concerning "the dear sisters" will long be remembered of one synod in Montreal. A poor little English curate had come out as a missionary to the Indians of the North-west. Such misfits are pitiable, as well as laughable. When you consider that in some of these northern parishes a man can reach his different missions only by canoe or dog-train, that the missions are forty miles apart, that the canoe must run rapids and the dog-train dare blizzards—an effeminate type of man is more of a tragedy than a comedy. I think of one mission where the circuit is four hundred miles and the distance to railroad, doctor, post-office, fifty-five miles. This little curate had had a hard time, though his mission was an easy one. When his turn came to re-port, his face resembled the reflection on an inverted teaspoon. Hardship had taken all the bounce and laugh and joy. and rebound out of him. The other frontier missionaries grew restless as he spoke. One magnificent specimen, who had been a gambler in his unregenerate days, began to shuffle uneasily. When the little curate whined about the vices of the Indians, this big frontier missionary pulled off his coat. (He explained to me that it was "a hot night"; besides it "made him mad to hear the poor Indians damned for their vices, when white men, who passed as gentlemen, had more.") Finally, when the little curate appealed to "the dear sisters to raise money to build a fence," the big man could stand it no longer. He ripped his collar loose and sprang to his feet. "Man," he thundered, "pull off your coat and build your own fence and don't trouble the Lord about such trifles. I'm rich on thirty dollars a year. When I need more, I sell a steer. Don't let us bother God-Almighty with such unmanly puling and whining," and much more, he said—which I have told elsewhere—which brought that audience to life with the shocks of a galvanic battery. One of the most successful Indian missionaries in Canada is a full blood Cree. It does not de-tract from his services in the least that if in the middle of his prayers he hears the wild geese coming in spring, he bangs the Holy Book shut and shouts for the congregation to grab their guns and get a shot.
The virile note in religious life is one of the chief reasons for its support in Canada ; and I have been amused to watch English and American friends who have gone to Canada first indifferent to the church-going habit, then touched and finally caught in the current. Does the habit react on public life? Undoubtedly and most strongly ! Catholic Quebec and Protestant Ontario for years literally dictated provincial and federal policies ; but, with the shift of the balance of power from East to West, that shuffling of Catholic against Protestant and vice versa has ceased in Canadian politics ; and those newspapers that gained their support playing on religious prejudice have had to sell and begin with a new sheet. At the same time no policy could be put forward in Canada, no man could stay in public life against the voice of the different churches. If it were not invidious, examples could be given of public men relegated to private life because they violated the principles for which the church stands. The church in Canada is not a dead issue. It is not the city of refuge for the failures and the misfits. It voices the ideals of Canadian men and women busy nation-building. It has been cynically said that the church in England, as far as public men are concerned, lays all its emphasis on the Eighth Commandment, and none at all on the Seventh; and that the church in the United States lays all its emphasis on the Seventh Commandment and none at all on the Eighth. I do not think a politician could be a special acrobat with either of these Commandments and stay in public life in Canada. The clergy would "peel off" those coats and roll up their sleeves and get into the fight. There would be a lot of mud-slinging; but the culprit would go—as not a few have gone in re-cent years.
Deeply grounded, then, so deeply that the Canadian is unconscious of it, put the belief in the economic principle of vested rights ! Still more deeply grounded, put a belief in religious ideals as a working hypothesis ! Does any other factor enter deeply in Canadians' everyday living? Yes next to economic beliefs and religious beliefs, I should put love of out-door sport as a prime factor in determining Canadian character.
Professional sport has comparatively little place in Canada, though professional baseball has gained a firm foothold in the Northwest, where the American influence is strong, while the International League reaches over the boundary in the East. But it is the amateur who enjoys most favor. If a picked team of bank clerks and office hands and young mechanics in Winnipeg practises up in hockey and comes down from Winnipeg and licks the life out of a team in Montreal or Ottawa, or gets licked, the whole population goes hockey mad. This churchly nation will gamble itself blue in the face with bets and run up gate receipts to send a professional home sick to bed, and I have known of employers forgiving youngsters who bet and lost six months' salary in advance. Mont-real will cheer Winnipeg just as wildly when Winnipeg wins in Montreal, as Winnipeg will cheer Montreal when Montreal wins in Winnipeg. It is not the winning. It is the playing of clean good sport that elicits the applause. The same of curling, of football, of cricket, of rowing, of canoeing, of snowshoeing, of yachting, of skeeing, of running. When an Indian won the Marathon, he was lionized almost to his un-doing. When hardest frost used to come, I knew a dear old university professor, who would have considered it sin to touch the ace of spades, who used to hie him down to the rink with "bessom" and "stane" and there curl on the ice till his toes almost froze on his feet; and one Episcopal clergyman used to have hard work holding back hot words of youthful habit on the golf links ; and his people loved him both because he golfed and because he almost said things, when he golfed. They would rather have a clergyman who golfed and knew "a cuss word" when he saw it, than a saint who couldn't wield a club and might faint at such words as golf elicits.
In one of Canada's best rowing crews, a millionaire merchant was the acting captain of the crew and among his men were a printer, an insurance canvasser, a bank clerk, a clerk in a dry goods store. In one of the most famous hockey teams was a bicycle repairer. Sport in Canada, as in the United States, is the most absolute democracy. I can think of no man in Canada who has attained a permanently good place in social life through catering to women's favor with dandified mannerisms, though not a few have got a leg up to come most terrible croppers ; but I do think of many men to whom all doors are permanently open because they are such clean first-rate sportsmen. Until the last ten years of opulent fevered prosperity came to the Dominion, Canada might have been described as a nation of athletes. This does not mean that Canada neglected work for play. It means that she worked so robustly because she had developed strength on the field of play. Three truths are almost axiomatic about nations and sport. It is said that a nation is as it spends its leisure; that nations only win battles as their boys have played in their youth ; that man's work is only boy's sport full grown. The religious little catechist may win prizes in the parochial school; but if he doesn't learn to take kicks and give them good and hard, in play, he will not win life's prizes. Fair play, nerve, poise, agility, act that jumps with thought, the robust fronting of life's challenge—these are learned far more on the toboggan slide where you may break your neck, in a snowshoe scamper, than poring over books, or in a parlor. I do not know that Canada has analyzed it out, but she lives it. Young Canada may be bumptious, raw, crude. Time tones these things down; but she is not tired before she has begun the race. She is not nerve-collapsed and peeved and insincere.
As to why Canada has no distinctive and great literature—I confess frankly I do not know. England had only Canada's population when a Shakespeare and a Milton rose like stars above the world. Scotland and Ireland both have a smaller population than Canada, and their ballads are sung all over the world. Canada has had a multitude of sweet singers pipe the joys of youth, but as life broadened and deepened their songs did not reach to the deeps and the heights. Something arrested development. They did not go on. Why? It may be that literature rises only as high as its fountain springs—the people; and that the people of Canada have not yet realized themselves clearly enough to recognize or give articulation to a national literature. It may be that Canada is living her literature rather than writing it. If Scott had not found appreciation for his articulation of Scottish life and history in poems and novels, he would not have gone on. In fact, when Byron eclipsed Scott in public favor as a poet, Scott stopped writing poetry. It may be that Canada has not become sufficiently unified cemented in blood and suffering—to appreciate a literature that distinctively interprets her life and his-tory. It may be that she has been swamped by the alien literature of alien lands, for the writers of English to-day are legion. Or it may be the deeper cause beneath the dearth of world literature just now —lack of that peace, that joyous calm, that repose of soul and freedom from distraction, that permits a creator to give of his best.
One sometimes hears Canadians—particularly in England—accused of crudity in speech. I confess I like the crudities, the rawness, the colloquialisms. They smack of the new life in a new land. I should be sorry if Canadians ever began to Latinize their sentences, to "can" their speech and pickle it in the vine-gar pedantry of the peeved study-chair critic. Be-cause it is a land of mountain pines and cataracts and wild winds, I would have their speech smack always of their soil; and I would bewail the day that Canadians began to measure their phrases to suit the yard stick of some starveling pedant in a writer's attic, who had never been nearer reality than his own starvation. I can see no superiority in the Englishman's colloquial-isms of "runnin'," "playin'," "goin'," to the Canadian's "cut it out," "get out," "beat it." One is the slovenliness of languor. The other is the rawness of vigor.
When one comes to consider woman in a nation's life, it is always a little provoking to find "woman" and "divorce" coupled together ; for there never was a divorce without a man involved as well as a woman, The marriage tie is not easily dissolved in Canada. Divorce pleas must go before a committee of the Federal Senate. Without legal fees, it costs five hundred dollars to obtain a divorce in Canada; with fees, one thousand dollars; so that Canada's divorce record is 1,530 for 7,800,000 of population in 1913 ; or one divorce for every 5,000 people. This seems a laudably low record, and Canada takes great credit to herself for it. I am not sure she should, for her system makes divorce a luxury available only to the rich. Divorce is not a cause. It is a result. I am not sure that people ill-mated do not do more harm to their children staying together than separating; and marriage is not for the man or the woman, but for the race. This opinion, however, would be considered heresy in Canada, and a great many factors conspire to help woman's status in the Dominion. To begin with, there are half a million more men than women. A woman need never give her self so cheaply as to spend her life paying for her precipitancy. She is not a superfluous. Another point in which some other countries could emulate Canada is in the protection of women and children. A woman ill-mated has the same protection under the law as though she were single. Infringement of her rights is punishable with penalties varying from seven years and the lash to death. A man living on a woman's illicit earnings is not coddled by ward heelers and let off with light bail, as in certain notorious California cases. He is given the lash and seven years. Such offenders seldom come up for sentence twice.
On the other hand, compared to punishments for property violations, the protection of women and children is ridiculously inadequate. A man abducting a girl is liable to sentence of five years ; a man stealing a cow, to sentence of fourteen years. Counterfeiting coin is punished by life imprisonment. Misusing a ward or employee is punished by two years' imprison-ment. This remissness is no index to a subordinate position by women in Canada. It is rather simple testimony to the fact that before the influx of alien peoples certain types of crime were unknown.
There is little of sex unrest in Canada. In fact, sex as sex is not in evidence, which is a symptom of wholesome relationships. Perhaps I should say there is little of that feminine discontent and revolt so strident in older lands. This I attribute to two facts : an overplus of men, and boundless opportunity and freedom for the expenditure of unused energies. In certain sections of England, women over-balanced men before the war as ten to one. What the over-balance will be after the war, one can only guess. When women who want to marry are not married, or married to types different from themselves which must happen when the sexes are in disproportion—unhappiness must result. Woman is at war, she knows not with what. When women who are full of energy and ability have nothing to do, there is bound to be unhappiness. In Canada a woman has perfect freedom to do anything she chooses. Her opportunity is limited only by her own personality. What she wills, she may, if she can. If she can't, then her quarrel must be with self, not with life. Children can not choose their parents ; but a woman can choose the parent of her child; and when her choice is high and wide and happy, it bodes better for the race than when conditions have forced her into an alli-ance that must be more or less of an armed truce on a low plane.
As an example of the fairness of marriage laws in Canada, if a fur trader marry an Indian woman according to the custom of the tribe, simply taking her to wife without ceremony, she is his legal heir, and her children are his legal heirs. This was established in a famous trial in the courts of Quebec. A trader became contractor and politician. When prosperity came, he discarded his Indian wife and married an English girl. On his death the Indian wife and children sued for his estate. It was awarded to them by the courts and established a precedent that guaranteed social status to the children of such unions. This is one of the things that easterners can not comprehend. I have never heard the opprobrious phrase "squaw man" used on the Canadian frontier; and descendants of the MacKenzies the Isbisters, the Hardistys, the Strathconas, the Macleans, the MacLeods—blush, not with shame but pride, in acknowledging the Indian strain of blood.
The fact that some of the western provinces notoriously ignore a woman's property rights in her husband's estate—is sometimes quoted to prove the un-fairness of Canada's laws to women. I am no defender of those lax property laws. They ought to, and will soon, be changed; but let us give even the devil his dues ; and the devil in this case was the mad real estate speculation. When thousands of adventurers poured in from everywhere and began buying and selling and reselling property, it impeded quick turn overs to re-serve the absent wife's third. Sometimes, as in the case of a famous actor, the wives numbered four. Ordinarily in Canada—certainly in eastern provinces—a third is the wife's reserve unless she sign it away. How four wives could each have a third was a poser for the speculator and the knot was cut by ignoring the wife's claims. Now that the fevered mad mania of speculation is over this remissness of the law in two provinces will doubtless be remedied.