Canada - Finding Herself
( Originally Published 1915 )
ONE of the questions which an outsider always asks of Canada and of which the Canadian never thinks is —Why is Newfoundland not a part of Canada? Why has the lonely little Island never entered confederation? On the map Newfoundland looks no larger than the area of Manitoba before the provincial boundaries were extended to Hudson Bay. In reality, area has little to do with Newfoundland's importance to England's possessions in North America. It is that part of America nearest to Europe. If you measure it north to south and east to west it seems about two hundred and fifty by three hundred and fifty miles ; but distance north and south, east and west, has little to do with Newfoundland's importance to the empire. Newfoundland's importance to the empire consists in three fundamental facts : Newfoundland is the radiating center for the fisheries on the Grand Banks, that submarine plateau of six hundred by one hundred and fifty miles, where are the richest deep-sea fisheries in the world; Newfoundland lies gardant at the very entrance to Canada's great waterways ; and Newfoundland's coast line is the most broken coast line in the whole world affording count-less land-locked, rock-ribbed deep-sea harbors to shelter all the fighting ships of the world.
What have the deep-sea fisheries of the Grand Banks to do with a Greater Britain Overseas? You would not ask that question if you could see the sealing fleets set out in spring; or the whaling crews drive after a great fin-back up north of Tilt Cove; or the schooners go out with their dories in tow for the Grand Banks fisheries. Asked what impressed him most in the royal tour of the present Ring of England across Canada and Newfoundland several years ago, a prominent official with the Prince answered: "Newfoundland and the prairie provinces." "Why?" he was asked. "Men for the navy and food for the Empire." That answer tells in a line why Newfoundland is absolutely essential to a Greater Britain Overseas. You can't take landlubbers, put them on a boat and have seamen. Sailors are bred to the sea, cradled in it, salted with it for generations before they become such mariners as hold England's ascendency on the seas of the world. They love the sea and its roll and its dangers more than all the rewards of the land. Of such men, and of such only, are navies made that win battles. Come out to Kitty Vitty, a rock-ribbed cove behind St. John's, and listen to some old mother in Israel, with the bloom of the sea still in her wilted cheeks, tell of losing her sons in the seal fisheries of the spring, when men go out in crews of two and three hundred hunting the hairy seal over the ice floes, and the floes break loose, and the blizzard comes down ! It isn't the twenty or thirty or fifty dollar bonus a head in the seal hunt that lures them to death in darkness and storm. It is the call, the dare, the risk, the romance of the sea born in their own blood. Or else watch the fishing fleets up off the North Shore, down on the Grand Banks ! The schooner rocks to the silver swell of the sea with bare mast poles. A furtive woman comes up the hatchway and gazes with shaded eyes at passing steamers ; but the men are out in the clumsy black dories that rock like a cradle to the swell of the sea, drawing in—drawing in—the line ; or singing their sailor chanties—"Come all ye Newfoundlanders"—as meal of pork and cod simmers in a pot above a chip fire cooking on stones in the bottom of the boat. It isn't the one or two hundred dollars these fishermen clear in a year—and it may be said that one hundred dollars cleared in a year is opulence—that holds them to the wild, free, perilous life. It is the call of the sea in their blood. Of such men are victorious navies made, and if Canada is to be anything more than the hanger-on to the tail of the kite of the British Empirez she, too, must have her navy, her men of the sea, born and cradled and crooned and nursed by the sea. That is Newfoundland's first importance to a Greater Britain Overseas.
Perhaps, if the present war had not broken out, Canada would never have realized Newfoundland's second importance to a Greater Britain Overseas as the outpost sentinel guarding entrance to her water-ways. It would require shorter time to transport troops to Newfoundland than to Suez. Should Canada ever be attacked, Newfoundland would be a more important basis than Suez. Two centuries ago, in fact, for two whole centuries, St. John's Harbor rang to the conflict of warring nations. If ever war demanded the bottling up and blockading of Canada, the basis for that embargo would be Newfoundland.
It may as well be acknowledged that Canada's east coast affords few good land locked harbors. Newfoundland's deep-sea land-locked harbors are so numerous you can not count them. Your ship will be coasting what seems to be a rampart wall of sheer black iron towering up three, four, six hundred feet flat as if planed, planed by the ice-grind and storms of a million years beating down from the Pole riding thunderous and angry seas. You wonder what would happen if a storm caught your ship between those iron walls and a landward hurricane ; and the captain tells you, when the wind sheers nor'-east, he always beats for open sea. It isn't the sea he fears. It is these rock ramparts and saw-tooth reefs sticking up through the lace fret. Suddenly you twist round a sharp angle of rock like the half closed leaf of a book. You slip in behind the leaf of rock, and wriggle behind another angle—"follow the tickles o' water" is, I believe, the term—and there opens before you a harbor cove, land-locked, rock-walled from sea to sky, with the fisher-men's dories awash on a silver sea, with women in brightly colored kirtles and top-boots and sunbonnets busy over the fishing stages drying cod. Dogs and hogs are the only domestic animals visible. The shore is so rocky that fences are usually little sticks anchored in stones. There are not even many children ; for the children are off to sea soon as they can don top-boots and handle a line. There is the store of "the planter" or outfitter—a local merchant, who supplies schooners on shares for the season and too often holds whole hamlets in his debt. There is the church. The priest or parson comes poling out to meet your ship and get his monthly or half-yearly mail, and there are the little whitewashed cots of the fisher folk. It is a simpler life than the existence of the habitant of Quebec. It is more remote from modern stress than the days of the Tudors. On the north and west shore and in that sea strip of Labrador under Newfound-land's jurisdiction and known in contradiction to Labrador as The Labrodor—are whole hamlets of people that have never seen a railroad, a cowl a horse.
They are Devon people, who speak the dialect of Devon men in Queen Elizabeth's day. You hear such expressions as "enow," "forninst," "forby" ; and the mental attitude to life is two or three centuries old.
"Why should we pay for railroads?" the people asked late as 1898. "Our fathers used boats and their own legs." And one hamlet came out and stoned a passing train. "Checks—none of your checks for me," roared an out-port fisherman taking the train for the first time and lugging behind him a huge canvas bag of clothes. "Checks—not for me ! I know checks ! When the banks busted, I had your checks ; and much good they were." This was late as '98, and back from the pulp mills of the interior and the railroad you will find conditions as antiquated to-day.
If Newfoundland is absolutely essential to a Greater Britain Overseas, why is she not part of Canada? Because Canada refused to take her in. Because Canada had not big enough vision to see her need of this small-est of the American colonies. For the same reason that reciprocity failed between Canada and the United States—because when Newfoundland would have come in, Canada was lethargic. Nobody was big enough politically to seize and swing the opportunity. Be-cause when Canada was ready, Newfoundland was no longer in the mood to come in ; and nobody in Newfoundland was big enough to seize and swing an opportunity for the empire.
It was in the nineties. Fish had fallen to a ruinous price and for some temporary reason the fishing was poor. There had been bank kiting in Newfoundland's financial system. She had no railroads and few steam-ships. Her mines had not been exploited, and she did not know her own wealth in the pulp-wood areas of the interior. In fact, there are sections of Northern Newfoundland not yet explored inland. Every bank in the colony had collapsed. Newfoundland emissaries came to Ottawa to feel the pulse for federation. The population at that time was something under two hundred thousand.
Now Canada has one very bad British characteristic. She has the John Bull trick of drawing herself up to every new proposal with an air of "What is that to us ?" At this time Canada herself was in bad way. She had just completed her first big transcontinental. Times were dull. The Crown Colony of Newfound-land did not come begging admission to confederation. No political party could do that and live; for politics in Newfoundland are a fanatical religion. I have heard the warden of the penitentiary say that if it were not for politics he would never have any inmates. It is a fact that out-port prisons have been closed for lack of inmates, but long as elections recur, come broken heads. So the Crown Colony did not seek ad-mission. It came feeling the Ottawa pulse, and the Ottawa pulse was slow and cold. "What's Newfoundland to us?" said Canada. One of the commissioners told me the real hitch was the terms on which the Do-minion should assume the Crown Colony's small public debt ; so the chance passed unseized. Newfoundland set herself to do what Canada had done, when the United States refused reciprocity. She built national railways. She launched a system of national ships. She nearly bankrupted her public treasury with public works and ultimately handed her transportation system over to semi-private management. Outside interests began buying the pulp-wood areas. Pulp became one of the great industries. The mines of the east shore picked up. There was a boom in whaling. World conditions in trade improved. By the time that the Dominion had awakened to the value of Newfoundland no party in Newfoundland would have dared to mention confederation, and that is the status to-day. One can hardly imagine this status continuing long. The present war, or the lessons of the present war, may awaken both sides to the advantages of union. Sooner or later, for her own sake solely, Canada must have Newfoundland; and it is up to Canada to offer terms to win the most ancient of British colonies in America. British settlement in Newfoundland dates a century prior to settlement in Acadia and Virginia. Devon men came to fish before the British government had set up any proprietary claim.
And now eliminate the details of Canada's status among the nations and consider only the salient undisputed facts:
Her population has come to her along four main lines of motive ; seeking to realize religious ideals ; seeking to realize political ideals; seeking the free adventurous life of the hunter; seeking-in modern day—freehold of land. One main current runs through all these motives—religious freedom, political freedom, outdoor vocations in freedom, and freehold of land. This is a good flavor for the ingredients of nationality.
Conditioning these movements of population have been Canada's climate, her backwoods and prairie and frontier hardship—challenging the weakling, strengthening the strong. No country affords more opportunity to the fit man and none is crueler to the unfit than Canada. I like this fact that Canada is hard at first. It is the flaming sword guarding the Paradise of effort from the vices of inert softened races. Diamonds are hard. Charcoals are soft, though both are the very same thing.
Canada affords the shortest safest route to the Orient.
Canada has natural resources of mine, forest, fishery, land to supply an empire of a hundred million ; to supply Europe, if need arose.
She must some day become one of the umpires of fate on the Pacific.
She yearly interweaves tighter commercial bonds with the United States, yet refuses to come under American government. It may be predicted both these conditions will remain permanent.
Panama will quicken her west coast to a second Japan.
Yearly the West will exert greater political power, and the East less; for the preponderance of immigration settles West not East.
As long as she has free land Canada will be free of labor unrest, but the dangers of industrialism menace her in a transfer of population from farm to factory.
In twenty years Canada will have as many British born within her borders as there were Englishmen in England in the days of Queen Elizabeth.
In twenty years Canada will have more foreign born than there are native born Canadians.
Her pressing problems today are the amalgamation of the foreigner through her schools; a working arrangement with the Oriental fair to him as to her; the development of her natural resources ; the anchoring of the people to the land; and the building of a system of powerful national defense by sea and land.
Her constitution is elastic and pliable to every new emergency it may be, too pliable; and her system of justice stands high.
She has a fanatical patriotism; but it is not yet vocal in art, or literature ; and it is—do not mistake it -loyalty to an ideal, not to a dynasty, nor to a country. She loves Britain because Britain stands for that ideal.
Stand back from all these facts! They may be slow-moving ponderous facts. They may be contradictory and inconsistent. What that moves ever is consistent? But like a fleet tacking to sea, though the course shift and veer, it is ever forward. Forward whither—do you ask of Canada?
There is no man with an open free mind can ponder these facts and not answer forthwith and without faltering—to a democratized edition of a Greater Britain Overseas. Only a world cataclysm or national upheaval displacing every nation from its foundations can shake Canada from that destiny.
Will she grow closer to Britain or farther off ? Will she grow closer to the United States or farther off? Will she fight Japan or league with her? Will she rig up a working arrangement with the Hindu?
Every one of these questions is aside from the main fact England will not interfere with her destiny. The United States will not interfere with her destiny. Canada has her destiny in her own hands, and what she works out both England and the United States will bless ; but with as many British born in her boundaries anchored to freehold of land as made England great in the days of Queen Elizabeth, unless history reverse it-self and fate make of facts dice tossed to ruin by malignant furies, then Canada's destiny can be only one—a Greater Britain Overseas.