The Canadian Type
"Canada is a nation, and this is, I suppose, the first step toward having a national type. Now let us go and look for a Canadian."
Canada is a nation. It is true that a few of her public men feel impelled to deny this from time to time; but these denials are intended only as spurs to urge Canada to more emphatic nationhood. Canada has long ago made up her mind that she is a nation.
Now the only workable definition of a nation is that it is any body of people who have made up their minds to be a nation. They do not need to be of the same race, as witness the United States or Great Britain; they do not need to speak the same language, as witness Switzerland; they do not even need to live in the same country, as witness the Jews. They only need to have made up their minds about it. Canada has made up her mind and, despite legal hairsplitting as to whether she is a 'sovereign nation,' or what not, Canada is a nation.
Canada is also very certain that she is a successful nation and, in general, on the right path. Rusty reactionaries or Red revolutionaries may trouble other less happy lands; the constitution of Canada, or rather the various acts of Parliament which serve for a constitution, is as near perfection as may be; on the whole it is even a little better than that of her nearest neighbor. So Canada is a nation, and this is, I suppose, the first step toward having a national type. Now let us go and look for a Canadian.
Every real nation has a type, if it is only for the comfort of the foreigner and the benefit of the humorous press. The type is, indeed, often unrecognizable to the native, but it is there. It is a précis of the points in which the nation differs from its neighbors. It is often wild, it is usually unflattering, but it must have a foundation in fact.
John Bull, for instance, stands for something in the English character, and there are John Bulls in England. He does not stand for the whole character, but only for those little bits, easily recognizable, which make the Englishman different from the Frenchman or the Italian. He exhibits what his friends call 'determination' and his enemies 'pig-headed stupidity.' He is plainly a farmer, and, industrial though England now is, at the time the type was formed, the English gentleman was a farmer. To a large extent he still is.
There are 'Sandys' in Scotland, 'Heinrichs' in Germany, gentlemen with pointed moustaches and hair è la brosse in France; they are rare, no doubt, but they do exist and justify our caricaturists. But what is Johnny Canuck like?
For him the Canadian cartoonist has produced a singularly colorless type—a gentlemanly but resolute personage in riding-breeches, leggings, and scout hat. He appears to be an idealized farmer of the prairies, but has so little real character that he must be labeled 'Canada' on his hat-band. Compared with that virile personage, Uncle Sam, he is simply 'not there,' for no one ever needed a label on Uncle Sam. It is hard to see ourselves as others see us, and I am afraid that it will be a long time before the Canadian artist or the Canadian people produce anything better; but, if the Canadians do not, someone else will and the results may be less flattering.
Uncle Sam is, I believe, of home manufacture, and he is a credit to his creators. He must be as rare in the flesh as John Bull. His main characteristics, his height and rugged bony build, are possibly derived from Abraham Lincoln. To the student of races he is a Celt, and his type is still to be found in plenty in the more Celtic parts of Great Britain—in the north of England and in the lowlands of Scotland. He is the old historic Celt, to be distinguished from the wrongly called Celt of the Scottish Highlands and the west of Ireland. Possibly his type was once commoner in the United States than it is today; and I think that I have heard that he is the idealized New England farmer. In this case it is highly significant that he corresponds to John Bull, the English farmer. The English-speaking races live close to the soil; their types are country--dwellers even in an era of city- dwelling industrials. In Canada, too, the real type is a countryman.
Canada, however, has not publicly formed a type, for she is not yet conscious of one. You will hear of 'a fine type of Canadian manhood,' but this only means a good-looking, well-built boy (for Canada must of course be young), the kind of boy whom one might meet in any English-speaking land. Yet, to the sympathetic foreigner, Canadians do show distinctive traits: they are not Americans, they are certainly not English, and they are not a blend. I am told that to the American they appear slightly English, to the Briton they certainly appear slightly American; but they are distinct. The American or the Britisher in our midst is easily distinguished.
We lie culturally between the United States and England, and have, of course, a number of delocalized individuals who have, by accident or deliberately, adopted the traits of their neighbors. They may incline either to the American or to the English side, and are often impossible to place. But it is not from such that a national type can be formed; Canada merely happens to have more of them than most other countries. They are agreeable people, but nationally uninteresting.
The most serious difficulty in judging a national type is that we can see only what we are not accustomed to. We see differences, and so we judge a nation solely by the points in which it differs from our own. Its resemblances strike us as merely human, the common inheritance of all men. The Canadian must accordingly appear somewhat different to an American from what he appears to an Englishman. This national factor cannot possibly be avoided, and must be allowed for by the reader. So it is only fair to state, here that these remarks are the views of a Scotsman resident in Canada, who is proud to regard Canada as his adopted country.
Now, one of the first points which strike the newcomer is the conservatism of Canada. This applies to all Canadians, French and English; they are all—in the mass—conservative. Canadian politicians are divided into the two traditional parties of English politics, the Conservatives and the Liberals. By tradition the Conservatives are, as the name shows, the party of laissez-faire, the opponents of change, the 'go-slows.' The Liberals are the party of change, the 'go-quicks.' But, to anyone accustomed to the strong differences of principle which characterize European politics, both parties in Canada are conservative of the conservative. There is no party of change at all.
The Province of Nova Scotia, for instance, has had a 'Liberal' government for, I believe, thirty-six consecutive years. During those thirty-six years no very violent changes or reforms have been carried out—only the 'Conservative' party has got weaker and weaker. No reforming party has ever arisen, simply because nobody wants any change. The citizens go on voting Liberal because they are conservative.
Quebec, one of the most conservative countries in the world, has had a Liberal government for twenty-five years. Is Quebec meditating reform or change? No! no! The Liberalism of her fathers is good enough for Quebec. Recently in one of the Quebec provincial elections a young politician, rising to address a meeting, was greeted by cries of 'Judas!' His father had been a Conservative, and he was speaking on the Liberal side. Or was it the other way about? At any rate the electors regarded politics as hereditary.
Canada is, in fact, conservative through and through. The British Liberal party would be regarded as rash revolutionaries here, for there is in Canada no considerable party which contemplates change. This has nothing to do with the question whether change is desirable or not; it is a national condition of mind. France, for instance, would have a radical party in parliament if she were under direct celestial government, simply because there will always be a certain number of Frenchmen whose minds desire change. The same is true of most European countries; but it is not, true of Canada. This argues, first, stability and, secondly, comfort. I think that both are characteristic. Canada is socially and economically very stable, and Canadians on the whole live very comfortably. Indeed, there can be very few lands where a competent man trained to any calling (except an artistic one) can more easily earn a competence. When we are comfortable, all is for the best; so we suppress any radical inclinations we may have, and turn conservative. Yet sometimes one wonders whether it would not be a good thing to expose the weak points in our civilization to more and freer criticism. Our most extreme 'progressives' are very mild people indeed, and Canadian life would be all the stronger for a few more active radicals.
We have seen that the typical 'Canuck' of the cartoons is the prairie farmer. But the prairies have been settled for only some forty years, and the prairie-born population is still small and young. It has been averred that no one is born in the prairies who can avoid it and that no one dies there who can get out in time. In this there is just a grain of truth. People come to the prairies in youth, and retire to Montreal 'or Victoria in old age. It is not to the prairies that we must look for a type of Canada; rather to the old Upper and Lower Canada, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces.
In Quebec live the oldest and most purely Canadian people of the Dominion. Henry Drummond interpreted the French Canadian from the English viewpoint; and recently a Frenchman, M. Hémon, in his masterpiece, Maria Chapdelaine, gave a most sympathetic picture of French--Canadian life.
French Quebec is a pastoral and self-supporting community, of a type which is getting rarer with each generation. The French Canadian lives a life set apart by religion, by language, and by manner of living. Revolutions may overwhelm the outside world, industry may die, and capitalism may be shattered; the habitant would alter his life and his habits very little. His religion is a simple faith, rather out of fashion elsewhere, but he believes it.
The habitant is, indeed, the true Canadian, for he has no other country. One hundred and sixty years ago he was torn from his motherland; since then he has been under the protection of a flag whose traditions are not his: he can know no country but Canada.
There seems to be something in the wild life of the woods which appeals particularly to the French temperament. The English settler prefers more open ground; he is perhaps more successful economically. But, far out in the farthest settlements, far from the railroad, in the depths of the woods, you will find a French habitant breaking new ground and fighting again with Nature face to face. He can make his home in the woods. To him its vague tracks and trails mean far more than the pavements of the city. Indeed, he sometimes seems to look on the city as a kind of forest, to be conquered in the same way. A guide who had been called into Montreal by business was asked if he could find his way back alone to the railroad station. Surely he could. But was he quite sure? Of course he was: 'I blazed the trail on the way down.' And indeed each electric wire-post from station to house was marked by a neat chip.
One must not seek the Canadian types in the cities. Their population is mixed and unassimilated as in the United States, though Canada has not received the same mass of 'alien' city-dwellers as the United States. But Canadian and American cities are very much alike, and one is sometimes inclined to the idea that there is a difference in blood, which makes some of our population take readily to industrial and city life while others remain unconverted country--dwellers. That curious heavy-jawed, fleshy, whitish person, who is too easily identified with the United States, is here, too. He is a city type, the result of over-feeding and under-thinking, one of the penalties paid for material success. But you will not meet him in the little country towns of Ontario or Nova Scotia, where man still struggles with the soil.
English-speaking Canada before the opening-up of the prairies included part of Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritime Provinces. It received a large part of its population in two waves. The first came at the close of the American War of Independence, when the Loyalists were driven into a scantily populated Canada. The second followed close after, an emigration of Scottish Highlanders in the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. These two settlements determined the national character of English Canada.
The injury done to the United States by the loss of some seventy thousand citizens whose only fault was loyalty is now generally acknowledged. Their arrival advanced Canada a long step toward responsible nationhood. Many of them were men of education, judgment, and experience in public affairs. Thousands of them found homes in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and the present Province of New Brunswick owes its existence to the Loyalists. In 1783 nearly twelve thousand arrived at St. John, 'the Loyalist city,' where, since then, May 18 has been celebrated as 'the landing of the Loyalists.'
Of those who settled in Ontario about one half were Scottish Highlanders who had been for so short a time in America that they had not yet learned to speak English. They had originally intended to settle near New York; but they migrated to Glengarry, where they still to some extent preserve their Gaelic tongue.
The Highland Scot was no new settler in Canada. After the English conquest, many Highland regiments had been disbanded in Quebec and had settled down among the French population. To-day some districts of Quebec are full of Frasers who speak only French; and during the recent war the Highland regiment of Montreal received as recruits French-speaking Macdonalds who traced their descent to a Scottish soldier.
The Highlander made an excellent settler. Largely drawn from the bare western coasts and islands of Scotland, he was well accustomed to struggle with a severe climate and a poor soil. Even the barren shores of Nova Scotia were not more barren than those he had left; in the valleys he found land better than any in the north of Scotland.
In Nova Scotia and Cape Breton the Highlander still maintains his nationality. The only Scottish Gaelic newspaper is published in Cape Breton; and there the children still learn the language of their ancestors and sing the songs which are in danger of being forgotten in the old land. Bring two Cape Breton men together and in half an hour they will be deep in the intricacies of kith and kin; for the Highlander is ever a genealogist. In the Annapolis Valley and in New Brunswick, English stock predominates; but the north and east of the Maritime Provinces are predominantly Scottish.
Indeed a Scot may justifiably be proud of the part which his countrymen took in the building of Canada, for they appear in rather unexpected places. At the surrender of Quebec to the English, the keys of the fortress were delivered by a Franco-Scot, Major de Ramezay, to a Scot, General Murray. The battle which decided that surrender was fought on the Plains of Abraham, named after Abraham Martin, 'dit I' écossais.'-
But, to return to the Maritime Provinces—at the beginning of the, nineteenth century hopes here ran high. It seemed natural that the traffic of Europe should come to the nearest ports, and many little towns still possess plans for great squares and spacious docks which never passed beyond paper. Traffic preferred the long water route up the St. Lawrence, and Nova Scotia became a backwater. She still sees the traffic of Europe pass clown to New York, but little of it stops at Halifax. She is too near Europe, too far from the United States. So to-day the population is not increasing, and the flood of the 'new immigration' has passed her by.
The typical 'bluenose' is the small farmer-fisherman, a handy man of many trades. He is independent in his ways and a little suspicious of strangers, among whom-he includes 'Canadians.' Both from his New England and from his Scottish ancestors he has inherited a love of education, so that Nova Scotia is a land of schools and small universities. Except for the apple-lands of Annapolis it is a comparatively poor country and, as its historians are proud to record, its greatest exports' are men. The recent Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Robert Borden, came from Nova Scotia; the present Prime Minister of Great Britain came from New Brunswick; and the tale of distinguished men is long. The best type is energetic but reserved; for the 'bluenose' does not consider it necessary to be self-assertive.
The farmers are a pleasant folk to live among. Like the country-folk of New England, they are soft-spoken, courteous, and gentle in their manner, and kindly toward each other, as all people must be who have a long-settled manner of life and a hard struggle with Nature. They are indeed isolated by position, as the habitant is isolated by intention; and in both cases it may be held that the isolation has had some good results. There is a great quality of humanity about their lives.
Most visitors to the English parts of Eastern Canada are, I think, struck by its overwhelming 'Scotchness.' In Montreal, for instance, McGill University is a Scottish university, transplanted. It was founded by one Scot and largely built and endowed by another. Its head is a 'principal,' not a 'president.' On the hill above it stands the hospital, architecturally a copy of Edinburgh Infirmary, and with one of its largest wings recently built by another Scotsman. The same is true of Ontario. Eastern Canada, where it is not French, is Scottish. And the Scot is a peculiar animal. At home he is one of the most unpatriotic persons possible. He takes a delight in pretending that he is a 'North Briton.' He has even been known to assume a form of English accent. But take him away from home, and he immediately becomes a fervent patriot, discovers the date of St. Andrew's Day, and even eats haggis, a viand which he would never touch at home. (Haggis is a kind of pudding, made of oatmeal, milk, and all the bits of sheep which cannot be salted down. It is eaten by the small Scottish farmer from motives of economy.)
The second or the third generation is even more Scottish than the. first. I was recently introduced to a young man as a fellow countryman. I naturally asked when he had come out. He was born in Canada. When had his father come out? His father was born in Canada too, and his grandfather as well. Three generations makes quite an old Canadian family; but he was Scottish still.
To Canada the Scot has brought his logical and intellectual trend, his dour religion, his clannishness, and his lack of appreciation for art. He has also, I think, brought industry and that cautious habit of mind which refuses to be hurried into a decision. The stranger in Canada will receive a hospitable welcome, but, if he proposes to settle down and become a Canadian, he must be prepared for a period of probation. During this time he will be wise to hold as few opinions as possible, never to express even those, and to show in general little individuality; He will be tested carefully, and taken into friendship when found worthy. However, he will, find the friendship worthy, too, and in later years will even be allowed considerable latitude in his views.
There is a reason for this attitude toward the stranger. We in Canada are forced to be on the defensive. Habitable Canada is after all a narrow strip, and from it seven million people look out on one hundred and five million along four thousand miles. That unarmed four thousand miles may be one of the object-lessons of civilization, but there is a never-ceasing attack across it—that most insidious attack, the attack of influence, of a bigger civilization than our own.
Nationality—and character too—is created by opposition. Canada's nationality was created by the United States and is still kept alive by them. Her independence of Great Britain has been assured for years, and she has no doubts on that score; but her independence of the United States is less certain. She has, no doubt, political independence, but has she economic, or social, or cultural independence? The struggle is carried on without ill-will; it is, indeed, often unconscious, particularly from the attacking side. Most Canadians admire much in their neighbor, and are willing to admit that in many essentials of culture she is in advance. But Canadians wish to be themselves; there are few things they dislike so much as being taken for 'Americans.' There is nothing so encouraging as a little struggle, and it is not the least of the gifts of the United States to Canada that she has helped and still helps to produce a national type. Canada, however, at present easily assumes a protective armor against both Englishmen and Americans. She will quite naturally dispense with it as she increases in social and economic independence. But our attitude toward international schemes, such as the St. Lawrence waterway, is deeply influenced by this feeling.
Possibly from his Scottish forbears, the Canadian has inherited a rather reserved character, which finds difficulty in outward expression; and though he is proud of his nationality, he rarely brags of it. So that desire for enthusiastic and organized good-fellowship which has produced the 'Kiwanians' and the 'Rotarians' is a little exotic in Canada. A stern sense of duty does sometimes impel the Canadian to wear a button, wave a flag, and call his friends 'Bub' or 'Bill' in public. But he does not do it with that wholehearted abandon which such things demand. A certain unnecessary modesty marks his efforts. I am told also that it is rather hard to 'organize a campaign.'
We here, in fact, dislike extremes. This general desire to take the middle way, to compromise on everything, and to regard moderation as the greatest of the virtues, is generally associated with the English people. It cannot be said that it makes a conspicuous or a picturesque people. Some would even say that it makes an uninteresting people-an opinion with which I hasten to disagree. But it does make for an easy life. It makes for toleration, and that is a virtue which covers many sins in a democracy. Moderation pervades Canadian life. The business man does not even pretend to hustle all the time. Our strikes are never, very big strikes. We are a tolerably rich country but not yet over-rich. In the universities football is not yet more important than education. An American whom I asked what he found distinctive in Canada replied without hesitation that to him we here seemed to carry nothing quite so far as in his own country. Prohibition, of course, is the most prominent example of this. We have not yet Dominion prohibition; no one really thinks we shall ever have it. It is significant that those provinces which have adopted it are free to reverse their decision tomorrow.
Of course too much moderation leads to lack of color and individuality; and just as I ventured to regret the lack of radicals in Canada, so I may here lament the lack of cranks. We have some, but we. have not enough, and we do not know how to use those whom we have. For the crank is the salt of civilization. Too many cranks spoil the broth, but too few leave it tasteless. The proper use of the crank is one of the surest signs of a seasoned and well-established culture; a country which feels that its culture is still in formation is too much afraid of the enthusiast. But there are faint signs that we are improving. We have one or two—very mild—cubists.
Our strong point is independence. This I seem to have mentioned before; in fact, independence and the ubiquitous Scot pervade the article. But then—they pervade Canada, too.