At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: December 31, 1892


       It may be considered excusable if, upon the approach of a new year, as enthusiastic Canadian, one who believes that his country is the brightest and best on earth, should indulge in a little flaunting of the maple leaf. The time is propitious. Upon the verge of one of those time divisions which serve as mile stones of our progress, we may well pause for a moment, not so much to look back at what we have passed, as to glance forward at what is to come. We have, during the past few years, heard much of blame at the slowness of our national development from those who expect a nation to spring forth fully armed like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. Our progress has been, if slow, at least appreciable; to be remarked chiefly, perhaps, in the growth of interest which Canadians begin to feel in their own affairs and in their position amongst the nations of the earth. This is cheering, for, in national as well as in individual life, all strength and power must come from within. To become worthy to share in the commerce of the earth we must show a commercial spirit equal to our opportunities. And how boundless these opportunities are I need not state; the wealth and productiveness of this land cannot be surpassed by any on the face of the earth. We are often confronted by the statement that the geographical position of our provinces makes it impossible that any vigorous national life can exist, and the failure of our Dominion is prophesied because the success of some country similarly situated cannot be cited to cheer us in our difficult task. But do not doubt; we will serve as the example to the world of a people welded by a national spirit and a national love, although separated by natural barriers. When we have surmounted these difficulties it will be wondered why we considered them as blocking for ever the road to prosperity. The racial differences which now seem so definite will in the natural course of events disappear. What we as Canadians need more than anything else is a firm faith in our country and in her ultimate destiny. It is not necessary to imagine that our Dominion must stand or fall by her present constitution. If in the course of time this proves, by reason of events which have not yet presented themselves, to be unworkable we will have secured experience and wisdom sufficient to change our form of government without resorting to the shameful refuge in national disgrace and annihilation. In the life of every people there are years of danger which have to be lived through with hope in the strength and vitality of those principles upon which its security and permanence is founded; and why should Canada abandon at the first difficulty, or at any difficulty, her hope of national unity. In the young men of this country there is growing a sentiment which will sweep any thought of Canadian disgrace of humiliation into the limbo of forgotten and despicable things. This cause, the cause of the Canadian nation, may be assisted by every one; in this sentiment and in these objects every Canadian can have a part; and to all those throughout the breadth of this land who can throw up their caps and give a shout for Canada I wish a hearty and a happy new year.

       As the present year draws to a close and the new year approaches with the undreamed-of future, which holds for all joy and sorrow, triumph and failure, more or less, it is a good thing for us to take a glance at our conditions, and ask ourselves if we are fairly satisfied at the appearance of things in general. If there is one thing I detest, it is a tendency to self-deception and to avoid grim realities. Now, this is the season of the year when we should especially examine into our conditions and see how the world stands in relationship to its best ideals, if it has any. As the result of a cursory glance at the past year's history, there is one conclusion we will all come to, and that is that in all countries public affairs as regards their management are getting more complicated as the years go on, and that government by the few is not such an unqualified success after all. The problem of nation-building has come into startling prominence in connection with our affairs during this year, and, as viewed from a political as well as from a patriotic standpoint, presents some conditions for our gravest consideration. If we are ever to be a people like the other nations, we must not refuse to meet those difficulties fair in the face, and not shirk our responsibilities.
       There is no getting over the fact that we are unfortunately placed, both in time and locality, for the fostering of a national spirit and growth. We have probably more obstacles of an internal nature to overcome than any nation under the sun that ever tried to realise a national unity and independence. In any part of the civilised world it would be harder to accomplish such results than it was a quarter of a century ago. But it is especially difficult here in Canada. In the old days the national prejudice was strong in men. Now it is rather the other way, as the average man rather likes the novelty of a foreign environment if he can do better, and especially when there is no barrier in customs are broken down. I speak here as a Canadian and one who loves his country, but who loves her too well to bury the dangers to her progress, that all true Canadians only see too well, in cowardly evasions for the sake of creating a false hope. Canada cannot afford to-day to fall back on false sentiments, and on an attempt to force a patriotism that might have carried some old-time nation over similar difficulties. The prodding with the goad that would have made the national dray-horse pull harder in the ruts in days past would now likely cause him to jump the patriotic traces. Men think and compare more than they used to, and politicians especially must remember that they have been for years and years past perhaps over-educating the average voter up to a strong sense of his own individual rights, and they must not be surprised if in a national crisis the mine they have been laying explodes under their own feet. If the people to-day are hard to please and difficult to lash or coax into the patriotic contentment and soberness, the politicians should be the last to complain. I will dare to say, apart from all party considerations, that we as a people have been largely sacrificed to ultra-party considerations. Party government is evidently necessary, but it must never usurp and eclipse the national feeling. When it does the result is a condition of things such as we have in Canada to-day, the grave difference in our case being that party spirit has prevented the growth of this sentiment instead of merely hampering it. All men who know our national life to-day know that the country is in imminent danger on account of race and religious feuds, and that the most strenuous steps should be taken to canvass the whole Dominion on this matter. The greatest danger to the country lies in trying to smother as inimical what is but the natural expression of this stage of our development. The most unpatriotic course is that which would leave the whole matter to politicians, who are involved in party considerations that obstruct the smooth path of an unbiased patriotism. What is essentially needed is a sentiment that will sweep like a baptismal wave from ocean to ocean and overpower all local, racial and other influences—not that these need necessarily to be swept out, but which will keep them in the place where they belong in the community. Whatsoever influence is working to this end is loyal and is keeping with the true spirit of our growth toward the ideal nation. What I would ask all true Canadians to-day is, are such elements at work? and are our feelings as a nation overcoming mere provincial and racial prejudices? That is the grave question to propound just now. Are we Canadians even a little more in national sentiment than in the days of confederation? What we are in most danger of at present is not so much an open expression toward annexation, but a pseudo-patriotism that for mere self-interest would muzzle the true expression of the national thought at this most critical point of our country's development.