On the night of December 10, 1923, I attended a lecture in the School for the Blind under the auspices of the Canadian Club, by Professor R. M. McIvor of Toronto University on "Public Opinion in Canada." This, the learned lecturer said, was one of the notable things lacking in Canada, and in this respect it differed from most other nations in the world. At the recent Imperial Conference in London, other Dominions of the Empire expressed definite, systematic voice which found no counterpart in our own beloved domain. This fact was truly lamentable, and would prove the most serious stumbling block in the proper development of the country. The explanation was partly to be sought in the existence of a number of barriers -- some natural, such as our waterways and our mountains, some racial -- which effectively caused five great geographical divisions. It is a matter for gratification, however, that these diversions ran from east to west and not from north to south, as in the United States. Divisions influenced by climatic conditions were harder to deal with than those engendered by removing this obstacle to the formation of a National Opinion.
Then there was the tendency exhibited by our people to live in the memory of the paste rather than in the vibration of the Present; to encourage and even exaggerate the importance of ideas and sentiments of a bygone Age, whether that of William the Conqueror or William of Orange. While he would not, by any means, deprecate the existence of foundations but rather admit their importance as things on which to erect superstructures, yet he would remind his hearers that people did not live in the foundations but in what was built upon them. In the same way, peoples and individuals cannot make progress and thrive by dwelling on the achievements of past generations, but only by cultivating ideas vitalized by the operation of current events. Living thus in the memory of the Past is one indication of old age, and signifies degeneration rather then regeneration. The people of our land do not think sufficiently nor profoundly, he thought; they are given too much to personal amusement and enjoyment. He instanced the excessive automobiling with the expressionless faces of the occupants of the cars.
This lack of Public Opinion in Canada was demonstrated by the absence of a National Press, of National Literature and Art, of a National core running from end to end of the country. What is a predominant jubilant note in one section is a death wail in another, to the extent of threatening the dismemberment of the country. Sectionalism and parochialism prevail to the degree of intolerance! Too much stress is laid on differences and too little on likenesses, forgetting that the former are more superficial than the latter.
How are these deficiencies to be supplied, these defects to be remedied, these exeresences to be removed?
Mainly by the cultivation and development of a National spirit. It is well for me to remember at the outset that, in proportion to population, we are the greatest exporting country in the world. We should not allow our ardour to be damped by the power and success of our great neighbour, the United States; it might, indeed, be profitable to consider that "bigness" does not always succeed. We know that many relics on exhibition today in our museums indicate the passing away of creatures that were too big to be useful. The same fact may be said of nations. On the contrary, some of the smallest countries of the world have produced the greatest effects on its history. Such were Palestine, Athens, Switzerland, Scotland. So let us not be taken up too much with the idea of bigness in our immediate operations.
Secondly, the most potent agent is the production of Public Opinion in Education. He did not mean scientific or technical education, rather, it was to be more of a social character. Much, in this line, can be done by the interchange of University students, and by the influence of such institutions as the Canadian Club. In this way, a broad spirit of toleration could be fostered. But the great thing to accomplish was to engender National ideas towards which the people could work up as they moved in and out in the loom of Time. "You must bring forth ideas and make them vibrate."
Professor McIvor is a man about forty years old, very modest and unassuming, and somewhat awkward on the platform. He delivered this splendid address leaning up against the reading desk, and with his legs crossed. He employed no gestures whatever, nor any of the concomitants of the orator. His voice, though melodious, has not good carrying power, while a modified Scottish accent (he is a native of the Orkneys) makes it difficult, at times, to catch every word.
He has a very bright, intelligent countenance which continues to betoken an increase in the index of intellectual power as its possessor proceeds. Professor McMechan acted as Chairman very acceptably.
Public Archives of Nova Scotia: MG100, Vol. 16a (1601, 169), #32
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