CANADA HISTORY - DOCUMENTS ARTS

1936 I'll Stay in Canada by Stephen Leacock


Placeholder image

You are kind enough to suggest that I might, being now free from work, come home to England. But no, no, I, don't tempt me. It wouldn't work. I know it wouldn't. It sounds fine. But there are all kinds of difficulties, things you wouldn't think of at first - questions of language and manners; a lot of them. Honestly, I don't think Id letter try it. You see, it's been sixty years, this early spring, since I came out from England as a little boy of six, so wise that I knew all about the Trojan War and which Gods fought for which side, and so ignorant that I had never seen a bark canoe or a bob-sleigh and didn't know what a wood- chuck was. We crossed the Atlantic, which I recall as continuous ice; were in river steamers for four days; then in a train with a queer little engine that threw hemlock sparks over the bush; and then thirty miles in a lumber-wagon - and we were there.

After that my brothers and I never saw a railway train again for three years, till someone built a railway to Lake Simcoe and the "cars" came. There followed another three years, and then we went away to school and to the world. But the "stamp" I carry is that of the farm in Georgina Township and my predilection is for the soil and the Canadian bush. Forever, I like the sunrise. I worked at teaching. I taught for three months, in training, eighteen years old, at the old Strathroy High School with General Sir Arthur Currie, our greatest Canadian, as my pupil. Then I taught for a year at Uxbridge High School. Then I taught ten years at Upper Canada College. Then I got quite a good job at McGill University and held it for thirty-five years. My life has been as simple as one of Xenophon's Marches. But at least my jobs grew longer. The next, I think, will be what you'd call permanent.

But now, as you say, I am free to do as I please; and, if I like, after sixty years I could come "home." Certainly it sounds tempting. Yet, as I say, there are difficulties. The first is the question of language. When I left Hampshire I spoke English. But I've lost it, and it might be too late to pick it up again. You see, we speak differently here. I don't mean uneducated people, I mean educated men, like my friends at my club (The University Club, Montreal - you can't miss it; it's just opposite McGill University).

We used to be ashamed of our Canadian language, before the war, and try to correct it and take on English phrases and say, "What a ripping day," instead of "What a peach of a morning," and "Ah you thah?" instead of "Hullo Central," and "Oh, rather!" instead of "O-Hell-yes." But now, since the Great War put Canada right on a level with the Portuguese and the Siamese and those fellows who came from - ah! one forgets the names, but it doesn't matter - 1 mean, made Canada a real nation - we just accept our own language and are not ashamed of it. We say "yep!" when we mean "yep!" and don't try to make out it's "yes," which is a word we don't use; and if we mean "four" we say so and don't call it "faw."

So you see, there's the question of language. Then there's the difference of education. I don't mean that we are not educated - us fellers in the University Club - because we are: only in a different way. At first sight you English people would not think we .were educated because we learned different things. Any member of the club knows what a kilowatt is, and you don't; but on the other hand, our members would think that a "perfect aorist" is either a vacuum cleaner or an Italian trombone player.

It is just that difference. I remember a few years ago a distinguished English bishop, speaking at our club, said that he felt that Greek had practically made him what he was; we felt exactly the same about him and thought it very manly and British of him to admit it straight out.

Then, there's the question of manners. There it would be pretty hard for me or for any of my friends here to "get by." You see, we are not just quite what you call gentle- men. Not quite. In the dark and if we don't talk, you could hardly tell us. But when we begin to feel easy and at home the thing comes out. I don't just know what it consists of: I think we are a little too unrestrained and we have a way of referring to money, a thing of which you never definitely speak in England.

I remember, in making conversation with that bishop, I asked him if his salary went right on while he was out here, and when he said, "I beg your pardon," all I could say was, "Forget it." Of course, the bishop didn't know that in Canada we never feel at ease with a man till we know what his salary is, and which of the gold mines he bought shares in last. All this means we lack "class." There isn't a sufficient distinction between us and those lower down in money. Personally I can go bass fishing with a taxi driver and a Toronto surgeon and an American tourist and the "feller that rents the boat" and can't see any difference. Neither can they. There isn't any. That brings me to the Americans! There's another reason for not wanting to leave Canada for England. I'd hate to be so far away from the United States. You see, with us it's second nature, part of our lives, to be near them. Every Sunday morning we read the New York funny papers, and all week we read about politics in Alabama and Louisiana, and whether they caught the bandits that stole the vault of the national bank, and - well, you know American news - there's no other like it. And the Americans come-and-go up here, and we go- and-come down there, and they're educated just as we are and know all about kilowatts but quit Latin at the fourth declension. Their colleges are like ours and their clubs are like ours and their hotels are like ours and Rotaries and Lions and Kiwanis like ours. Honestly, you can't tell where you are unless you happen to get into a British Empire Society; and anyway, they have those in Boston and in Providence, and the Daughters of the American Revolution is practically a British organization - so all that is fifty- fifty. Our students go and play hockey with their stoodents and our tourists going out meet their towrists coming in. The Americans come up here and admire us for the way we hang criminals. They sit in our club and say, "You certainly do hang them, don't you!" My! they'd like to hang a few! The day may be coming when they will. Meantime, we like to hang people to make the Americans sit up. And in the same way we admire the Americans for the way they shovel up mountains and shift river-courses and throw the map all round the place. We sit in the club, I fascinated, and listen to an American saying, "The proposal is to dam up the Arkansas River and make it run backward over the Rockies." That's the stuff! That's conversation. There you are again - conversation. It would be hard for me or any Canadian to learn to "converse" in England. You see, English conversation turns upon foreign politics and international affairs. It runs to such things as - "But don't you think that the Singapore Base would have been better if it had been at Rangoon or at least on the Irrawaddy?" "Ah, but would that really control Hoopow, or, for that matter, Chefoo?" Now, we don't talk about that. Listen to us in my club and you hear, "He told me that in Central Patricia, they were down to the second level and that there was enough stuff right in sight to make it a cinch. I bought 100 at 2.30 and yesterday it had got to three dollars.....

That's real talk. And that's our country, anyway - our unfailing interest, for all of us, in its vast development, its huge physical future. In this last sixty years - since I've known it - we have filled it in and filled it in like a huge picture lying in a frame from the frozen seas to the American line, from Nova Scotia to the Pacific. What the English feel about the Armada and the Scottish about Bannockburn, the Canadian, consciously or not, feels about the vast geography of Canada.

There is something inspiring in this building of a new country in which even the least of us has had some part. I can remember how my father went - from our Lake Simcoe farm - to the first Manitoba boom of over fifty years ago - before the railway. He had an idea that what the West needed was British energy and pluck. He came back broke in six months. Then Uncle Edward went; he had a gifted mind and used to quote to us that "the Star of the Empire glitters in the West." He did better. He came back broke only after four years.

Then my brothers Dick and Jim went. Dick was in the Mounted Police and then worked in a saloon and came home broke. Jim got on fine but he played poker too well and had to leave terribly fast. Charlie and George and Teddy went - they all went but me. I was never free to go till now, but I may start at any time. Going West, to a Canadian, is like going after the Holy Grail to a knight of King Arthur. All Canadian families have had, like mine, their Western Odyssey.

It's the great spaces that appeal. To all of us here, the vast unknown country of the North, reaching away to the polar seas, supplies a peculiar mental background. I like to think that in a few short hours in a train or car I can be in the primeval wilderness of the North; that if I like, from my summer home, an hour or two of flight will take me over the divide and down to the mournful shores of the James Bay, untenanted till yesterday, now haunted with its flock of airplanes hunting gold in the wilderness. I never have gone to the James Bay; I never go to it; I never shall. But somehow Id feel lonely without it.

No, I don't think I can leave this country. There is something in its distances and its isolation and its climate that appeals forever. Outside my window as I write in the dark of early morning - for I rise like a farm hand - the rotary snow ploughs on the Cote des Neiges Road are whirling in the air the great blanket of snow that buried Montreal last night. To the north, behind the mountain, the Northern Lights blink on a thousand miles of snow- covered forest and frozen rivers.

We are "sitting pretty" here in Canada. East and west are the two oceans far away; we are backed up against the ice cap of the pole; our feet rest on the fender of the American border, warm with a hundred years of friend- ship. The noise and tumult of Europe we scarcely hear - not for us the angers of the Balkans, the weeping of Vienna and the tumults of Berlin. Our lot lies elsewhere shoveling up mountains, floating in the sky to look for gold, and finding still the Star of Empire in the West.

Thank you, Mother England, I don't think I'll "come home." I'm "home" now. Fetch me my carpet slippers from the farm. Ill rock it out to sleep right here.


Cite Article : www.canadahistory.com/sections/documents/documents.html

Source: Funny Pieces: A Book of Random Sketches (1936)



Placeholder image
Placeholder image