Duncan Campbell Scott

Addresses‚ Essays‚ and Reviews

[Canada as a State of Mind]


It is an honour and a privilege to say a few words in this company on this occasion.  We are this week greatly taken up with Canadian books and with the possibility of increasing public interest in them an in Literature in the wider field.  So the present is very much with us and I think will be generally dealt with elsewhere.  It has been graciously and adequately dealt with here this afternoon.  So I thought I might devote the few moments at my disposal to the past and take a glance at the intellectual foundation of the present.  I would therefore think of Canada, not as a geographical unit, or as a political entity, but as a State of Mind, a Dominion to which all the writers who have expressed the deeds and aspirations of times past have contributed; and, as well, those who conserved culture and who kept alive and warm appreciation of the true values in life.  We have the great treasure of our two literatures, and are born free of that empire; but we have our special heritage in the Literature of Canada which is a term more inclusive than Canadian Literature.  It is true that much but not all of it was written by persons who were not of our nation before we were thought of in that category.  But this literature was written of our land and for us; it belongs to us intimately and has become part of the Canadian tradition.  One thinks first of the literature of exploration, of Champlain and his peers; of the relations of the Jesuit Fathers, of the diaries and records of the intrepid men who were unconscious empire builders rather than conscious fur-traders who opened the West and found the Pacific.  Under what difficulties and tribulations were these wounds written and at what cost were the ideals of our race kept alive during the years of hardship and uncertain progress.  The early English settlers determined that the things of the spirit should not perish in this soil.  The U.E. Loyalists who went to the Maritimes could bring [page 469] their books with them.  Those of Upper Canada had little of anything to bring but almost their first thought was for education when they had got a little bread for their mouths.  The early circulation of books is of record, and libraries, those nurses of literature were soon formed.  I remember stumbling on the remains of one, probably unique, if not the oldest, at Moose Factory on James Bay.  The H.B.C. provided books for the posts of what was called the Southern District and they were distributed by canoe and dog-team to their lonely destinations.  There were early adventures in Periodical literature, the press arose with all its latent influence.  Books made their appearance from Canadian presses.  Let us honour the writers who have made our early days vivid.  No matter how slight the attempt it had a place in the effort to keep alive things of the mind and the spirit.  I feel that everyone who, throughout our long past, felt and wrote as he was able has contributed to our intellectual status and helped our development.
     After this hurried view of the past what of the future?  What are the potentialities of the Canadian scene for the creative mind?  Surely no country has such inexhaustible sources.  We count our natural riches with complacency, our radium, our nickel, our gold.  And for intellectual effort we also have incalculable treasures.  The social stresses which make the tragic-comedy of human life are present here with ever increasing vigour.  The settlement of a vast country, the merging of different races to make what one of our members, Mr. J. Murray Gibbon, has aptly called The Canadian Mosaic, the history of our past, the tumult of our present, these are the abounding sources.  We ought to use them according to our varied abilities without feeling that we are working in vacuum.  For assuredly Canada was founded and nourished on ideas; the mental vigour of our forbearers was at least as important as the strength of their muscles in the development of the Nation, and is now as important to us, for it gives us courage if we need it, and a promise of success if we have any doubts of the future.  [page 470]


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