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Montreal And Ottawa
by [?]

My American friends were full of kindly scorn when I announced that I was going to Canada. ‘A country without a soul!’ they cried, and pressed books upon me, to befriend me through that Philistine bleakness. Their commiseration unnerved me, but I was heartened by a feeling that I was, in a sense, going home, and by the romance of journeying. There was romance in the long grim American train, in the great lake we passed in the blackest of nights, and could just see glinting behind dark trees; in the negro car-attendant; in the boy who perpetually cried: ‘Pea-nuts! Candy!’ up and down the long carriages; in the lofty box they put me in to sleep; and in the fat old lady who had the berth under mine, and snored shrilly the whole night through. There was almost romance, even, in the fact that after all there was no restaurant-car on the train; and, having walked all day in the country, I dined off an orange. I suppose an Englishman in another country, if he is simple enough, is continually and alternately struck by two thoughts: ‘How like England this is!’ and ‘How unlike England this is!’ When I had woken next morning, and, lying on my back, had got inside my clothes with a series of fish-like jumps, I found myself looking with startled eyes out of the window at the largest river I had ever seen. It was blue, and sunlit, and it curved spaciously. But beyond that we ran into the squalider parts of a city. It became immediately obvious that we were not in New York or Boston or any of the more orderly, the rather foreign, cities of America. There was something in the untidiness of those grimy houses, the smoky disorder of the backyards, that ran a thrill of nostalgia through me. I recognised the English way of doing things–with a difference that I could not define till later.

Determined to be in all ways the complete tourist, I took a rough preliminary survey of Montreal in an ‘observation-car.’ It was a large motor-wagonette, from which everything in Montreal could be seen in two hours. We were a most fortuitous band of twenty, who had elected so to see it. Our guide addressed us from the front through a small megaphone, telling us what everything was, what we were to be interested in, what to overlook, what to admire. He seemed the exact type of a spiritual pastor and master, shepherding his stolid and perplexed flock on a regulated path through the dust and clatter of the world. And the great hollow device out of which our instruction proceeded was so perfectly a blind mouth. I had never understood Lycidas before. We were sheepish enough, and fairly hungry. However, we were excellently fed. “On the right, ladies and gentlemen, is the Bank of Montreal; on the left the Presbyterian Church of St Andrew’s; on the right, again, the well-designed residence of Sir Blank Blank; further on, on the same side, the Art Museum….” The outcome of it all was a vague general impression that Montreal consists of banks and churches. The people of this city spend much of their time in laying up their riches in this world or the next. Indeed, the British part of Montreal is dominated by the Scotch race; there is a Scotch spirit sensible in the whole place– in the rather narrow, rather gloomy streets, the solid, square, grey, aggressively prosperous buildings, the general greyness of the city, the air of dour prosperity. Even the Canadian habit of loading the streets with heavy telephone wires, supported by frequent black poles, seemed to increase the atmospheric resemblance to Glasgow.

But besides all this there is a kind of restraint in the air, due, perhaps, to a state of affairs which, more than any other, startles the ordinary ignorant English visitor. The average man in England has an idea of Canada as a young-eyed daughter State, composed of millions of wheat-growers and backwoodsmen of British race. It surprises him to learn that more than a quarter of the population is of French descent, that many of them cannot speak English, that they control a province, form the majority in the biggest city in Canada, and are a perpetual complication in the national politics. Even a stranger who knows this is startled at the complete separateness of the two races. Inter-marriage is very rare. They do not meet socially; only on business, and that not often. In the same city these two communities dwell side by side, with different traditions, different languages, different ideals, without sympathy or comprehension. The French in Canada are entirely devoted to– some say under the thumb of–the Roman Catholic Church. They seem like a piece of the Middle Ages, dumped after a trans-secular journey into a quite uncompromising example of our commercial time. Some of their leaders are said to have dreams of a French Republic–or theocracy–on the banks of the St Lawrence. How this, or any other, solution of the problem is to come about, no man knows. Racial difficulties are the most enduring of all. The French and British in Canada seem to have behaved with quite extraordinary generosity and kindliness towards each other. No one is to blame. But it is not in human nature that two communities should live side by side, pretending they are one, without some irritation and mutual loss of strength. There is no open strife. But ‘incidents,’ and the memory of incidents, bear continual witness to the truth of the situation. And racial disagreement is at the bottom, often unconsciously, of many political and social movements. Sir Wilfrid Laurier performed a miracle. But no one of French birth will ever again be Premier of Canada.