Wilfrid Laurier was campaigning for reelection when he made the following speech before a packed house in Toronto’s Massey Hall on 14 October 1904. The speech, while not one of his best, was vintage Laurier — suave, playing to the audience, and discreetly undermining his political opponents. Near its end, he provided his grand vision for Canada, and his phrase about Canada’s century remains famously attached to his name and his memory.
“The twentieth century shall be the century of Canada”
We have been in office now for eight years – our record is before the people of Canada. It is open for search, always open for search, and search under the most glaring light that can be found. To this I have no objection. This I rather welcome. I do not claim that we have been infallible, I do not claim that we not have made mistakes. On the contrary, I am prepared to admit that in some things purely departmental we may have been led into errors.
But this I may tell you … we have given you a pure and honest government. We are assailed, it is true, and assailed with all the bitterness of the Tory party when they are in Opposition, but let me say this, and I put it to the judgment of all who are friends or foes, that the head and front of the charges that are brought against us is, after all, very small, very minute and very trivial. There are no serious charges against us. If those made are to be compared with the offences proved and charged against those who are now our traducers, when they were in office; they are simply as the weight of a feather against a mountain of iniquity.
A new star
It is easy to criticize, it is always easy to find fault. The problem is, the difficulty is, to construct and to build, and I submit again to the judgment of friend and foe, that after eight years in office there is not here, there is not in the country, a man, a citizen, who does not feel prouder in his heart to call himself a Canadian than he was eight years ago. I do not claim credit for the prosperity, which this country has witnessed, but I assert that as a result of the policy followed by this government the name of Canada has obtained a prominence, which it had not eight years ago. I assert that the name of Canada during these eight years has traveled far and wide and whether a man be a friend or be a foe, he knows he must admit that there are today in Europe thousands and thousands of men who had never heard the name Canada eight years ago, and who today, every day, turn their eyes toward this new star which has appeared in the western sky. . .
I hope to live to see the fertile west, into which thousands and thousands of men are crowding every year – I hope to see that goods of Ontario and Quebec carried into the new territory for the use of the settlers who are pouring in there — nay, I hope also to see the goods of Asia, of Japan, the new nation, and of China, the old nation, passing over the railway en route to the harbours of Great Britain. I hope to see that, and it is not a vain hope; if God spares me for years yet, I shall have the satisfaction of seeing it. Two years ago I was coming back from Europe, from England after the Imperial Conference which had taken place during the festivities of the coronation of his Majesty the king. I was in poor health and had to go down south, and then I for the first time took up this subject. And the more I looked at it the more enthusiastic I became, the more I satisfied myself that there was the grand highway from Europe to Asia for the twentieth century.
The century of Canada
I tell you that the nineteenth century has been the century of United States development. The past 100 years has been filled with the pages of their history. Let me tell you, my fellow countrymen, that all the signs point this way, that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada and of Canadian development. For the next 75 years, nay for the next 100 years, Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come.
I am simply a Canadian like yourselves, coming from another province, but trying the best I can to unite our common people. I ask you, and this is the prayer I want to convey to you, simply ask you to forever sink the petty differences which have divided you in the past and unite with us, and take your share of the grand future which lies before us. I give that prayer to you, but if there is one class to which above all others I would convey the appeal it is not to you older men, not to you middle-aged men, but to the young boys in the galley, the hope of the country.
To those who have life before them, let my prayer be this: Remember from this day forth never to look simply at the horizon as it may be limited by the limits of the province, but look abroad all over the continent, wherever the British flag floats, and let your motto be Canada first, Canada last, and Canada always.
Laurier and the Liberals won reelection handily over Robert Borden and the Conservatives when the vote as held on November 3, 1904.
Source: The Globe (Toronto), October 15, 1904
More information: The Canadian Encyclopedia: Sir Wilfrid Laurier: the Politics of Compromise
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons