On this date in 1923 Vancouver was abuzz as U.S. President Warren Harding arrived in the city. Thousands upon thousands turned out to greet the man from small-town Ohio as he became the first American President to make an official visit to Canada.
He arrived by ship after a punishing tour across America and a voyage to Alaska. The President, already in poor health, still summoned the energy to deliver three speeches in Vancouver, attend an official luncheon and dinner and play a short round of golf while in the city. At Stanley Park, upwards of 40,000 people gathered to hear Harding speak that historic day.
He departed by ship late that evening, sailing into history. Only a few days after his trip to Canada, President Harding died in San Francisco. His entire nation was plunged into mourning.
Canadians mourned as well. Back in Vancouver, the Kiwanis Club led the efforts to ensure the first-ever Presidential visit to Canada would be remembered always. So today, in Stanley Park, the Warren Harding Memorial still stands, a permanent tribute to Harding and to Canadian-American relations.
You will find the speech President Harding delivered at Stanley Park below. Also, here is a very brief black-and white video of the Harding Memorial’s unveiling in Vancouver.
Citizens of Canada: I may as well confess to you at the outset a certain perplexity as to how I should address you. The truth of the matter is that this is the first time I have ever spoken as President in any country other than my own.
Indeed, so far as I can recall, I am, with the single exception of my immediate predecessor (Woodrow Wilson), the first President in office even to set foot on a politically-foreign soil. True, there is no definite inhibition upon one doing so, such as prevents any but a natural born citizen from becoming President, but an early prepossession soon developed into a tradition and for more than a hundred years held the effect of unwritten law. I am not prepared to say that the custom was not desirable, perhaps even needful, in the early days, when time was the chief requisite of travel. Assuredly, too, at present, the Chief Magistrate of a great Republic ought not to cultivate the habit or make a hobby of wandering over all the continents of the earth.
But exceptions are required to prove rules. And Canada is an exception, a most notable exception, from every viewpoint of the United States. You are not only our neighbour, but a very good neighbour, and we rejoice in your advancement.
I need not depict the points of similarity that make this attitude of the one toward the other irresistible. We think the same thoughts, live the same lives and cherish the same aspirations of service to each other in times of need. Thousands of your brave lads perished in gallant and generous action for the preservation of our Union.
Many of our young men followed Canadian colours to the battlefields of France before we entered the war and left their proportion of killed to share the graves of your intrepid sons. This statement is brought very intimately home to me, for one of the brave lads in my own newspaper office (Harding owned the Marion, Ohio Star) felt the call of service to the colours of the sons of Canada. He went to the front, and gave his life with your boys for the preservation of the American and Canadian concept of civilization. [Applause.]
When my mind reverts and my heart beats low to recollection of those faithful and noble companionships, I may not address you, to be sure, as “fellow citizens,” as I am accustomed to designate assemblages at home, but I may and do, with respect and pride, salute you as ”fellow men,” in mutual striving for common good.
What an object lesson of peace is shown today by our two countries to all the world! [Applause.] No grim-faced fortifications mark our frontiers, no huge battleships patrol our dividing waters, no stealthy spies lurk in our tranquil border hamlets. Only a scrap of paper, recording hardly more than a simple understanding, safeguards lives and properties on the Great Lakes, and only humble mile-posts mark the inviolable boundary line for thousands of miles through farm and forest.
Our protection is in our fraternity, our armor is our faith; the tie that binds more firmly year by year is ever-increasing acquaintance and comradeship through interchange of citizens; and the compact is not of perishable parchment, but of fair and honourable dealing which, God grant, shall continue for all time. [Applause.]
An interesting and significant symptom of our growing mutuality appears in the fact that the voluntary inter-change of residents to which I have referred, is wholly free from restrictions. Our National and industrial exigencies have made it necessary for us, greatly to our regret, to fix limits to immigration from foreign countries. But there is no quota for Canada. [Applause.] We gladly welcome all of your sturdy, steady stock who care to come, as a strengthening ingredient and influence. We none the less bid Godspeed and happy days to the thousands of our own folk, who are swarming constantly over your land and participating in its remarkable development. [Applause.]
Wherever in either of our countries any inhabitant of the one or the other can best serve the interests of himself and his family is the place for him to be. [Applause.] A further evidence of our increasing interdependence appears in the shifting of capital. Since the armistice, I am informed, approximately $2,500,000,000 has found its way from the United States into Canada for investment.
That is a huge sum of money, and I have no doubt is employed safely for us and helpfully for you. Most gratifying to you, moreover, should be the circumstance that one-half of that great sum has gone for purchase of your state and municipal bonds, — a tribute, indeed, to the scrupulous maintenance of your credit, to a degree equalled only by your mother country across the sea and your sister country across the hardly visible border. [Applause.]
These are simple facts which quickly resolve into history for guidance of mankind in the seeking of human happiness. “History, history!” ejaculated Lord Overton to his old friend, Lindsay, himself an historian; “what is the use of history? It only keeps people apart by reviving recollections of enmity.”
As we look forth today upon the nations of Europe, with their armed camps of nearly a million more men in 1923 than in 1913, we cannot deny the grain of truth in this observation. But not so here! A hundred years of tranquil relationships, throughout vicissitudes which elsewhere would have evoked armed conflict rather than arbitration, affords, truly declared James Bryce, “the finest example ever seen in history of an undefended frontier, whose very absence of armaments itself helped to prevent hostile demonstrations;” thus proving beyond question that “peace can always be kept, whatever be the grounds of controversy, between peoples that wish to keep it.” [Applause.]
There is a great and highly pertinent truth, my friends, in that simple assertion. It is public will, not public force, that makes for enduring peace. And is it not a gratifying circumstance that it has fallen to the lot of us North Americans, living amicably for more than a century, under different flags, to present the most striking example yet produced of that basic fact?
If only European countries would heed the lesson conveyed by Canada and the United States, they would strike at the root of their own continuing disagreements and, in their own prosperity, forget to inveigh constantly at ours. [Applause.]
Not that we would reproach them for resentment or envy, which after all is but a manifestation of human nature. Rather should we sympathize with their seeming inability to break the shackles of age-long methods, and rejoice in our own relative freedom from the stultifying effect of Old World customs and practices.
Our natural advantages are manifold and obvious. We are not palsied by the habits of a thousand years. We live in the power and glory of youth. Others derive justifiable satisfaction from contemplation of their resplendent pasts. We have relatively only our present to regard, and that, with eager eyes fixed chiefly and confidently upon our future.
Therein lies our best estate. We profit both mentally and materially from the fact that we have no “departed greatness” to recover, no “lost provinces” to regain, no new territory to covet, no ancient grudges to gnaw eternally at the heart of our National consciousness. Not only are we happily exempt from these handicaps of vengeance and prejudice, but we are animated correspondingly and most helpfully by our better knowledge, derived from longer experience, of the blessings of liberty. [Applause.]
These advantages we may not appreciate to the full at all times, but we know that we possess them, and the day is far distant when, if ever, we shall fail to cherish and defend them against any conceivable assault from without or from within our borders. [Applause.]
I find that, quite unconsciously, I am speaking of our two countries almost in the singular when perhaps I should be more painstaking to keep them where they belong, in the plural. But I feel no need to apologize. You understand as well as I that I speak in no political sense. The ancient bugaboo of the United States scheming to annex Canada disappeared from all our minds years and years ago. [Applause.] Heaven knows we have all we can manage now, and room enough to spare for another hundred millions, before approaching the intensive stage of existence of many European states.
And if I might be so bold as to offer a word of advice to you, it would be this: Do not encourage any enterprise looking to Canada’s annexation of the United States. [Laughter.] You are one of the most capable governing peoples in the world, but I entreat you, for your own sakes, to think twice before undertaking management of the territory which lies between the Great Lakes and the Rio Grande. [Laughter and applause.]
No, let us go our own gaits along parallel roads, you helping us and we helping you. [Applause.] So long as each country maintains its independence, and both recognize their interdependence, those paths cannot fail to be highways of progress and prosperity. Nationality continues to be a supreme factor in modern existence; make no mistake about that; but the day of the Chinese wall, inclosing a hermit nation, has passed forever. Even though space itself were not in process of annihilation by airplane, submarine, wireless and broadcasting, our very propinquity enjoins that most effective cooperation which comes only from clasping of hands in true faith and good fellowship. [Applause.]
It is in precisely that spirit, men and women of Canada, that I have stopped on my way home from a visit to our pioneers in Alaska to make a passing call upon my very good neighbor of the fascinating Iroquois name, ”Kanada,” to whom, glorious in her youth and strength and beauty, on behalf of my own beloved country, I stretch forth both my arms in the most cordial fraternal greeting, with gratefulness for your splendid welcome in my heart, and from my lips the whispered prayer of our famed Rip Van Winkle: “May you all live long and prosper!” [Great applause.]
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.