Canada's Fate: Principal Grant, Sir George Parkin and George Grant

By Christian, William | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Canada's Fate: Principal Grant, Sir George Parkin and George Grant


Christian, William, Journal of Canadian Studies


In Lament for a Nation (1965), George Parkin Grant says that his lament for the disappearance of Canada as a sovereign country was "a celebration of memory," in particular "the memory of that tenous hope that was the principle of my ancestors." This essay examines this claim in relation to the political ideas of Grant's grandfathers, Principal G.M. Grant of Queen's University and Sir George Parkin, Secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships. Both were strongly committed to the ideal of imperial federation and believed that continued association with the British Empire was key to Canada's survival as a nation in North America. The connection between the thought of Parkin and G.M. Grant is more clear if we examine Grant's early work The Empire: Yes or No? (1945).

Dans Lament for a Nation, George Grant affirme que ses tribulations pour la disparition du Canada en tant que pays souverain etait une << celebration de souvenir >> plus particulierement du << souvenir de cet espoir precaire qui etait le principe de mes ancetres >>. Get article est une interpretation de ces mots bases sur un examen des idees politiques des Brands-peres de Grant, le Principal Grant de << Queen's >> et Sir George Parkin, Secretaire des bourses de Rhodes. Les deux hommes ont ete fortement devoues a l'ideal de la federation imperiale et ils ont cru que l'association continue avec l'empire britannique etait necessaire a la survie du Canada en tant que nation en Amerique du Nord. Le lien entre la pens&ee de Parkin et celle de G.M. Grant est plus evident si nous examinons les premiers travaux de Grant (1945) The Empire: Yes or No?

Shortly after the publication of Lament for a Nation, Farley Mowat wrote to its author, George Parkin Grant to praise his work: "I have never before read, and never expect to read, a more succinct, accurate and damning appraisal of the Canadian decline. It is a veritable masterpiece; and I find it a bitter thought that it should have come too late to make any difference.... I seldom hand out accolades to my fellow writers. I am too egocentric for that sort of generosity. In your case I make an exception" (Letter).

Lament is now generally recognized as a masterpiece, but even many of us who admire it take issue with some of Grant's observations. For example, John Ralston

Saul writes in Reflections of a Siamese Twin,

even George Grant.... continually fell back on the assertion that the Canadian idea of the common good stood in opposition to American liberalism and was born of a certain "tradition of British conservatism." Actually the Canadian reform movements of the 1820s to 1840s came out of local rural conditions and the developments of a local idea of moderate reform.... There wasn't a shred of British tradition in this evolution and most certainly not of British Conservative tradition. (109-110)

This essay will show that, at the very least, Grant's understanding of Canada drew on both Canadian and British inspirations and that those inspirations were incarnate in his grandfathers. For my text I take the short passage from Lament for a Nation in which Grant declared that his lament for the disappearance of Canada was a "celebration of memory; in this case, the memory of that tenuous hope that was the principle of my ancestors" (26).

George Monro Grant

G.M. Grant, Grant's paternal grandfather, was born in Nova Scotia on 22 December 1831, the first son of James Grant and Mary Monro Grant of Albion Mines, two miles from New Glasgow. James was "a kindly neighbour and an honest, God-fearing man" who had emigrated from Scotland in his twenties to make his fortune (Grant and Hamilton 6). He farmed, taught school, did simple legal work and served as an auctioneer.

With the help of a scholarship, his son set off for Glasgow in 1853 to study theology. In 1861 he returned to Nova Scotia, and then went to Prince Edward Island before he was called to succeed Rev John Scott as minister of St Matthew's Church in Halifax in December 1862.

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