Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Undiplomatic Diaries: 1937-1971

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Undiplomatic Diaries: 1937-1971

Article excerpt

Charles Ritchie, Undiplomatic Diaries: 1937-1971 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2008), 608pp. Paper. $24.99. ISBN 978-0-7710-7538-4.

These diaries are not new, having originally been published in three volumes during the 1970s and 1980s, but republication in a single paperback volume makes a wonderful series of writings much more accessible.

Charles Ritchie was one of the brilliant coterie of Canadian civil servants who were at the peak of their powers between the 1930s and the 1970s. Ritchie, who came from an old conservative Nova Scotian family, joined External Affairs when Bennett was premier and ended with Trudeau, spending most of his career outside Canada, including postings as High Commissioner to London, and Ambassador to the United States, the United Nations, NATO and Germany. He actively sought foreign postings and warded off opportunities to take over the running of the department. The published diaries have little on detailed policy, but provide brilliant observations on a wide range of people and places. Ritchie, as Allan Gotlieb points out in his introduction, was able from early in his career to penetrate the precincts of higher culture. His erudition, wit and sheer panache, even when a relatively junior official, gave him access to a remarkably wide range of people. He is extremely good at evoking atmosphere. London in the month or so before war and during the blitz is particularly good (and the extent of fear and pessimism in the early stages of the conflict is made clear). He paints a vivid picture of liberated Paris in January 1945, the boulevards deserted, and people freezing and near starvation amid shops stocked with brilliantly displayed jewels, furs and clothes. Four months later he is in San Francisco for the UN meetings, and after nearly six years of wartime Europe the city's colour, glamour and plenty was in stark contrast. …

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