Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XV
Quebec has its second thoughts about the war-- Ontario bas its second thoughts about Quebec--The fight over the schools and the Mlles. Desloges

BARELY a week after the redoubtable Royal 22d Regiment had led the way into Courcelette at the cost of a third of its fighting strength, Sir Wilfrid Laurier rose to speak to a recruiting rally of 15,000 in the Montreal suburb of Maisonneuve. He was seventy- four years old now and it was less than a year since he had collapsed halfway through his address at a similar rally in Ontario.

But now he spoke out strongly and clearly. If the special anguish with which he had been living since 1914 might have been detected behind the words he chose, there was no sign of it in his voice.

"There are people who say we will not fight for England; will you then fight for France? I speak to you of French origin. If I were young like you and had the same health that I enjoy today, I would join those brave Canadians fighting today for the liberation of French territory. I would not have it said that the French Canadians do less for the liberation of France than the citizens of British origin. For my part I want to fight for England and also for France. To those who do not want to fight either for England or for France I say: Will you fight for yourselves?"

It was not among the old statesman's most eloquent speeches and certainly it was not among the most effective. At the most it could be said that his compatriots would still come to hear him and that they were still willing to hear him out. But it was too late for them to heed him, just as it was far, far too late--at least a hundred years too late, in his proud and lonely view--for him to say the things they would have heeded. They would have listened to a direct appeal to blood and race and the prejudice and animosities built into their past; this he would not utter.

-126-

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