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One: My West

Personalities and Events

Western Canada is many things to all of us who live here; one is a strong sense of regional cohesion. This sense was reinforced while my family and I were driving from Winnipeg to Edmonton on the night the tornado hit Edmonton in mid-summer 1987. At a hospital in Saskatoon, where we stopped because of a childís worsening earache, the regional sense of the calamity was striking. The admissions officer, who was originally from Edmonton, the attending doctor, who had relatives in the Alberta capital, and others seemed as concerned as we were about what had struck a city four hours away by car.

Another is a strong conviction that our region is essential to the Canadian character. More than any other section of the country, we believe ours has fostered democracy and the democratization of our national and provincial institutions, a pluralistic society in which no cultural background is given preference, the right to oppose and dissent peacefully, and the opportunity for all to work directly to secure economic, social and other rights. The western and northern frontiers have long offered a new beginning for people from every corner of the country and world. In short, Western Canada, like the American West in the thesis of the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, explains much of Canadian development.

Mostly, of course, Western Canada is people and their relationships. One can speak of the great contributions and the tremendous potential offered by the interaction of the many ethnic groups peopling the West, a subject dealt with later in this book. But equally important to the West that I know are the individuals, their interrelationships, and the tremendous diversity of their experiences and perspectives.

Edmontonian David Bai, an anthropology professor at the University of Alberta, is one manifestation of that diversity. He was born in Chong-Ju, south of Seoul, South Korea, and studied philosophy and mathematics at Seoul National University before moving to Iowa and eventually to Edmonton, where in 1971 he obtained the first doctorate in anthropology awarded by the University of Alberta. He has a strong sense of the importance of community to the vitality and success of the West. In the face of an inhospitable climate, he states, "it was through much community effort that agriculture became successful. With the increase in capital after World War II, mechanization began to ease some of the hardships of prairie farmers, at a cost, however, of the dissolution of the rural community."

In Baiís view, most Albertans seem to want an administrative-minded government which will provide a stewardship function and tend to everyone fairly. In his opinion, the two-party system is more an Eastern Canadian phenomenon with its concomitant notion of corruption. In the West, many people view government as being a one-party system. Premiers Aberhart, Manning and Lougheed are thus all part of the habit of Albertans to coalesce around one political team on voting days.

He was particularly struck by the hospitality and openness of Albertans and our belief in free spirits and entrepreneurship. This mentality seemed to clash with a basic conservatism in Central Canada. The dominant western mood also matched the boom-and-bust nature of our resource-based economy.

Regional alienation is a growing rather than declining phenomenon now in Baiís view because most Westerners see our national institutions and policies as being fundamentally insensitive to our regional aspirations. Western Canada now occupies to him a psychological place in the nation similar to that of Quebec during the mid-1960ís. Quebeckers over two decades fought and won respect from the rest of the country. Westerners, he believes, must now in turn do the same thing.

The unique feature of the Prairies to Bai is the truly international nature of our communities. Westerners, he thinks, do not accept a "British, French and other" concept of multiculturalism. Instead, we see all of us standing together in a unique society. National institutions such as the Canada Council and the CBC must become more fully reflective of this reality in the four western and other provinces. Federal officials who still talk primarily about bilingualism and biculturalism miss this basic western reality. Bai worries that the concept of Quebec as a distinct society created by the Meech Lake agreement could become a major national problem. "If we fall back into Ďdeux nationsí thinking again, the West could eventually secede."

Saskatchewan resident Procter Girard, though born in Montreal, is the quintessential prairie Canadian. During World War II, when his father was killed in an aircraft accident while on a training flight with the RCAF, his mother returned with Procter to her parentsí home in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. In 1948 her father, Arthur Procter, who was a colourful figure in the provincial legislature, took a new appointment as a judge in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in Regina, and she then settled with young Procter in Moose Jaw.

Procter subsequently attended high school at St. Johnís Ravens-court in Winnipeg, where we became classmates and later roommates. The headmaster, Dick Gordon, was enthusiastic about Procterís abilities and, at the request of his mother and grandfather, served as his surrogate father during his seven years at the school. Procter responded by graduating from St. Johnís Ravenscourt with its highest honours.

Like many others of his age, Procter began a difficult period in deciding what he wanted to do with his life. The ensuing years included a term in forestry at the University of British Columbia, a BA in English from the University of Saskatchewan and a period of teaching English, Latin and football at St. Johnís Ravenscourt. These endeavours were followed by stints with the Saskatchewan Power Corporation and in the oilfields in southern Saskatchewan. After several years of uncertainty, Procter resolved to become a physician, and entered pre-medicine in 1969. Seven long years later he began his medical practice, and a decade after that he and a colleague opened their own clinic in Regina.

He believes the small-town atmosphere he grew up in was one of "pitch in and helpí, communal values at a grass roots level and kinship with community and our friends. This is what fires our success. I think generally Westerners have a non-judgemental Ďcan doí attitude. Perhaps Easterners think us naive. We may be unsophisticated, but we are not naive. Recently, to support a Regina girl with terminal cystic fibrosis, this province raised $120,000 in an impromptu weekend radio campaign in two days! People I know here who have money and success could move but they love it here. Oh, they go to Hawaii, etc..., but they basically like Saskatchewan!" What he says probably applies equally well to all communities in Western Canada.

Peter St. John and Barbara Huck, both happily married for a second time, are representative in many ways of the current generation of Winnipeggers. Peter, born in Victoria in 1938 of English parents and raised in Peachland in the Okanagan, describes himself as "growing more and more Western" in his outlook. He recalls from his British boarding school days the English schoolboy disdain for the "little colonial," an attitude which brought him back to this country a defiant Canadian at 18. Today, with a doctorate in international relations from the University of London, he has felt his sense of western identity deepen because of Central Canadian insensitivity towards the West.

Barbara was born in "pre-oil" Edmonton of parents who came West from Ontario, and she spent much of her youth in Regina, Saskatchewan, where her father, David Albertson, was for a time the only neurosurgeon in Saskatchewan. After studies at the University of Manitoba and a first marriage which ended in divorce in 1975, Barbara settled in Winnipeg with her four children and plunged into two full-time jobs: sports reporting for The Winnipeg Free Press and sports commentating for CBC Radio. In 1981, she became the first woman to win a National Newspaper Award for Sportswriting and in 1986 was named professional woman of the year in Manitoba. By 1987 she was looking for broader horizons, and she is now a full-time freelance writer.

Peter values the tolerance and moderation of Winnipeggers, "the last reasonable people in Canada," which he contrasts to "the strong British Columbian antipathy towards Ottawa, the extremism of some Albertans and the unbelievable smugness of Ontarians." Echoing historian Donald Creighton, he thinks Central Canadians believe that beyond the borders of Ontario and Quebec, Canada slopes gently to the seas, populated by half-fabulous creatures called Westerners and Easterners.

Barbara especially likes the stability of Winnipeg for raising children, the easy access to world-class ballet and top-flight sports facilities and the relative freedom from such problems as drug pressure on adolescents. "One can strive for excellence here as well as anywhere, but Iím not sure that is widely recognized," she says. "In the United States, thereís a feeling one can achieve things virtually anywhere in the country; thereís a world-class medical centre in small-town Minnesota, for instance, and a national centre of litigation in rural Tennessee. But in Canada, thereís far too often a feeling that good work can only be done in Toronto and Montreal and thatís completely counterproductive. Winnipeg is in fact a lot closer to the rest of the country than Toronto is."

Leo Mol is an artistic colossus of both Manitoba and Western Canada who now enjoys world-wide recognition as a sculptor. His major bronzes over three decades include sculptures of Queen Elizabeth, located in Winnipeg, John Diefenbaker on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko in Washington, D.C. and Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II in the Vatican.

How he got to Winnipeg from a small village in Ukraine, where he worked with his father as a potter, is an odyssey of Homeric proportions. In 1930, when he was fifteen, his parents finally accepted his passion for painting and permitted him to go to Vienna. Supporting himself there with odd jobs such as painting and cleaning houses, he took evening classes in both sculpting and painting. In the mid-l930ís he moved to Berlin because he was told that in Europe only there one could find commissions and a reputation. Just as his work was beginning to sell reasonably well, Hitlerís war began. Mol, even as a Slav living in the bosom of the Third Reich, managed to survive from his sculpting and to marry Margureth in 1943. When Soviet troops approached Berlin in the spring of 1945, the couple quickly joined the stream of refugees going West. In a refugee camp in Holland, he prospered making ceramic figurines and found enough leisure time both to sketch and to return to the sculpting medium he loved. He also learned the craft of stained-glass making, which would later win him prominence in Canada. The four years in Holland, as he later noted, was "a period of light, both spiritually and physically."

Friends in Western Canada urged them to come there, stressing that the region contained many Ukrainians. Margurethís English was good, so together they chose Canada. They reached a friendís farm near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, by train on a cold New Yearís Eve, 1949. The celebration of the Ukrainian Christmas on January 7th and warm community spirit made the bewildered couple feel very welcome, but Leo realized immediately that he must find artistic work. Leaving Margureth behind, he set out for to Winnipeg as the closest big city. He recalls: "It was a strange feeling stepping off the train and walking along Main Street. I could speak no English and I knew nobody. I explored the city until I came upon a church supply store." The owner hired him to do life-sized paintings of the Virgin Mary; he worked there for the next two years after Margureth joined him. He decorated numerous churches in Winnipeg and around the province while Margureth earned a teaching certificate from the Winnipeg Normal School and began to teach.

After a period making figurines on such local themes as square dancers and the Inuit, in the early 1950ís Mol returned to bronze, producing dozens of small nudes and many examples of his real love, portraits. He also did a number of marble and limestone carvings in this period. In 1962, he won a world-wide competition to sculpt a large monument of one of his heroes, the Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko. More than a hundred thousand people attended its unveiling in the American capital. He also completed a full length portrait of the Manitoba bush pilot, Tom Lamb, in 1974, one cast of which now stands in the Edmonton Municipal Airport. In 1980, his first major commission in Canada itself was a bronze of a father, mother and two children arriving from the Western Ukraine, which is now located at the Ukrainian Heritage Village near Edmonton. During 1987, his large bronze of John Diefenbaker, another of his heroes, was unveiled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The Mols today are committed to both Winnipeg and Western Canada. Leo once told my father that after all his meanderings he needed, as an artist, to plant deep roots somewhere and to move no more. He chose Winnipeg.

Edmonton area resident Judith Kovacs, blonde, athletic and beautiful, was raised in Budapest, Hungary, and qualified as a dentist there in 1970. She accepted a dental position in a community of 35,000 in eastern Hungary where she met her future husband, Kalman Kovacs, after his presentation of a public lecture on music.

Kalman had grown up in eastern Hungary. His father, Jozsef, was removed from his job as a forester after being found "guilty" by a Communist court of giving some of his own wood to a local Catholic church for the building of a cross. During the national uprising in 1956, he was elected head of the provincial forest service, but was later removed by the government. Kalman showed musical talent at an early age and was allowed to study at the conservatory in nearby Debrecen. He became a teacher in Berettyoujfalu, 20 miles away from where Judith worked, and later principal of the school. During the two years before he and Judith fled Hungary, he was superintendent of all music schools in the province.

Kalman and Judith had remained single knowing that marriage would make it forever impossible to obtain visas to leave Hungary simultaneously. After applying separately, Judith finally received one to visit her brother in the U.S. and Kalman got one to go to Vienna on a holiday. Not even telling their families about their plan, both left. They met in Yugoslavia and drove to Vienna for a monthís visit. The weeks spent as tourists in Vienna settled the matter. Both had been taught that there were no medical, pension or other social programs in the West, which they soon realized was false. They had been raised in religious families and the care shown by some evangelical missionaries in Vienna also became a positive factor in choosing a new life in the West.

When the month was up, they reported to the Vienna police seeking refugee status and were soon en route to the United Nations-run Traiskrchen refugee camp. There they were fingerprinted and photographed, and Kalman spent the next ten days in custody being investigated by Austrian police. Although they were both approved as refugees and found work in Austria, they were uneasy about their continuing proximity to the Eastern bloc.

In October of 1974, they were called to the Canadian embassy in Vienna concerning their earlier application to immigrate. They accepted an offer to move to Edmonton, although a Canadian Immigration official predicted correctly that both would have trouble with professional accreditation in Alberta. He nonetheless recommended Edmonton because our economy was then doing well and because it had an active Hungarian community. They landed at the Edmonton International airport on May 23, 1975, speaking virtually no English.

The immigration official had sent a note privately to my wife Laura, indicating that the Kovacs were coming, and we soon made contact. Both of them did meet severe difficulty in practising their professions. Judith, pregnant with their first child, narrowly missed passing a series of examinations in English, which, even if she had successfully completed them, would only have entitled her to enter the second year school of dentistry at the University of Alberta. For eleven years, Kalman supported Judith and their four children by up to 40 hours weekly of private music teaching. He became an elder and music director in an Edmonton church. All four children now speak Hungarian and English. The three oldest, Katherine, Gregory and Christina, are in a French immersion program and are already virtually fluent in three languages. Two years ago, Kalman was invited to join a life insurance company as a sales representative in Edmonton and has done well there since his first month. He maintains his love for music as a hobby.

Hilary and Patrick Oswald of Vancouver are old friends. She was born in Dublin, Ireland during World War II. Growing up in a small Anglo-Irish enclave, she encountered no friction with Roman Catholics and her parents instilled no negative feelings about Catholicism in her. She recalls, however, a Protestant minister in Dublin cautioning her as a thirteen-year-old, "Donít bat your eyes at Catholic boys because if you marry one your children will be Catholics."

After high school, Hilary took a one-year secretarial course so as to have a "fall-back skill" and then pursued her love of horses at Dublinís famous Lt. Col. J. Hume-Dudgeonís Burton Hall Riding School. At 19, Hilary became First Whipper-in to the North Tipperary Foxhounds, a hunt south of Dublin. This meant that she was responsible for the hounds during regular live fox hunts.

In 1963, a Dublin friend just returned from a visit to British Columbia told her that the region was full of "tundra, wheat and people who know nothing of horses or fox hunting." Hilary was interested nonetheless and was soon on her way to becoming an assistant to Jean Dunbar of Victoria, who was training for the three-day equestrian event in the 1964 Summer Olympics. She enjoyed life with the Dunbars on Vancouver Island, but after 15 months returned to Dublin to complete her British Horse Society exams. While there, she received an offer from the Southlands Riding and Polo Club located on the flats beside the Fraser delta in south Vancouver to teach riding to younger members. "They imported me essentially for an air fare," she muses.

Six years later, she was teaching two hundred pupils and had been appointed Sports Director of the club. She and I met in 1966 and became engaged in 1968, but the romance did not survive a lengthy 3,000 mile separation. As an unemployed and defeated candidate for Parliament with election debts after the 1968 federal election, I accepted an offer to join the Justice Department in Ottawa. Hilary later married Patrick Oswald and is now the General Manager of the club. She began a disabled riding program which is available to anyone who can sit on a horse and has included blind, deaf and paraplegic riders.

Now a Canadian citizen, she thinks of herself as a Canadian first and British Columbian second. She values the lack of rigid conventions in Vancouver. "You can be what you want to be here. There is a niche for everyone." The physical beauty and climate of the province remind her a little of Ireland, although there are in British Columbia "more heat, more mountains and more potential prosperity." The province, she feels, tends to be toward the bottom of the barrel from Ottawaís point of view, but she empathizes especially with Atlantic Canadians for having an even worse position. In the horse world, she notes, international riders usually appear only in Toronto. Calgaryís Spruce Meadows riding centre, she says, has been an enormous boost to Western Canadian riding generally.

Patrick, born in England, came to Canada to graduate in 1958 from Montrealís McGill University where his grandmother had taught Latin and Greek two generations earlier. Two years later, he moved to Vancouver as a manager with a paint company. Later, he became Master of the foxhounds at the Fraser Valley Hunt, but riding accidents were sufficiently hard on him that he later switched to sailing. He worked his way through numerous positions up to commodore of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club in 1985. In his year the clubhouse figures moved into the black and he worked to develop racing by young people. He now works with the Vancouver region United Way which in 1987 raised $11.8 million for 86 agencies in eighteen lower mainland municipalities. This developed Out of fund-raising he had done to establish the Western Institute for the Deaf in Vancouver.

Oswald clearly loves Vancouver and western life. Although research director for the British Columbia Liberal party in the mid-1960ís, he strongly favours the proposed bilateral trade agreement with the United States. He thinks most Vancouverites do as well. He is proud of being a Westerner and like many British Columbians feels genuinely sorry for Central Canadians. "Here," he says, "you donít have to wait your turn."

Robert Engleís family were seventh-generation Yankees from New England and Pennsylvania who eventually moved west to Washington State. His maternal grandfather became a storekeeper on the Chilcoot Trail during the Klondike gold rush and his mother, now 91 and living in Santa Barbara, California, spent her school days in Dawson City. Bob, his brother and sister all went to school in Seattle, but he was sent off in his final high school year to Phillips-Exeter Academy in New England, and was admitted to Yale University in 1942. He soon withdrew for active naval service on a destroyer during the war, and upon discharge joined the largest freshman class (I ,200) in Yale history in 1946 and graduated with a BSc degree in 1950.

A love of aviation drove him to seek a pilotís licence and in 1956 he made a personal survey of the Canadian North and Alaska in his Cessna 180 float plane to determine where he might best hang out his airline shingle. He concluded that the pioneer town of Yellowknife was the best location and settled there in 1958, becoming a Canadian citizen in the early 1960ís. His first job was as a contract pilot for Max Ward of Wardair to fly a McGill University expedition to the High Arctic with his own DeHavilland Beaver. Until 1961, he cut his teeth in a single engine Otter and a twin engine Bristol Freighter flying for Ward throughout the North. When Ward left in 1961, Engle founded Northwest Territorial Airways. Today, he pays highest tribute to Wardairís founder, believing him to be the most astute individual he has ever met in Canadian aviation. "His ability to anticipate social, political and equipment changes is excellent." Engle still recalls the senior aviatorís parting words to him when he left the North, "I wish you the best. In my judgment, the next decade will not be supportive to aviation in the North."

Wardís words proved prophetic indeed, because the Air Transport Committee of Ottawaís former Canadian Transport Commission made it as difficult as it could for Northwest Territorial to enter different routes in order to protect existing established carriers like Air Canada, Canadian Pacific, Pacific Western and Nordair. It took him three applications, two public hearings and seven years to win the right in 1975 to fly the Hercules which is now an essential supplier to many isolated northern communities across the North. He was required to attend so many public hearings over the years, usually without success, that he accepts a quip of the late Justice William Morrow: "Youíve had one of the most expensive legal educations I know." It was only his deep love of aviation, he maintains, that gave him the will to persevere.

Northwest Territorial began in 1961 as an all-charter line with a single Otter aircraft and Engle as its only pilot. In 12,000 hours of Arctic flying he never had an accident. By 1969, his company was flying scheduled routes from Yellowknife to Coppermine. It required another twelve years to persuade the Air Transport Committee to allow it to fly regularly from Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Winnipeg, and another five years to win the right to fly on a scheduled basis between Edmonton and Yellowknife. In 1983, Northwest established an overnight freight carrier service across Canada. Today, it has two hundred full-time employees, including forty pilots and eleven aircraft, and carries 75,000 passengers yearly with annual revenues of $40 million. An affiliated company, Northwest Transport Ltd., provides highway transport and intermodal truck and air cargo from Edmonton throughout the Western Arctic.

Northwest Territorial Airways was recently sold to Air Canada with the understanding that Engle would remain its chief executive officer for at least three years. He feels responsible to his employees, to the North, to the level of service he has established, and to the continued growth of the airline. He sold out because he thinks it is now essential for the airline to be an alliance carrier with Air Canada. He became 65 years old in 1988 and clearly misses his family who live much of the year 2,500 miles away in California. He sees himself in the same light as a sea captain who comes home whenever his work allows him to.

His thoughts on the West and North as a Canadian by choice are interesting. American Westerners no longer feel isolated, he says, except possibly Alaskans, because all regions of a large, essentially homogeneous nation are now developed. Professional services thus tend to be equally good in every corner of America, whereas from Northern Canada he still does his banking and legal work in Toronto. He recalls that as recently as the 1950ís residents of the eastern Northwest Territories were unable to vote in federal elections because there was no system in place for distributing ballot boxes. He notes that in the Northwest Territories, comprising 1,300,000 square miles or one-third of the land mass of the entire country, "people have the least access to freeholdland." Virtually everything outside centres like Yellowknife is still federal Crown land.

Engle observes that aboriginal peoples in the North relate very closely to land because their security is based on it. The entire region has the flavour of the old West because of the mixture of native peoples and numerous newcomers, except that airplanes fill the role that railways once had in the southern frontier. Devolution is now moving briskly, he feels, with a fully-elected Northwest Territorial council now in place. Health care has already passed to the Territorial Government and he thinks justice may follow before long. The transfer of natural resources to the Territorial Government is essential in his view to provide a Territorial tax base; the two sides are beginning to talk about it. A good precedent here is the Beaufort Sea settlement which provided a resource base to natives. Most Northerners, in Engleís view, clearly want self-government and provincial status. They are therefore concerned about the implications for them of the Meech Lake Accord and some are concerned that the existing provinces could eventually extend their boundaries northward as has been done before. "Southern insensitivity to the North remains," he notes, calling on Northerners to "stand tall with their regional identity."

My own parents were both born in Manitoba: Mother in Winnipeg, Father in Brandon. Her grandparents, Daniel and Helen Macdonald, eloped from their parentsí homes on Prince Edward Island. He, later joined by her, came West through the United States because the CPR line was not yet completed. They settled in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, in 1883. Both believed correctly that the move would place them on the cutting edge of our national history, but they were dead wrong in supposing that Portage, today still only about 10,000 in population, would ever become a major city.

In 1906, the Macdonalds moved to Winnipeg when Daniel, despite being a quiet Conservative supporter (his wife Helen was much noisier about it), was appointed a Kingís Bench judge by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. Later Mackenzie King as prime minister promoted him to Chief Justice of the same Court. A family rumour persisted for years that he remained on the court until the year before his death in 1937 because there were then no pensions for judges and he badly needed the $4000 salary. Recently, I found an account of his career by a lawyer done shortly after his death in which Macdonald was quoted as saying, on reading a bill introduced in the mid-l930ís to retire judges at the age of seventy-five: "If this law passes, what shall I do? My work is my life." When he died, there was evidently a request to have his body made available for a public funeral, but his children refused, one saying rather oddly to a reporter, "He belonged to the public in life. Now he belongs to us."

Motherís father, William Russell, who died before I was born, joined the turn-of-the-century flood of young Ontarians bound for Winnipeg. He soon met and married Nan Macdonald. In 1906, they built a home on Kingsway Avenue in south Winnipeg, a few hundred paces from her own parentsí eventual home, and raised three daughters, Helen, Hester and Mary (my mother).

My fatherís father, James Frederick Kilgour, moved from Guelph, Ontario, to Brandon in 1901 to enter the bottom of the law firm which Clifford Sifton had founded and would soon abandon altogether in order to live grandly in Toronto. He married Geills McCrae, also of Guelph and a sister of the poet-physician John McCrae, and they returned to live in Brandon. During the 1911 national election, he as a strong Liberal campaigned hard in the Brandon area for Wilfrid Laurier and the proposed reciprocity treaty with the United States. In 1927, when he was appointed a judge of the Manitoba Kingís Bench court by Mackenzie King, the family of six moved to Winnipeg.

There were four Kilgour children. Margaret, the eldest, became a secretary to John W. Dafoe at The Winnipeg Free Press, helping to do editorials before moving to the United Kingdom when she married. Katharine graduated in arts at the University of Manitoba but also left Western Canada, to marry and live in Hamilton. My father, David, and his older brother, Jack, now a retired doctor, remained in the West.

Jack is now nearly eighty, but his recall of life in Brandon remains virtually total. He boarded in Brandon College for a year when the rest of his family moved to Winnipeg. The residence monitors, the late Tommy Douglas and Stanley Knowles, who shared a room directly below his own, would levy fifty-cent fines against anyone arriving back at the residence even seconds after the 10 PM curfew. A consequence of this practice was some considerable friction between them and my uncle.

During World War II, Mr. Douglas as premier of Saskatchewan visited Canadian troops in Belgium. At a mess luncheon, the distinguished visitor turned to the person in uniform beside him and said, "Colonel Kilgour, where are you from?"

"From the West and Brandon!"

"Your sister, Margaret, was a year ahead of me at Brandon College."

"Yes," he replied. "And! was the guy in the room above you who used to drop his boots on the floor."

My father, on graduating from the University of Manitoba in the worst Depression year, 1933, felt himself extremely fortunate to find a trainee position in the Great-West Life Assurance Company in Winnipeg. Mother worked as a reporter at The Winnipeg Free Press for a few years before "retiring" in the fashion of the day in her early twenties when she married in order to raise three children. To the extent that one can be objective about oneís home life, ours was clearly competitive, stimulating and demanding. We three children, Geills, Donald and myself, were expected to do everything well even if we had neither interest nor talent in a particular activity. Several strongly-held views shared by both of our parents added another dimension. Mother still believes that one is either a sucker, who faces everything dutifully, or a ducker, who abandons a fight when the going gets tough. Fatherís views, containing more half-tones, were sometimes more nuanced than motherís but he lived by his principles and faith. Above all, he believed in leadership and teaching by example rather than by words. Both Mother and Father encouraged us to develop a religious faith.

Fatherís work caused him to travel a great deal throughout Canada and the United States because approximately half of Great-Westís business was done in the U.S. Despite all his business travel, one of his favourite hobbies was duck-shooting and from the age of about nine I was often able to accompany him and others each fall, mostly by car, through what seemed like every town and village between Winnipeg and Grand Prairie, Alberta. We remembered many places by their proximity to good sloughs or to fields that held prairie chicken. During these outings, we met numerous farmers and discussed all manner of prairie matters. It was in a barley field in northern Alberta at the age of about seventeen that I began to question the sport. A family of five Canada geese flew directly into our decoys at dawn and our group of four hunters downed three of them. The remaining two then made a wide turn and to our utter astonishment returned to heroic and certain deaths. Never again did I want to shoot at a Canada goose and eventually gave up hunting altogether.

From the mid-1940ís to late 1950ís, a number of refugees, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, became nannies in our home. Most told me something of what they had experienced during and after the war and my strong aversion to all forms of totalitarianism began at an early age. To my motherís considerable chagrin, my ongoing tendency to side with employees against employers developed during these years as well.

When my father died of lung cancer in the spring of 1973, a national CBC radio broadcast by Susan Hoeschen of Winnipeg read in part as follows: "David Kilgour... established a reputation as a tough, independent businessman with a strong regard for the rights of Western Canada. Mr. Kilgour was head of the Westís largest life insurance companyÖ, the Great West Life..., which is centred in Winnipeg. During his career, he never shirked a clash with the government over economic policy or with business over the rights of Western Canadians."

My own affection and admiration for him grew continuously over the years except for the period between the ages of 16 and 21 when many children think they know more about everything than their parents do. He attracted people of all ages and backgrounds; children and adults alike could tell instantly that he liked them by the way he listened and spoke to them. If you did your best, and did it honourably, you kept his esteem; if you didnít, you could lose it-- at least temporarily. He was the finest human being I have known anywhere.

Growing up in Winnipegís south end in the 1940ís and 1950ís was to live on a rock of stability. At Grosvenor Public School, which my mother had attended a generation earlier, virtually every grade one to six student seemed to me to have two parents and at least one brother or sister. We all walked home for lunch because so few mothers then seemed to work. This prompted youthful disputes and on one occasion as a nine or ten-year-old I evidently protested that I just didnít have the energy to fight my way to and from school again.

My high school years spent at St. Johnís Ravenscourt independent school in the suburb of Fort Garry were a different experience. There were boarders and day boys -- girls were admitted only some years later-- and each community was understandably suspicious of the other. The boarders came from as far away as Vancouver Island and Inuvik, N.W.T. The schoolís antecedents in fact go as far back as 1820, when the Rev. John West opened a Protestant school in a log home in the Red River settlement. John and Vi Waudby arrived from London, England, in 1928, he to teach mathematics and Latin at a successor school to the one founded by West, St. Johnís. They had wanted to live abroad but under the British flag. In 1952, they moved to the amalgamated school. Teaching was always a high calling to both of them and never a mere job. They were a genuine Mr. and Mrs. Chips. Vi Waudby was a surrogate mother to every boarder who crossed her path. She loved us all openly; everyone knew it, and we loved her. All of us mourned the passing of both of them many years later.

Many of the other teachers were also dedicated and highly individualistic. Art Kroeger, currently Deputy Minister of Energy in Ottawa, flummoxed our entire French class one day by doing what no other teacher had ever dared to do: he simply walked out after announcing that we were unfit to teach. After moments of almost complete silence, most of us panicked, sending a small delegation of the most remorseful-looking pupils to urge him to return, promising, as he doubtless anticipated, to curb our unruly behaviour.

The headmaster, Richard Gordon, who like Kroeger was an Alberta Rhodes Scholar, during his twenty years at the school had an enormous influence on many of us. Though now dead, his influence continues in my own life because over the years I often find myself reacting to issues and people in the way I suppose he might have done. Father is probably the only other person who had a stronger influence. Mr. Gordon could see into our black hearts and stormy teenage moods at a glance. He also demanded from us at all times something most of us were otherwise very reluctant to provide: our best, whether in his English class, on a camping trip, or on the sports field. He saw the schoolís real job, as he said, "to set standards of work, conduct and morality and to help boys to attain those standards." He also taught tolerance, self-discipline, enthusiasm and good manners. By manners, he meant, in his words, "the enduring qualities of kindness, generosity, gentleness and self-sacrifice." Always optimistic and confident, Dick Gordon sought excellence in everything he encountered. He went to the Glenbow Foundation in Calgary after retiring from the school in 1969. Later he wrote a powerful and best-selling novel, The River Gets Wider, and another, The Jesus Boy, before dying in 1979 near Summerland, B.C.

Tom Bredin joined the school as a teacher after post-graduate work in history in Vienna, a period with the Winnipeg Rangers hockey team, and 13 operational missions as an aircraft navigator during World War II. He was the assistant headmaster and head of the history department for 25 full years. "The best decision I ever made at S.J.R. was to invite Tom Bredin to join the staff," admitted Gordon. Probably more than anyone at the school, he personified Western Canada. He once told a teacher freshly arrived from Britain that a unique North American culture had grown up different from any in the world. Cohn Kiddell, the confronted newcomer, says, "He never really defined it except in the way he lived.... He was direct, unambiguous, tough in body and mind, physically and morally courageous, deeply scholastic, superbly athletic and...romantic." It was characteristic of the Bredin grit that near the end of his life, as he fought cancer in order to continue teaching at the school, he was obliged to teach his beloved history standing because he was unable to sit and incapable of walking without great pain, even supported by two sticks.

Bredin was truly a paradox: tenacious and blunt, letting everyone know always where they stood with him, yet simultaneously gentle, sensitive and always on the side of the underdog. His passion for history inspired students to develop and maintain an interest in Canadian history. He managed to bring names in dusty books to life, and was the author of several books on Canadian history. The early explorers of North America gripped our youthful imaginations even if philosophy or business were not yet of much interest. Part of his real teaching skill was in presenting Canada whole. No region or community was put down. Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain were as much heroes to him as were Lord Selkirk and Gabriel Dumont. A strict Bredin teaching rule was to conceal his personal views on people and issues in the past unless pressed, so as not to unduly influence impressionable minds. When he died, a large part of the school died with him.

The individuals sketched above exhibit the strength, intelligence and confidence typical of those who commit their lives to the West. Such attributes have been essential in many instances, since Westerners have had to struggle for their successes against the indifference, insensitivity and outright resistance of the central governments which have formed, and still form, the backdrop against which we live our lives. Question a Manitoban, a British Columbian, or a resident of the Territories and you will probably hear a dozen instances in which hopes and aspirations were subordinated to those of someone in Central Canada. The unquenchable optimism, vigour and quiet satisfaction of todayís Westerners meet regularly with disappointment, hardship, and the need for sacrifice --just as they have for more than a hundred and fifty years.

A long list of regional grievances against Central Canada and the national government existed long before "western alienation" was coined to cover a cluster of issues in the 1970ís. Unhappiness with the political and economic realpolitik of Canada can even be traced back to the Selkirk settlers who first attempted to settle in the Prairies in 1812. The experience of western Indians and Mťtis is a less known part of the story here, but it has an important place. Farmers, consumers, business people, multicultural communities and virtually every other identifiable group of Westerners, including their provincial governments, have good reasons for concern about policy making in the heartland of the country. The Westís grievances are clearly deeper than economic discontent. They flare even in boom years, and stem probably less from economics than from a deeply-rooted sense of the regionís lack of political influence in Ottawa.

A young Quebec journalist, recently arrived from Quebec to live in Winnipeg, put the essence of the matter to me last summer, "I thought we lacked political clout in Quebec until! came to live in the West." A common quip in Vancouver catches the same point, "It is 3,000 miles from here to Ottawa and 30,000 miles from Ottawa to Vancouver." It is evident that many Westerners consider themselves to be treated as political and economic inferiors by our own national government and many of its agencies.

A Western Canadian conviction has persisted through the years that federal policies and practices have transferred opportunities, jobs, and people from their natural location in our region to Central Canada. The consensus continues that the decision-making system, regardless of the political party in power, routinely discriminates against Western Canada. To take a recent example, the Industrial Regional Development Program (IRDP) of the now-defunct Department of Regional Industrial Expansion spent during fiscal year 1986/87 a mere 9% of its funds in Western Canada, a region holding about 30% of the national population and approximately 400,000 unemployed Canadians for much of that period. For the same year, the federal departments of government together purchased only 11.5% of their goods and services in Western Canada. Telefilm, the national film production agency, financed 22 films two years ago of which only one was made outside the two central provinces. Radio Canada International, which broadcasts Canada to the world in 16 languages, has one freelance journalist working full-time to cover events from Vancouver to Winnipeg. In short, discrimination against more than seven million Western Canadians by unelected policy-makers in many parts of the national government is still practised as a matter of both habit and ongoing indifference. This sense of continuing regional subordination is central to any definition of Western alienation.

The first reported public opinion poll on western alienation, conducted among Albertans in 1969, indicated that 55-60% of Albertans agreed with the view that the federal government neglects the West and benefits Central Canada, often at the expense of Westerners. During the early 1980ís, four of every five Westerners agreed that the Canadian political system favours Central Canada to the detriment of the West. An opinion poll conducted shortly after the CF-18 contract was awarded by the Mulroney cabinet to Canadair of Montreal in the fall of 1986, notwithstanding a lower and technically superior bid by Bristol Aerospace of Winnipeg, demonstrated that fully 84% of Western Canadians believed the Mulroney Government plays regional favourites. The Prime Minister was genuinely surprised at the extent of the outrage. What he did not understand was that, having been abused by successive federal governments for generations and having largely placed their confidence in his team in the 1984 election, many Western Canadians naively expected that the bad old habits of Ottawa had finally left town. Roger Gibbins, a Calgary professor, noted in his discussion of western discontent that the election of a national Conservative government would in itself do little to reduce levels of western alienation unless that government were able to overcome the longstanding Western Canadian grievance. In that context, the CF- 18 matter will long stand as a symbol of political expediency, national unfairness and regional impotence in the minds of many Westerners.

According to the Angus Reid Poll taken almost on the eve of the 1988 federal election, 73% of Western Canadians believe their region has been shortchanged by the Conservative government, and at the same time more than two-thirds of us think the federal government continues to favour Quebec.

We Westerners have long objected to the metropolitan-hinterland assumptions of the National Policy, which were put in place by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1879 and applied by successive governments of differing political complexions down to the present day. Our region was clearly intended under the railway, immigration and homestead policies involved to be Central Canadaís colony. Westerners have asked for decades why there was never anything of real substance in the National Policy to strengthen the economies of Western and Atlantic Canada, Northern Ontario and non-metropolitan Quebec over the long term. Earlier on, Westerners protested high tariff and discriminatory transportation policies which caused the peripheral regions of the country to bear much of the cost of creating a diversified, stable and prosperous economy in metropolitan Central Canada.

In the 1970ís and 1980ís, tariffs have finally come down substantially in Canada as a consequence of the Tokyo and Kennedy rounds of the GATT multilateral trade negotiations. Systematic railway discrimination against the outer regions was removed by the Mulroney government in amendments to the National Transportation Act. Federal government procurement practices, regional development programs and the policies of a number of federal crown corporations have now moved to the first tier of sources of regional discontent.

William Morton, the Manitoba farm boy who became a major national historian, was probably our regionís most eloquent 20th-century voice of protest, partly because he had such a strong feeling for the uniqueness, diversity and integrity of Western Canada. He became in the 1940ís and 1950ís the western foil to Harold Innis and Donald Creighton, the leading Central Canadian academics on the National Policy. (Even Innis, however, once wrote: "Western Canada has paid for the development of Canadian nationality, and it would appear that it must continue to pay. The acquisitiveness of Eastern Canada shows little sign of abatement.") Morton did not quarrel with their view of the dynamics behind Confederation and 19th-century Canada, but he denounced vehemently the corollary that because of earlier patterns, Central Canadians could remain indifferent to regional justice in the twentieth century. One of his objections to imperialism from the centre was that it reduced the self-respect of those who live in the hinterlands. In 1946, he wrote, "Confederation was brought about to increase the wealth of Central Canada, and until that original purpose is altered, and the concentration of wealth and population by national policy in Central Canada ceases, Confederation must remain an instrument of injustice." By 1950, he was complaining that metropolitan controls were stronger and more centralized and that the parliamentary system was less responsible to regional pressures than is a congressional system. More positively, he wrote during the same year that "in a federal union of free citizens and equal communities, there must be such equality of economic opportunity and such equality of political status as human ingenuity may contrive and goodwill advance." This has been the cri de coeur of hinterland Canadians everywhere for many years. Malign indifference in Ottawa skyscrapers remains the major obstacle to reform.

It would be foolish to ignore those who want to strike out for nationhood for Western Canada. Opinion surveys have rarely put their numbers at more than 10%, but if aroused sufficiently 10% of 7.2 million Western Canadians might transform themselves into a major political force. Nor is this a new phenomenon. Even in 1925, John Dafoe, editor of The Winnipeg Free Press, confessed to the paperís owner, Clifford Sifton, that "there is more secession sentiment throughout the West than I would care to admit."

It is clear that if the longitudinal centre of Canada in the 1920ís was a little west of Winnipeg, before Newfoundlandís entry into Confederation, the political-economic centre of gravity has since moved further into the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa triangle. In consequence, we Westerners tend to be well informed about events in the triangle, even as Central Canadian indifference and ignorance about Western Canada continue to be a major irritation.

Regional estrangement has ebbed and flowed with circumstances, issues and personalities, but the common theme is subordination and exploitation by "the East." Roger Gibbins, the Alberta political scientist, concluded that the region suffered from economic and social marginality in the 1930ís. In the prosperous 1970ís, he writes, "the most prominent articulators of alienation in Alberta have tended to be individuals who have acquired wealth and success in oil, ranching, farming or construction." My own conclusion during the 1970ís was that the most alienated Westerners were often people who had moved west from Central Canada with a continuous previous life experience as first-class citizens. Life on the political-economic periphery was bound to be psychologically difficult. When the prosperity vanished in many parts of our region in the early 1980ís and did not quickly return, life at the margins for those who stayed was doubly difficult.

Alberta and Saskatchewan residents were in the 1973-1984 period required by Ottawa "in the national interest" to sell their oil domestically for about half of the prevailing world price. The National Energy Program is estimated to have cost Alberta alone in excess of $60 billion in terms of forgone revenue and subsidized oil consumption in the rest of the country. When the world oil price collapsed in late 1985, however, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 men and women subsequently lost their jobs in the Western Canadian energy industry. Many Western Canadians felt that oil pricing had then become, in the minds of some Central Canadians at least, a regional issue only. The national issue appeared to a good many Westerners to be the threatened loss of 400-500 jobs at a Montreal oil refinery.

No thoughtful Westerner asserts that our region has received nothing from Confederation. The complaint is that we have over a long period received far less than our fair share of the benefits and have paid more than our share of its costs. Robert Mansell, a Calgary economist, looked carefully at the regional impact of federal spending, taxation and other policies since 1961 and pointed out serious regional inequities with the federal government collecting more than it spends in some regions and spending more than it collects in others. In his report, made public in late 1986, he concluded that since 1969 Alberta alone has transferred to Ottawa an astounding $90 billion more than it has received. His calls for a new national policy which will do fairness to the West and Atlantic Canada in a host of areas has widespread support in Western Canada. One of his proposals is that all federal policy and spending proposals should in future be assessed on the basis of their regional implications before enactment.

No fair-minded person would say that the West has not been treated a great deal better since September, 1984, than in the decade or so before. The NEP and the Petroleum Gas Revenue Tax were ended. The amended National Transportation Act should remove a good deal of the traditional practice by which our numerous captive shippers of potash, sulphur, coal, lumber and other products were required to pay essentially what the only railway going past their doors demanded. The plight of western farmers has clearly been recognized by the Mulroney cabinet in its spending priorities. Direct support for agriculture has increased by approximately 400 percent since 1984. The Western Diversification initiative, though inadequate in its funding, is certainly a modest step in the right direction. Within a year after its announcement in August of 1987, the WDI had provided funding for 503 Western projects worth $345 million and supported small and large businesses. More, however, is still needed.

Western Canadians have fought with successive Ottawa governments on many economic issues, including freight rates, agricultural issues, and resource control. Social and cultural issues have also contributed to discontent because most of Western Canada developed without the cultural-linguistic duality of Ontario and Quebec. Some observers, such as historian Doug Owram, have argued that the essence of the western grievance is more cultural than economic, the latter merely adding fuel to the first. He singles out such diverse matters as "the cultural centralism of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, bilingualism, markings on RCMP patrol cars and accusations of paternalism hurled against the East" to be as much the real base of the western grievance as economic issues.

Some people both in and outside our region are mystified by the entire notion of western discontent. How, they ask, can there be so much discontent in the West when even Manitoba, which was until recently the poorest economic performer among the four provinces, has a significantly higher standard of living than do the residents of Atlantic Canada? The reason might have to do with differing regional expectations. At the time of Confederation, parts of the three Atlantic provinces were as prosperous as much of Central Canada but circumstances since have caused their hopes to dwindle. Some western hopes and aspirations from the early decades of the twentieth century have clearly gone unfulfilled, yet a new self-confidence about the future emerged across the West during the 1970ís. Many Western Canadians arc convinced today that, if regional justice can be won from Ottawa in a new national policy, our full potential will be realized.

While a sense of regional discontent exists in all western provinces, it is clearly not the same in each. The British Columbian perspective on alienation appears to differ from the prairie view for various historical and structural reasons. Donald Blake, a Vancouver professor, concluded in 1979 that alienation in his province was linked to beliefs that the two central provinces have too much influence in national affairs and that the federal government was out of touch with provincial aspirations. The provinceís struggles, Blake went on, were "episodic rather than continuous, in part because the economic well-being of the province is not so directly dependent on federal government policies regarding resource taxation, transportation, energy exports and agriculture." Ottawa, he asserted, has rarely expressed any interest in the first two of the provinceís three major resource industries: forestry, mining and fishing.

A sense of frustration with Ottawa continues in British Columbia and occasionally surfaces as it did in the March 1988 throne speech given in the Victoria legislature. Prepared by Premier Bill Vander Zalmís cabinet and merely read by Lieutenant Governor Robert Rogers, it asserted bluntly that British Columbians are ready to put Canadaís federal system of government on trial. "My government has been patient but we have seen too many inequities and the allocation of too many grants, subsidies and federal resources to Central and Eastern Canada. The result has been a deepening feeling of alienation in our Pacific Region. For too long, British Columbia has been out of sight and out of mind of successive federal governments. Even now, that vision of Western Canada appears to encompass only prairie grain and Alberta energy."

The exercise was quickly dismissed by some local political observers and a number of Central Canadian newspapers as self-serving "fed-bashing." Such observers failed to see Vander Zalmís complaint as a common one in the West -- not merely one of an unpopular premier -- based on the desire of Western provinces to achieve our full potential as full and equal members of Confederation. "The West wants in" may be the slogan of the new Reform Party of Canada, but it is a sentiment which still finds an echo in many parts of the region.

A qualifying word about the Yukon and the Northwest Territories is necessary. Tony Penikett, the current government Leader in the Yukon, used a typical northern mining project to characterize the territoryís basic economic problems: "The ore goes to Tokyo, the profits to Toronto, the taxes to Ottawa, the jobs to Vancouver and weíre left with a hole in the ground which, if the federal government gave permission, we could use as a garbage dump." In the Northwest Territories, Ottawaís paternalism is equally legendary because for many years the federal government operated virtually as a federal, provincial and municipal government all in one. To repair oneís roof in the N.W.T. seemed to many northern residents to require a fiat from Ottawa. Many Northern Canadians sense that they continue to be treated as foolish children by their national government.

In short, the feeling persists among Westerners that our concerns are never or rarely an ongoing priority on any Ottawa agenda. On the relatively rare occasion when issues in our region do become a priority, as in the case of the National Energy Program of 1980, we have tended to suffer enormously as a consequence. When initiatives favouring the region are launched, they seem to be reactive rather than pro-active, usually done grudgingly, invariably late and often with more of an eye on short-term politics than the long-term interests of Westerners.


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