William Rose: Manitoba Historian 
by Daniel Stone
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 31, 1974-75 Season
No one who met William John Rose in Winnipeg or Oxford before World War I would have suspected that he would become a leading historian, author of five books on Poland and innumerable shorter pieces, Director of the University of London's School of Slavonic Studies, founder of the Slavonic Studies program at the University of British Columbia, and one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Slavists. On the contrary, Rose originally had no interest or knowledge of such an exotic place as Poland - a country so little-known that Lloyd George in 1919 could not identify one of its leading cities and Neville Chamberlain, twenty years later, doubted that anyone was familiar with it. Not that Rose was a stick-at-home. He hoped to travel to China as a missionary, but in those days China was well-known to Church circles. In the following paper, I shall attempt to resolve this paradox by narrating the sequence of events through which Rose became involved in Polish affairs, by analyzing the intellectual factors which led him to study Poland, and by exploring his Canadian identity.
William John Rose was born in Minnedosa in 1885 to a poor country family of Scottish and United Empire Loyalist descent. The chance visit of the president of Wesley College led to his enrollment there. Between 1900 and 1905, he studied Classics with distinction, winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford thanks to superior performance in Greek and Latin. After three years training on a considerably higher level than that available in the Canadian west, Rose returned to Wesley College as a lecturer in Classics and Mathematics. Three more years of teaching led him to the conclusion that he needed further training so Rose returned to Europe to get his doctorate in Classics at Leipzig where his wife Emily Cuthbert Rose wished to study music. While attending a summer conference of the Student Christian Movement, an organization related to the YMCA which Rose had first joined in Winnipeg as an undergraduate, he agreed to cut short his studies in order to go to Prague as a "student-secretary." His duties were to form study groups of young people interested in social problems and, if possible, to move into the realm of practical solutions through volunteer social work.
On arrival in Central Europe, Rose was very much the "innocent abroad," quite unaware of the nationalist problems afflicting the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His lack of orientation caused him to give offence to both Czechs and Germans. In order to work more effectively, Rose undertook the study of the Czech language, but the outbreak of the First World War interrupted his linguistic progress and altered his life completely. Rose and his wife were making a walking tour of the Carpathians during the summer of 1914. The war broke out while they visited friends in a Polish district of Silesia near Cieszyn (Teschen). British subjects were enemy aliens in the AustroHungarian Empire but Austrian authorities gallantly spared Mrs. Rose the rigors of internment, and permitted them to live unhampered in the village of Ligotka.
Rural life in Silesia reminded Rose of his boyhood in Manitoba and he began to feel deeply drawn to the Polish people. After a year, Rose switched from the study of Czech to Polish in order to work for the local Polish Protestant church. The well-stocked library of his host, Pastor Karol Kulisz, enabled Rose to familiarize himself with contemporary Polish literature as well as to fill in gaps in his general education.
The sudden collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in October 1918 brought an end to Rose's confinement and launched him, quite unexpectedly, into international diplomacy. The presence of a British subject in Silesia was well known and the Polish National Council of Cieszyn requested Rose to undertake a mission to the Western Allies. They asked him to report the desire of Silesian Poles to join a Polish state, to ask for the dispatch of a mission which could lend authority to the Council, and to inform the world of the good relations existing between local Poles and Czechs. 
Provided with sausage and black bread, Rose slipped through the window of a train bound for Vienna; he had not even time to inform his wife. Since no representatives of the Western Allies had yet reached Vienna, Rose went on to Ljubljana, but not before the pro-Pilsudski Polish Legation in Vienna had commissioned him to contact Poles fighting on the Western Front. On behalf of the Warsaw Government, Rose carried a message urging General Jozef Haller to put his army at the disposal of General Jozef Pilsudski's government, to urge Western recognition for Pilsudski's government rather than for the Polish Committee in Paris headed by Roman Dmowski, to gain representation at the forthcoming Paris Peace Conference for the Warsaw Government, and to claim a share of the Austro-Hungarian fleet for Poland.  No Allied representative had appeared in Ljubljana either, so Rose continued his journey carrying additional commissions from the Slovenian National Committee to the allies in Paris. In the company of a Polish army officer, Rose went to Trieste, which he reached on Armistice Day, and finally to Italy, where the American Red Cross aided his journey to Paris.
Rose was the first resident of Central Europe to reach the West and his arrival in Paris made a sensation. Acquitting himself of his various missions by presenting lengthy reports to American and British authorities, Rose undertook to educate the British and Americans gathered in Paris about problems confronting Central Europe. In public and private talks, he described the chaos produced by four years of war, the wandering demobilized soldiers, the breakdown of the economy, the collapse of civil government, and the material privations afflicting this area. Nevertheless, Rose expressed confidence that the local populations possessed the political sense and moral resources to cope with these problems. He called for prompt recognition of local governments in Poland, Bohemia, and Slovenia as well as the dispatch of small military missions to bolster the authority of local forces. Furthermore, he urged that Haller's army be sent to Poland immediately, that demobilized soldiers be repatriated promptly, and that food supplies be sent.
Rose believed that these measures would allow Central Europe to stand on its own feet in short order. He compared that region to a weak organism which must be exposed to light and air in order to effect a cure. Danger existed only from the onset of infection. In this case, the "infection" of anarchy (coming from unstable local conditions) might produce the disease of Bolshevism with possible fatal results. Applying these principles to Poland, Rose called for prompt recognition of the Pilsudski government (which appeared to many in Paris as Bolshevik itself) and the relaxation of visa restrictions which had prevented Pilsudski's ambassador, Michal Sokolnicki, from reaching Paris.
Following the unification of the Pilsudskiite and Dmowskiite delegations, Rose played no further official role at the Peace Conference. However, Rose stayed in Paris awaiting the organization of a relief mission to Poland by the Student Christian Movement and the YMCA and met many leading figures. He renewed acquaintance with Eduard Benes and Thomas Masaryk, whom he had contact with in Prague before the war, and met British and American experts like Robert H. Lord, Lewis Namier, and Wickham Steed. Rose also made the acquaintance of many leading Poles. Finally, the long-awaited permission to return to Central Europe arrived and Rose left for Silesia to rejoin his wife. The Roses made a quick tour of Poland, and went to Canada for a brief visit.
Rose returned to Poland to serve the YMCA, from 1920 to 1927. He helped organize extensive relief activities in Warsaw immediately after the war and made work with students his special province. Thereafter, Rose moved to Cracow and Lodz where he organized local YMCA committees. In addition to his work, Rose found time to enroll in the Jagiellonian University. Rose felt out of touch with the Classics after fifteen years and looked instead for themes that would help him understand modern problems. Professor Stanislaw Kot received him into his seminar on the History of Culture and directed his dissertation on the eighteenth century educator, Stanislaw Konarski. The printing of Rose's thesis in 1929 made a welcome contribution to Slavic historical scholarship in English.
Shortly after receiving his doctorate, Rose decided to resume his teaching career. Growth of the Polish YMCA forced Rose increasingly into administration and removed him from the personal contact with young people that he considered his mission. Through contacts made in the YMCA Rose received an invitation to teach at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire where he worked from 1927 to 1935. As early as 1930, Sir Bernard Pares approached Rose to bring him to the University of London. Administrative arrangements took five years to complete, allowing Rose to research and write his most original work, The Drama of Upper Silesia. In 1936, Rose became Professor of Polish History and Literature at the University of London. In 1939, he succeeded to the directorship of the School of Slavonic Studies. In the same year he published a Penguin special on Poland which he quickly followed with a more scholarly book on 19th and 20th century development called The Rise of Polish Democracy, his translation of the diary of a village mayor called From Serfdom to Self-government, and shortly after the war, Poland Old and New. During World War II, Rose and his entire school collected information about Occupied Central and Eastern Europe for Arnold Toynbee at Chatham House. After the war, Rose rebuilt the School of Slavonic Studies and retired at the age of sixty-five in 1950. In retirement, he helped set up the Department of Slavonic Studies at the University of British Columbia, spent a year as teaching fellow at his alma mater in Winnipeg (United College, now the University of Winnipeg), and helped establish the Canadian Association of Slavists. In 1956 Rose quit the university world entirely. He settled at the Naramata Christian Leadership Training School in British Columbia where he worked until his death at the age of eighty-two in 1968.
Thus, after forty years of wandering in the desert of Central European affairs, Rose returned to missionary education. One wonders why his life should have swerved so far off its expected course. Why did he form so passionate an attachment to Poland, a Catholic country little-known to North America? The answer seems to be that, paradoxically, the values instilled in him by his early education, particularly at Wesley College, predisposed him towards an appreciation of Poland and Polish culture.
At the turn of the century, when William Rose sought his higher education, Wesley College had become a Canadian outpost of the Social Gospel and the fount of much of western Canadian radicalism. The rapid tempo of industrialization and waves of immigration to the New World created city slums housing an apparently demoralized population. Some sensitive observers appealed to religious conscience to solve social problems through Christian love and brotherly cooperation. Clergymen of this "Social Gospel" tended to concentrate more at directing their parishioners' energies towards rooting out social evils than at saving their souls through introspection and prayer.  They justified their course of action with biblical citations.
Rose came under the influence of this movement at Wesley. Two men made particularly strong impressions on him. One was J. S. Woodsworth, who had graduated from the College in 1896 and preached in Grace Church across Portage Avenue from the College, making himself unpopular by denouncing his flock's economic individualism. The other, Dr. Salem Bland, taught Church History at Wesley until 1917, when the trustees dismissed him for doctrinal error and social radicalism. From Woodsworth, Bland, and others, Rose caught the spirit of social reform. He learned to respect men who acted with a high moral purpose and whose actions improved both the spiritual and the material values of human existence. To him, religion consisted of realizing Christian values on this earth and like Woodsworth, Rose was relatively indifferent to theology. 
Rose and other Wesley College men undertook practical social work in Winnipeg's North End slums. They dispensed medicine, gave reading instruction, and delivered non-denominational moral lectures to East European immigrants in Woodsworth's All-Peoples Methodist Church. The immigrants, who poured into Winnipeg by the thousands, obviously did not impress Rose except as the objects of charity and he certainly developed no special interest in Poland at this time. To him, as to other respectable members of Anglo-Saxon society, the Poles represented the "wretched refuse of Europe's shores," as Emma Lazarus put it. Indeed, the Poles appealed to most Anglo-Saxons less than other nationalities since, as one Winnipeg journalist wrote, "Poles and police courts seem to be invariably connected ... and it is difficult for us to think of ... this nationality other than in that vague class of undesirable citizens."  Even when the Methodist Church sent Arthur Rose (Wesley College 1909) to Poland for two years to learn the language for more effective social work among Winnipeg's Eastern European immigrants, his elder brother showed no interest. The following year, William left for Germany to continue his study of the Classics.
Prague stirred Rose's interest in Central European problems but the Czechs did not arouse his admiration. He found them somewhat abrasive in their self-confident assertiveness and their strong anti-German prejudices seemed to him mere intolerance. Rose also opposed the self-righteous attitude of Czechs towards other nationalities on their borders. As early as 1913, he noted with sorrow that Eduard Benes considered all Silesia rightfully Czech and strongly deplored the unilateral military action by Czechoslavakia in 1919 which secured Cieszyn. With these reservations, Rose generally sympathized with Czech national aspirations, but there seemed no need for him to become involved. The Czechs had suffered little in the First World War and seemed quite capable of looking after themselves.
In contrast, Poland made a deep impression as Rose found moral values in the nationalist movement corresponding to his earlier training. Throughout his forced sojourn in Silesia, Rose remained a guest of Pastor Karol Kulisz, whose Protestant religiosity made him feel at home in that strange land. An ideal clergyman in the tradition of the Social Gospel, Kulisz had rejected honours from the Austro-Hungarian government and lived humbly in order to devote his life to the cares of his flock. Kulisz was also a Polish patriot, though still a loyal subject of the Emperor. From the pastor, and from his library, Rose gained an appreication of Polish literature, language, and customs. The Canadian Methodist, Rose, received communion with Catholic Poland at the hands of a Lutheran pastor.
Rose's conversion to philo-Polonism can be dated from his decision to translate August Cieszkowski's historiosophical work, The Desire of All Nations (in Polish, Our Father), a work which lies close to the spirit of the Social Gospel. Appropriately, the Student Christian Movement press published the translation in 1920. Like Rose, Cieszkowski believed that religion directed man to participate fully in secular affairs in order to achieve social justice. Cieszkowski followed the Hegelian model in arguing that two stages of world history had already occurred: first, the "natural" period of amoral worldly concerns, and second, the Christian era, dominated by the otherworldly ethic. Using the dialectic, Cieszkowski predicted the imminent arrival of a third period in which worldliness and otherworldliness would merge to produce "absolute heaven" on Earth. Through the activities of volunteer associations which worked in this world to spread Christ's love, liberty, equality, and fraternity would reign. Thus, Cieszkowski considered religion, the "soul," animating politics, the "body." Incidentally, Cieszkowski expected this triumph of the Christian spirit to bring Polish independence.  Another book which made a profound impression on Rose was Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis, a Nobel prize winning novel which portrayed the struggle of the early Christians as symbolic of the Polish national cause.
To Rose, Polish nationalism appeared to involve moral regeneration and the rejection of materialism. During the Paris Peace Conference, Rose publicized his Christian view of Eastern European affairs in an article entitled "A New Idealism in Central Europe." He linked nationalism and moral values, reporting a conversation with a Silesian Pole who had said:
Rose made the optimistic forecast in December 1918 that the liberal nationalist spirit would permit free cooperation among the newly liberated peoples. 
Rose feared that Bolshevism might conquer the Central European lands and enthusiastically embraced Poland's unique form of religious nationalism, "Messianism," as a counterweight. He considered Bolshevism "the logical reaction on the despotism of the ages ... carried to a logical extreme" but thought it "an idealism gone wrong" which offered nothing but "disruption, subversion, and annihilation." The triumph of Bolshevism in Russia and Hungary posed a threat to their neighbours but Rose placed his faith in the traditions of the Polish peasant and "the Messianists from Mickiewicz to Szczepanowski" to prevent the spread of the Bolshevik disease. 
According to Rose's analysis, the partitions had led to a weakening of Poland's moral fiber but with independence he felt that Poland was improving rapidly. In an article entitled "The Building of the Social Order," Rose expressed confidence that Polish youth possessed a "social consciousness" which would produce "a healthy, self-supporting, confident, social fabric." He knew that Polish reconstruction would take time since adults, "born under a regime where everything was done for them cannot be taught overnight what national and social means, even with the best will in the world." 
Thus, Rose decided to stay in Poland in the 1920s to participate in the process of rebuilding in such a way as to help stimulate the full development of idealism. His attitude was not without a tinge of Anglo-Saxon condescension. In a 1919 article, first published in the Free Press, Rose expressed the opinion that the expulsion of the Germans created an intellectual vacuum in East-Central European universities which Anglo-Saxons would have to fill.  Nevertheless, Rose was entirely free of personal prejudice. He realized that many cultured Poles could teach him far more on a personal level than he could teach them. He offered only a form of voluntary organization for social goals, the YMCA, heretofore lacking in Polish society. Rose wholeheartedly embraced the YMCA philosophy of turning administration over to Poles as rapidly as possible. 
In his mature career as a university professor, Rose changed many of his ideas about the nature of history, but he continued to value moral force above all. Rose rejoiced at the reemergence of an independent Poland after the end of World War II and praised the moral energy shown in reconstructing that "sorely mauled, isolated, half-destroyed nation." His trip to Poland in 1947 left him very discouraged about the possibilities for liberal democracy, but he noted philosophically that "politics is only one phase of modern life and by no means the most vital one."  The reality of Communist control over all aspects of Polish life far outstripped Rose's worst fears, but we can be sure that he remained optimistic about Poland's national survival. The eruption of the Polish spirit in October 1956 which ended Stalinist government must have cheered William Rose's final retirement from the field of Slavic Studies.
Rose's attachment to Poland also developed out of more elemental feelings than the sense of intellectual similarity between Poland and Manitoba. As he noted in an unpublished memoir of his youth in Minnedosa, "a farm boy, under the primitive conditions of early days of Manitoba, could hardly be indifferent to the basic witness of the senses. They were of necessity his pathway to knowledge."  The "sights, sounds and smells" of pioneer days formed the basis of his consciousness and decisively affected his pattern of reaction during his later life. The vividness with which he recalled those sense impressions and the precision with which he recorded them after more than sixty years' absence from Manitoba is a tribute to their impact upon him. It should be no surprise, therefore, that when he found himself in Poland during the first world war, he should have responded enthusiastically. Perhaps he would have responded just as enthusiastically had he been interned in a Czech village, but perhaps not. There may have been something special about Poland. After all, the name itself means in Polish "land of the fields" or, simply, the Prairie.
The landscape near Minnedosa
In short, the land was attractive and showed potential but during Rose's youth it was still primitive and demanded constant attention. The mountain to the north relieved the immensity of the prairie sky and restored some sense of human scale.
In Silesia, where Rose found himself interned during the War the landscape was overwhelmed by the mountains on the south, behind which the sun went so low in the winter that the days were very short. There were patches of forest in this rolling country; but rye, wheat, oats, and barley, as well as clover and roots of all kinds, were grown in every farm or farmlet, since many of the holdings were less than five acres. All the fruits known in the temperate zone were produced, and the sight of the cherry, apple, and plum orchards in bloom was one never to be forgotten ... [Despite these advantages], the toughest combination of brawn and brains was needed to wrest even a meagre living from the none-too-fertile soil. In places stony, it was heavy to till. 
The Polish mountains were more dramatic than their Manitoba counterpart but they too established the livability of the plain below. While the land was certainly no better than around Minnedosa, generations of industrious peasants had developed its full potential. The Poles cultivated beautiful orchards and a full complement of cereals where there was still mostly scrub in Manitoba. This is how Canada could be and will be, Rose must have thought.
The character of the Silesian Poles also reminded Rose of his youth. Farming in both areas demanded character, determination, and hard work. In part, these qualities were seen by both societies as their own reward. But good fellowship humanized these virtues. In the days before mechanized farming, common labour in the fields during the harvest gave a feeling of unity. Rose had worked together with his neighbours in Manitoba and he joined in, during his enforced stay in Poland, as well.
While Rose was never more Canadian than when wrapped up in Polish affairs, we may question more closely his attitudes and feelings about his Canadian identity.
First, Rose simply was Canadian and called himself one. On one occasion, at least, his sense of identity cost him dear. Shortly after Britain entered the First World War, Rose reported to the Austrian authorities. Instead of arresting him, they calmly informed him that Americans were free to move about as they pleased. Rose did not take advantage of their ignorance by heading for the border of neutral Switzerland; he explained that Canadians were British subjects. His subsequent career might have been entirely different had he been less forthright.
Second, this Canadian identity did not prevent him from spending most of his life outside Canada. After graduation from Wesley College in 1905, Rose spent one year in Czechoslavakia (Austria-Hungary), two in Germany, three in Canada, six in the United States, fourteen in Poland (the first four in Austria-Hungary), and eighteen in England.
Third, Rose never forgot Canada and returned for brief visits when the opportunity arose. He came to Winnipeg in 1919, visited his family and gave several public talks. One of them, to the Polish Sokol organization, was delivered in Polish while another, destined for an English-speaking audience, was cancelled by the General Strike. While at Dartmouth in the late twenties, Rose seriously considered moving to Regina to take a teaching post at St. Andrew's College but finally decided against it because he would have had to abandon his Polish specialization. In 1930, he spent several weeks as judge in a Canadian National Railway community development contest and later described his experience in an article published by the Canadian Journal of Religious Thought.
A few years later, after his return from a lengthy research trip to Silesia, Rose considered abandoning Polish studies altogether. As a professor of sociology, he had become interested in comparative frontier zones. Silesia, a meeting place of Slavs and Germans, was one such area. In New England, he was at the doorstep of the similar problem of French-English relations. In the summer of 1935, Rose did some reading on the history of Quebec and drove to Ottawa with a friend to discuss the project with Marius Barbeau, the folklorist of the National Museum and an old friend from Oxford, and Gustave Lanctot, historian and archivist. Unfortunately for the development of Canadian studies, Poland intervened once more. A cable reached Rose telling him that arrangements had finally been made for him to assume a new chair in Polish history and literature at the University of London in England. He abandoned his Canadian plans with some reluctance. The prospect of leaving the pastoral charm of New Hampshire for the "grime and bustle of London," did not please him, but duty called. Poland had few interpreters in the English speaking world. Rose felt needed. Before leaving, however, he visited Montreal and toured the Gaspé. The latter affected him emotionally. Rose found "an hour to sit and meditate on the spot ... where Jacques Cartier planted the flag of France and signaled the discovery of Canada."
In 1950, on retirement from the University of London at age sixty-five, Rose returned to Canada to stay. He achieved considerable popularity among the students at the University of British Columbia where he taught as professor emeritus, but he wrote little and gradually retreated from Polish studies. Perhaps he felt the torch had been passed on to others when the Canadian Association of Slavists was founded in Winnipeg in 1954. Rose attended and was named first honorary president. He noted with sorrow that "not a few of my Polish friends ... have felt in their hearts that by coming home in 1950, I 'deserted the ship'." But he and his wife
Fourth, Rose had no theory of what it meant to be a Canadian. He did not distinguish on the basis of national character or political ideas between Canadians and Britons or Canadians and Americans. He may have become conscious of Canadian nationality while reading about the disputes between Canada and the U.S. over access to the Klondike, but he held no antagonism towards the United States. He referred to it as "that Great Union" and pointed out that regional differences were at least as significant as national similarities. Rose moved with perfect freedom among the three major English speaking countries. The Rhodes Trust had done its work well.
Fifth, like some, but certainly not all his contemporaries, Rose greeted the arrival of Eastern European immigrants to Canada with enthusiasm. He saw the assimilation of Slavic, Germanic, and other elements into the English speaking mainstream as inevitable and proper but had a deeper appreciation than most for the skills brought by them to their new home. He knew that East European peasants were not savages who needed to be "civilized" by some "higher culture," as some Anglo-Saxons maintained. They were honest, hardworking folk who had been deprived of the fruits of their labours in Europe by social oppression, economic depression, and lesser frustrations. Given the opportunities prevailing in Canada, they worked as hard and produced as well, if not better, than the original settlers of the region. Their contribution was valuable to Canada, not just to themselves. Rose asked himself in 1930, "Is there any other way to develop and hold the riches of the west than with the help of such folk?" His answer was a resounding, "I know of none!" 
To sum up, Rose was a Canadian, but more of a regionalist than a nationalist. There is nothing in his writings to suggest any deep sentiment for Central or European Canada or any theory of Canadian national identity. His feelings predominated. They made up an "inner direction" which changed neither with time nor distance. Having left the region of childhood "sights, sounds and smells," the world lay open to him like the broad Canadian prairie. Like the prairie, Rose recognized no boundaries in his own life. He moved from country to country almost by accident. The Rhodes scholarship sent him to England; the Student Christian Movement brought him to Bohemia; the outbreak of the First World War caught him in Poland; the chance meeting on the streets of Teschen sent him to Paris on a peace mission; the telegram to Ottawa brought him back to England. Looking back, he wondered, "was I in the driver's seat or was I being driven?" 
It was with a feeling of great relief that Rose ended his life where it began, in rural western Canada. As a member of the staff of the Christian Leadership Training School founded by the United Church at Naramata in the Okanagan Valley, Rose taught elementary history courses to a disparate group, mainly young people of high school age. His charm, intellect, and, above all, the interest that he took in them as individuals, inspired many to take up more formal studies after leaving Naramata and inspired all to live more productive lives.
Once again Rose could wear comfortable clothes and conduct himself with informality. He practically lived in his favourite red plaid shirt, which he wore open at the neck. In the summer, he donned shorts and a broad straw hat. Gardening became his passion and he spent so much time at it that visitors occasionally mistook him for an employee. Students at Naramata will never forget how, on hot summer days, at age seventy-plus, he would trot about three hundred yards across the lawn and gravel driveway, without shoes, clad only in a bathing suit, and plunge headlong into the chilly waters of Lake Okanagan. Dr. William J. Rose, internationally known scholar, author of five books, former Director of the School of Slavonic Studies in London, England, or "Uncle Bill" as he liked his students to call him, had come home.
1. This paper is based primarily on The Polish Memoirs of William John Rose, edited by Daniel Stone (University of Toronto Press, 1975). Parts I and II of the paper are reprinted by permission of the University of Toronto Press.
6. A. R. Ford in J. S. Woodsworth, Strangers within our Gates (Toronto 1909), p. 139.
Page revised: 22 May 2010