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Kipling in Winnipeg

by Kennethe M. Haig

Manitoba Pageant, January 1959, Volume 4, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The newspapers that 1907 day announced that Sir Rudyard and Lady Kipling, who had been visiting in eastern Canada, were coming to Winnipeg. Moreover they would be the guests of the Canadian Club and Sir Rudyard would give the address. Secretary of the Club, J. B. Mitchell, had told the reporters about it. "It goes to prove that you shouldn't give up," he observed. "He wouldn't speak in Montreal or Toronto, but we thought there was no harm in our trying."

The luncheon was held in Manitoba Hall, the second storey of a building on Portage Avenue, which in those days was the largest the City afforded, but, it took it all, including the gallery and the stairway, to hold the crowd that day. The street was crowded too. President George Crowe couldn't get his guest in the front way so they went around to the back entrance. Kipling wore dark glasses but the throng knew him just the same and gave him broad smiles of welcome. True he had called Canada "Our Lady of the Snows," which perhaps hardly did justice to our sunshine-drenched summers or to our colour-splashed autumns, and he had written that limerick:

There was a small boy of Quebec
Who was buried in snow to the neck.
When asked, "Are you friz?"
He replied "Yes I is,
But we don't call this cold in Quebec."

Yet some remembered also his "If," his "Barrack Room Ballads," and the stirring rhythms of "The Recessional." Others had in mind the pleasure his short stories had given them, and the breath of India that had come to them from "Plain Tales from the Hills." A few, here and there, remembered when he had been in Winnipeg before. "That would be fifteen years ago," they remarked. "He'll certainly find how we have grown."

It seemed that Kipling had noticed that very thing, for he told his audience that when he had been in Winnipeg on the previous occasion he had been told of the future that awaited the prairie town that called itself a City and had papers of incorporation to prove it. Now the vision, as he could see, had been transformed into brick and stone and concrete. "My heart goes out to the City of your love and your pride because I know what lies behind the mere houses in the streets one sees. I know the passion and the sacrifice that went into the upbuilding of each and that will continue to go to its existence and to all that that existence implies."

The speaker paused a moment and studied the packed rows before him, no longer chatting and laughing but intently listening.

"I have realized here," he went on, "the existence of an assured manhood; the spirit of a people contented not to be another people ... contented to be themselves. This spirit, of course, existed fifteen years ago, but that spirit as I remember, and I have not forgotten some of my walks and talks in the City, then doubted a little. It found it necessary to explain. It stated its position and perhaps it waited a little to see what other people thought of its position. Thank God I find no echo of that mood today. I can feel by the men on the streets, and have seen by a thousand signs, that here is a people in their own land, whose heart strings go down deep into the fabric and who will be trustees for a nation.

"This is worth anything else, for there is no unliftable curse on any people, except the idea of a weak and degraded nationhood. Neither commerce, nor art, nor literature make up for the loss of that spirit. Without it the biggest city in the world is merely a pack of organized enterprise. With that national spirit the meanest collection of packing cases that was ever tack-hammered on the prairie can uplift and dominate a continent."

The speaker had done.

There was a moment's silence. The audience broke into prolonged applause.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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