Wilfrid Laurier: Canada’s Century, 1904 | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Wilfrid Laurier: Canada’s Century, 1904

Remembered for his liberal ideals, Wilfrid Laurier was also a skilled political manipulator. He used his oratory on the campaign trail, both to savage his opponents, and to shamelessly pluck the heartstrings of Canadian voters. He did both in this speech delivered while campaigning in Toronto on 14 October 1904 at Massey Hall. He first defends his eight-year record in power by comparing his government’s “minute” and “trivial” mistakes with the “mountain of iniquity” that the Tories built while in power for some 24 years. He then sounds the trumpet of patriotism, uttering a version of his most famous line (delivered in different ways, in several speeches that year) that the 20th century would belong to Canada.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1913
At Fort Erie peace meeting

Canada’s Century: Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, 14 October 1904

Yet once more it is my privilege to appear before an audience of my fellow citizens of this the banner city of the banner province of the Dominion. (Applause) It is always a pleasure for me to come to the City of Toronto, for in the past years, more than once, I have experienced your kindness towards me and every time in past years it has been my privilege to come before you, you have tendered me such a reception as … can be excelled nowhere except in Toronto itself. In this city, however, it is possible for you to excel yourselves.

The 19th century has been the century of United States’ development… Let me tell you, my fellow countrymen, that all the signs point this way, that the 20th century shall be the century of Canada and of Canadian development. For the next 70 years, nay for the next 100 years, Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come."

I do not claim credit for the prosperity which this country has witnessed, that as a result of the policy followed by this Government the name of Canada has gained a prominence it had not eight years ago. (Applause) I assert that the name of Canada during these eight years has travelled far and wide, and whether a man must be a friend or foe he knows that he must admit that there are today in Europe thousands and thousands of men who had never heard the name of Canada eight years ago and who today, every day, turn their eyes towards this new star which has appeared in the western sky. (Applause)

We are just at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is the year 1904. We are a nation of six million people already; we expect soon to be twenty-five, yes forty millions. There are men living in this audience, men over there (points to the young people in the gallery), the hope of the country (applause) who before they die, if they live to old age, will see this country with at least sixty millions of people. (Renewed applause)

Under such circumstances are we not to provide for the future, or shall we be content to grow up in the gutter and not take steps towards our higher destiny? It is often the mistake of nations that they do not apprehend fully the necessities of the situation. They fail in boldness. That is not and never shall be the case with the Government which I represent before you today. (Applause) We shall not, whatever our errors are otherwise, we shall not err for want of boldness. (Renewed applause)

I tell you nothing but what you know when I tell you that the nineteenth century has been the century of American development. The past one hundred years has been filled with the pages of her history. Let me tell you, my fellow countrymen, that all the signs point this way, that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada and Canadian development. (Cheers) For the next seventy years, nay for the next one hundred years, Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come.

Men of Toronto, I have no right to speak to you; I am simply a Canadian like yourselves, coming from another province, but trying my best to unite our common people. (Applause) Men of Toronto I ask you and this is the prayer I want to convey to you I simply ask you to forever sink the petty differences which have divided you in the past and unite with us and take your share of the grand future which lies before us. (Cheers) I give that prayer to you.

But if there is one class to which above all others I would convey the appeal it is not you older men, you middle-aged men, but to the young boys in the gallery, the hope of the country. (Cheers) To those, sir, who have life before them, let my prayer be this: Remember from this day forth never to look simply at the horizon, as it may be limited by the limits of the province, but look abroad all over the continent, wherever the British flag floats, and let your motto be Canada first, Canada last, Canada always. (Applause last­ing several minutes)

(See also Sunny Ways: The Speeches of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.)

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