Building up a Canadian nationality

A speech extolling the virtues of “Canadian nationalism”. Eugenics is posited throughout as the solution to various social ills, such as poverty and insanity (in furtherance to the ideas of stirpiculture brought to Halifax by Dr. Reid just before “Confederation”).

Calls for indefinite terms of imprisonment for “the insane” (or those who didn’t fit in with the top-down political narrative of the day?) at the Nova Scotia hospital as well as for criminals at penitentiaries, I wonder how captivated the Dartmouthians of the literary society were when taking in these ideas.

The antisemitism, racism and bigotry doesn’t make for an easy read, but it it gives important context to the politics of the time and the effects on society since, as ideas like these have been disseminated. The author/speaker is George W.T. Irving, member of the Provincial Education Department, Treasurer of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science, and member of the Nova Scotia Historical Society.

“Some Hints on the Building up of a Canadian Nationality.

On previous occasions, when I had the pleasure of addressing you, I dealt chiefly with the past—in large measure with the dim and shadowy past. This evening I wish to draw your attention to a present-day problem—one that should be earnestly considered by every thoughtful person in this Dominion, The question I shall endeavor to discuss, briefly and for that reason more or less imperfectly, is: “How shall we fill up our country with a population commensurate to our great extent and varied capabilities? For want of a better title I might callt his contribution to the subject: “Some hints on the building up of a Canadian nationality.” I do not mean this in a political sense, but in the sense of preserving and strengthening those physical, mental and moral qualities which make a people great.

Perhaps it may seem quite unnecessary to inquire whether the natural conditions of Canada are such as will warrant us in believing it capable of maintaining in comfort a people that will at least compare favorably with the most progressive nations. Or in other words, whether our country is capable of nourishing a people that will take rank among the foremost nations of ‘the world.

The Nova Scotian is perfectly at home in Manitoba or British Columbia, the conditions of life are so similar to our own that he falls into live there without any effort. (This, in opposition to Joseph Howe’s thoughts on the subject: “Take a Nova Scotian to Ottawa, away above tide-water, freeze him up for five months, where he cannot view the Atlantic, smell salt water, or see the sail of a ship, and the man will pine and die.”)

Beck, Murray. “Joseph Howe: The Briton Becomes Canadian, 1848-1873”,

The infusion of new blood by the introduction from abroad of the best types of the breed, strong, healthy specimens, having clear records for some generations past… The judicious weeding out of all degenerates as soon as discovered… Let us see if we can apply these two underlying principles of successful stock raising to the development, preservation and extension of that portion of the human family destined to occupy this Dominion.

If time labor and thought have been expended in the past and are still being expended, that the ox or the horse might reach greater perfection, is it too much to ask that man, the noblest of all creatures, should receive some little attention also?

It has been said that the best crop any country can produce is a crop of men. If this be true, then every effort should be made to prevent the introduction or perpetuation of anything that would lower the standard of excellence of the product.

A distinguished writer has said: “It is far higher morality to preserve the perfectibility of the race than to secure the well being of our neighbor and of existing society.”

Among the questions we might ask ourselves is this: why do we hold out our hands to the North German and Scandinavian and look askance when the Italian, Russian or Pole knocks at our door?

The Jews are very numerous in Russia and Austria, particularly in the old Polish quarter of these empires, They are probably the poorest specimens of humanity that land upon our shores, They are a people without a home and without a common language. Wherever they live they speak the language of the country but never settle upon the soil—they may be in a country but not of it. They are a separate people wherever they go and when they are hived in large numbers, they become the cause of serious trouble.

If time permitted we might pursue this division of our argument to much greater length, yet I hope, enough has been said to show us the danger, if not the criminality of allowing such people to come into this country.

If time permitted we might pursue this division of our argument to much greater length, yet I hope, enough has been said to show us the danger, if not the criminality of allowing such people to come into this country. There is a duty we owe to those coming after us, to transmit to them a heritage free from the contaminating influence of an alien race, with which we have nothing in common, and which may neither amalgamate nor die out. We should carefully guard our borders to prevent the admission of such into our land.

Look to the south of us, for an example, of the admission of an inferior race. When the first slave ship landed her cargo in the United States it was an inoculation with a virus that quickly spread over half the land. Here we have a people that will not disappear in the presence of a superior race, neither will they amalgamate. One of the most serious problems that has ever come before the statesmen of any country is looming up in the Southern States, i.e, the future status of the [Black people], When we look in that direction we should take warning and try to avoid their position.

Why should our stretches of magnificent country be made the dumping ground for the scum of Europe, whether they come from the plains of Poland, the steppes of Russia or the slums of Manchester or Birmingham? Why should we be anxious to get a people that even Russia cannot utilize; she is willing to let the Doukhobors go but not the Finns? There should be no uncertain attitude on this question throughout the land, The press is beginning to sound the alarm and not any too soon.

Misguided philanthropists may tell us, it is duty and privilege to bring the poor and down-trodden from the congested districts of the older countries and place them where there is plenty of room. But they are looking at one side of the question only. We cannot touch pitch and not be defiled. Their very contiguity to us is a danger; and if we attempt to assimilate them, there can only be one result, When pure gold and en alloy are melted in a crucible, the quality of the alloy is certainly improved, but still the whole is only an alloy—the pure gold, as such, has disappeared. So in the union of a superior and an inferior whether in individual cases or in masses the result is the same, the baser gains at the expense of the better.

Better that millions of acres in our North West should lie fallow for a hundred years and become again the grazing ground for the buffalo, than have it filled with an ignorant, dreamy, fanatical, stubborn and unprogressive people. Instead of expending our strength to secure quantity, we should look very carefully after THE QUALITY of those coming to us,

Let us now turn our attention to the second part of our subject —the care of the degenerates. To treat this subject at length is very tempting, but this is neither the time nor place to discuss it, I merely wish to point out what we are doing for this class and what we might do in addition to protect society. My remarks on this head apply to our own province only. For better purposes of treatment I shall divide them into defectives and criminals. This division is purely empirical, many individuals coming under both heads, The criminals are actively dangerous, both are passively so.

Among defectives may be classed, the diseased, deformed, feeble minded, drunkara, epilepttes, and that discouraged, hopeless class, notably those bereft of home very early in life, and who have been reared in benevolent institutions, those “indigent faint souls past corporeal toils.” The provision made by our Province for the treatment of the diseased—whether the trouble is mental or physical—is worthy of all praise.

If all our defectives had such institutions for the amelioration of their condition, I should have no text for my present remarks. The Victoria General Hospital and the Nova Scotia Hospital are doing a noble work, under most skillful and competent management. These central and provincial institutions are being relieved by the equipment from time to time of smaller but similar ones in the different counties throughout the Province. On that score there is nothing more to be said, except that the time may be near at hand when a home for physical incurables may be found necessary. Here may come in some of the deformed, whose condition disqualifies them from earning a livelihood and whose friends may not be able to keep them. Among the unfortunates, there are two classes, whose position to-day reflects the highest credit upon private munificence, handsomely supplemented by grants from the Province and the Municipality. I refer to the Blind and the Deaf Mutes.

The time was, and not so long ago, for some present, may remember, when they received no training whatever in this Province and were scarcely treated as members of the family. We now find them well looked after and instructed by patient and unwearying teachers to be self-reliant members of society and in most cases to earn their living or at least to relieve their friends from a large part of their care. Anyone who is curious in these matters can estimate the cash value of the work done in these institutions—by far the lowest plane in which to consider it, They are at present educating and equipping for their life work between 200 and 300 pupils. By calculating the difference between a person who is a charge upon society and one who is able to earn his own living—changing from the debtor to the credit side—one may be able to see the value to the state of the investment in such institutions.

I wish I could sufficiently impress upon all thoughtful people throughout the Province, the danger to society of allowing these poor creatures to go at large. We have them with us and should care for them. Besides this, it is our duty to do more, we should see that they be not allowed to project themselves through future generations.

There is a trinity of evils, lying near the border-land of crime, Poverty, Ignorance and Intemperance, which act and react upon each other as cause and effect and in most cases give evidence of degeneration, With our splendid equipment of educational institutions, ignorance as a source of evil should be unknown. Ignorant masses, under free government such as we have in Canada, are inimical to the welfare of the state, as they are at the mercy of every demagogue who may choose to play upon them. Not only is education necessary for the intelligent discharge of citizenship, but it is also necessary for the ensuring of industrial success. It has been said that “men cannot in these days, especially in this country, be industrially strong or even industrially free without education. Knowledge, which used to be a power, is now a necessity. Ignorance is the parent of prejudice, bigotry, sectional animosity, racial antipathies and debasing superstition.”

Some one in a rough and ready fashion has divided the poor into three groups, viz ; the Lord’s poor, the devil’s poor, and the poor devils, The first are poor through untoward circumstances— misfortunes of various kinds or the general environment contributing to their sad lot, Such cases are nearly always remediable by a change of conditions and do not constitute a menace to society, On the other hand, when poverty is the result of indolence and general shiftlessness, together with vagabondage as

typified in the tramp, it is a source of danger to the State. Not so much actually as potentially. A harmless tramp, or one of the devil’s poor, may be at the worst only a burden on the community. His offspring, however, will not ask, and be refused, but will put out his hand and take by stealth or force. In this Way vagabondage leads to demoralization—a Bohemian being a dead weight on civilization,

The best disposition to be made of the third division of the poor is one of the most difficult problems in the elimination of pauperism. These are poor because they are both physically and mentally incapable of being otherwise. Through insufficient nutrition or from other causes they lack the physical stamina necessary to the struggle for existence. They form a portion of the weaker, who yo to the wall. The capacity to do a full day’s work is wanting, much less can they perform six days’ work in a week. They are very ready to take up the responsibility of a household, at an age when the prudent and industrious would not think of it. The time may come when society will find it necessary to interfere to prevent the multiplication of these incapables, In helping the impoverished a careful discrimination should be made. The causes of poverty should be considered before assistance is given—indiscriminate ahms-giving only fosters the disease.

Closely connected with some classes of the defectives is the criminal. In most cases he commits anti-social acts because he lacks the capacity to earn an honest living. We are all liable to follow the line of least resistance. This is particularly true of the criminal, Like a child or a savage, he soon tires of any systematic employment, takes the shortest cut to relieve his present wants, quite careless of the future. It has been observed among the lowest strata of society, that in large families where the older sons are criminals, the younger are paupers, thus showing the close connection between these two classes of degenerates.

The time is coming when our criminals will be studied and treated as our insane. When a person gives evidence of disordered mental action he is sent to Mount Hope for treatment, Is he sent there for 60 days or 2 years? No. He is sent there to stay, until experts say he is fit to take his place in society again. There is no time limit. So should it be with our criminals. Crime is a disease and should be treated as such. No reformatory system however has yet been devised that will reclaim all. After everything has been done, there still remains a residuum of incurables, These should be carefully guarded and never allowed at large”

Irving, George W. T. “Building up a Canadian nationality : a paper read before the Dartmouth Literary Society, Nov. 20th, 1902” [Halifax, N.S.? : s.n.], 1902 (Halifax, N.S. : Holloway Bros.)