Recollections of the Royal Tour of 1901
It was the 15th of September, 1901. I was in the city of Quebec, as a special newspaper artist on the tour through Canada of their royal highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the present King George and Queen Mary. They were expected to arrive the next day, and the city was putting the last touches to its decorations for the welcome to the Royal visitors.
I was seated on a wharf belonging to the Department of Marine adjoining that on which the Duke and Duchess were to land. From my vantage point I have a comprehensive view of the scene of their arrival, and I was taking time by the forelock by drawing carefully the setting of the spectacle, which included the King’s wharf, the rocky cliffside and the terrace above, and the silhouette of the citadel against the sky. All this, sketched in the day before, would leave for the morrow only the relative placing of the figure’s taking part in the ceremony. Such was the procedure before the days of instantaneous press photography or the news reel.
The Royal landing place was busy with workman, draping bunting, hosting the flags, arranging seats. I was well along with my drawing when I became aware of a figure strongly contrasting with the shirt-sleeved and over-alled laborers on the wharf. It was that of a stocky, silk-hatted man, correctly dressed in a closely buttoned frock coat, grey gloves, greyish striped trousers, spats, and brightly polished shoes: he carried a tightly rolled umbrella, he wore reddish grey side whiskers, and I caught the gleam of spectacles. Altogether he conveyed the impression of the conventional elderly stage Englishman, such as one saw in the comedies of the day. Presently his inquisitive eye caught sight of me at work; he took in my occupation immediately and turned his back on me to look at the view I was sketching, cocking his head and moving too and fro in a way that told me plainly that he too was looking for the setting for a picture. After awhile he disappeared, leaving me puzzled with a faint recollection of having seen his figure before. Then I remembered. A few days earlier I had seen in one of the illustrated papers a full-length photograph of Mr. Melton Prior, the well-known war correspondent and artist of the Illustrated London News, who was following the Tour for that journal. A few moments later I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye on my wharf, picking his way toward me among the metal buoys, iron rails, barrels and other marine gear with which it was encumbered, – an incongruous figure in its dapper neatness, much more suggestive of Bond Street, than of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Within a few steps of me he stopped, and as I turned to him, he said, with a lovely English intonation, “Pardon me, but would you have any objection if I chose the same point of view as yourself?” Duly impressed, as a younger artist in face of a veteran and desirous of showing that a Colonial could watch his own courtesy, I replied with somewhat laboured politeness, “I shall be honoured to have you take it, Mr. Prior”. I was particularly proud of the finesse that I put into the recognition of his identity in my concluding words. It did not entirely miss fire. He beamed at me benevolently over his glasses for a moment, and suddenly as though in consequence of his survey, he shot out his neatly gloved thumb and drove it into my midriff, saying, “stow that, stow that, my boy. Lets’ see your sketch. A glance at it, and “Good, d__n good. That’s the place to choose. But __ too much work in it for me. When you’re as old as I am, you won’t give yourself as much work as that. But, it’s a good drawing, a cracking good drawing”. All this in quick, bird-like staccato. Then, “You’re going along on the Tour, I hope. What’s your paper? Where are you staying! Come up and see me and have a drink. I’m at the Chateau, here’s my card “and he scribbled the number of his room on it. Another look at the sketch, and, shaking his head, he trotted off, murmuring, “Cracking good, __ too much work in it, __ I’ll try something easier.”
The early days of the Tour were shadowed by the news of the assassination of President McKinley. All social functions, in consequence, were cancelled, and the ceremonies confined to purely official receptions. Postponement of the Tour was even considered. The weather, too, was decidedly unpleasant, and this, combined with the curtailment of the programme, took off much of the éclat of the royal visit to Quebec and Montreal. The Duke and Duchess had already endured for several months a succession of similar festivities in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They must have been weary of such affairs; but they gallantly faced the bombardment of addresses and speeches of welcome that awaited them in Canada. It was an ordeal, and the Duke, in particular, at times showed traces of physical strain, for he was suffering from a cold which he caught at the review of the troops on the Plains of Abraham. It was a day of pouring rain, and His Royal Highness, with true soldierly devotion, refused to wear the overcoat which was urged upon him, and shared in the soaking which the men received.
It was not until Ottawa was reached that the clouds lifted somewhat, and Canada showed how beautiful and exhilarating her autumn can be. The Laurentian landscape which encircles the Capital was in the first flush of gorgeous fall colour, the air was northern clear, the sunlight brilliant, and everyone’s spirits seemed to rise correspondingly.
And it was here perhaps that we began to realize something of the attractive human personalities of those whom we had thought of hitherto as remote and stately figures, the heirs-apparent of the British throne. We all know them better now, as King and Queen, after twenty-five years; difficult years alike for royalties and for peoples.
The Ottawa celebration was a happy mixture of dignified ceremonial and friendly intimacy. There was an investiture of The Order of the Bath, and of St. Michael and St. George, the unveiling of a statue to the late Queen Victoria, the presentations of medals to South African war veterans. There were glimpses of characteristic features of Canadian life: - a lacrosse match, canoe races, log rolling by river drivers, a visit to an improvised lumber camp at Rockcliffe.
Some incidents stand out in my memory. The ceremony on Parliament Hill attracted a great crowd, most of whom could see what was going on only from a distance. The space in front of the Royal party was to have been kept clear to give those farther off a view of the proceedings. Gradually, however, some of the notables and newspaper men, closer up, began to encroach upon this open space and blocked the view. The Duchess saw what was happening, (and by the way, very little happened that she didn’t see), and directed one of the aides to request the intruders to step back to the sides. This was quickly and quietly done, and a cheer went up from the people massed on the street and the slope of the hill. I doubt whether many of them knew who was responsible for giving them the clear view. Equally characteristic were the sympathy, tact and efficiency shown by the Duchess when Trooper Mulloy, blinded in the South African War was led up to receive his medal. As the Duke pinned the decoration upon his tunic, she stepped forward with a sudden instinctive movement, and taking the soldier’s hand, said that her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Teck, had spoken of having seen him in hospital in South Africa, and after expressing her sympathy with his calamity, assured him that when she went home, she would remember him to her. To those who saw the incident there was no doubt of the sincerity of her feelings.
My work, on this and several other occasions, placed me in a position within a few feet of the Duke and Duchess, and gave me an opportunity of observing numerous little occurrences, unseen by those farther off. Undistracted by the necessity of taking any part, however small in the ceremonies, I was able to concentrate my attention upon characteristic expression and gesture, the revealing glimpses of the human nature that lies beneath the uniforms, the ritual, and the robe of office. It required no great penetration to perceive that Their Royal Highnesses were first and foremost, sympathetic, friendly and understanding human beings. They carried their royalty easily, and more than once they brushed aside the screen of official etiquette to reach a closer touch with people, - sometimes to the perturbation of fussy functionarie.
The Duke had a sense of humor, a perception of ridiculous situations, always tempered by kindliness and restrained, sometimes, I fancy, with difficulty, by the necessities of public decorum. Its existence seemed to me to be revealed by the expression of his eyes, winning, friendly, with a touch of mischief, as though he wished to share the joke with you, and a little wistful. With the years, to judge from his photographs, the wistful look seems more apparent. One of the Canadian correspondents said, “When he looks at you, he wins you over; you don’t think of his royalty, you feel that he’s a man you’ve known all your life.” That was much my own feeling. And as a matter of fact, I had seen those eyes before. It was sometime in the eighties, and I was a boy in Toronto. The young Prince George, then a midshipman on leave, was visiting the city and Niagara Falls. His presence was announced in the papers, but his visit was private, and there was no official recognition of the fact. One afternoon, by accident I was walking west along Front Street near Bay. There were very few people on the street at the time, - Toronto was not so crowded in those days, - when I caught sight of a boy, apparently about my own age, approaching from the direction of the old Queen’s Hotel, where the Prince was staying. He was alone, and as he drew near I recognized him as the Prince. He looked over at me as he passed, and somehow I caught the impression was that of a message, as from one boy to another, as much as to say that he was playing truant and trusted me not to say anything about it. I have a very vivid recollection of that look, and of how it started my youthful imagination building pictures of princes incognito. So, when in 1901, I looked into those same friendly blue eyes again, they seemed so familiar that I had the ridiculous idea that he remembered the boy he had passed on Front Street years before. Remarkable eyes they were, whether a king’s or a commoner’s, if they produce that effect. And, unless I’m no judge of facial character, they are a true indication of that power of winning affection, of which the Jubilee year was the crowning evidence.
The Duke and Duchess evidently enjoyed their outing in the woods of Rockcliffe. It included a visit to the lumber crew’s shanty, where they partook of a typical camp meal with the men. One of the French-Canadian lumber-jacks outside the shanty, said to us, choking with merriment, “Dey in dere wit’ de boys, eatin’ pork an’ beans. Ge, won’t dey ‘ave de belly-ache”! No evil consequences were apparent when the Royal visitors emerged to watch an exhibition of cutting down trees, and a shantyman’s dance which followed. An unexpected item on the programme appealed to the Duke’s sense of humor. He had expressed his thanks to those who had provided the entertainment, when a stout French-Canadian shanty boss waddled forward and began a reply. As he proceeded, it became evident that His Royal highness found his speech a refreshing change from the ponderous formality of words of those to which he had to listen. It is a pity that it could not have been recorded verbatim; but some fragments and the gist of his remarks remain. “I have worked in de bush all ma life. Messier Edward,” (the late Senator Edwards), “he’s give me job when I’m young man. I see Messier Edward mak’ heap of monie & I tink I mak’ big monie also. So I start in business for myself, but I make big mistake instead. I fin’ out I was $1700 debt, and worse un dat, I lose ma shantee too. When I was small boy, my moder she tell me hif I don’ ha ma debts here a will have to pay some place helse. So I go to de pries’ and make ma confess, an de pries’ say ‘Better pay your debt.’ But I can’t pay, so I go to God an’ a say, ‘You mak’ me good man, an’ give me chance for mak’ a little home. But you know I don’ can pay dat monie, so I give you dat $1700. ‘Den I go to Messier Edward, an’ he say, ‘William, you come work for me again.’ So I do, but still I can’t pay dat debt. Now, you tell your fader about me, dat I build shantee for you, and maybee, when William he’s get hold, he’ll go hover to de hol contree, and your fader, de King, he’ll give him a job”. Some of the dignitaries were shocked by the familiarity of this impromptu address, and made a move toward stopping him; but the Duke was hugely amused; he broke into hearty laughter, and waved the officials aside, and indeed, by an occasional remark now and then, seemed to egg the speaker on, and when he talked himself out, shook him heartily by the hand and spoke to him for some minutes. Whether he promised him the job is not known; but William Whissle had had his say and was happy when they parted.
The royal party left Ottawa for the west on September 24th. The train was divided into two sections. The first, which travelled generally about half-an-hour in advance of the royal train proper, carried the Countess of Minto, wife of the Governor-General, and her party, Sir Wilfred Laurier and his two secretaries and Mr. Joseph Pope, Under Secretary of State. Two cars of this train were set apart for the journalists accompanying the party. As a consequence of this arrangement, we got the first cheers of the welcoming crowds, and it was amusing to see the chagrin of the populace when they discovered that they had wasted their breath upon mere newspaper men. One cynical journalist professed to see a sinister motive in the scheme. “We’re to act as a buffer: if there’s a misplaced switch, or a loose nail, we’ll meet it and get all the bumps”. His fears were needless; every foot was patrolled, an army of track-workers and section men protected the whole route.
Half a dozen representatives of English papers, and two American correspondents, together with the Canadian journalists made up our party. To some of the Englishmen, world-wide travellers though they were, it was a new experience to have for seventeen days a railway car as a home, in which they worked, ate, slept, and – above all – shaved and bathed. One realized with something like awe, that the British bath was a sacred ritual akin to morning prayer, or daily reading of a Bible draft. No detail was ever omitted, no square inch of the epidermis neglected. The scene in the somewhat contracted area of the wash room was impressive, as these naked Britishers each built on a different proportion of bulk and height, splashed, slapped, rubbed and puffed in their ablutions. Perhaps the most astounding feat was that of Mr. E.F. Knight, of the London Morning Post, who had lost his right arm on the Boer War: the ingenuity and thoroughness with which his remaining arm visited every part of his anatomy was a gymnastic triumph. One member of their party, however, before long fell under suspicion; an early riser, he was usually fully dressed by the time his conferrers appeared in the wash room. It gradually dawned upon them that he had never actually been seen to bathe, and a doubt arose as to whether he washed at all, or even took off his clothes, exceptionally neat and dapper though he was.
The Canadian newspaper men eagerly seized the opportunity of setting the British journalists right about the climate of Canada. In 1901 we were morbidly sensitive on this point: we have not even yet entirely forgiven Kipling for “Our Lady of the Snows”. So we talked largely and at length about peach growing, and vineyards, and Tobacco, and temperatures in August, and promised them the glories of Indian summer, until our propaganda almost convinced them that Canada was a sub-tropical country and the Canadian winter a myth. For a few days the balmy weather seemed to corroborate our assertions. But when in the early morning of the day after leaving Winnipeg we looked out upon the prairie we saw a spectacle that gave our English friends a laugh on us. A sudden blizzard had swept across the country from the west, and piled drifts of snow against the windward sides of the wheat sheaves standing in the fields. The sunrise lit with gold the eastern sides of the sheaves, which cast long blue shadows over the snow-clad stubble. The picture was as disconcerting as it was beautiful. No amount of explanations as to the unusual character of snow in harvest time could weaken the evidence before the eyes of the Englishmen. Thereafter, whenever our eulogies of Canada verged upon the flamboyant, the Englishman would cock an eye and say, “Snow in the wheat fields again”.
Among the correspondent’s little groups of convivial personalities naturally formed themselves, whose intimacy, in some cases, led to lasting friendships. For myself, there was the late John Evan, of the Globe, whose acquaintance I then made. In his character, strength and charm were equally blended; his opinion, definitely and firmly established, were tempered by tolerance and sympathy; his conversation was flavoured by a delightful sub-acid humor that was always kindly. His writing and his speech revealed keen observation, understanding of a situation, wide experience and a power of clear and easy expression, nurtured by a love of the best literature. He loved good books, he took them as swiftly and instinctively as one breathes a wholesome and invigorating atmosphere. One could not come in contact with him without feeling respect for his abilities and character, and an affection for his personality. I have always counted it an honor that our acquaintance resulted in a friendship which lasted to the end of his life; and though in later years, our diverse occupations made our intercourse only occasional, never did I meet him without feeling the glow of his friendly interest.
He, and Marc Sauvalle, of La Presse, of Montreal, and Douglas Story of the New York Herald, and I generally made a table in the dining car. Sauville was a striking personality; a native of old France, he had had an adventurous career, which included, I believe, life in Louisiana, and service in the cavalry. Certainly he looked the ideal of a French guardsman, his broad chest seemed built for a cuirass and his round head fitted for a helmet. There was something of Porthos in his appearance, with something of the wit and intelligence of D’Artalman in his mentality. He had an extensive experience of political journalism in Quebec, which provided him with a wealth of good stories. I recall a couple.
A speaker at a political meeting was vigorously denouncing the government for its immigration policy, “And yet,” he shouted, “last year they admitted to Canada no less than fifteen hundred Chinamen.” “Names, names, give us their names”, cried a heckler in the audience, which took up the demand, and put an end to the oratory.
On another occasion, a well-known politician arose at a rally of his party to nominate the candidate chosen by the caucus to contest the riding in which the meeting was held. The part managers had organized its supporters to lead the cheers of the audience so soon as the candidate’s name was announced. Sauville said that it was the only instance that he knew when a candidate was accepted without his name even being mentioned, and it happened thus. The speaker prefaced his introduction of the name by the well known rhetorical device of an eloquent and lengthy eulogy. So long did he dwell upon the virtues of the candidate that the audience became impatient, when the orator at last began to pronounce the candidate’s name, which was Hypollite XXXX the crowd, hearing the first syllable, broke into a roar of “Hip, hip, hurrah”, in which the rest of the word was lost. Again he led up to it, and again it was drowned in cheers, and after several attempts, the speaker desisted, without having been able to get out the remaining syllables of his first name, to say nothing of his surname.
Douglas Storey was physically and mentally a contrast to the exuberant Marc. A sort of Robert Louis Stevenson type, he was like him a Scot, the son of a well-known divine in The Kirk. He possessed marked literary gifts, he had a subtle sense of style, a sensitiveness to nature and the nuances of human character, and a peculiarly Scottish mixture of talk and silence, equally sympathetic, that made him an ideal travelling companion. I remember a little incident from which he extracted a vast amount of quiet humor. During our stay at Banff, everyone, of course, enjoyed a dip in the famous sulphur bath. The British especially revelled in its buoyant waters. One evening I met Storey strolling along the road, and as I fell into step with him I could tell from a sort of subdued chuckle with which I was familiar that something was amusing him. “I’ve just met A, coming back from the mineral bath.” A was a very short, very rotund person, with an extremely pompous and solemn manner. “He told me,” said Storey, “that he was deeply impressed by his experience. He had the bath all to himself, and he said that as he floated there alone the majesty, the sublimity of the night and the mountains penetrated his soul to its depths. What a picture!” mused Storey, “the mysterious heights, the silence, the stars – and that floating island, A’s abdomen, lifting itself from the still waters. But who are we, after all, to laugh at it – scrawny specimens like you and me. All the more horror to A, who has so much more of this too too solid flesh for poetry to penetrate. If he keeps on doing that sort of thing, I’ll find myself liking him.”
Others sometimes sat in at our table. Piquant was Hector Garneau, of La Patrice, grandson of the historian of Canada, of whose monumental work he later produced the definitive edition. I have not met him since, but he stands in my memory as a handsome young dandy of the Anglo-French type of the time, dexterous in the use of the monocle, and treating the English language with the respect in which so many educated French-Canadians excel us who are born to the tongue.
Another Hector was with us; my old friend Charlesworth, then, as always, stimulating, audacious, and ready to break a lance, in the best of good nature, with every new comer. At that period, I think, he was suspicious of Imperialism and enjoyed shocking the good-form fetishes of our English conferrers. I can still hear their voices raised in a sort of introductory chorus to their protests against something derogatory to the British Constitution, - “But, my dear Charlesworth!”, “But Hector!”
The correspondent of the American Associated Press, Martin J. Eagan, was an Irish-American of the most delightful kind. His engaging personality won all hearts. His marked abilities found scope later in a distinguished career in journalism and diplomacy in the Far East, and as an authority on its social and political problems. Eagan was the soul of courtesy in his intercourse with his British companions; but as an Irishman, naturally, he was not blind to the limitations of the English temperament, nor ostentatious in his admiration of British institutions, including the monarchy.
On our return trip, the royal party was divided for a time, the Duke with most of the gentlemen going on to Lake Manitoba for a day’s duck shooting, while the Duchess and her ladies in waiting remained to enjoy a rest at Banff. The correspondents likewise had a holiday. Accommodation was available for us at the hotel, but by this time we had made ourselves so much at home in our cars that we preferred to stick to the train. Our section was shunted to a quiet siding, and here in beautiful natural surroundings we had the advantages of complete freedom, with all the comforts of the perfect railway arrangements. We were within a mile of the hotel, and therefore in close touch with any news concerning the Duchess, while the Duke’s movements were covered by a couple of correspondents who travelled with his party. The rest of us looked forward to the welcome relief, for a few days, from the work of attending, describing and depicting official ceremonies.
But one of us was doomed to a painful disappointment. On the evening of our arrival, Eagan, returning in the darkness, across the tracks from the telegraph office where he had filed his dispatch for the day, caught his foot in the frog of a switch and fell. He was assisted to our car, and a message was sent to the hotel for Dr. Mariby, the physician attached to the royal party. He came at once, and found that Eagan had sprained his ankle badly. After giving him every care, he informed him that of course he would have to be out of things for some time. The remainder of the trip was a rather dull and painful experience for poor Eagan, but we made him comfortable as possible: his work was taken over by some of the others, and arrangements were made, by Charleworth, I think, for his return home by the nearest possible railway connection. About an hour after Dr. Mariby had left him, Eagan was surprised by a visit from an official wearing the royal livery who brought a personal message from the Duchess, expressing the sympathy of the Royal Highness for his unfortunate accident and enquiring as to his condition. The same procedure was followed every day until Eagan left the party on his way home with the best wishes of their Royal Highnesses for his speedy recovery.
During our stay at Banff, also, another member of the party had an adventure which might have had serious results. Across the track from the railway station lies a large area of woodland wherein are kept a number of elk and buffalo. Stout fences enclose the whole preserve with a similar fence running at right angles to the railway, separates that part of the park occupied by the buffalo from that given over to the elk. One of the photographers attached to our party one day wandered into the park to take some pictures. He had been gone for some time when some of us, who were standing on the station platform, became aware of a disturbance among the trees in the distance along the line of the dividing fence. Soon our photographer came into view, running towards us beside the fence, while a few yards behind him appeared a group of buffalo lumbering along in pursuit. The photographer was a rather stout heavy man, and handicapped by his large camera and a tripod: but he made good time. As the buffalo neared him, he clambered over the fence, and continued his race on the other side. A moment later a number of elk burst out from the trees in his rear, and his speed quickened. Once more he climbed the fence, fell on the buffalo side, and kept on the run. But the pace was evidently telling on him, and several of us ran to his assistance. Our appearance in the park diverted the attention of his pursuers long enough to enable him to stagger along to the enclosure’s fence, over which he climbed, breathless and perspiring, to the railway right of way, still hanging on to his camera and tripod, of which some of us had attempted to relieve him. Our own line of retreat was much shorter than his; but the animals, recovering from their surprise, forced us to adopt the same climbing and running tactics till we reached the safety zone. When the photographer recovered his wind, he told us that he had ventured to take a close-up picture of some of the buffalo. Apparently they became excited by the strange black apparatus: field photography then was a cumbrous and lengthy operation compared to what it is today. They charged at him: he grabbed tripod and camera and ran; this attracted the attention of some of the elk in the other section of the park, who in turn gave chase when he appeared on their side. How many times he had climbed the dividing fence he could not say; but on one point he was definite: he wanted more elk and buffalo pictures.
I have already mentioned Knight of the Morning Post. He was a big, athletic Englishman, fond of outdoor life, who found in war correspondence, as it was in those days, opportunity to satisfy his taste for dangerous adventure. He could not be induced to talk much about his own exploits, and it was only from his colleagues that we learned any details of his career. All that we could get from him concerning the loss of his arm in South Africa was that he found its absence a confounded nuisance, especially when he first attempted to ride again. This piqued our curiosity; we could have understood it if it had been his leg, or even his riding arm that was missing. “Well, you see,” said he, “without its counterweight, my seat lost its’ balance, and I rolled out of my seat and under the horse’s belly, till I learned to lean to the right when I rode. In the Spanish – American war he wanted to see the conflict from the Spanish side. Cuba was blockaded by the American fleet; but Knight hired a sail boat and made the captain run the blockade to within a mile or so of the coast near the mouth of Havana Harbour, which was as near as the captain would venture. Knight then slipped over the side, and swam to shore under fire of one of the forts. On landing, he was seized by a Spanish patrol, which was waiting for him, and marched to Morro Castle, where he was confined as a spy until released by the interventions of the British Consul. He got his story, but he could not send it out until after the siege.
Besides Melton Prior, two other artists accompanied the party. One of them, Sydney P. Hall, of the London Graphic we saw but little. He was attached to the Royal Suite, and consequently was quartered with the officials and frequented their company. He seemed to be a somewhat aloof personage, and I gathered that some of the English correspondents resented his exclusiveness. He was already familiar with Western Canada, having accompanied the Marquis of Lorne on his journey across the prairies in 1881, when he made some very interesting drawings for his paper. The Canadian Archives at Ottawa possess a couple of his scrap-books containing a number of excellent sketches made on that journey.
The other artist of the tour was Alfred Pearse, whose name was familiar to every reader of The Boys’ One Paper, wherein his pictures had appeared for years. They generally illustrated scenes such as a gallant little midshipman leading his boat crew to the attack on a slave ship, amid shot and shell, or a young explorer defending himself and his wounded comrade against a hoard of savages. The dashing signature of A.P. was always associated with scenes of melodramatic action, blood seemed to drip from every stroke of his brush: unconsciously one mentally visualized the artist as a figure of heroic proportions. It was therefore somewhat disappointing to meet him in the flesh, and discover that he was a very mild little man. True, he wore a picturesque pointed beard, and a ferocious moustache, but their effect was neutralized by the mild and kindly eyes that blinked behind his glasses, and by the gentle soft voice with a suspicion of Cockney sing-song in it that emerged from the moustache. He was the kindliest soul, an industrious worker, he could always find time to help out a fellow worker. He was an unquestioning follower of English customs; to him, afternoon tea apparently was one of the foundation stones on which the Empire rested, and it was largely due to his persistence that our porter was impressed with the imperative necessity of its punctual daily appearance. Thirty-five years ago, afternoon tea was an almost unknown institution in business and professional life, on this continent.
My connection with a daily paper required that I should aim at getting a drawing made for each issue. Consequently, I had to devise a plan of work, and a schedule, based on an exhausting study of the time-table of our train and that of the east-bound mail trains, so that my drawings could be posted at the strategic times and places. This meant that frequently I had to work at top speed in order to finish my drawing in time to fit my schedule. I developed a technique, adapted to the environment of a moving railway car; a kind of hawk-like swoop of the pen, which touched the paper lightly for an instant and was off again before a blot or juggle could interrupt the line. I was, and still am, somewhat proud of this feat, and it quite set me up to have Prior and Pearse sit and watch with admiring amusement my graphic gymnastics as the car rolled and swayed through the Rockies. Once or twice the necessity of finishing a drawing in time to catch the approaching east-bound train prevented me from going into the dining car for lunch, greatly to the distress of the kindly Pearse, who insisted on bringing back a plate or two for me, or sending one of the waiters to me with a pot of tea and a tidbit.
I saw a good deal of Melton Prior during the trip, for somehow he had taken me under his wing from the time of our first meeting at Quebec. He was a delightful mixture of the man of the world, and the ingenious school-boy, thinly veneered by a conversational English decorum that periodically was shattered by an artistic and adventurous Bohemian explosion. He was equal to any occasion. One night, on our journey across the prairie, the train stopped unaccountably at some small station. The usual crowd had gathered to see the royal train pass, and had experienced the usual disillusion that followed the cheering that had greeted us my mistake. Prior, always curious to see what was to be seen, threw up the window of his compartment and thrust his head out into the night. It was dark, and raining heavily, and the drip from the eaves splashed upon his bald head, shining in the light from the interior of the car. Suddenly a voice from the crowd shouted, “Three cheers for Melton Prior”! and a rousing western “Hip, Hip, Hurrah!” went up. For a moment Prior was bowled over by this unexpected tribute. He drew in his head hastily, and ejaculated, “Bless my soul! They know me out here!” Then recovering his aplomb, he leaned out again, bowed, and murmured a few words of thanks, which provoked another burst of cheering, in the midst of which the train moved on.
I doubt whether he ever knew the truth. I hope not. It would have been cruelly unkind to have spoiled his naive gratification at this recognition. But the fact was that a couple of the correspondents had jumped off the train to stretch their legs, and seeing Prior peering out, in a spirit of mischief conceived the idea and said to some of the crowd in an impressive tone, “Look! That’s Melton Prior, give him a cheer.” Probably no one among them knew who Prior was; but they were there to cheer anyway, and so, led by one of the local dignitaries, the cheers were given. Naturally, Prior was quite elated by the incident. He anxiously enquired of the porter the name of the place, looked it up on a map and marked it with a pencilled X, and altogether was very happy, as was everybody else.
It was instructive to get the impressions that Canada made upon our British friends. The Laurentian territory of rocks and lakes and rushing rivers and evergreen forests excited them greatly; they eagerly enquired about fish and game and some of them promised themselves a future holiday in the north country. Incidentally, I might mention that our menu on the Royal train advertised our food resources admirably: we introduced our visitors to Restigouche salmon in the east, to Nepigon salmon west of Lake Superior, and to Pacific Salmon on the coast, with bass and trout and whitefish everywhere, as well as partridge, venison and prairie chicken. The correspondents were curious as to mineral deposits and timber, and canoeing; but they complained of the monotony of endless spruce woods, muskegs, and barren rocks, while we carefully abstained from any mention of mosquitoes or black flies. In spite of the blizzard, the wheat fields roused their admiration. The Rockies delighted them, though one or two who knew the Alps compared them unfavorably to his beloved Highlands, “The Rockies arouse my cold admiration, the Highlands touch my heart.” They all loved Victoria, B.C., “Almost like England, you know.” They deplored our sudden extremes of heat and cold, of which we had a striking example at Calgary, where a morning of torrid heat was followed by an afternoon hail-storm, a chill wind and a fall of over fifty degrees in temperature.
The Duke and Duchess were greeted everywhere by singing school children, and the sight of these hundreds and thousands of happy, healthy, well-dressed youngsters surprised and delighted the visitors, though the British journalists got considerable fun out of the almost universal rendering of our national song, and made our car echo with their attempts to imitate the orthodox pronunciation of “Tha mapull leef, our emblum dear.”
The magnitude and enthusiasm of Toronto’s demonstration was perhaps the climax of the Tour, and this in spite of most unfavorable weather on the first day. But not even pouring rain could dampen the ardor of the vast crowds. The royal procession proceeded from the temporary railway station erected at St. George and Dupont streets to the City Hall, where Toronto’s official welcome was to be given. At the junction of Bloor Street and Avenue Road a halt was made to the Duchess to perform the ceremony of opening the Alexandra Memorial Gates, erected by the Daughters of the empire, in commemoration of the royal visit. These gates were carefully taken down last year, to allow for the widening of Avenue Road. Within the last few weeks they have been re-erected, somewhat farther apart, but otherwise as they were when the Duchess pulled the ribbons that first opened them.
Elaborate preparations had been made for the reception on the steps of City Hall; but the proceedings illustrated the truth of the hackneyed saying about the best laid plans. Under steady rain, bunting sagged and colors ran, flags drooped, millinery and silk hats became bedraggled, and thousands of dripping umbrellas blocked the view. In the open space to the west, at Bay Street, a large stand had been erected, where a choir of a thousand singers and two military bands were stationed. Notwithstanding the soaking October rain, the opening chorus was given with most impressive effect. Then the mayor in his official cut-away coat, with picturesque brass-buttoned cuffs and pocket flaps, steeped forward to read the address of welcome. Mr. Oliver A. Howland was a gentleman of dignified presence and refused warmers. The citizens felt that in electing him to the mayoralty, the official duties of the position would be performed with an intelligence and distinction befitting the dignity of the capitol of the province. The irony of circumstances, however, sadly marred this particular occasion, so well suited to the exercise of his abilities. His worship had scarcely begun the reading of the address, where, by some misunderstanding, the whole choir arose and burst into song. The mayor’s voice was drowned in the volume of sound; he spoke louder, and tried to carry on; but after a few moments was compelled to desist. Meanwhile from the steps of the City Hall, frantic signals were being waved by dismayed officials to the conductor of the chorus at Bay Street, who could be seen with his back to us, energetically beating time and indicating the inflections of the composition, which apparently included no pianissimo passages. Some of the officials desperately plunged through the crowd and finally the message reached the unconscious and unfortunate conductor. The singing stopped in the middle of a bar, and a sudden quietness fell, broken only by the drumming of the rain upon hundreds of umbrellas. The mayor resumed his reading, and the ceremony went on without further mishap; but when later on the choir gave another selection, its performance noticeably lacked much of its earlier emphasis and confidence. Mr. Howland bore himself throughout the embarrassing incident with admirable equanimity; but it was evident that for him too, the moment was spoilt.
I stood within a few feet of the principles in the scene, and this close-up showed that the humor of the situation was not lost upon those most particularly affected. For an instant, when the roar of the chorus broke in upon Mr. Howland’s reading, a startled expression flashed over the countenances’ of the Duke and Duchess and the Mayor. Their Royal Highnesses quickly realized the situation: a twinkle of kindly amusement appeared in the Duke’s eye, the Duchess seemed to show some annoyance with the bungling of the arrangements, mingled with sympathy for Mr. Howland; but both, doubtless familiar with numerous similar incidents, retained the impassive decorum that the circumstances required. As Mr. Howland proceeded in his vain attempt , he looked up to the Duke, with a sort of apologetic appeal, and once more I got that familiar impression of the Duke’s human good-fellowship and complete understanding of the situation. It was as though he flashed a wireless message that seemed to say, “Yes, I know; it’s all right, a nuisance to bad for you, but it’s funny, isn’t it?” And later, when the purely official functions were over, I saw him and Mr. Howland laughing heartily together. Perhaps, after all, the mayor’s day turned out to be more enjoyable than if everything had gone through with frigid perfection.
The military review which was one of the more imposing features of the Toronto visit was marked by an incident with which these reminiscences may close. During the march past of the troops, while the artillery was advancing at the trot, four batteries in line, the horses attached to the outermost gun, farthest from the viewing stand, balked and fell behind. The battery in the rear was coming on at the regular pace, and there was imminent danger of disarrangement and collision, and possible injury to men and horses. Viscount Crichton, A.D.C. to the Duke, instantly saw the situation, and spurred his horse in a wild gallop obliquely across the front of the advancing batteries, wheeled about and siezing the leading horse of the lagging team, quickly brought the gun into line with the others. So rapidly was the whole thing done that only a few observed it. I shall never forget the sight of the tall guardsman, in shinning cuirass and helmet with flying plume, riding superbly across the front of the rapidly advancing gun teams. Six feet or more in height, lean, erect, with flowing blonde moustache, he seemed like a figure belonging to romantic fiction rather than to real life. Years later he was killed in the Great war.
With the visit to Toronto ended my participation in the tour. It was with a pang of real regret that I parted with the pleasant and interesting companions of those weeks. My last hand-shake, as my first, was with Melton Prior. He felt sorry to be going: but it wasn’t on my account, or because he had fallen in love with Canada. He was getting old, he had asthma, and he hated the English winter. “I say,” he asked as the autumn drew on, “can’t you get up a revolution over here in Central America, or a show of some kind in the West Indies, where it’s warm. I don’t want to go home to London fogs. I haven’t missed a campaign in the last forty years, and I like them best in the tropics. I hope something will turn up in a warm climate.”
We were reminded of his visit some time afterwards by the advertisement in the shape of a fac-simile letter from Prior to the proprietors of a certain Canadian mineral water, well known at the time, enquiring where in England he could procure their very excellent mineral water, as supplied to the dining cars on the Royal Tour. If the mineral water people knew their business, Prior was not left long ignorant or athirst.
Charles W. Jefferys
Original document in collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Written circa 1926.