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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XXIV. The Last Reception


In this narrative, we have often referred to the large-hearted, almost princely, hospitality of Lord Strathcona. His wealth was for him a source of pleasure because he was able to gratify this spirit of entertainment. And he did it on a lavish scale. He had homes in London, Glencoe and Colonsay (in Scotland), Hertfordshire, Essex (in England), Nova Scotia, Winnipeg and Montreal (in Canada). It was his delight to welcome visitors to these homes and many a time the most exalted persons were domiciled beneath his roof.

There was one great function which took place every year in London. This was the "Lord Strathcona Reception" which was given in honor of all Canadians who chanced to be in London at the time. It was the privilege of the writer to attend the last of these, which was held on the evening of July 2nd, 1913. It was held in Queen's Hall and was certainly an occasion to make a Canadian feel a thrill of pride. It is estimated that twenty-three hundred guests assembled in the large theatre, among whom were the representatives of royalty, in the persons of the Duke of Connaught and Princess Patricia, the nobility, in the persons of the Earl of Aberdeen and Earl Grey, and men and women eminent in every walk of life—statesmen, soldiers, writers and others famous in their professional callings.

The whole scene was exceedingly beautiful. The great hall with its brilliant illumination, its fine decorations, its profusion of beautiful plants and flowers, its orchestra discoursing the sweetest music, and crowded with the elite of London's social life and hundreds of visitors from over the seas, all arrayed in their best, flashing with jewels and adorned with knightly orders, presented a spectacle of light and color and animation, which was not only charming but wonderfully impressive. No pains had been spared to make it a great function. Nothing had been omitted that would lend dignity and splendor to the occasion. It was "Canadian Night" and many a traveller from the Dominion renewed his acquaintance with others who lived in some other part of that far spread country and felt thankful to the man who had given him this opportunity.

And it was this which made the occasion so important. It was not only the meeting place of Canadians, but the significance of all this lay in the fact that this function was given by the Canadian High Commissioner. It was an advertisement of the greatness of the young Dominion and a concrete evidence of her wonderful progress. It was, further, a witness to the pride with which Lord Strathcona regarded his adopted country and his anxiety to keep her to the front and make her conspicuous in the eyes of the world, lie had spent his life there. There he had gained his wealth and there he had achieved his fame. To him it had been more than a "land of promise." It had been a land of large and generous fulfilment, he had landed on those distant shores a poor and comparatively friendless lad. For over seventy years he had lived through the most critical and stormy periods of Canadian development. For thirty years he was a denizen of the wilderness, far away from civilization, living the rough and trying life of the fur-trader. He had taken an important part in laying the foundations of the future greatness of the Confederation. He had been a leading factor in great railway enterprises, he had helped to solve the difficult problems arising out of religious and racial prejudice. He had thrown himself with heart and soul into every movement that would aid in her development. He knew it from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He was acquainted with its enormous resources in forest, mine and fertile land. He had a glowing faith in its future, and saw the time when the Dominion would vie with the Motherland in population and wealth and character. To him it was a matter of pride and delight to sound her praises and make her possibilities known to the whole world. To this end he used his high official position and it was in the furtherance of this purpose that he allied himself with every effort to bring her before the public eye. By public addresses, by large donations, by cultivating the friendship of the great leaders in the spheres of polities, literature and society, by such a display of wealth as would commend his position and by lavish entertainments and great receptions, he sought to impress the people of the old land with the greatness of the country which he represented. That was the meaning of the striking function of last July when he gave the hand of welcome to between two and three thousand guests. It was all a means to an end and that end was the exaltation of Canada.

It was a notable occasion and a notable gathering and the central figure in that splendid function was the grand old man himself, he stood in his place to welcome his guests with a warm handshake and a word of greeting. To the Canadians who were there, he was an object of special interest, he was their representative. This gorgeous function was in honor of their country. The host of the evening was a great Canadian, a worthy product of the young Dominion. No wonder his fellow-countrymen regarded him with pride. Ninety-three years of age! It seemed incredible. As we looked on his stately figure, his face strong and masterful, the eyes, beneath shaggy brows, bright with intelligence, the whole man full of vitality, it was hard to think that he had far outlived the appointed time. His manner was kind and gracious and delightfully simple. As we turned away to give place to others and to mingle with the throng we carried in our minds the impression of a stalwart and honorable representative of our country, one of whom we had never need to be ashamed, and in whose hands the welfare of Canada was safe. Had we known how near the end was, how soon he would pass away and leave behind an empty place, hard to fill—we would have regarded him with even greater interest. But there was no sign of failing powers. He seemed hale and hearty as ever. We had not the faintest idea that he was giving his last reception. It is a pleasure to reveal the picture of the old man, full of years and of honors, surrounded by his friends, enjoying the fruits of a life of labor, the object of respect and good will of all classes of the people. his position seemed ideal. The years of strife and controversy and bitterness had been left far behind. The possessor of great wealth, the occupant of a high office, the trusted counsellor of governments, wielding an enormous influence, honored through the whole extent of the Empire, the closing period of his life was a fitting climax to a career which from the beginning had moved steadily forward and upward. It is safe to say that, considering his origin and experience, he was in a class by himself. There were none like him. He was not and did not claim to be a perfect man. The hostile critic could find much which might serve as a basis for attack. He was not, in the technical sense of the term, either a moral or social "reformer." There was very little of the demagogne or the radical in his composition. He was by temperament a conservative, he bowed to the established order and had no sympathy with those who were anxious to bring about changes. Ile was not so much theoretical as practical. He took the world as he found it, his methods of finance were the methods of his time. He did not create them but used them. He was the product to some extent of the system into which he was born and in which he had been trained. His genius lay not in the construction of machinery but in making use of the machinery existing. That was where he excelled. Naked he came into the world, without money, without influence, without social patronage, with no advantage whatever save the qualities resident in himself. As such, bare-handed he came into the world and when the time came for him to leave it he had conquered it. He had gained for himself what comes to others through inheritance, or by some lucky stroke of fate. And his achievement was due, not to any spectacular or extraordinary abilities, but to that practical sagacity by which he was impelled instead of criticizing systems to lay hold of them and make them serve his purpose.

We may, quite properly, question if any man in a single lifetime should be able to become a multi-millionaire. That is a question which undoubtedly will have to he faced. But no man can be held responsible for the system which has grown through centuries and has become established and accepted. There are many things which will probably he changed—social distinctions, titles, house of Lords, etc. Men of the stamp of Lord Strathcona will never change them. And his pre-eminence and success are due to the fact that he had no desire to change them. He found them established, and by his native shrewdness and executive ability and practical wisdom laid hold of them and made them his creatures. His high position, his title of "Lord Strathcona," his commanding influence and his great wealth were simply the result of a man of genius manipulating the forces that lay ready to his hand. Had he been born into another system the same qualities would have won for him an equally great though perhaps a different result. We need have no scruple in subscribing to the general belief that he was "Canada's Grand Old Man."


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