The Roaring 20s

Some things just never change in Canada.

The rest of Canada seems to be out of step with Alberta. But then, the rest aren't exactly in step with each other. Quebec is transfixed by its own rhythms. And so, in a sense, are all the others — each in its own way. East and West differ over what to bitch to Ottawa about: is the federal government too bossy or a pussycat, too stingy or a spendthrift? And they can't stand how Central Canada siphons off the cream of the national economy.

Sound familiar? Well, welcome to February 1928. Turn back the pages of this magazine 75 years, through almost 1,000 issues, to the newborn publication that grew up to be Canadian Business. You'll find the regional rivalries typical today also infested the Canadian economy back then. Subjects in dispute may differ, of course. Take today's discord over the Kyoto Accord and whether its promised environmental benefits may prove hazardous to the oil patch. It has a 1920s counterpart in subsidizing the transport of Cape Breton coal to Central Canada — and the principle of “Canadian coal for Canadian people.”

Yes, some things never change, such as practices that impede interprovincial trade. Standing against such conflicts was the inaugural issue of The Commerce of the Nation, the journal that would later become Canadian Business. The monthly “Official Organ” of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce — itself not quite three years old — committed itself to the promotion of “a greater Canadian economic partnership.” The timing of that masthead motto was apt: at the eight-day Dominion-Provincial Conference in Ottawa in early November 1927, the country's political leaders failed to agree on much of anything.

The new periodical pledged to offer “concrete objectives” that emphasize bridging the rifts that harm Canada's economy. Goals included measures to improve communication and commerce among regions and to promote purchasing policies that favor made-in-Canada products. Scattered among the pages

were things that today seem weird. The social codes of the 1920s evidently allowed expressions of preference for British immigrants ahead of folk of other ethnic stripes. They also permitted terms of apparent approval for the way “Mussolini and his black-shirted Fascisti have raised Italy to a paramount economic state.”

There is also a puzzling muteness for months about the stock market crash of Tuesday, Oct. 29, 1929, an event that heralded the Great Depression. The fledgling journal's first acknowledgement is a three-paragraph appeal to local chambers and boards of trade the following February “to assist in alleviating unemployment,” without suggesting how. But a further 12 months pass before The Commerce of the Nation carries an analysis of what it calls “the Great Slump of 1929-30.” It assigns blame to foreign cartels, but also urges avoidance of “undue meddlesomeness of Government in the sphere of private business enterprise.”

The Commerce of the Nation was not alone in seeming to trust in an eventual upturn of Canadian fortunes. But it and its publisher, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, had more reason than many to look for a born-again bull market. Both were products of the economically expansive late 1920s — the Chamber was created in Winnipeg in 1925; its journal launched from Montreal in February 1928. They thus imbibed at birth a sense that prosperity was the Canadian norm. At the time — Canada celebrated the diamond jubilee of Confederation in 1927 — the country was on a roll of borrowing and investing such as no one had seen since before the First World War erupted in 1914. And up to the very eve of the 1929 market collapse, almost everything confirmed the economy's buoyant good health.

Even as the Depression deepened, The Commerce of the Nation and its publisher displayed their faith in future growth. In the summer of 1930, they converted the house organ into a general-distribution magazine — art, ads and all — that cost 25¢ a month, $2 a year and $5 for three years. They expanded again at the outset of 1933, renaming the publication Canadian Business. In defiance of 1929, the magazine remained unwavering in its editorial conviction that Canada's good fortune depended on defeating regional divisions — especially commercial differences — that endangered national unity. Its commitment to crusade for national harmony is there as a publisher's note in that inaugural issue of February 1928. It is part of what now we'd call a mission statement. It's a pledge “to stimulate and maintain a vigorous Canadian national sentiment.” That is one thing from 75 years ago that seems not at all weird. It's a purpose that finds echoes through all those years — and right down to the here and now.

Some concrete objectives of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce

  • A national highway across Canada
  • Additional population [then about 10 million]
  • The establishing at Ottawa of laboratories for the promotion of Scientific and Industrial Research
  • The institution of a national survey of the natural resources of Canada
  • Canadian coal for Canadian people
  • Retention of Canadian University graduates in Canada
  • A stoppage of unwarranted diversion of water from the Great Lakes
  • No wasteful Public Expenditure
  • The patronizing of Canadian industry and production
  • Increasing Inter-Provincial Trade
  • The expansion of Canada's export trade
  • The development of Empire Trade relations….
  • Without taking undue credit for the shaping of Federal policies, the Canadian Chamber is glad to feel that the Government has welcomed its recommendations and notes with satisfaction…that a further reduction in the income tax this last year was in accord with the considered opinion of the Chamber.

Excerpts from Canadian Business

Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1928

Postscript: It took quite a while to achieve Objective No. 1 — until 1970, in fact, to finish the 7,821-kilometre Trans-Canada Highway. On the other hand, establishing national research laboratories in Ottawa happened almost instantly: they were authorized the same year by the government to be run by the National Research Council of Canada, founded in 1916 as an advisory body. Some of the objectives still await fulfillment 75 years on, among them stanching the brain drain. And — as if — putting an end to “wasteful public expenditure.”

Empire shopping week

An Empire Shopping Week is to be held in Canada from April 21st to April 28th. To promote this Dominion-wide Empire movement, an Advisory Council with the Honourable Mr. [James] Malcolm, Minister of Trade and Commerce, as President, has been formed, made up of the Presidents of the National Council of Women, Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire; Retail Merchants' Association of Canada; Canadian Chamber of Commerce; Trades and Labour Congress of Canada; Association of Canadian Advertisers; British Agents' Association; Canadian Association of British Manufacturers; Canadian Manufacturers Association….

The local Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce throughout Canada have been invited to call together a meeting for the organizing of the Empire Shopping Week in their own town or city….

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the underlying motive of Empire Shopping Week is that the products of the country in which the week is held are favoured first in purchases and secondly the products of other parts of the Empire. Experience shows that the effect of such Weeks is of a lasting character and creates a persistent demand for Empire goods.

This movement, for the first time undertaken on a national scale…should be a very important event in the economic life of Canada during 1928.

Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1928

Capital exports and imports

It is estimated that the total British and Foreign investment of capital in Canada in 1927 was $5,500,441,000. Of this sum, $2,192,467,000 was British capital, $3,069,181,000 was from the United States and $238,793,000 was from other countries.

Though these totals are large, it should be remembered that the National Wealth of the Dominion has been estimated to be at least $25,000,000,000 and that it is inevitable that at the present stage Canada should seek the assistance of outside capital to develop the resources of the Dominion.

It must also be borne in mind that…Canadian investments in foreign countries amounted to $1,300,586,000 at the beginning of 1927, or nearly a quarter of the amount of outside investments in Canada. Of this, $723,328,000 was placed in the United States, $118,479,000 in Great Britain and $488,779,000 in other countries.

Side by side with these figures must also be placed the fact that recent prosperity has enabled Canada to buy back large amounts of Canadian securities held abroad….

Among a growing list of Canadian Industrial concerns, the control of which has passed into Canadian hands, have been mentioned Goodyear Tire, Windsor Hotel, Hiram Walker Distillery, Acadia Sugar, Canadian Bronze, Cosmos Imperial Mills, National Steel Co., Lake Superior Corporation and Noranda Mines. Important indications of the same tendency were seen in the increasing Canadian holdings of International Nickel, Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Christie Brown….

Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1928

Outlook 1929

“That 1929 will be a year of continuing prosperity in Canada and of signal economic advancement is clear from the bright pre-indications made by business leaders in all branches of the Dominion's activities.”

— Chamber President W.M. Birks, of Henry Birks & Sons Ltd.

Vol. 2, No. 1, January 1929

The press in the partnership

Convention double issue

A Great Ethical Force

“The contribution of the press to the national life of this country has been one of the most important factors in its development. Canada is a country of seekers. It has always been so. It is a country of far distances and blazed trails. There is no country in the world that possesses the romance of high adventure in greater degree than does our own, and the press of Canada has always been among the greatest of our pioneers.

The press has always gone beyond its economic range and has kept the outposts of our country in touch with civilization. The press has been the watcher at the gate in Canada. It has been, along with the law, the balance wheel between the ordinary and proper regulation of life and the looseness of the far places….

This is, perhaps, the greatest contribution of the Canadian press, that it has held aloft a lamp for the guidance of the new peoples in the new places….

And so long as we maintain an independent and reasonably prosperous press…so long, I think, we will need to have no fear for the future of our country.”

— text of speech to the 4th annual convention of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce by J.H. Woods, president from 1929 to 1930 and managing director of the Calgary Herald

Vol 2, Nos. 9-10,

September-October 1929

“We in Canada feel that you are not treating us as big brother should.”

— Canadian Chamber of Commerce president J.H. Woods addressing the American Chamber on trade and tariffs

Vol 3, No. 5, May 1930

“If our trade with you is dislocated, we will naturally turn to a closer economic relationship with the other members of the British Commonwealth.”

— Canadian Chamber of Commerce chairman John W. Ross, addressing the American Chamber on trade

Vol 3, No. 6, June 1930