Opinion Column

"I have not forgotten this town" - Paul Martin's 1946 homecoming

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

After suffering defeat at the hands of Edward Dunlop, Paul Martin decided to take a trip to Western Canada.


Taking the train, the 25-year-old went to Ottawa and then down to Windsor, Ontario where he worked at the racetrack. While he was there, he investigated the possibility of opening up a law practice in the city. He then took a cruise aboard the “Noronic,” the largest liner on the Great Lakes. He disembarked at Port Arthur and took the train to Winnipeg.

At every town and village that he stayed, Paul engaged local Liberals in debate over the issues of the day. His appetite for politics had not diminished despite his loss in the North Renfrew byelection. Upon his return to Ontario, Paul continued his education at the Harvard Law School in Boston. In the course of his studies, he met with Dean Roscoe Pound, a man that reminded him of his old mill boss back in Pembroke.

Finishing his studies at Harvard, Paul enrolled in the prestigious Cambridge University in England. Disembarking from the ship in Liverpool, he visited the birthplace of the great Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone before catching a train to London. In the British capital, he relished in touring the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall before heading to school. While studying there he travelled to the European continent broadening his understanding of the world at large. During his time overseas, Paul completed courses at the Geneva School of International Studies.

Graduating from Cambridge, Martin came back to Canada and established a practice in Windsor. In 1934, he became senior partner in Martin, Laird, Easton and Cowan. He also lecturered at the University of Western Ontario. Paul continued to speak out on issues he was passionate about. As tensions grew in Europe, he strongly defended the League of Nations and Canada's membership in that organization. As a young Liberal, he also campaigned for his party provincially supporting Mitch Hepburn, who became Ontario's premier in 1934.

Paul sought to meet other Liberal political giants including one former governor of New York State. During the U.S. general election in 1932, Martin sent a wire to a former Harvard classmate named Jim Roosevelt. Jim's father, Franklin Delano, was running against Herbert Hoover to become the next president of the United States. Martin crossed the border to attend a Roosevelt rally at the Naval Armoury in Detroit.

Attending a pre-rally breakfast, Paul was surprised to be invited to sit at Roosevelt's table. He later had a 10-minute meeting with the future American president. Martin embraced the ideas put forward by FDR including economic reforms to deal with the Depression and his proposed New Deal.

“He personified my own ideas and ideals of government,” Martin recounted later remarking on Roosevelt's remarkable ability to communicate with the people. “In the darkest times, he always gave his people the feeling that things would improve.”

Eventually Martin would have his second kick at the political can. This time, however, he ran federally for the riding of Essex East. Under William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Liberals were trying to unseat the increasingly unpopular Conservative government of R.B. Bennett. In this election, Martin was trying to unseat Tory incumbent Dr. Raymond Morand, who was Parliament's deputy speaker. During the campaign, Martin insisted he would not be a rubber stamp for the Liberal party, much to the chagrin of Mackenzie King.

“Above my party I will place the interests of my country and my constituency, and to this end I will speak my mind in parliament or out,” Martin the candidate told a rally at the Windsor Arena.

When the ballots were counted on the night of Oct. 14, 1935, Martin won the seat with 7,562 votes to Dr. Morand's 6,493. Mackenzie King had captured a majority, however, for rookie MP Paul Martin there would be no position in cabinet. When his first parliamentary session opened in February 1936, his mother, Lumina, travelled down from Pembroke to see her son formally take his seat in the House of Commons.

As a backbencher, Paul drifted farther to the left advocating progressive policies. He also felt that international affairs, which was handled solely by the prime minister, should have its own cabinet portfolio. He even dared to ask Mackenzie King a question in the House about foreign affairs – something about whether Canada would condemn the assassination of a Japanese statesman. His interest led to his selection as chairman of the Canadian delegation to the World Youth Congress in Geneva. During the voyage to Europe to attend the conference, Paul became acquainted with Co-operative Commonwealth Federation MP Tommy Douglas (the future leader of the NDP) and Georges Vanier, the future Governor General of Canada.

When he got to his constituency, Paul began courting Eleanor Alice Adams. “Nell,” as she was known by her friends, was a graduate of St. Mary's Academy in Windsor who had gone on to study music at the Toronto Conservatory. Nell's father was a bank teller, while her mother was a school teacher. The girl became impatient waiting for Paul to propose to her and one day walked into his law office to issue an ultimatum.

“Are we going to get married or not?” she asked. “I'm too young to spend my life waiting for you to make up your mind. If we are getting married, set the date right now!”

Paul married Nell on Sept. 8, 1937 at Immaculate Conception Church in Windsor. Officiating over the ceremony was Martin's former professor, Father McCorkell. The couple welcome their first child, Paul Edgar Philippe, a year later. Their daughter, Mary Anne Eleanor, was born in 1944. In 1938, Martin was named as an official delegate to the 19th Assembly of the League of Nations. With the rise of Nazi Germany, Martin expressed grave disappointment that the League could not contain Hitler.

“Despite my conviction that collective security was the best means of keeping the peace, I was forced to recognize that this instrument was ineffective in current circumstances,” he wrote later.

Martin won his first re-election in 1940. Three years later, he was named parliamentary assistant to the minister of labour. Then in October 1943, tragedy struck the family. His father, Joseph Philippe, collapsed and died just before communion at St. Columbkille Cathedral. During the service later, the priest told the parish, “There will be no sermon. Philippe Martin has preached it.”

The family gathered for a wake at their Isabella Street home (Paul's sister Claire came down from Camp Petawawa where she was working for army engineers). On the day of Philippe Martin's funeral in Pembroke, a rain storm prevented many mourners from venturing to the cemetery. However, former Senator Gerald White, a Conservative whom his father had been highly critical of, had come to pay his last respects.

Returning to Ottawa, Martin resumed his duties in the government and once more worked in the field he was most comfortable with – the international arena. He led the Canadian delegation to the International Labour Conference in Philadelphia and the International Labour Organization's 94th Conference in London, England.

Martin was finally sworn into cabinet as secretary of state and as a member of the Privy Council on April 18, 1945. His biggest policy achievement during this time was the Citizenship Act which he conceived after visiting the military cemetery at Dieppe, France. Martin was moved by the fact that where hundreds Canadians from many different backgrounds fought and died in that ill-fated raid.

“For the national unity of Canada and for the future and greatness of this country it is felt to be of utmost importance that all of us, new Canadians or old, have a consciousness of a common purpose and common interests as Canadians; that all of us are able to say with pride and say with meaning: 'I am a Canadian citizen',” Martin said in his Commons speech introducing the legislation.

His hometown of Pembroke celebrated their favoured son's successes. On March 7, 1946, Martin was treated to a civic banquet at the Pembroke Armouries after Mayor Wallace J. Fraser declared it “Paul Martin Day.” His mother, Lumina, and several of his sisters were in attendance. Windsor's mayor Arthur Reaume also addressed the crowd of 600.

This was Martin's first public appearance in Pembroke in many years. He had also just returned from London, England where he attended the United Nations General Assembly. In his keynote speech, Martin said the UN represented the best effort the world has ever made to secure a lasting peace adding, “No group of men or group of nations has ever set a higher goal.”

Martin then went on to praise the late Bishop Ryan as well as his late father and his mother for their advice and positive influences which prepared him for the challenges he would face in his life. He then paid tribute to his beloved hometown.

“I have not forgotten this town,” Martin said to a wild applause. “It is impossible to forget the early influences in one's life.”

Later that day, Martin escorted his mother back to the family home on Isabella Street and visited Cathedral School, the yards at the Consolidated Paper Corporation and the Carnegie Library. In the evening, he was the guest of honour at a press dinner held at the Copeland Hotel.

“Political affiliations were forgotten,” Martin wrote later describing how he felt about that special day back in Pembroke. “Some of those who had called me a rabble-rouser in 1928 now came along to shake my hand. Yet the reception was really a tribute to my parents, brother and sisters to whom I owed so much.”

In December of that year, Martin was appointed minister of health and welfare. While it was in this portfolio that he would secure his greatest legislative achievements, he was searching to attain much higher political goals. Paul Martin wanted to become the leader of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister of Canada.

Next column: Paul Martin battles two prime ministers for the crown



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