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A View from the North: CB Talks to Randy Barber, Chairman, International Churchill Society of Canada

Churchillian of the Month Interview
October 2011

Of all the countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth, it is likely that Winston Churchill felt the closest association with Canada. He travelled to the country nine times beginning in 1900 at age 26; his last visit was in 1954 when he was nearly eigthy.

Churchill Centre Executive Director Lee Pollock recently spoke with Randy Barber, Chairman of the International Churchill Society – Canada (ICS-Canada) about Sir Winston’s connections to Canada and the activities of the Society. Randy has served as Chairman of ICS-Canada since 1992 and as a Board member from 1982 as well as being a longtime trustee of The Churchill Centre and a frequent speaker on Churchill subjects throughout North America.

A native of Toronto, Randy has held responsible roles in the Canadian gaming industry, having retired from fulltime work in 2005 as Chair of the Alcohol & Gaming Commission of Ontario and an associate of the Canadian Gaming Association. Most recently, he served the people of Canada as a federal appointee to the National Parole Board.

He is currently Vice President of Government Relations and Regulation for Ontario Entertainment Technologies and sits on several corporate and charitable boards.

Lee Pollock: Randy, many of our readers know about your involvement with ICS-Canada and The Churchill Centre but perhaps not about your personal background. Could you us a little about that and in particular how you became a Churchillian? Were there any Churchillians or British connections in your family that influenced you?

Randy Barber: I remember, in 1953 or ’54, in early elementary school, where we sang ‘God Save the Queen’ and saluted the flag each morning, also filling a rubber mold in the likeness of Sir Winston, with plaster-of-Paris, allowing it to harden and then very carefully removing the pure white four inch tall bust. It had a ‘V’ on the left lapel and I often see them today for sale in antique shops for up to $35.

My paternal grandfather was a contemporary of WSC’s and served with the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry in the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. In my research to date, I have read that the ‘DOCs’ served in a left flanking position with Lord Strathcona’s Horse (a Canadian contingent of several thousand men and horses raised and entirely funded by Strathcona for the mother country) in a couple of battles. I believe, as they likely shared bivouacs during R&R that this eventually led to my grandparents leaving Haverhill, Suffolk and immigrating to Canada in 1910.

As a boy in the 50’s, he regaled me with stories of his adventures in the British Army and I remember distinctly him telling me about the exploits of Churchill and his great escape. On to high school where the curriculum had us read ‘My Early Life’ in English class and of course, English history was still de rigueur in history class.

My father, who was a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Artillery during the Second World War, also spoke of Churchill and particularly his wartime speeches, when all Canadians listened to the wireless.

As a lifelong ‘student of history’, I used to buy a magazine called British History Illustrated; now called British Heritage. A small ad caught my eye, placed by one Richard M. Langworth for the International Churchill Society-USA, the precursor to The Churchill Centre. I wrote; RML answered and said to contact the Canadian chapter headed by one George Temple, who lived less than ten minutes from my home. I believe that was about 1978.

The rest is history!

LP: ICS-Canada has enjoyed great success over the years. Tell us more about the Society – its history, membership, some of your recent activities and current plans – and also about some of the other Churchill societies that serve Western Canada.

RB: The first international conference was in Toronto in 1984 and several have been held in Canada since then. I was co-chair with John Plumpton for the Calgary/Banff conference in 1994, chaired Toronto in 1997, co-chaired Bermuda with David Boler in 2003 and chaired Quebec in 2005 and will chair Toronto again in 2012. ICS-Canada has members all across this great country and we encourage them to meet locally.

In Toronto, we hold friend-raising events twice a year called ‘An Evening with Sir Winston’ in the historic Albany Club, where we have guest speaker on a topic Churchillian and then show a DVD of some aspect of WSC’s life. Recently, we had 60 members and guests out to study the history, before, during and after the destruction of the French Fleet in Mers-el-Kabir, Algeria.

In addition, on May 10th each year, we hold an annual dinner; our 15th to date. Our guest speakers have included, great-grandson Randolph Churchill, former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, former Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor (our Honourary Chairman), and a great Churchillian and Iowa State judge, The Honorable Douglas Russell. These events are very well attended. Our membership continues to grow and we have added a new chapter in Montreal these past few months and an East coast group is in the embryonic stage. We have a close liaison with the Toronto-based Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy with whom we plan some joint ventures. There are other Churchill societies in Alberta and British Columbia as well as a brand new one in Ottawa.

LP: Randy, you’ve spent much of your life interested in Churchill and his connections with Canada; what are some of the more interesting aspects of Sir Winston’s travels in the “Senior Dominion”, what did he think about the country and how did Canadians respond to him. And is it true that at one point he was so impressed with Canada that he thought about retiring from politics and becoming a rancher in Alberta?

RB: Well, yes Lee, that is all true to the best of my knowledge. Churchill was always impressed by the vastness of Canada and he visited here some nine times between 1900 and 1954 I believe. In fact, Churchill spent the last day of the 19th century in Peterborough, Ontario and the first day of the 20th century in Toronto. Some visits out of necessity during wartime, others on speaking tours but nary a one for pure holiday that I can uncover. Although, he did fish on at least two occasions; once in Ship Bay, Newfoundland during the Atlantic Charter signing in August 1941 and again in Quebec during a later speech-laden tour. Of course, there were the famous Quebec conferences in 1943/44 with Franklin Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie-King in Quebec City planning D-Day and post-war Europe, whereupon daughter Mary accompanied him. He visited Niagara Falls and I have a wonderful picture of him there leaning over the end of a rail car to give a cigar wrapper to a young girl. He planted trees in Victoria, BC and laid a stone in a church too.

In his mind, we were one of the ‘Great Dominions’ who came to Britain’s aid in an exemplary fashion in both world wars and welcomed him with open arms when he came to speak to us.

LP: One of Churchill’s most famous visits to Canada, almost exactly seventy years ago, was the Atlantic Charter conference with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in August 1941 at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Tells us about the commemorative ceremonies you attended there last month.

RB: What an honour it was to attend this magnificent event last August! I attended on behalf of ICS-Canada, partly to present our 2011 Award of Merit to Phonse Griffiths, who with his team arranged the commemoration but also to once again visit one of my favourite parts of Canada.

Newfoundland should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. From a Viking village circa 1000 to fiords to rugged seacoast to quaint fishing villages with names like Come-By-Chance, the province offers so much history from early North America. St John’s was the embarkation point for virtually all of the convoys supplying Britain and from where the Battle of the Atlantic began and ended. WSC called it the most important battle of the war because had it not been won, eventual victory would have been lost.

A dinner replicating one served to WSC and FDR in 1941, attended by the Lieutenant-Governor (LG) and Mrs. Crosbie (a LG is the Queen’s representative in each Canadian province) and then a bus trip to Ship Harbour, Placentia Bay where a magnificent monument stands and a Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes flew out in the water attached to buoys, positioned exactly by GPS, where the Prince of Wales and the Augusta were anchored some 70 years ago.

To tread the shoreline where WSC came by small boat ‘to walk and think’ was a life-enriching experience for all. Hundreds of locals made us feel welcome and fed us to bursting with home-made comestibles. A highlight of the return trip was a visit to the Atlantic Charter museum where we all stood around the actual table once on the Augusta, used by the famous signees a lifetime ago.

LP: During the Second World War, Canada was one of Britain’s strongest allies with some 1,000,000 armed forces personnel by 1945, in a population of only 11,000,000. In the U.K., the Battle of Britain is the defining moment of the War and for Americans, perhaps Pearl Harbor and D-Day. Canada has its own war narrative – what are some parts of that?

RB: Certainly the Battle of the Atlantic virtually from 1939 to 1945 and its pivotal role in supplying the Allies with men, food and machines stands as a proud moment in Canada’s wartime contribution. My dear friend, David Boler of The Churchill Centre-UK attended the Atlantic Charter events with me and we then went on to Halifax to view the last extant Canadian Corvette, HMCS Sackville. David’s father was a Lieutenant with the Royal Navy as an ASDIC operator and assigned to corvettes among other vessels. As an individual who donated to help restore her over the years, I was able to gain us access to the ship and a guide to all its nooks and crannies. We were flabbergasted when the Chief Engineer actually started her huge engines for us and we watched these massive pistons in action. We hoisted a couple in the world-famous Crow’s Nest, a naval officers club that David’s dad would have visited while awaiting the next convoy headed east.

While revisionist history is all over the map on the value to the war effort from the raid on Dieppe, I believe that valuable lessons were learned although the cost to Canadian soldiers was high. One example is that D-Day took years to plan; Dieppe mere months.

Our contribution in the liberation of Holland and our valiant efforts with the British, Polish and American forces on the march up Italy stand out in my mind as sterling examples of Canada’s fighting spirit. As well, Juno Beach saw us win some valuable early footholds on the continent, doing our part in that huge and important assault which led to victory.

LP: And speaking of the Canadian military, the prefix “Royal” was just restored to the Canadian armed forces, after an absence of several decades. Along with the tremendous success of the recent visit to Canada by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, does that suggest that Canadians are re-emphasizing their British and royal connections?

RB: It is true that Canada seemed for a decade or three to want to bury its roots and de-emphasize its British colonial beginnings, at least since 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham on the heights of Quebec.

Dominion Day changed name to Canada Day on July 1st each year. A new flag without the Union flag as part of it and the repatriation of our Constitution. In spite of all that and myriad other examples, Canada has always welcomed her Queen and other members of the British Royal family with open arms.

I admit I am a monarchist and applaud the Canadian government for this initiative. I know the armed forces have desired this “Royal” restoration to their titles; imbued with 300 years of history. There will be those who disagree.

LP: Churchill’s other famous appearance in Canada was his “Some chicken, some neck” speech to the Canadian Parliament in December 1941 which was followed by the iconic “Roaring Lion” photograph taken by Yusuf Karsh. Are you planning any special events to commemorate that?

RB: It is now official. Canada will be hosting a display of Churchill artifacts in March 2012 in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. Included will be the original of arguably one of his most famous speeches; certainly one that drew the most laughter during a most stressful time in the history of the world. During that time, iconic pictures of WSC were taken by a Canadian photographer in the Canadian Houses of Parliament with that speech just showing in his left-hand jacket pocket. More will follow on the exhibition in the near future but I urge those interested to visit our capital to view these documents on loan from the Churchill Archives in Cambridge. I am sure the new society will be planning some local events around this display.

LP: Randy, the 29th International Churchill Conference will be held in Toronto in October 2012. Give our readers the “when, where, what” on that and tell us a little about what you’re planning.

RB: The 2012 conference will be held in Toronto at the famous Fairmont Royal York from October 10-13, 2011. While the ‘dream team’ planners are in early stages yet, the theme will be WSC and Canada and take in aspects of the secret war, Canada’s relationship as seen through the eyes of our Prime Minister Mackenzie-King with FDR and WSC, its role as breadbasket and builder of ships and WSC’s travels in Canada.

As we did in Quebec City, there have been arrangements to stay post-conference and travel to Ottawa where arrangements have been made at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier to re-live December 1941 once again.

I will have more to say at this year’s conference in London the end of October.

LP: Are you a Churchill collector? What are some of your favorite Churchill biographies and other readings and if you could add one particular thing to your Churchill library, what would it be?

RB: I have been collecting Churchilliana for some 35 years and own most all the pieces that make up the ‘Holy Grail'(the Jarvis Jug, WW1 First Lord jug, etc.) on what may be termed the collectible side. I own a couple of first Canadian editions but signed copies have eluded my impecunious status. I am reasonably well read with books by and about WSC and am content to have them in my library. I recently bought a book inscribed to WSC by its author and while he may not have read it, I believe he may have at least taken it from its package and looked at its cover. I plan to read it soon and perhaps see why it likely remained unread.

Of much greater joy to me is to have all of Lady Soames books to date inscribed to me and my wife Solveig and I look forward to obtaining her recent autobiography whilst in London this Fall.

LP: Randy, Americans and Britons often speak of the much-debated “special relationship” between their two countries. Would you say that the “real” special relationship might actually be between Britain and Canada?

RB: I have never posed as a Churchill scholar nor any kind of expert. Churchill’s life and accomplishments are so complex and monumental that it would take a greater individual than I to truly understand his impact on our world. I stand in awe of Sir Martin Gilbert and others for their insight and knowledge.

In practical terms, I believe that Winston Churchill respected Canada for its efforts on many fronts during two world wars. He was grateful for those contributions and said so many times. Canadians tend to be non-self-aggrandizing but simply stand and deliver. Churchill liked us; was proud of us and ever thankful for our shared blessings. We did not waver, ever, in any meaningful way to demands put upon us. He considered Canada as another entry into the might of North America and we were pleased to oblige.

In the language of mankind, that is a universal special relationship.

LP: Randy, thank you. CB readers and Churchillians around the world will be looking forward to learning more about your plans for next year’s Conference!

The ICS-Canada website is More information on the Society is available from the Membership Secretary Barrie Montague at [email protected] or (905) 632-8693. To learn about other Churchill organizations in Canada, go to this link: Canadian Churchill Organizations

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