Toronto plays host to the annual gathering of Churchillians from across Europe and North America.
The moment that the 29th International Churchill Conference, held this year in Canada’s “Queen City” of Toronto, Ontario concluded, the approving comments came pouring in.
The Churchill Centre and the International Churchill Society of Canada hosted the annual conference this year at the four-star landmark Royal York Hotel in the heart of Canada’s largest city.
The hotel originally opened its doors on June 11, 1929 as the tallest building in the British Commonwealth.
The theme of this years conference was, “Churchill’s North America: The States and Canada, Foe to Friend.”
In her introductory letter for the conference, Winston and Clementine’s youngest daughter, The Lady Soames said, “He (Churchill) visited the U.S. and Canada many times during his life, never tiring of the energy and robustness that he discovered in these two great nations.”
Over 225 participants from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. were in attendance at this year’s successful assembly.
The conference began on Thursday, October 11, 2012 with Welcome Reception for all attendees and a smaller reception just for the first time attendees to the event.
The Churchill Centre’s Chairman Mr. Laurence Geller CBE in his letter welcoming guests for the conference said, “This year’s (conference) location pays deserving tribute to the great admiration in which Sir Winston is held by Canadians from coast to coast…”
Promptly the next morning, the conference kicked off with breakfast and the first sessions. The conference always welcomes student participation and Misha Boutilier of the University of Toronto commented, “…the historical sweep of the sessions from the War of 1812 to the early Cold War was amazing. I came away from the conference with a much better grasp of Churchill’s life, Canada-US relations, and the World War II period.”
The first day’s proceedings included an interesting discussion by John Milton Cooper and R.H. Thompson on a panel entitled: W.W.I, The Treaty of Versailles, and the League of Nations; chaired by Joan Martyn.
Friday ended with a black-tie banquet in the Concert Hall of the Royal York, with Winston Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys delivering a compelling keynote address on “Churchill’s Birthday’s”.
One of the significant highlights of this year’s conference was Session 7 that took place on Saturday afternoon. The session was entitled, “The Veteran’s Panel: We Were There” and was hosted by Canadian Churchillian Gordon Walker. The panel included George MacDonnell, Jack Rhind, Richard Rohmer, and former Canadian Prime Minister John N. Turner.
General Richard Rohmer spoke about flying a P-51 Mustang reconnaissance aircraft over France in July 1944 and spotting a German staff officer’s car near the Allied lines. He called in a Spitfire squadron for a strike in which the driver of the car was killed. The vehicle ran off the road and hit a tree; the officer’s head hit the dashboard and the side of his face was badly smashed. The officer however did survive and was taken to a German hospital to recover. The officer was none other then “The Desert Fox”, Hitler’s one time favourite General, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who subsequently died at his own hand on 14 October 1944. His suicide, and ensuing funeral with honours, was the best of the unpleasant options he was given after having been implicated in the assassination plot against Hitler that occurred just three days after he sustained his injuries in France.
George MacDonnell, on the same panel, spoke about the fall of Hong Kong after which he became a Japanese prisoner of war (POW) until 1945 and Jack Rhind spoke about the Italian campaign in 1943-44 and read extracts from his wartime diary.
Lastly, former Canadian Prime Minister John N. Turner spoke about being in Ottawa as a 12-year old boy in December 1941 and meeting Churchill immediately after the taking of the famous Yousuf Karsh photo and the famous “Some chicken, some neck” speech that Churchill delivered to the Canadian Parliament on 30 December 1941.
Other conference highlights included: Finest Hour editor Richard Langworth’s Friday lunch presentation; a new talk by the U.S. Naval War College’s Prof. John Maurer on “Churchill and the United States Between the World Wars: A Troubled Partnership”; U.K. Churchillian David Boler on the role of Canadians in the Battle of the Atlantic in which his father served with the Royal Navy. Also, Lynne Olson previewing her upcoming book on the struggle between intervention and isolation in the U.S. 1939-41, with a particular insight on the role of Charles Lindbergh.
University of Toronto student Monika Kolodziej noted, “It is clear that on the scholarly end the conference was undeniably superb.”
All 225 attendees received a copy of just-published new book “Churchill and Mackenzie King: So Similar, So Different” by long-time ICS Canada Board member Terry Reardon. They also received a never-before released CD of “The Tumult and the Shouting”, a one-hour audio program created by Allis-Chalmers Company for Churchill’s 80th birthday in 1954 and distributed to schools throughout the United States and Canada.
The closing dinner on Saturday evening included an Awards presentation and featured The Canadian Singers and along with Conference Chairman Randy Barber’s wife Solveig Barber, who provided entertainment, including a number of hit songs from WWII.
The presentation included four annual Churchill Centre Awards being given. Conference organizer G. H. “Randy” Barber received the 2012 Blenheim Award for “For his tireless efforts in keeping alive the memory of Sir Winston, promoting the International Churchill Society of Canada, and in organizing International Churchill Conferences.”
Churchill Defiant author Barbara Leaming received the 2012 Emery Reves Award For Excellence in the field of Churchill studies for her book.
The Somervell Award went to Churchill biographer The Rt. Hon. Sir Martin Gilbert CBE, for his outstanding four-part series, “Churchill and Intelligence” written for the Churchill Centre’s quarterly publication Finest Hour, Issues 148-151.
2012 Farrow Award went to Ronald I. Cohen, for his magisterial three-volume work “Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill”.
Churchill Centre Academic Advisor Warren Kimball commented, that he and his wife Sally, “… were most impressed. Impressed by the quality and organization of the conference. Impressed by the excellent and enthusiastic attendance. Impressed by the quality of the papers. …and impressed by the kindness and courtesy of folks in Toronto.”
And Canadian Churchillian John Greenhough summed it up this way; “You hit a home run… Well done Canada – well done everyone.”
Thanks to all who participated, and particular thanks goes to the Conference Committee:
- Chuck Anderson
- Randy Barber, Chairman
- David Brady
- Cliff Goldfarb
- Bob Jarvis
- Barrie Montague
- Terry Reardon
- Gordon Walker