Manitoba History: W. Sanford Evans and the Canadian Club of Winnipeg, 1904-1919
by Wade A. Henry
There was a level of optimism in Canada during the early and mid-1890s despite the downturn in the economy and despite the swift succession of Prime Ministers, four within a span of five years between 1891 and 1896. Several members of the first generation born in Canada since Confederation ignored the current condition of the economy and expressed confidence in their country’s future. They regarded the recession as a temporary setback to Canada’s destiny as a prosperous and strong nation and reasoned that with her abundant resources, geographic position, British democratic traditions, and “salubrious” climate, Canada could not help but succeed.  This optimism cultivated a growing patriotism, a “re-awakening” of national sentiment similar to that which immediately followed Confederation.  While there have been numerous studies on the growth of Canadian patriotism during the Laurier years, historians have almost entirely ignored the role of one of its most significant products, the Canadian Club.
The largest national club movement in Canada at the turn of the century, the Canadian Club was co-founded in 1893 by W. Sanford Evans, one of the leading exponents of the new “Canadianism.” Evans, a member of the first “Canadian-born generation,” initiated the Canadian Club movement in order to promote the greatness and the uniqueness of the Canadian nation. His vision of the Club was for it to be a non-partisan and non-sectarian organization, not aligned with any political party or interest, which would spread a Canadian national sentiment across the country. When it was established in 1904, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg supported this ideal. Within fifteen years, however, the Winnipeg Club, the largest and one of the most prominent clubs in Canada, became the antithesis of what Evans desired. Through an examination of the abundant, and largely neglected, Evans papers and Canadian Club of Winnipeg papers, it can be discerned that due to the rise of imperial sentiment and hysteria caused by the First World War, by 1919 the Canadian Club of Winnipeg had rejected its original tenets and had become a partisan and imperialist organization.
Until the turn of the century the foremost concern of federal political leaders was the integration and survival of the polity created by Confederation. The result was a party system which defined few national goals since parties were more concerned with local issues. As the economy improved and national sentiment grew in the 1890s so did disaffection with the system. Several people began to urge a change in the national party system which would shift politicians’ interests from local to national issues. 
W. Sanford Evans shared this concern. Born in 1869 at Spencerville, Ontario, the son of Methodist minister Rev. J. S. Evans, Evans went to public school in Hamilton and pursued his Bachelor of Arts degree at Victoria College in Cobourg, Ontario, a Methodist institution. Returning to Hamilton to work at the Canadian branch of Dr. Stephenson’s Children’s Home and Training School for Christian Workers, Evans and his friend Charles R. McCollough, principal of the Hamilton Business College since 1888, decided upon founding a club to foster Canadian patriotism.
Evans was convinced that there was a growing national sentiment among Canadians. This Canadianism derived from the peoples’ recognition of their nation as unique. Yet, Evans thought that there was still not enough patriotism in his country. In order for a nation to be prosperous and prominent it was vital that her inhabitants possessed “great feeling,” that is, a strong national sentiment. He agreed with the idea that “patriotism is essential to the development of the perfect man.”  It was a prerequisite to nation-building; without it no country could become eminent.  Evans calculated that just as a spirit must have a body, so beliefs must have an organization. He believed that the best form of organization to promote Canadianism was the federal government. The government, however, was not in a position to undertake the promotion of Canadianism. The party system, as already noted, discouraged any federal party from defining national policies, with the odd exception. Thus, Evans and McCullough decided upon setting up a “Canadian Club” as a preparatory form of organization. Through it they hoped to influence the government to adopt the promotion of Canadianism as a national policy. 
Although the concept was constructed in 1892, the inaugural meeting of the first Canadian Club in Hamilton did not occur until the spring of 1893. With Evans as the first President, and McCullough as the first Secretary, the Club found immediate success and support. From a handful of charter members, membership swelled to over 500 within a year. Membership was open to any man, at least eighteen years of age, who was Canadian by birth or adoption and was in sympathy with the objects of the Club. The “objects” of the association were, of course, to teach Canadians about the history of their country and the potential of their nation for prominence. “All the influences,” Evans wrote, “of heredity and environment are in our favour.” All that was needed was self-knowledge which would produce patriotism.  Hence, the Canadian Club gave native talent a stage and encouraged Canadian culture.
Meetings consisted of poetry readings, speeches on aspects of Canadian history and life, music by Canadian composers, and informal conversation among members. The informality was a high priority to Evans, who believed that the Club should have a social function. He desired permanent club rooms where men could gather in their leisure hours to chat, drink, and play cards and billiards.  Under these relaxing conditions men could not only express opinion, but form opinion as well.  Political issues would be discussed, but from the standpoint of logic rather than from a party point of view. Evans did not want the Club to promote one particular position over another because if the Canadian Club was to be effective in influencing the federal government it had to be united. “Unhappily,” he lamented, “we are Canadian partisans before we are Canadians ... This is to be deplored.” Instead, “in a club of this kind, where we know no party distinctions, we can do much to develop habits of independent thinkingto reason from the facts rather than from the party ready down [sic].”  The Club’s nonpartisanship, in short, would allow the association to influence both federal parties, thus optimizing the possibility that their program would be adopted by government, be it Conservative or Liberal.
After completing a two-year Master of Arts degree in English Literature at Columbia University in New York, Evans returned to Toronto in 1897 to work as an editorial writer with the Mail and Empire. He quickly founded a Canadian Club in that city. The format of this association, however, would not be along the lines of the social club he had desired. He was forced to set it up as a luncheon club because it was a more convenient form for the newspapermen who initially composed the majority of the membership. The new format became popular and would become the pattern for all future Canadian Clubs.
After his short stint at the Mail and Empire and a failed attempt to be elected as a Conservative candidate in the provincial election of 1898, Evans joined his cousin as a manager at the National Cycle and Automobile Company in Toronto. His career at this business would also be short-lived when a rival company arrived at a settlement with the major stock holders of National Cycle and forced both Evans and his cousin out of the company.  While looking for work Sanford Evans became interested in the Winnipeg Telegram. He believed that the Tory paper, which had fallen on hard times, could be a success since the Conservative party had recently gained power in Manitoba. With the further enticement that the party would support his nomination in the next federal election, he accepted the offer to run the Telegram and in 1901 moved to Winnipeg with his new wife, Mary Irene Gurney, the daughter of a former mayor of Toronto. 
It was during this career change that Evans undertook writing his first, and only, book. In The Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism (1901) Evans believed he wrote neither a military nor a political history of the Canadian involvement in the Anglo-Boer War, as T. G. Marquis and Stanley Brown had done in 1900.  Instead, he perceived his work to be a “contribution toward an understanding of the Canadian people as they revealed themselves at home and in the field during a specified period.” Consequently, and almost predictably, the study was permeated with Evans’ preoccupation with “strong feeling” and national sentiment among Canadians. To Evans, the sending of contingents to participate in the Anglo-Boer War was a positive action because it stimulated national aspirations. It was also “a natural result” since Canada was “British in inclination.” Evans saw no contradiction in promoting a greater Canadianism and celebrating the British heritage because he believed that being British was an important component of the Canadian characterBritish traditions were Canadian traditions. 
Considering his support of the British connection and the fact that he was, in later years, a regular visitor to London and lunched often with leading imperialists, could it, then, be said that Evans was an imperialist? Certainly, he was not very critical of Canadian imperialism. But this was because he regarded it as a form of nationalism. As already noted, Evans believed that there was not enough nationalism and patriotism in Canada, and, indeed, the world. Patriotism and nationalism were the same to Evans. They were both producers of “strong feeling” and it was “feeling” which made great men and nations. “It is one of the great uses of patriotism,” Evans wrote, “to keep alive the sentiment in the world and so make great deeds possible. Patriotism is that feeling generated when men are working together, united with the natural instincts of affection, and this patriotism makes us cling to our own country, makes us love her most, makes us apt to be blind to her faults, and to the virtues of others.”  Hence, Evans did not oppose imperial feeling in Canada because it stirred Canadian sentiment and, therefore, had to be beneficial to Canada. 
Yet, he did reject any imperial policies which infringed on Canada’s independence of action, in particular the proposal for an Imperial Council. He insisted that Canada was not constitutionally obligated to participate in Imperial defence. Whether or not to participate was a question of policy and in Canada this policy had yet to be formulated for the people to adopt. Imperial issues had to be dealt with in the Dominion government, to be thoroughly discussed in Canadian politics, and not by “delegating this working out [of policies] to a few nominal representatives who meet with others like themselves in London. Imperialism must come before the people of Canada just as it now does before the people of the United Kingdom.” Evans was convinced that only a Canadian Minister responsible for Canadian external affairs could ensure Canadian freedom of action. In promoting this idea in The Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism Evans became one of the first advocates for a Canadian Department of External Affairs, a position he would promote even more vociferously in later years. “Whether the Empire,” he wrote in 1909, “remains united or splits up into independent fragments, this development must take place. The department thus created is the necessary local organ for Imperial affairs, and it is through these local organs the Empire must find its working connection.” 
Sanford Evans, then, was consistent in his support of Canadianism. He recognized the significance of Canadian imperialism because it generated Canadian national sentiment and aspirations and he supported the British connection due to its importance to the Canadian identity. He did not embrace the Imperial idea entirely, however, because aspects of it denied Canadian sovereignty, and thus the nation’s dignity, and it promoted Canada as a British state and not as a “nation of Canadians.” His proposal for a Canadian Department of External Affairs, and his call in 1905 for a Canadian navy independent of British involvement,  were examples of his defense of the idea of an autonomous and self-respecting Canada. 
Although some of his beliefs were controversial because, as Castell Hopkins commented, “national sentiment or ideal which could be at once Canadian and British was not as yet understood,”  his arrival in Winnipeg still provided the spark needed to set up a Canadian Club in that city. In late 1903 and early 1904 he was urged by several friends to do so,  and by February 1904 the movement was underway in Winnipeg. Evans, however, was unable to take a very active role in the establishment of the new Club, beyond pressing his friends to organize it. At the same time he received his promised nomination to run in the federal election as a Conservative candidate. Although he was a firm Conservative supporter, he refused to let the Canadian Club become a partisan organization. His political ambitions did not cloud his nonpartisan convictions and hopes for the Club. Thus, he felt he could not participate in the formation of the Club in Winnipeg. E. J. Hathaway congratulated him on his strong nonpartisan position and told him “I appreciate the fact that your political prominence is against your taking an active part in its formation, for the identification of such a club with any party would be fatal.” 
Nevertheless, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg was established in the spring with Evans as a charter member along with other prominent people from the city such as the novelist Rev. C. W. Gordon (Ralph Connor), businessman E. E. Sharpe, and Conservative political organizer R. A. Manning. Fittingly, constitutional lawyer John S. Ewart became the first president. Ewart reflected the spirit of the Canadian Clubs because he, like Evans, believed that Canadianism had to be spread to make Canada a great nation. Canadians had to become more interested in their country, more confident, and more uncomfortable with colonial status.  Quoting Evans’ The Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism in his inaugural speech, Ewart read and agreed that “from a common Canadianism the forward movement must begin. This principle must be accepted and acted upon even though the patience of the new Imperialists be tried.” Patriotism in Canada had to be encouraged if the country were to be prosperous and independent. 
The constitution of the Club in Winnipeg followed the precepts of the original Club in Hamilton. It stated that
The activities of the Club closely followed this resolution. Embracing the luncheon format, functions usually consisted of speeches on Canadian subjects. On average there were sixteen luncheons per year with an attendance, after 1910, of around 400. Topics included Canadian unity, imperial federation, the industrial future of Canada, Canada’s mountain heritage, the battlefields of Quebec, and so on. The speakers were mostly Canadian politicians or businessmen and professional men from the community, but they also included British statesmen and the occasional American. Between 1904 and 1919 the speakers list at the Winnipeg Club included such people as J. H. Ashdown, J. W. Dafoe, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Colonel George T. Denison, Lord Milner, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sir Robert Baden-Powell.
Besides the luncheon speeches, the Club also promoted Canadian national sentiment in the Winnipeg community. They distributed miniature silk flags to schools on Dominion Day, gave awards to non-English students who went to English classes, and provided scholarships to encourage students to study Canadian history at the University level. Between 1904 and 1919, they donated over $10,000 to a variety of patriotic causes, such as relief for the victims of the Halifax explosion and the Quebec bridge disaster. 
The impact of such activities on the public is difficult to calculate. The format and structure of the Club did, however, attract many people. Indeed, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg quickly became the largest in Canada. Two years after being founded it had nearly 800 members, by 1911 1200, and in 1914 over 1800 members.  Almost the entire membership came from the business and professional elite and were white, Anglo-SaxonProtestants.  It was also men-only. (Women managed to get around this problem by setting up the Women’s Canadian Club of Winnipeg in 1907.) Applicants to the Canadian Club of Winnipeg were required to declare themselves British subjects and to state their occupation; they also had to be endorsed by two active members. Since nearly all of the “applicants” were sponsored by either a current or former member of the executive committee, it seems likely that people were invited to become members rather than actually having to apply for membership.  This system kept the undesirable elements out of the Club, namely “foreigners” and the working classes. The Canadian Club of Winnipeg was not oblivious to the importance of the new immigrants in Canadian society. These “foreigners” also had to be inculcated with Canadian patriotism, but before this could be accomplished they had to be assimilated. Notwithstanding the awards for those who took English classes, the Club realized that a broader, more extensive program was needed in order to Canadianize them. The apparent solution was the establishment of a Canadian Club in North Winnipeg. The members encouraged the development of another chapter in the city with the sole purpose of assimilating the foreign-born and instilling Canadian ideals in them.  On 30 January 1920 a Club in North Winnipeg was set up as “an organization in which men of North Winnipeg might meet in a social way and hear addresses on topics of common interest to all Canadians irrespective of creed or national origin.”  The membership fee was decreased to one dollar as compared to the parent Club’s fee of two dollars in order to make the North End Club more accessible to non-English Canadians. While some Ukrainians and Poles did join, the membership consisted of mostly Englishmen and Scots. Possibly because most immigrants realized the hidden agenda of the association, and most Anglo-Saxons regarded it with disdain when compared to the “real” Canadian Club in Winnipeg, membership never surpassed fifty people. Consequently, by 1923 the Canadian Club of North Winnipeg had died.
Sanford Evans had agreed with the motives of the North Winnipeg Club. As early as 1911 he had expressed his desire to have recent immigrants assimilated. Patriotism among the native-born was yet again cited as the means to achieve success. Only patriotic Canadians could assimilate the immigrants. Not only could a Club in North Winnipeg facilitate integration, but it might also make the immigrants more loyal to their new country. 
As already mentioned, the participation of Evans in the Canadian Club of Winnipeg was limited in the first year. Having lost the election, however, he became much more active, serving on the executive in several different capacities from 1905 to 1909. During this period his career took a dramatic shift. He resigned as editor of the Telegram in 1905, remaining its owner, in order to start his own brokerage and investment business, an area in which he would prosper. He would then play a significant role in the establishment of the Winnipeg Stock Exchange and serve as president of the Winnipeg Development and Industrial Bureau (1907-1908) and as an executive member of the Board of Trade.  These business accomplishments led to further attainments within the social establishment and in politics. His decision to take over the Telegram and his active involvement in Tory functions earned him an immediate acceptance by the Conservative business and professional community. In addition, his high profile connection with the Canadian Club brought him into further contact with the social establishment of Winnipeg, and his place within it was confirmed with his subsequent memberships in the Manitoba Club, the Assiniboine Lodge of the Masonic Order, and the St. Charles Country Club.
1909 was a particularly good year for Evans. Not only was he elected mayor of Winnipeg, a position in which he served until 1911, but, also, the first President of the Association of Canadian Clubs. Since municipal politics was “party-free” Evans saw no threat of partisanship infiltrating the Club resulting from his acting as both mayor and President. The Association of Canadian Clubs was what Evans had always wanted“one great Canadian brotherhood.” He always believed that the Clubs would fail to achieve their goals unless they were placed throughout Canada. By 1909 this had occurred as there were 57 Clubs inCanada, four in the United States, and one in Japan. Individually they had freedom to organize in their own manner and each had a different character, but a close union was the final goal because they would have more influence if they were united. 
After his career as mayor had ended and his term as President of the Association terminated in 1911, Evans became the president of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg for the first, and only, time. Thereafter, his involvement would be limited only to membership in the club during the First World War. During this period he was in Ottawa serving on the Georgian Bay canal commission and was unable to follow Club events closely. If he had, he would have witnessed a shift away from his original tenets of Canadianism and nonpartisanship to imperialism and partisanship.
The Canadian Club was not immune to the growing imperial sentiment in Canada before the War. The Club in Toronto was affected in 1903 when several members seceded from the organization complaining that it had “too much Canadianism.” These former members founded the Empire Club and countered the “unbridled Canadianism” of the Canadian Clubs with devotion to the Imperial idea and had their applications state forcefully that only “British” subjects could become members rather than “Canadians.”  The Club in Winnipeg was influenced from the very beginning by these imperialists. As already noted, to be a member of the Club a man had to swear he was a British subject, not a Canadian. Of course, to be a Canadian was also to be, by definition, a British subject. In fact, at this time “in Canada a man must be a British subject, before he can become a citizen of the Dominion.”  Therefore, the change in wording actually broadened the membership qualifications. But this was not the only issue. It was a question of identity and of patriotismwhether a man regarded himself as a Canadian citizen first and a Briton second or vice versa. Charles McCullough expressed what he and Evans were fighting against when he commented that many people who were born in Canada, though of British ancestry, would no sooner call themselves Canadian than would a Britisher born in India consider himself Indian.  To Evans and McCullough, at issue was the need to recognize that “Canada is becoming the home of a nation of Canadians,” of a distinct Canadian people.  Hence, while it may seem that the change of wording on the applications was merely to expand the membership qualifications, in reality the modification had a much more symbolic meaning.
Over the years more and more of the speakers at the luncheons of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg were imperialists from both Canada and Britain. By 1913 the Empire was being promoted as much as Canada. It was no longer Evans crying “let us have a Canadianism broad, deep, intelligent and sane uniting all no matter what politics or creeds we hold,”  but one imperialist after another (including some from within the club executive) declaring allegiance to Britain and the Empire. As early as 1908, for example, the honourary secretary J. B. Mitchell declared that the Canadian Club of Winnipeg “has already gained, and will continue to hold, a distinct and permanent place among those forces that tend to develop and maintain a greater love for our country and devotion to the Imperial idea.”  The war only increased the level of British sentiment and would cause the members of the Club to abandon the tradition of nonpartisanship.
Some members had always wanted the Club to push for political reforms by lobbying all levels of government. They were usually in a minority, though, as most adhered to Evans’ founding belief that the Clubs should be above party and political issues.  The imperial fervour during the war, however, made them reject this ideal. They did so in two ways. First, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg openly declared its support of Borden’s proposal for a Union government.  This was a direct contravention of the Canadian Club’s tradition of non-alignment with any political position. Second, support of reform measures always had been suppressed by the Club because there was the threat that the attempt to advocate any single political reform could dissolve into a partisan debate. “In some cases,” J. S. Willison explained in 1907, “there was a disposition to make the Clubs a medium of propaganda and to undertake the prosecution of certain definite municipal, provincial, or national reforms. It was discovered, however, that this would tend to division on the lines of party, and certainly there was no need for greater accentuation of party opinion or of fresh opportunity for partisan debate.”  Therefore, the Canadian Club of Winnipeg’s decision to press the provincial and federal governments for a number of reforms was a partisan and sectarian action according to the original precepts of the Club.
Under the influence of a growing imperial sentiment within the organization during the war, the executive of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg explained that “although the Club has always endeavoured to remain non-political and non-sectarian, it is felt that in cases where the good of the country requires action we should not be slow to express a definite opinion and take a definite stand.” Bilingualism, that “growing menace,” was one such example as they openly advocated only English instruction in schools.  Prohibition was supported to “promote sobriety and economy among our people in this time of stress” and to reform the morality of the working classes. They also passed a resolution to urge the federal and provincial governments
Likewise, shortly after the war the Club made another sectarian resolution which urged that “Hutterites and other similarly objectionable sects and immigrants [i.e. non-conscription immigrants] be excluded on ground that they cannot be assimilated into Canadian citizenship and are a menace to our institutions.”  At the end of the war the Canadian Club of Winnipeg lapsed into a state of confusion. The hysteria generated by the war had caused most of its members to reject the original tenets of the Club. With the war over many did not know in what direction the Club should proceed. With the advent of new service clubs competing for members, such as the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions, the Canadian Clubs, not just in Winnipeg but throughout Canada, stagnated. It was not until the mid-1920s that they were revitalized, with a permanent central headquarters and full-time secretary in Ottawa, and instilled with the Canadian nationalism of the 1920s. 
The Canadian Club of Winnipeg, then, was unable to maintain Sanford Evans’ vision. At first most members were firm supporters of the promotion of Canadianism. They agreed that the Club had to be nonpartisan if it was going to succeed in persuading the federal government to accept the national responsibility of fostering patriotism. However, during the Great War these ideals became lost and were replaced by imperialism and partisanship. Evans had always feared that the adoption of only one position, such as imperialism, and a partisan approach would destroy the Club. He was nearly right as the Club went into a period of abeyance following the war.
1. W. Sanford Evans, “The Canadian Club Movement,” The Canadian Magazine vol. II, No. 1 (1893), p. 22; Russell R. Merifield, Speaking of Canada: The Centennial History of the Canadian Clubs (Toronto, 1993), pp. 1-2.
8. The club room regulations conformed to Evans’ strong moral and religious convictionsall beverages were to be nonalcoholic and no gambling or betting was permitted; Constitution and By-laws of the Canadian Club of Hamilton (1896).
23. John S. Ewart, The Kingdom of Canada, Imperial Federation, the Colonial Conferences, the Alaska Boundary, and other Essays (Toronto, 1908), p. 1.
28. Ibid., P2748, Membership Lists (1904-1916). The occupations of members were almost exclusively one of the following: barristers, brokers, dentists, doctors, insurance and real estate agents, journalists, and managers.
47. Although this recent wave of nationalism took various forms, such as Britannic, continentalist, isolationist, and republican, they all had in common a deep concern about the Canadian nation. Mary Vipond, “The Nationalist Network: English Canada’s Intellectuals and Artists in the 1920s,” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, vol. 7, No. 1 (1980), pp. 34, 38.
Page revised: 11 April 2010