Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks of the President and Governor General Edward R. Schreyer of Canada at the State Dinner in Ottawa

March 10, 1981

The Governor General. Mr. President, when such close neighbors as your charming wife and yourself come to visit, I've found that the planned protocol gives way, at least in part, to a natural hospitality. Only recently you and I both would probably have used the expression "good old western hospitality," but in current circumstances for you and me perhaps some other term is to be found. In any case, it is the rapport that exists between the entirety of our two nations that matters and which obviously has motivated you to make such an early visit to Canada. For this we are greatly appreciative in all parts of the country, and that you have chosen to do so within the first 2 months of your new administration is something which compounds our feeling.

In addition to your discussions on specific items, there is, I suggest, a very powerful and positive symbolic purpose in this visit as well. For the past seven decades or more, which happens to coincide with the creation by your country and ours of the International Joint Commission, the relationship between our two countries has been a model for others. Despite occasional differences, the overwhelming momentum in all this time has been always toward positive, productive friendship.

In the past 60 years or so, every President of the United States, with only one or two rather circumstantial exceptions, has visited here and, may I say, obviously and hopefully for the future, with honorable and good mutual result. You are continuing in that tradition, which I believe has produced a bond which was unique and still is almost unique among sovereign states everywhere.

We on both sides of the border, I think, often refer to the 4,000 miles and more of virtually unpatrolled border, to the kindred cultures and affinities, to the scientific and technical cooperation—as in the space shuttle, to mention just one example—to our political systems which, despite interesting and intriguing and subtle differences, produce an impressively similar stability for fundamental freedoms and due process and equality before the law. Ironically, visits by their very nature often tend to focus greater attention on those far less numerous issues which divide us, on which we have differences. And I suppose this is a normal part of the day-to-day of the bilateral relations in this world of reality. But if that be so, then that is precisely why it is so ultimately important that this visit demonstrate to all, so there can be no misreading or misunderstanding, that beneath the complexity of some of the issues—and some of them, goodness knows, are complex enough—lies a very firm bond of friendship, proven to be so by history and based upon constitutional restraint of power and motivated by plain decency and love of freedom.

Given all this, Mr. President, we can surely withstand the differences and, I would suggest, even the occasional ribbing which we know very well goes on, both at the officials' level and among the millions of our respective citizens. I won't try to relate some anecdote or examples of this ribbing that I refer to. In fact, I don't know if it's wise to relate any of them. But I think I could say as an aside that no one is excluded from this, including some present and former Prime Ministers and Presidents themselves.

Now, as between sisters, I'm not so sure; I don't really know. But those of you who have brothers will know very well how imaginative and descriptive some of this language can become in otherwise rather fraternal relations. Maybe it's just as well that I not elaborate further.

Still, I must mention that some Canadians are defensive about our winters, particularly since in very recent years the expression "Canadian snowbirds" became widespread in your country among some of your countrymen. But then our retort could well be to quote from a famous American poet, Walt Whitman. He said, and I quote, "I have often doubted whether there could be a great and sturdy people without the hardy influence of winter in due proportion." I don't know, Mr. President, what your response or sequel to that might be, but I don't urge you to come up with it tonight necessarily.

In closing, I should like to say—and with all the emphasis that I can muster—that a remarkable relationship indeed has been created between our two countries. And it has been sustained, despite some tangible differences, because of human decency and fair play and by the rational resorting in complex matters and circumstances to procedures and mechanisms that were once and are still today exemplary to the whole world. I have mentioned the IJC. I refer to the scientific and defense research cooperation arrangements, et cetera, et cetera.

Earlier today I tried with words en francais de meme qu'en anglais to express for the Canadian people the kind of welcome that they would want to extend to you. If, as I said, the planet is becoming a global village, then this is the house next door. You are both, both of you, as plainly and as fully welcome as that. And then to find that hosting you could be enjoyable as well, well, that's a bonus which we shall keep in our memory and treasure.

Thank you.

The President. Your Excellency, I think this matter of humor and laughing or ribbing that may take place—I know that in World War II, Winston Churchill said of your fighting men and ours and his own that we seemed to be the only people in the world that could laugh and fight at the same time. Now, I don't think he had in mind carrying that over into peacetime. So, we won't try to do that. But Nancy and I want to thank you for your warm words and generous welcome to this land of friends.

Friendship is not easily defined, but today I think I gained a better understanding of what our friendship means to each other. As we arrived this morning on Parliament Hill, we crossed Ottawa's Rideau Canal. The old canal, now nearly 150 years old, winds through Ottawa as a reminder of our relationship. I learned that it was built by an engineer who planned it as a military defense to protect Canada from the United States. [Laughter] Once intended to protect your nation from mine in war, it's now a place of serene peace. In the winter it becomes one of the longest skating rinks anywhere, and in the summer it charms visitors, I've been told, with the weeping willows that arch over it. But I didn't see that portion of it where there were weeping willows, but I trust they are there.

Canada's Gratin O'Leary once noted that this canal "tells the blessed thing that has come between these two countries and which today has roots deeper than before. That's friendship." An historian once described the vast and wealthy continent that we share as "a boundless vision of great forests, silent mountains and wilderness oceans mingling with the sky." Your national motto is A Mari Usque Ad Mare, from sea to sea. And in the United States, we sing of "America the Beautiful," "from sea to shining sea."

Our people know that our nations were forged in this like heritage. Our people inherited the resilience of those who first opened the mighty waterways which cross and thus give life to our continent—the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Saint Lawrence, the Great Lakes. We've grown up with our own national characters, but we share the independence and self-reliance of courageous pioneers such as Cartier, LaSalle, Lewis and Clark, and Mackenzie. Yet we also share the frontiersman's dependence on his neighbor, a trait that came to us early when settlers turned to each other to clear a forest, to raise a house, barter their goods. This North American spirit is a bond between our people, and we must never take it for granted.

New ways must be found to reinforce our special relationship. We live on the strongest, most prosperous continent on Earth. But as we develop our resources, we must protect the environment around us. We will never shirk our responsibility to defend our way of life when it is threatened. Prime Minister Trudeau, while visiting the United States, said that our nation was once the hope of the New World. Well, he's right. And I would like to add that our New World of freedom and democracy is now the hope of the entire world.

Our strong defense is the foundation of freedom, peace, and stability, and our countries must continue to draw close in times of crisis as we always have. Together, we'll stand as an example. As we work to keep this spirit of cooperation fresh, we will continue to respect each other's sovereignty, recognize our distinct national interests, and maintain our individual commitments to greater self-sufficiency.

Robert W. Service lived in Canada for many years and wrote about the taming of our continent and about the wild Canadian northlands. The law of the Yukon Road is that only the strong shall thrive, only the fit will survive. This is the challenge to our nations in the world today. Our national characters were forged on such a frontier. I'm confident that Canada and the United States, independent but together, can meet the test.

Nancy and I are just delighted to be here and have had a wonderful day, and we shall look forward to returning.

Thank you very much.

Note: The Governor General spoke at 10:48 p.m. in the ballroom of Rideau Hall, the Governor General's residence.
Earlier in the evening, the President and Mrs. Reagan were the guests of the Prime Minister at a gala performance at the National Arts Centre.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks of the President and Governor General Edward R. Schreyer of Canada at the State Dinner in Ottawa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives