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Good Conferences Make Good Neighbors
St. Lawrence/Queen’s conferences in the 1930s helped establish U.S. relations with Canada, with its new measure of independence.

In 1935, a mere 70 years ago, Canada had been fully autonomous for only four years. During that interval, St. Lawrence University, in conjunction with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., developed a Biennial Conference on Canadian-American Affairs.

St. Lawrence’s centennial history book, Candle in the Wilderness (1956), explains that the conferences gave the two nations a means to provide each other with a deeper understanding of issues, problems, and affairs affecting both countries. Through the principal leadership of St. Lawrence history professor Albert Corey, who offered a course on Canadian history; Owen D. Young, Class of 1894, who was chairman of the Board of Trustees until 1933; and R.G. Trotter of Queen’s University, the two schools arranged to have the conferences authorized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP).

The biennial conferences were held at St. Lawrence in 1935 and 1939, and at Queens in 1937 and 1941. An average of 150 people attended, including educators; publicists; leaders in business, industry and labor; public officers and legislators; and 10 students from each institution.

The stated purpose of the conferences was not to reach any decisions or agreements, but to meet and exchange views without any political influence. According to Canadian-born James T. Shotwell of the CEIP, the conferences were meant “to help build up an academic neighborhood in disregard of the national frontier.” Topics ranged from monetary issues, foreign policy and trade as the two nations contended with the Great Depression, to defense and security as World War II neared. Each topic was presented via papers written by two people, one from each country. The topic was then discussed and debated by those in attendance.

The discussions were never intended to be publicized, but because interest on both sides of the border was high, transcripts from each conference were made public and used as a basic source of information on relations between the two countries. Still considered among the most penetrating analyses of U.S./Canadian relations, the documents were widely used in both educational and diplomatic circles. President Roosevelt and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King were briefed on the discussions and on the conclusions that were reached in those discussions.

The conferences dramatically improved the relationship between the two countries, helping pave the way for the Atlantic Pact, which solidified U.S.-Canadian relations in World War II, and for the Lend-Lease Program of European reconstruction after the war. The evolving bond the United States and Canada have today can in part be credited to the people from St. Lawrence and Queen’s who moved it forward 70 years ago. The conferences also helped pave the way at St. Lawrence for the “academic neighborhood” Dr. Shotwell envisioned, in the form of Canadian affairs workshops following World War II, Canada Week events in the early 1970s, the establishment of academic programs at Canadian universities beginning in 1977, and the creation of the Canadian studies program in 1980.

—Megan Bernier ’07


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