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