It all started on 25 January 1964. Arthur Cload and his good friends Dr. H.T. “Tom” Southwood and Dr. A.H. “Arnie” Lane had attended the annual Burns Club dinner. It had been another pleasant dinner, with Bill Newbigging as the current chair. Alan Macdonald was past chairman and Sandy Mactaggart the incoming chair. The Scottish bard had been dead some 165 years and the Edmonton club had held their dinners every year on January 25 since 1920.
After dinner, the three friends adjourned to the hotel lounge for a ﬁnal nightcap when Arthur observed that there was a man, still living, who was a giant in his time and who well deserved similar recognition. And so the seed was planted and they assembled a group of like-minded gentlemen: Basil Dean, publisher of the Edmonton Journal; John Flint, owner of a printing business; Cameron Steer, lawyer and later judge; and Dr. H.D.M. MacPhee, physician.
The ﬁrst decisions the men made were that there be an annual dinner, that they would seek out men who had worked with and knew Churchill to deliver a Memorial Address, and that the dinner be patterned after a military mess dinner. With the basics in place, Arthur Cload wrote a letter to Churchill seeking permission to form a society in his name.
The committee applied to the Province of Alberta for society status, which was duly approved, and Arthur mailed Churchill photocopies of the documents. Churchill’s private secretary thanked him and added, “he [Churchill] bids me to send you his good wishes.”
Douglas Walker-Brash, Head of Post, British Government Office in Edmonton, was instantly enthusiastic. He used his consular contacts and lo and behold, Field Marshal, Lord Harding of Petherington, who had achieved fame as the commander of the Desert Rats, agreed to deliver the ﬁrst Memorial Address to 625 gentlemen at the Hotel Macdonald on 10 May 1965.
It had by this time become evident that a great deal of planning would be involved, so Brigadier Bob Bradburn was asked to be executive secretary for the newly-formed Society. Bob was more than equal to the task: he called Air Canada, who provided free ﬁrst-class air travel; he prevailed on his friend, Brigadier Leach, who was head of Western Army Command to provide a staff car and driver, a helicopter as well as a Military Band to provide music at the dinner.
During the planning process, Douglas Walker-Brash came up with the idea of having a toastmaster. The ﬁrst person to perform that duty was Bandmaster Fisher, resplendent in his mess kit and with a splendid moustache—complete with waxed ends extending several inches on either side of his face. He got the audience’s attention by pounding his drum-major’s staff on a sounding board and announcing in his best parade square voice: “My Lords and Gentlemen! Pray, silence…!” Thus a tradition was born and it remains as one of the unique features of the Annual Dinner.
Prior to dinner, Lord Harding was asked to choose a song that could be sung at the end of the meal. He immediately said “Land of Hope and Glory” because he knew that Churchill would have approved. And so a second tradition was born.
Lord Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, resplendent in his full-dress Admiral’s uniform, delivered the second Memorial Address on 11 April 1966. All who were present still speak of that evening. Following the dinner, Lord Louis was asked if he would consider becoming the patron of the Society. He graciously accepted, and the Society’s future was assured.
On 24 April 1967, the Alberta Room of the Chateau Lacombe was ﬁlled to capacity. Over 700 gentlemen, many of them in Military mess kit, came to hear the former Governor General of Canada, Field Marshal, Earl Alexander of Tunis speak. Following his Memorial Address we knew that his would be a hard act to follow! However, the Society had made its mark and with “Dickie” Mountbatten’s gentle prodding we continued to—and still do—attract high-quality speakers.
Calgary heard of our success and asked if they might join with us and have future speakers speak there following our dinners. We agreed and they had their ﬁrst banquet in 1966. Vancouver came on board in 1979.
After Western Army Command was “stood down,” we did not have the support of the regular army, but the reserve army ﬁlled that gap. Army staff cars were no longer available, but some of the Society’s members offered us the use of their vehicles. Special mention must be made of CSM Bob Wall of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment who was our “ofﬁcial driver” for a number of years. Bob would stay in the hotel and hold himself available to the speaker and Bob’s name was always mentioned in the inevitable letter of thanks we received from the speakers on their return home.
The pattern that developed was for the speaker to arrive in Edmonton on Saturday, where he was met by members of the executive at the International Airport. From the airport, the RCMP provided a police escort to the city limits, where they were met by the Edmonton police and escorted the rest of the way to the hotel. That evening the president and his wife entertained at a quiet dinner in the hotel. The following day the speaker read the lesson at All Saints Anglican Cathedral and the president entertained at his home at afternoon tea, where the speaker and his wife could meet the members of the board and a few special guests. Following the luncheon, the winners of the debates and speech contests were presented to the speaker, who then presented them with their medals and prizes.
In the earliest years, the dinners were all-male functions. While the men were having their dinner in one room, the president’s wife hosted the dinner for the speaker’s wife in a separate room. They were joined by the wives of the board members and of the head table guests. As they certainly did not want to miss the main event, the speech was “piped in” for them.
Having followed this format for the ﬁrst six or eight years, the directors felt that it was a great pity that the winners of the debates and speech contests did not have a chance to hear the speaker deliver the memorial address. The decision was made to put on a private dinner for the students, (winning student debaters were all male in those days,) in the hotel dining room and when the address was being delivered, to bring the students into the dining room and seat them at a table so that they could hear the speech.
That format was followed until a young woman won the gold medal in debating. It was apparent that the traditional format was outdated and today the Society is freely open to women and men and is the better for it.
The Edmonton Society has always had an executive secretary, and has prospered by that. Brigadier Bob Bradburn, the ﬁrst person to hold this ofﬁce, planned events in true military fashion. Major Keith Wakeﬁeld took over that position in 1973 and held it until 1984.
For the ﬁrst four years, Dr. Southwood held the position of honorary secretary. He was followed by Dr. Pat Finnegan who held the position from 1970 through 1979, when he and his family moved to the West Coast. Hon. Lt. Col. Wilf Sadler served in the following four years and was then followed by Lt. Col. Wally Ross.
The ﬁrst Chaplain was Monsignor Joe Malone, who performed that task until 1982. Bert McQuaid took on that duty for the following ﬁve years, but his failing health forced him to relinquish the post.
The Society has not been without its lighter moments. In 1985, Sandy Mactaggart entertained Viscount Head and members of the executive at his home for Sunday Brunch. Brunch was served by the indoor pool and at some point during the festivities, our president, former RCMP Commissioner George McClellan, stepped backwards into the pool—much to the consternation and then the amusement of the guests.
Then there was the evening when the toastmaster was “indisposed” and unable to perform his duties…. Fortunately George Lynch-Staunton was able to step into the breach. On another occasion, the toastmaster lined up the head table incorrectly then had to reseat them in full view of the audience.
There were some anxious moments in 1980. Sir Fitzroy MacLean was our guest speaker, but General Tito, the Yugoslavian strongman, was on his deathbed and had asked to have Fitzroy there with him. The members of the executive prayed hard that Tito would be scheduled for an early date to meet his maker. The prayers were answered and Fitzroy arrived in time.
The High School debates and speech contests were a little slow getting started, but we persevered and they are now a permanent ﬁxture on the program. A welcome addition has been the establishment of a contest between the winners from Calgary and Edmonton for the Alberta championship and the Billington cup.
During his presidency, Dr. Harvey Hebb visited Cambridge and met the Master of Churchill College Cambridge, Sir William Hawthorn. Over dinner they came up with the plans for a scholarship for doctoral studies and Harvey came home and launched a fundraising drive. He more or less single-handedly raised $100,000.00 and then approached Premier Lougheed, who arranged to match—and later double-match—the funds. The University of Alberta took over management of the fund in 1987. To date, 10 students have attended Cambridge and have graduated from there with PhDs. A further 3 students are currently studying at Cambridge.
Dr. Joe Siegenberg became president in 1983. He made the decision that we should erect a statue of Churchill in Churchill Square. Vince Reynolds attempted to obtain a charitable number from Revenue Canada, but found that they would not provide a charitable number for that purpose. After some prolonged discussions, Ottawa agreed that we could have a number for the purpose of creating scholarships and could as an adjunctive activity, erect a statue. And so the Churchill Statue and Oxford Scholarship Foundation was formed. Mrs. Pearl Hawrelak Porter provided $25,000.00. Other major donors were the Hole Family, Sandy Mactaggart, and Jasper Place Royal Canadian Legion. The past presidents of the Society each donated $1,000.00, as did a number of other Edmontonians. The City of Edmonton provided the land as well as the granite cladding for the plinth—the granite had been part of the facing for the old city hall that had just been replaced.
The Province of Alberta ﬁnanced the erection of the statue, including the plinth. Anxious to have the unveiling on time for the 25th anniversary, Joe Siegenberg paid for the statue and the committee repaid him later. So on 24 May 1989, Lady Soames unveiled the statue of her beloved father.
But the Foundation still had work to do. There was still the matter of the Oxford Scholarship. With the statue in place it became difﬁcult to raise money and the decision was made to run casinos. We have now deposited $ 200,000.00 with the University of Alberta and students in the Faculty of Arts can apply for grants to conduct research in the United Kingdom, funded by the interest on those funds.
It was decided that a collection of the ﬁrst 25 Memorial Addresses would be a ﬁtting way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Society. Putting together the volume "The Heroic Memory, 1965-1989" has been an experience. As modern technology has improved, we have been able to preserve the addresses in more sophisticated and enduring ways; however, some of the earlier tape recordings, such as the address by Lord Shawcross in 1976, have partially disintegrated. In other cases, only verbatim transcripts of the original speeches remain. Where possible, the original tape recordings were transcribed and edited for print; if these were not available, we used the extant transcriptions. Since we wanted the focus to be on the speeches, we have not annotated the speeches, except, where possible, to refer readers to original sources for quotations from Churchill’s own writings. The second volume "The Heroic Memory, 1990-2014" was completed in 2015 with the added benefit and ease of modern technical recordings and transcriptions of the banquet speakers.
We hope that making the ﬁrst 50 Memorial Addresses available in The Heroic Memory, volumes 1 and 2, will further the objectives of the Society:
• To keep alive for posterity the memory of The Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, K.G., O.M., C.H., M.P.;
• To retain for posterity with honour and dignity the shining example of the many facets of this extraordinary man;
• To perpetuate the ideals of courage and bravery displayed under the most trying and adverse conditions;
• To promote through the existing channels of communication the true history of his impact on world events.
Wally Ross 2004