When Winston Churchill first arrived in Canada, a visit which coincided with the advent of the twentieth century it was the senior dominion in a far-flung Empire. His final visit, more than a half-century later, was to an independent and friendly ally in a unique political concept, the Commonwealth of Nations.
Often he came on his way to or from the United States or to host a meeting with the American President. He saw Canada as a vital link - the 'linchpin' he called it - of the English-speaking peoples.
In Winnipeg in 1901 he heard of the death of Queen Victoria and headed home to begin his amazing political career.
In Toronto in 1929 the Imperial Statesman drew such large crowds that speakers had to be placed outside the Royal York Hotel.
In Calgary in 1929 he wrote to his Wife that he was thinking of retiring from politics and taking up a business career in the Canadian West.
Off the coast of Newfoundland in 1941 Churchill and Roosevelt formed the Atlantic Alliance and later that year in Ottawa he spoke in the House of Commons and sat for Karsh to take what has become one of the most famous photographs in history.
In Quebec City in 1943 a conference between Churchill and Roosevelt planned Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy which occurred the following year.
Winston Churchill had a deep affection for Canada, which he referred to as "the linchpin of the English-speaking peoples." The City of Toronto played a special role in this Canadian connection.
Churchill first visited Canada in the winter of 1900/1901. Already, at the age of 26, he was a veteran of four military campaigns, a celebrated war correspondent, the author of five books, a newly elected member of the House of Commons, and, as the result of his heroic escape from captivity during the Boer War, world-famous. He spoke about his wartime experiences to full houses at Massey Hall on December 29, 1900 and January 2, 1901.
In the summer of 1929, following the defeat of the Baldwin government, Churchill made his second trip to Canada. Travelling across the country by rail from Quebec City to British Columbia, his developing love of Canada led him to write to his wife, Clementine, "Darling I am greatly attracted to this country. Immense developments are going forward. Never in my whole life have I been welcomed with so much genuine interest & admiration as throughout this vast country. I am profoundly touched; & I intend to devote my strength to interpreting Canada to our people & vice versa."
On August 16, 1929 Churchill addressed the Empire Club in the newly-opened Royal York Hotel. Loudspeakers carried the speech to an overflow crowd outside. In a speech with the theme of the changing role and nature of the British Empire, he emphasized that the "first interest of the British Empire was peace" and spoke about the transition of the Empire to a Commonwealth of free Nations bound together by "good will and good sense, sentiment and tradition operating in perfect freedom."
In September 1939, Canada joined Great Britain in declaring war on Germany. In August 1941, Churchill met with United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, where they signed the Atlantic Charter. Shortly after the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941, Churchill addressed the Canadian House of Commons on December 30. Responding to the taunt of the French generals that Britain would soon have its neck wrung like a chicken, he countered boldly, "Some chicken!" and, when the laughter died down, "Some neck!" He returned to Canada in 1943 and 1944 for the two Quebec Conferences with President Roosevelt hosted by Prime Minister Mackenzie King.
In a 1944 letter to Mackenzie King on the occasion of the Canadian Prime Minister's Silver Jubilee as leader of the Liberal Party, Churchill wrote, "Throughout these 25 years you and I have watched Canada advance along the road of liberty and progress with admiration and pride. Yet never, perhaps, has this country held Canada in higher esteem than in the last five years of bitter conflict." Canada's contribution in the Second World War was enormous. Of a population of eleven million, more than one million served in the armed forces. Of these, 42,000 were killed and 54,000 wounded. Canada spent $18 billion on the war and also gave $3.5 billion to Britain and the Allies - stupendous sums of money in those days.
On his seventh and final visit to Canada in 1954, Churchill said, "I love coming to Canada. Canada is the master-link in Anglo-American unity, apart from her own glories. God bless your Country."
In 1958 Churchill became the first person to be offered the Freedom of the City of Toronto, but health reasons prevented him from coming to Toronto to accept the honour extended to him by Mayor Nathan Phillips.
Upon Churchill's death on January 24, 1965, newspapers across the country published tributes to him with the Toronto Telegram stating: "He marches today in the glittering procession of history. He marches erect, strong and determined. Probably no man in history has come closer to the attainment of immortality than this great commoner."