AUGUST 22, 1979
John Diefenbaker is home -- at the end of a life
which started in another century, and embraced most of the history of our
Canada. He came to this West when it was raw and young, in the year Saskatchewan
became a province. As a child, he talked with the buffalo hunters. As a man, he
led his country and dominated its Parliament. Along the way, he touched the
lives of his fellow Canadians as no one ever will again.
It is easier to change laws than to change
lives. John Diefenbaker changed both. His Bill of Rights, his social programs,
his resource and regional development policies, changed permanently the laws of
Canada. But, more fundamental than that, he changed our vision of our country.
He opened the nation to itself, and let us see our possibilities. It is fitting
that his last work, from which death took him, was to prepare a speech to open
the Dempster, his highway to our Northern Sea.
We are not here to pass judgment on John
Diefenbaker. We are here to celebrate the frontier strength and spirit of an
indomitable man, born to a minority group, raised in a minority region, leader
of a minority party, who went on to change the very nature of his country -- and
to change it permanently. When any man dies, after nearly 84 full years, there
is a mixture of memories. With this man, there is the certain knowledge that he
leaves his country better, broader, prouder than he found it.
He was the great populist of Canadian politics.
John Diefenbaker opened the politics of our country to those to whom it had
always been closed. He gave politics a lively reality to those to whom it had
seemed remote. He brought daylight to a process too long obscured in shadow and
He was a man of passion. Whatever the issue,
whomever the person, he had a view -- strongly held -- forcefully offered --
vigorously defended. John Diefenbaker did not tiptoe through the public life of
Canada; he strode through -- and, as he offered passion to his fellow Canadians,
he drew passion in return. John Diefenbaker attracted every reaction from the
people of this country, except indifference.
He was a patriot. To John Diefenbaker patriotism
was never out of fashion; it was the essence of his life. Not every Canadian
shared his view of Canada, but all knew and were touched by his devotion to his
view. His faith shaped and formed all his other beliefs. His belief in Canada as
a land of equality for all its citizens is in his Bill of Rights. His awareness
of the full breadth of this land is in the northern development he spurred and
in the regional development he fostered. His abiding commitment to social
justice and human dignity is in the health care system he initiated, and in the
programs he sponsored to help the disadvantaged.
He was much more than a statesman. Statesmen are
strangers, and John Diefenbaker was personal to most of the people of Canada. He
mainstreemed through life. And in those last days, the mourners, who lined the
train's long route, who came at midnight to say farewell, who sang and applauded
as he left -- they were not remembering a Bill of Rights, or a debate in
Parliament, or a particular cause or party. Their homage was to a singular man,
who entered and enlarged our lives and whom we wanted to see home.
In a very real sense, his life, was Canada. Over
eight decades, he spanned our history, from the ox cart on the Prairies to the
satellite in space. He shaped much of that history, all of it shaped
Now that life -- that sweep of history -- has
ended. And we are here today to see John Diefenbaker to his final place of
It is appropriate that it be here. For, while
John Diefenbaker was of all of Canada, he was, above all else, a man of the
Prairies. His populism was inspired in this open land. His deep feelings for the
needs of individuals were shaped by what he saw and felt during the Depression
years. The South Saskatchewan dam -- one of his physical legacies -- reflected
his determination that farmers in the region never again suffer dust when there
should be grass. It wee from Prince Albert that he looked North and caught the
vision with which he stirred the minds and hearts of all of us.
And so we commit his mortal remains to the
Prairie soil, here, on the campus where he studied and was chancellor, above the
river which was a route of our first westward pioneers, in the province which
formed him. He showed what one man can do in a country like Canada.
As we commit his body to the land he loved, we
commit his soul to the Creator he sought to serve. And we -- each of us --
commit our memories of him to all of our hearts.
Eternal rest grant unto him, Oh Lord, and let
Perpetual Light shine upon him.
God bless and keep John Diefenbaker.