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From the archives

The Trust Spiral

Restoring faith in the media

Our Feudal Immigration Policy

Why should an accident of birth determine who benefits from citizenship?

Liberal Interpretations

Making sense of Justin Trudeau and his party

Ex Libris

From the shelves of Duncan Campbell Scott

Forrest Pass

I love combing used-book sales for unusual titles. A while back, while browsing tables in a downtown Ottawa elementary school gymnasium, I spotted a particularly intriguing one: Richard S. Lambert’s For the Time Is at Hand: An Account of the Prophesies of Henry Wentworth Monk of Ottawa, Friend of the Jews and Pioneer of World Peace. I knew little about Monk, a nineteenth-century “Christian Zionist,” but I had seen his portrait at the National Gallery of Canada. (The artist, William Holman Hunt, depicted his friend in Middle Eastern garb, with an open New Testament and a sealed copy of the London Times, together symbolizing his prophetic gifts.) Curious to learn more, I added the volume to my stack and made for the cash.

It was only as I was packing my purchase into my bicycle panniers that I noticed the original owner’s name scrawled in pencil across the flyleaf: Duncan C. Scott.

Even twenty years ago, Duncan Campbell Scott, the poet and bureaucrat, was known and discussed by historians and CanLit critics alike, but he was hardly a household name. Today, Scott is infamous. As deputy superintendent of Indian affairs between 1913 and 1932, he championed policies to assimilate Indigenous people. No single “architect” bears full responsibility for the residential school system, but Scott’s share is weighty.

For years, scholars have mined Scott’s papers and departmental records for clues about his mindset. Yet his copy of For the Time Is at Hand offers something new. Published in Great Britain in 1947, the book became available in Canada that summer. Scott died on December 19. The white-spined hardcover was, therefore, among the last works he read. And it is the life story of a committed if eccentric anti-genocide crusader.

Scott’s curiosity may have been piqued by W. J. Hurlow’s July 12 review in the Evening Citizen, which observed that Scott himself made a cameo appearance in the new biography. Decades before, Monk’s and Scott’s paths had surely crossed: in the 1880s, the aging prophet regularly addressed the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, where William Scott, the young poet’s father, was an officer. In Scott’s copy, pencil annotations suggest that Lambert jogged Scott’s own memories of life in the capital.

What might Scott have made of the rest of Lambert’s book? The plight of Europe’s Jews had inspired in Monk a zealous Zionism. Relief from unrelenting pogroms, he reasoned, would come with the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In turn, a reunited Israel would bring about millenarian world peace, with a universal parliament — almost like the United Nations — headquartered in Jerusalem.

Canadian federalism inspired Monk’s vision of enlightened world government. So too did Canadian colonialism. Lambert found echoes of Ottawa Valley river-lot surveys in a scheme for dividing Palestine among the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Just as British half-pay officers, including Monk’s father, had carved their estates out of Algonquin territory, Monk’s plan for a “Dominion of Israel” blithely ignored Palestine’s non-Jewish residents. In his view, Ottoman Muslims were oppressive occupiers of the Holy Land, but he predicted that they would yield without a fight to the divinely ordained return of the Twelve Tribes.

Lambert took up his subject’s unfulfilled Zionist project. “Is anti-Semitism extinct with the blotting out of Buchenwald and Maidenek?” he asked rhetorically. “The campaign which . . . Monk waged against materialism and intolerance and hypocrisy remains as vital to‑day as it was in 1880.” Lambert did not use the term “genocide”— coined in 1944 — to describe the atrocities that had made a Jewish homeland a necessity in recent memory. Nevertheless, the Holocaust was very much on his mind as he wrote For the Time Is at Hand.

It’s unlikely that Scott, in his last few months, recognized any parallel between the persecution of European Jewry and his own efforts to assimilate First Nations. If he saw himself in Monk’s story at all, it might have been as a patriarchal figure, benignly leading Indigenous people from “savagery” to “civilization,” just as the Gentile Monk had hoped to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land. Indeed, Scott highlighted Lambert’s comparison of the Canadian “frontier” to Monk’s imagined Palestine. Each, Lambert suggests, was a terra nullius: “a paradise of unexploited resources and opportunities, capable, with a little enterprise, of being developed into a flourishing country.”

Neither Monk’s Zionist project nor Scott’s colonial one worked out as planned. Monk died a disappointed man in August 1896, but an Israeli state — his and others’ solution to antisemitism — came to pass some fifty years later, in 1948. No doubt the “Pioneer of World Peace” would be saddened by the current conflict in Gaza: an unforeseen consequence, at least to Monk, of his millenarian dream. Meanwhile, Scott died assuming that his own promised land — a Canada without a troublesome “Indian question”— was close at hand. But in the late 1940s, cracks were already appearing in the structures that Scott had sought to build. The resilience of First Nations, the truth telling about the loss of life and culture that Scott had helped to perpetrate, and today’s reconciliation efforts are developments neither Scott nor even the “prophet” Monk could have predicted.

Forrest Pass works as a curator for Library and Archives Canada.