A brown paper sack envelope with a label which had the crest of the Province of Ontario and the address of the Office of the Prime Minister, Parliament Buildings, Toronto Ontario, was sent to Honourable Mitchell F. Hepburn, c/o Right Honourable J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, Canberra, Australia. There was a blue Air Mail sticker and a manuscript ‘VIA CHINA CLIPPER’. The total postage was $2.70, made up of a pair of the blue one dollar Champlain stamps, a single brown 20 cents and a single green 50 cents stamps which were postmarked with TORONTO ONT/ 11/ JAN 17/ 39/ POSTAL TERMINAL A. The vendor stated that the envelope probably held papers sent to Hepburn by the fastest means available at the time, the trans-Pacific China Clipper Air Mail Service (Figure 1).
I was unaware of the Premier of Ontario using the title of Prime Minister of Ontario as stated on the label, although this designation is sometimes heard in the Province of Quebec even to-day. The all important label showing the association of Hepburn and Lyons in Canberra is shown in greater magnification in Figure 2.
The reverse had a transit double circle postmark of VICTORIA/ 2 30/ 28 JA/ 39/ HONG KONG with arrival in Australia G.P.O. SYDNEY/1130A-7FE39/ 5/ N.S.W-AUST, with a transit time of almost a month (Figure 3).
An extensive search at the State Library of N.S.W. and the National Library of Australia did not find a reference to a meeting of the two leaders in Canberra in February 1939. Both leaders had during their political careers a period in which they had the portfolio as Treasurer, Joseph Lyons from 6 January 1932 until 3 October 1935, as well as becoming Prime Minister of Australia from 6 January 1932 until 7 April 1939. Mitchell Hepburn was the Treasurer of Ontario from1934 until1942 and became the eleventh (Liberal Party) Premier of the Province from July 10, 1934 until October 21, 1942. I wondered whether their experiences as Treasurer might have been the reason for a meeting of the two men. I found some credence for this hypothesis when Hepburn addressed the influential Empire Club in Toronto on December 15, 1938, presenting a paper on the subject of “Present Day Problems”, which I will quote in part:
“The whole question is, what are we going to do with the ever increasing interest carrying charge? …..You have got to cut down overhead, whether you like it or not. They have done it in England voluntarily, yes. It is a compact little country, and it hasn’t the geographical problems that we have. They have done it in Australia. It has to be done here,…..I speak as your Treasurer, and I know in the richest province of all, we can’t go on indefinitely carrying this present burden of debt and this burden of taxation….. I say it is time for us to take steps to save the principal.”
My research of the on-line Archives of Ontario for Premier Hepburn found a Hepburn file titled ‘Australian Trip 1939′ and I requested a copy, at which time I learnt that there were more than 50 pages in this file. My excitement on its delivery was rapidly punctured by the poor content quality of the file, for there was no information about the meeting of the two leaders, with most, if not all, of the information being of a frankly trivial nature. High on the list of importance were several pages concerning the Premier’s appreciation of Australian wines (Figure 4).
There were surprising number of Australians (mostly businessmen) who wrote to Hepburn in Australia, but one of the most interesting was from a Miss M.E. Hall of York Plains, Tasmania requesting the Premier’s autograph, so that he could join her collection of notable people which included Earl Baldwin, Lord Gowrie, Lord Tweedsmuir, Baron von Neurath, the Hon J.A. Lyons, and Herr von Ribbintrop (Figure 5).
I expressed my disappointment about the non-responsiveness of the entire file to my request for information about the 2 political leaders meeting, presumed to be in Canberra, and was heartened by additional information emailed to me by Sean Smith, the Senior Archivist, Reference, Archives of Ontario. He provided the following information from the Victorian itinerary of Hepburn:
“26 January 1939: 11.30 AM Arrive by train from Sydney. 11.40 AM Meet Prime Minister (The Rt. Honble. J.A. Lyons, C.H., M.P.) at Menzies Hotel (Melbourne). 12 noon Civic Reception by the Rt. Honble. the Lord Mayor…
From the Melbourne Argus January 27/39: Yesterday the Prime Minister extended an official welcome to the Premier of Ontario (Mr. Mitchell Hepburn). He will meet Mr Hepburn for an informal discussion this morning.
Telegram Canberra Feb 3, 1939…. Hon. Mitchell Hepburn…I am very happy to receive your telegram and trust that your stay in Australia has been pleasurable and instructive and that you and your colleagues will take away with you happy memories of your visit. Kindest regards from my colleagues and myself. J.A. Lyons.”
I agree with Sean Smith’s last para which in part stated: In terms of substance, I realize that this may not be the kind of information you were hoping for…” Hepburn almost certainly never received this mail whilst he was in Australia, for it would appear from the above telegram that he was leaving the country on or immediately after February 3, 1939, and this item was not received in Sydney until February 7, 1939.