The recently launched Canadiana Discovery Portal—a searchable collection of various historical archives—is a treasure trove of old photographs, speeches and documents from prime ministers and governments past. The gem of my searching so far though is an audio recording of Lester B. Pearson addressing an audience at the University of British Columbia in 1965, two years after he became prime minister.
It’s a remarkable listen on a number of fronts.
To hear Mr. Pearson’s speech impediment—that funny little lisp—is a bit startling (could a man speaking like that get elected prime minister today?), but it’s interesting to hear how much power he gets out of that little-sounding voice and how he uses cadence and volume to become bigger than himself. The crowd is incredibly unruly and as the speech goes on the heckling becomes constant. I don’t think I’ve ever personally witnessed such an atmosphere for an address by a Canadian leader—maybe because people now are more reticent, maybe because few leaders now ever put themselves in front of crowds that aren’t controlled or selected. It’s difficult to say without seeing his reaction, but Pearson doesn’t sound much deterred. That willingness to speak over the hecklers, even take them on directly, presents a certain kind of openness that is compelling to hear.