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Saint John, New Brunswick
Our First Rhodes Scholar
In 1904, 21-year-old Saint John native Chester Martin
was awarded the first such Scholarship in North America.


Chester Martin
In 1955, chester Martin published "Foundations of Canadian Nationhood."

By Ken Johns

   At the end of March, 1904, there was great excitement in the Saint John home of portrait artist, Hamilton C. Martin and his wife, Jessie. Their eldest son, Chester, had been awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University in England. It was the first Rhodes scholarship awarded in North America.
   Cecil Rhodes, British Empire builder and major developer of the diamond industry in Southern Africa, made provision for the scholarships in his will in 1902.
   Nowadays, every year, nearly 100 university graduates from around the world are awarded these scholarships worth $100,000 each for three years of study at Oxford University.
   While proven intellectual and academic achievement is required, Cecil Rhodes wanted students with leadership qualities, high integrity and concern for humanity, as well as energy exhibited by success in outdoor sports.
    Initially, it was decided that universities should choose successful applicants in rotation and the first choice was made by the University of New Brunswick. They chose Chester Martin . Aged 21, he was born in 1882, son of Hamilton C. Martin of Saint John. Chester graduated from Saint John High School in 1898, winning the Parker Medal for Mathematics and the McLean Prize.
    He entered the University of New Brunswick at age 16 and, in his junior year, won the Alumni gold medal for translation of English into Latin prose. He graduated from U.N.B. with Honours and was awarded the Montgomery Campbell Prize for Classics and the Douglas Gold Medal for the best essay on "The Economic Resources of New Brunswick."
   Chester Martin was an all-round scholar, which fitted the Rhodes Scholarship concept. He was the leader for U.N.B. in the first intercollegiate debate and this was the only time U.N.B. won over Mount Allison University.
    At the time he was awarded his scholarship, Chester had been doing some private tutoring and assisting at rehearsals of Sheridan's play, "The Rivals", presented by the Saint John High School Alumni.

   Chester Martin commenced his studies at Balliol College, Oxford University, in the fall of 1904. He conducted himself admirably and graduated with a Master's degree with honours. In his second year, he achieved great honours by winning the Gladstone Memorial Prize, which was competed for by all the colleges of Oxford. However, despite being busy with his studies, during one summer Chester visited a former teacher at U.N.B., Professor Stockley, and joined him on a tour of Ireland.
   When he returned to Canada, Chester Martin studied at, and was assistant editor of the Public Archives in Ottawa, examining documents associated with Lord Selkirk in preparation for a book published in 1916.
    Then, in 1909, he was appointed professor of history at the University of Manitoba, where he spent the next 20 years, as dean of that faculty. He was the first history professor at that university and had to organize that department from scratch.
    In 1929, Chester Martin was appointed head of the history Department of the University of Toronto, a position he held until his retirement in 1953.
    Chester Martin not only distinguished himself as a teacher, but as the author of numerous historical works which included: Canada and its Provinces, volume 19 in 1914, The Natural Resources Question, in 1920, and The Empire and Commonwealth in 1929, in cooperation with Professor G.M Wrong whom Chester replaced as head of the history department in Toronto.
   Also in 1929, The Kelsey Papers were published by Chester Martin and Dr. Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist. In that book, they claimed that Henry Kelsey discovered the Prairies rather than La Verendrye. The basis for their startling announcement came from a series of journals they discovered in Ireland. They revealed that Kelsey, born in England in 1670, found employment with the Hudson Bay Company at 14 years of age. In 1689, he travelled 350 miles north of Churchill and was the first white man to see muskox and the Plains Indians. Kelsey helped defend Fort York against d'Iberville in 1697 and became Governor of Hudson Bay posts in 1718.

    Following his retirement, Chester Martin was appointed Professor Emeritus of Modem History by the University of Toronto and in 1955 he published Foundations of Canadian Nationhood, his major work, written with mature judgement at the summit of his career. Chester Martin's purpose throughout his lifetime of historical research was always to discover hidden causes of crucial happenings and this is strongly evident in that book.
    In Foundations of Canadian Nationhood, Martin's view of the American Revolution has steadily gained acceptance. He suggests that instead of George III the real villain was William Knox, who was appointed by the British government as permanent Under Secretary of the new American Department in 1763, with virtual control over policy, and Quebec, which had been taken from France a few years earlier, in 1759. To overcome the growing republican movement in the colonies to the south, Knox plotted to use Canada to control the restive Americans and restrict their expansion.
   The Quebec Act of 1774, which had previously been represented as charitable treatment of a conquered people, was portrayed by Martin as a plot against the American colonies. The act, restored the Seigneurial System and the authority of the Catholic Church to recreate an autocratic government, which could raise armies to conquer New England. Knox wanted to extend Quebec to include Nova Scotia (which, at that time included the present territory of New Brunswick and south of the Great lakes to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the entire St. Lawrence watershed, and west to the Hudson's Bay territories.)
   Knox's plans failed. The French Canadian peasants, who were forced to become soldiers, deserted and fought for the Americans against the British and the Americans won their revolution. When America successfully invaded and occupied Montreal, it was claimed that two thirds of the invaders were French Canadians.
   Benjamin Franklin, one of the leaders of the American Colonies, was always in favour of uniting the British American Colonies, which he felt would have forestalled the revolution; and, at the Treaty of Versailles, in 1783, pressed for the inclusion of the Canadian provinces in the United States.
    Canadian Confederation was the main theme in Chester Martin's book, including the struggle for it and the expansion from it. He presented previously unknown facts and drew profound conclusions from them. He particularly drew attention to the development of the West by Sir John A. MacDonald's initiatives.
   One of them was the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870, when there were only 15,000 inhabitants. He then gambled on the future of the nation by promising British Columbia a railroad.
    In Foundations of Canadian Nationhood, Chester Martin documented the formation of Canada from sea to sea, in the presence of unremitting pressure of similar expansion by the United States. While not as dramatic as the latter, it was accomplished in a more lawful and relatively bloodless way.
    Saint Johners; will not be able to rush out to borrow or purchase this major work by a famous, distinguished son of their city, for Saint John libraries do not possess a copy. However, the Fredericton library does possess a copy.
   Chester Martin was a frequent visitor to Saint John, where he -valued many of his old friendships, and where his brother Grover and sister Melita lived. Grover was a respected teacher at Saint John High School and is remembered by many city residents of today.

   Chester Martin married Dorothy Payne-Evans of , Ross, County Galway, Ireland in 1912. They had one daughter, Rosemary, who followed in her father's footsteps. She won the Governor Generals' Silver Medal in 1933 for achieving the highest average marks in her first and second year Arts examinations , at the University of Toronto. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1935, her Masters degree in 1937, and her Doctorate in 1941. She taught at the Univerity of Toronto until her husband completed war service in the United States Navy.
   It is interesting that Chester married a girl from , Ross, Ireland. Research discovered a Robert Martin owned estates in Galway in 1592 and was High Sheriff in 1607. Also a James Martin of Ross, County Galway, born in 1804 was High Sheriff there in 1826.
   Chester Martin was a descendant of a James Martin, born in Ireland in 1759, who came to Canada and married Prudence Wickwire of Nova Scotia. The oIdest of their 11 children, also named James, married a girl of the Hamilton family and they had six children.
    One of their children, Hamilton Martin, married ,Rebecca Cleveland, a sister of Grover Cleveland, who later became the 22nd president of the United States of America.
   Hamilton and Rebecca had nine children; one of their sons, Sherman, was the grandfather of the writer's wife and brother of Hamilton C. Martin, father of Chester Martin. It is difficult to determine, from archives, what Chester Martin was like as a person, but the following information was provided: He was a gentle man, very even tempered, with a keen sense of humour. He was over six feet tall, and slim all of his life. While sartorially conservative, he was considered one of the nattiest professors on campus.
   Like many academics, Chester Martin could, at times, be absent minded. Usually his wife would drive him to and from campus, but occasionally he would drive himself. One afternoon he called home to say he was ready to be picked up; Mrs. Martin told him, "but you have the car!"
    His favourite recreations were fishing, canoeing and walking. He and his wife went for two-mile walks several times a week. He was also an accomlished skater and often enjoyed waltzing on the Red River in Winnipeg.
   He used to troll for pickerel before breakfast and once caught one weighing a record eight pounds, which he carefully traced on heavy paper for posterity. He would fillet his catch expertly with a homemade tool but avoided gutting the fish and disposed of all bones.
   During his Oxford years, Chester Martin was an enthusiastic member of the rowing team and during vacations used to cycle with a friend across France, sometimes with bunches of grapes from the many vineyards, hanging over their handlebars.
    In 1934, Chester Martin accepted an invitation from the associated alumni of the University of New Brunswick to deliver the annual alumni oration at that year's encaenia of the university. Thirty years earlier, he had been chosen for the first Rhodes Scholarship to be awarded in Canada and in North America. Many in the audience felt a surge of pride in themselves, for they were citizens of Saint John, the city that gave the first Rhodes Scholar from this continent to ancient and distinguished Oxford University.
   Since 1904, more than 1,200 Canadian scholars have followed in Chester Martin's footsteps. These include former Prime Minister, John Turner, commentator Rex Murphy and from Saint John, Adrain Gilbert, Dr. G.F.Skinner and M.G. Teed.
   Chester Martin died in 1958.
Ken Johns has lived in Saint John for 30 years.

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