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In April, 1969, Pierre Trudeau announced his government's intention to reduce Canada's military commitment to NATO. And though he did cut force levels substantially, he never went as far as he originally intended - in part, because of the subtle diplomacy of Canada's ambassador to NATO, Arthur Menzies.

In Brussels for a 1974 NATO meeting, Mr. Trudeau told the ambassador that he had decided not to replace the increasingly obsolete Leopard 1 tanks used by Canadian troops in Germany. That decision had set off tremors within the alliance. But by the time the summit ended, Mr. Trudeau had begin to change his mind on the tank question.

It was very simple, Mr. Menzies later explained. He had scheduled a meeting between Mr. Trudeau and Germany's Helmut Schmidt, during which the Chancellor explained that if NATO started reducing forces unilaterally, the Soviets would take advantage of the situation and become more aggressive. In that event, the allies might need more tanks, not fewer.

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In his eulogy at Mr. Menzies's funeral, diplomat Jacques Roy noted that such arguments had been made before. But it was Mr. Menzies who sensed that only Chancellor Schmidt, with menacing Soviet tanks arrayed on his eastern border, could make them convincingly to Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. Menzies, whose extraordinary diplomatic career spanned 40 years and included postings in Cuba, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, China, and Brussels, died March 4, at the age of 93, from a sudden heart attack.

In the corridors of diplomatic power, he was a legitimate heavyweight. "He was instrumental in developing Canada's Pacific identity and transforming a small department into the modern foreign ministry that helped shape the postwar world and Canada's identity within it," said Leonard Edwards, current deputy minister of Foreign Affairs.

"He was an extraordinary individual - an inspiration to his colleagues, indefatigable in life's endeavours, and a man of personality and compassion."

Adds David Mulroney, now Canada's ambassador to China. "You couldn't spend any time on Asia Pacific issues without being aware of his stature and contribution.

"It wasn't just ... his having deep roots in China. It was what he did with that special personal connection. He made it his life's work to ensure that Canada built the foundation for a long-term partnership with China. That roughly a quarter of the foreign students in Canada now come from China is in large part due to his early vision."

When it came to Asia, of course, Mr. Menzies enjoyed a significant competitive advantage. The son of Christian missionaries, he'd been born there - in 1916 at Zhangde, in north Hunan province - and, like his parents, came to know and love the Chinese language, culture and history.

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Indeed, it might be said that Arthur Menzies, too, became a missionary of sorts - actively promoting commercial and cultural exchange in the interests of greater tolerance and understanding.

His father, Dr. James Mellon Menzies, as much an archeologist as he was a Presbyterian missionary, gained renown for his analysis of so-called oracle bones - 3,000-year-old turtle shells and sheep bones that contained China's first written language. Many of them were excavated at Yin, the last capital of the Shang dynasty, once a city of 100,000 that thrived more than three millennia ago.

Dr. Menzies later assembled the world's largest private collection of oracle bones - more than 35,000 pieces. He never profited from his discoveries, and insisted that the vast majority of relics remain in Chinese hands.

Still, he achieved little recognition during his lifetime, either in Maoist China or Canada. Only recently have the Chinese begun to confer belated honours - a Chinese-language biography, conferences devoted to his archeological achievements, and a museum dedicated to his memory in Anyang, another ancient capital.

The instability of Arthur's early life may have taught him the adaptability required of any seasoned diplomat.

Owing to the First World War - his father was among 96,000 civilian Chinese labourers sent to France - he spent the first four years of life on his grandparents' farm, near Staples, Ont., returning to China only in 1920. There, a family friend gave him the auspicious Chinese name Tian Bei, or Heavenly Treasure.

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Though his schooling was of a high quality, it hopscotched from a Christian mission school in Weihui (100 km from his parents) to Beijing to Edmonton (during a sabbatical year) and then Kobe, Japan, where he graduated from high school in 1935, while earning a black belt in judo.

After a summer spent touring archaeological and historical sights with his father in China, Mr. Menzies enrolled in a four-year history and philosophy degree at the University of Toronto, then started post-graduate work at Harvard.

It was there that he met Sheila Skelton, the attractive daughter of Oskar Douglas Skelton, who held the post of undersecretary of state for external affairs in Ottawa for 16 years and was widely considered one of the principal architects of the modern ministry.

As Mr. Menzies describes it in Australia and the South Pacific, Letters Home 1965-1972 , the first volume of his memoirs co-written with his late wife, "I was quite captivated by this highly intelligent young lady with long blond hair and by the end of the academic year [1940] our friendship had developed into something more."

They married in June, 1943 - a genuine love match that carried a major fringe benefit, access to the highest levels.

He was hired at what was then external affairs in 1940. During one of his interviews, he was asked what he would do if he were making a courier delivery and were attacked in the street. "I'd use ju-jitsu," Mr. Menzies explained, and quickly executed a dramatic double flip, backward over his chair and then forward back into it. It's doubtful the adjudicators had ever seen anything quite like that.

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Not long after, they put Mr. Menzies's Asian expertise to use, assigning him to the China desk. Within five years, he was running the Far Eastern department. He was 32.

But even for savvy China-watchers like himself, the ascendancy of Mao Zedong and the Red Chinese was perplexing. As he told a parliamentary committee in 1949, only a month after the People's Republic was established, communism was alien to Chinese traditions; he didn't think the number of dyed-in-the-wool communists in the movement was very large.

In 1950, Mr. Menzies headed Canada's liaison mission to Japan, working with Allied Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur. There, his mandate included the emerging peace treaty with Japan, the Korean War (with 3,000 Canadian troops involved), and negotiations to acquire a strip of land adjacent to the Canadian embassy.

Ottawa had instructed him not to offer more than a certain price, but Mr. Menzies, sensing the long-term value of the property, found a diplomatic way not to hear the message, at least until the deal had closed, slightly above the ceiling price. It was that acquisition that, some 40 years later, allowed architect Raymond Morimaya to build a stunning new embassy building on the site.

"Arthur was a shrewd man," says James [Sy]Taylor, former deputy minister at external, "and this negotiation was evidence of his shrewdness." People might have underestimated him, Mr. Taylor added, because he thought before he spoke and he spoke in a measured way. "But he had a very lively mind and a wicked sense of humour."

Jacques Roy endorses that assessment. Calling Mr. Menzies "the Rod Laver of Canadian diplomacy," he says he "mastered all the secrets of successful diplomacy, and chose each move with amazing shrewdness."

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Publisher John Flood, who worked on the first volume of Mr. Menzies's memoirs - the second will be released this fall or next spring - says what impressed him most is that, well into his 90s, Mr. Menzies would listen to a question, pause and then deliver crisp, thoughtful, complete sentences. "You could not interrupt him," says Mr. Flood. "It was like he spoke in essay form."

Returning to Ottawa for five years in 1953, Mr. Menzies then served as high commissioner to Malaya and Burma until 1961, and in 1965 became Canada's high commissioner for Australia and the South Pacific. Designed as a three-year tour, it lasted seven.

In Havana, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Menzies worked hard to acquire a working knowledge of the local language - in addition to the Chinese he already knew.

And wherever they went, says his daughter, Norah, Sheila Menzies was a full and essential partner. "They always spoke of it as 'our posting.'"

It was after Brussels that Mr. Menzies finally obtained, in 1976, the posting he had long coveted - ambassador to China. He was returning to the land of his birth at a critical time; with the death of Mao, no one knew what kind of leadership would emerge in the People's Republic or what its policies might be. But Mr. Menzies knew enough not to trumpet his prior connections to the country.

"I never talked about my father or his work," he said later. "I never mentioned that I was a missionary's son. Missionaries were still considered to be running dogs of the imperialists."

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To younger Canadian diplo-mats - several travelled long distances to attend his funeral - Mr. Menzies played the informal role of mentor.

Among those who benefited from his counsel was James Bartleman, who had an early posting to NATO when Mr. Menzies led the Canadian mission there.

"I had just the foggiest grasp of the subject area I had been assigned," Mr. Bartleman recalls. "Sensing my bewilderment, Arthur called me aside and told me not to be intimidated by the Type A personalities rushing up and down the corridors. 'Just keep your eyes and ears open,' he said. 'You will learn things here that will be useful to you for the rest of your career.' And he was right. But the most important things I learned from Arthur and Sheila [were]about living the good life, about always having time for others, about the importance of family and about the joy of living."

After games of tennis at the NATO sports club, Mr. Menzies, a brilliant raconteur, regaled him with stories from his past. Says Mr. Bartleman: "Although I did not know it at the time, Arthur was actually using these stories to educate me ... to prepare me for the challenges I would face. It was a good thing he did." Several subsequent postings took him to places Mr. Menzies had described. "Before each of them, I would call on him to obtain his insights on what I would likely face."

Mr. Menzies concluded his diplomatic career as Canada's first ambassador for disarmament (1980-1982). But he remained active after retirement on the Canada-Asia and many other fronts.

Only last year, he was among 23 retired heads of mission who signed a letter in defence of diplomat Richard Colvin, the Afghan interrogation whistleblower.

"Arthur always had some-thing to say that was insightful and thoughtful," says Patricia Marsden-Dole, with Mr. Menzies a member of another group of retired civil servants that met monthly. "He was a very self-possessed man, careful with money, taking responsibility, never speaking idly."

If only it were possible to bottle his recipe for life.

Into his 90s, says his daughter Norah, Mr. Menzies sang in a church choir, tapped maple trees, played piano, took Pilates classes and fitness training, walked and read The Globe and Mail every day, kept abreast of current affairs, and stayed in touch with friends. At meetings, after the speaker's presentation, he would stand and ask questions that left people's jaws dropped open.

"I could not believe how with it he was," says Norah. "He was vital and alive and fully engaged right to the end."

A decade ago, he was named to the Order of Canada by then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson. Ironically, in 1942, Mr. Menzies, then a junior external affairs officer, had carried the infant Clark-

son from a boat in New York, to which her family had fled from wartime China.

One day before he died, Mr. Menzies called his old friend Jacques Roy, asking him to convey news to all retired heads of mission that another good friend, Alfred Pick, had passed away. Mr. Menzies in-tended to deliver the eulogy. Mr. Roy called back the following day to say that he had passed on the message.

"His voice was strong, he was in a good mood," Mr. Roy recalled in his eulogy. "A few hours later, he was taken to the hospital where he died. Until his very last moments, Mr. Menzies wanted to help. This was in the nature of the man, always prepared to assist, always happy to contribute."

ARTHUR REDPATH MENZIES

Born Nov. 29, 1916; Died: March 4, 2010. He leaves his son, Ken Menzies, his partner, Ann Stallman and his step-granddaughter, Kirsten Stallman, his daughter Norah Menzies and her partner Ed Langevin.

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