711.421571 SA 29/1628

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Participants: The Canadian Minister, Mr. Loring Christie; Mr. Hickerson;2 Mr. Leland Olds;3 Mr. A. A. Berle, Jr.

The Canadian Minister came in to see me today, at my request. But between the time when we had requested his visit and his visit to us, the situation had radically changed. Our intent had been to ask him generally about the status of our still unanswered note regarding the proposed St. Lawrence waterway.4

Prior to his visit, however, the Minister had received a telegram from Prime Minister Mackenzie King requesting the Minister to deliver a personal message from the Prime Minister to the President, and to the Secretary of State. The message was, in substance, that the Prime Minister was now prepared to go forward with the negotiations regarding the St. Lawrence waterway; that he believed that he had resolved the difference between the Dominion government and the government of Ontario. He accordingly hoped we could now take up the subject. He requested that the matter would be kept strictly confidential until such time as it might be apparent whether or not an agreement could be reached.

The Minister, with some embarrassment, said that he had already delivered the message to the President and that the courtesy of the situation called for his delivering it in person to the Secretary of State; that he was accordingly telling me informally and asked whether or not he should not see the Secretary in person. I said I should be very glad to take the message informally and ask the Secretary whether he wished to have it delivered in person to him, or whether his communication to the Department through me would be [Page 334] considered as such delivery. I said I realized perfectly that the informal communication to us before seeing the Secretary was due only to the accident of the prior appointment. I was sure that the Secretary would so understand it; though the Secretary would, of course, be glad to see him on that or any other matter.

I then pointed out that the message which the Minister had just delivered in large measure answered the question we had planned to ask. The problem now appeared to be the method of carrying on the negotiations. The Minister agreed that that was so. I then asked Mr. Olds to indicate some of the considerations which were on our minds.

Mr. Olds pointed out that by reason of the outbreak of war the entire power situation had changed. Instead of being in a position to export power, certain parts of Canada would need to import from us, especially from Niagara. He had had in mind suggesting that a commission might proceed to Ottawa to discuss the changed situation and to explore the possibility of reviving negotiations about the St. Lawrence waterway and the attendant disposition of power facilities. The message from Prime Minister King had, however, made that unnecessary.

I said that we were of course ready to enter negotiations regarding the St. Lawrence waterway along the lines of the note sent to Canada more than a year ago. The only question was as to how these negotiations should be carried on. As to that, I said, I thought the wishes of the Canadian government ought to control; we should be happy to carry them on here, or if desired, we could arrange to have them carried on in Ottawa.

The Minister observed that he had been familiar with the St. Lawrence waterway question for some twenty-five years; and with the electric power phases of it, as well; that he had spent two years in the service of the Ontario Hydro-electric Commission, and that he had been continuously interested in the matter. He would consult his government and see what they wanted. I said that in view of the fact that he was himself familiar with the problem, we should particularly welcome the Minister’s personal assistance. (It was fairly obvious that the Minister wished to be a part of the negotiations, himself). It was left that he would get into touch with his government and ascertain their views as to how best the negotiations could be carried on.

Mr. Olds then pointed out that the theory of the note we had sent to Canada and of the draft treaty contemplated taking up all questions revolving around the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway and the attendant use of waters and water power. We were, he said, fully cognizant of the fact that there were problems now presented for immediate solution, arising out of the war. It was thought that we could [Page 335] work out these problems simultaneously as a part of general negotiation; and that we did not need to leave them in abeyance until the actual construction of the waterway—which in any case would take at least five years. Thus the immediate requirements of Canada for power could be taken care of by interim increases in generating capacity along the St. Lawrence; and these interim dispositions could ultimately be coordinated with the power development necessarily attendant on the building of the waterway. In other words, present use of the St. Lawrence water for additional power need not wait upon the construction of the waterway; but the work should be so handled that on the conclusion of the waterway, the added facilities now required should form a part of the general plan.

The Minister thanked us for our courtesy; and stated that he would communicate with us as soon as he had further ascertained the views of his government.

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. John D. Hickerson, Assistant Chief of the Division of European Affairs.
  2. Chairman of the Federal Power Commission.
  3. Note to the Canadian Minister, May 28, 1938, Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. ii, p. 180.