New archival fonds – Ambassador Arthur R. Menzies

By Patrick Latulippe

Are you interested in discovering the extraordinary story of a Canadian who was born in China and later returned to the People’s Republic of China as Ambassador of Canada? Would you like to learn about the subtleties and the depth of the work performed by Canada’s ambassadors abroad?

Thanks to the recent acquisition of the Arthur R. Menzies fonds by Library and Archives Canada, you may now access this outstanding material. These archives include thousands of handwritten letters detailing the personal and professional life of Arthur Menzies, a diplomat who worked primarily in Asia but also represented Canada in over a dozen countries during his 30-year career.

A black-and-white photograph of three boys on bicycles.

Young Arthur Menzies in China, on bicycle (at left). Summer vacations in Pei Tai Ho, China, 1930–1935 (MIKAN 4976252)

These archives, carefully preserved by the Menzies family for over half a century, will enable researchers to learn all about the incredible life and career of His Excellency Ambassador Menzies.Biographical sketch Arthur Redpath Menzies was born in China on November 29, 1916, the son of Christian missionaries James Mellon Menzies and Annie Sedgwick Menzies. His father was an amateur archaeologist who contributed significantly to the scholarly study of oracle bones from the Shang dynasty. Arthur Menzies was educated at the University of Toronto and Harvard University. In 1940, he withdrew from doctoral studies in Far Eastern History and Chinese at Harvard University to join the Department of External Affairs in Canada. In 1943, Menzies married Sheila Isabel Halliday Skelton, daughter of Isabel and O.D. Skelton (Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs from 1925 to 1941). Arthur and Sheila Menzies had two children: Kenneth and Norah. Arthur Menzies was Second Secretary in Havana (1945–1946), Head of the Canadian Liaison Mission in Japan (1950–1952), High Commissioner to Malaysia (1958–1961) and Burma (1959–1961), Head of the Defence Liaison Division in Ottawa (1961–1965), High Commissioner to Australia (1965–1972) and Fiji (1970–1972), Ambassador to the North Atlantic Council (1972–1976), Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (1976–1980) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (1976–1979), and Ambassador for Disarmament (1980–1982). Menzies retired in 1982. He was very active in retirement, writing several books during the last decade of his life. In 2009, he published Australia & the South Pacific: Letters Home, 1965–1972. Menzies received the Order of Canada in 2001. He died on March 4, 2010.

Interesting archival material in the fonds

World Trip Diaries

The Menzies family set out to explore the world in 1928. This inspiring adventure is described in great detail in the World Trip Diaries kept by mother Annie and the family’s three children: Arthur, Frances and Marion. This part of the fonds helps us to understand the first extraordinary international travels by Arthur Menzies. It is also interesting to consider these experiences in relation to the later duties of Ambassador Menzies in Asia, Oceania and Europe.

A colour photograph showing two pages of a personal diary.

Two pages by Annie Menzies in the World Trip Diaries, 1928 (MIKAN 4976256)

Correspondence

The Correspondence Series is certainly one of the most interesting series in the fonds. The series consists of more than 10 boxes of correspondence (over 2 metres of letters, with each box containing hundreds of letters!) sent by or to the Menzies family. This correspondence will allow Canadians to see the complexity of relationships with family and friends when diplomatic postings require part of a family to move overseas, while the rest of the family stays in Canada. The evolution of these relationships over time, such as when the children are older and choose not to follow their parents to overseas postings, is fascinating. One can also sense the attachment to friends even though the family is living far away for several years. The correspondence is rich and constant between the many friends, colleagues and members of the Redpath, Menzies, Sedgwick and Skelton families. The period from 1965 to 1972 was the subject of a book, Australia & the South Pacific: Letters Home, 1965–1972, published by Arthur Menzies in 2009. The variety of sources in this series will satisfy even the most meticulous researchers!

A typewritten letter discussing domestic affairs of an impending move.

A personal letter from Arthur Menzies to Mrs. Skelton (MIKAN 4976262)

Australia and the South Pacific

Ambassador Menzies represented Canada overseas at key moments in history. For example, he was High Commissioner to Australia when the Fiji islands gained their independence from the United Kingdom. Arthur Menzies thus became, de facto, Canada’s first High Commissioner to Fiji. He also kept his post in Australia and maintained ties with other British colonies in the region that would become independent later in the 1970s, such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

A colour photograph of a man wearing shorts, a shirt and sandals. He has a camera on a lanyard around his neck. The man is standing beside another man who is wearing shorts and an elaborate mask.

Kenneth Menzies (left) with masked Papua New Guinea man, July 5, 1967 (MIKAN 4976273)

China and Vietnam

In what was probably the most important posting of his career, Arthur Menzies was appointed as the Ambassador of Canada to China and Vietnam in 1976. His fluency in Mandarin and his experience were undoubtedly strong factors in his selection. The posting to China meant a return to the country of his birth for Menzies. The series of archival fonds covering this period is rich in photographs, and it documents the dozens of places that Arthur and Sheila Menzies visited in all parts of the two countries.

A black-and-white photograph of two men bowing to each other. One of the men is holding a piece of paper and extending it toward the other. In the background, a third man is observing the scene.

Ambassador Menzies presenting his credentials to a Chinese official, 1976 (MIKAN 4976275)

Not to mention …

Arthur Menzies also wrote numerous books and articles, mainly about his life as an ambassador. The fonds, which is largely accessible to all, enables us to consult the notes and drafts that led to the final publications.

The fonds contains an extraordinary number of photographs (5,103: 1,300 black-and-white and 3,803 colour photos) that enable us to find out about regions and parts of countries that are still difficult to visit today, such as Fiji and Burma (Myanmar). These visual aids often include dates and annotations. A more thorough search could uncover the specific itineraries of advocacy missions around the world by Menzies as Canadian ambassador.

It is now possible to conduct more in-depth research into this key figure in Canada’s diplomatic history in the 20th century, thanks to the vast array of material in his archival fonds at Library and Archives Canada. The Arthur R. Menzies fonds awaits your discovery!


Patrick Latulippe is an archivist in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

One thought on “New archival fonds – Ambassador Arthur R. Menzies

  1. Pingback: Ambassador Arthur R. Menzies fonds now available at LAC – CIH/HIC

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