I have just finished reading (devouring actually) a biography of Ted Byfield entitled Prairie Lion, who left the earthly battlefield for the Kingdom of God on December 23, 2021. The book is eminently readable and documented what I already knew from personal experience: that Ted Byfield was a great Canadian, a great Christian, and a great man.
It was my privilege to be billeted in his home a number of times during my trips to Edmonton over the past decades and to count him as my friend (I dedicated one of my New Testament commentaries to him and his wife Virginia). Ted and I stayed up late talking into the night a number of times and polished off a lot of whiskey. Ted would no doubt have snorted or laughed if I had described him as a great man, and perhaps would have suggested that I had consumed too much of his whiskey. But it is true nonetheless. It is part of a man’s greatness to be happily blind to his own true stature. In like manner, I suppose mountains don’t know that they’re tall.
And Ted was very tall. He was that rare combination of wit, charmer, thinker, and fighter. His integrity and worth are apparent from the twin facts that his foes hated him and his friends adored him. I was among the latter.
There is no reason for me to recount the reasons for this; Jonathon Van Maren’s biography Prairie Lion documents it fully. Here I would like to focus upon only two things: Ted’s love of his country Canada, and the significance of the media coverage of his life.
First of all, we look at the love Ted bore for his country. Ted was born in Toronto (my own hometown), but made his final home in western Canada. The Canada he loved and its values for which he continually fought were those that had vanished by the late 60s and early 70s. That is, in those years Canada underwent a significant moral sea change and was arguably a completely different country than it was before.
The old Canada was a Christian Canada—feisty, religious, hardworking, family-oriented, determinedly deaf to criticism from what would later be called the liberal left. The new Canada, birthed under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and continued under his dubious liberal successors, was a Canada committed to a path opposed to those values. Its symbols were a new flag, a new system of measurement (Celsius vs. Fahrenheit, and kilometers vs. miles), and a new morality, which included easy divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality, and allowing abortion. These things were symbols, of course, but symbols possess power to effect change, though none of these things were seen as watersheds at the time.
In 1980, Ted expressed this sense of loss in these words: “The land of my birth has, in a sense, vanished. The Canada I grew up in and was expected, should the occasion arise, to fight and die for, has changed so much that it has effectually ceased to exist. I think of it as Old Canada, a country pulled together in the later 19th century by Sir John A. MacDonald and endowed with a constitution. New Canada on the other hand has been fashioned in the latter 20th century by Mr. Trudeau.” (By “Trudeau” Byfield of course meant Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, not his son Justin, who continues his father’s legacy by driving the country ever deeper into the ground.)
Byfield’s words might function as a kind of national epitaph. What is left for those of us who mourn the death of Old Canada except to despair? Siren voices all around us call us to join in building the New Canada, a progressive land of rainbow flags, abortion clinics—and thought police. Why live in the past? Onward!
This siren call is not new, and it is not confined to voices happily engaged in burying Old Canada. It is the perennial summons of the World to reject the timeless values of the Kingdom and to accept the ascendency of secularism. Its slogans change with the times. Once it called for conformity by asking rhetorically, “Who is like the Beast and who is able to wage war against him?” (Revelation 13:4). Now it calls for conformity by offering government funding to those celebrating its secularism and punishing those who reject it. But in every age the call is the same.
Like Ted Byfield, I truly believe in the values of Old Canada, flawed though the country inevitably was, like all countries in this world. And I choose to live by and fight for those values, even if some consider this a rearguard action. I choose to be guided by the words of that Narnian theologian Puddleglum. When faced with the supposedly indisputable and final fact that neither Aslan nor Narnia ever existed, he replied, “I’m going to stand by the play-world [that you say doesn’t exist]. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia”.
Now is the time for such splendid defiance, joyfully hurled like a gauntlet before the face of the World. Now is the time for the Puddleglums of the nation to arise. Now is the time for the Prairie Lion. This is the true patriotism, rooted ultimately in our heavenly patria.
Secondly, we look at the media coverage of Ted’s life. Given the fact that almost all of the major media outlets have succumbed to the siren call of New Canada secularism, it is unsurprising that Byfield was not lauded in the media. Abortionist butcher Henry Morgentaler (the first doctor in North America to perform a vacuum abortion when it was illegal to perform any abortions and who went on the open twenty abortion clinics) was awarded the Order of Canada in 2008 “for his commitment to increased health care options for women”. Jack Layton, his friend and former leader of the liberal and socialist New Democratic Party, was given a state funeral after he died in 2011, and a television movie was made of his life in 2013.
By contrast, when Byfield died, the comparative silence was deafening. Some tributes did come in from political conservatives he had known for years—as well as hate mail from LGBT activists denouncing him on Twitter, celebrating his death with remarkable bile. This comparative media silence attending his death was, I suppose, only to be expected for a man who was derided while he lived as “Terrible Ted” and as a “reactionary militant”. No Order of Canada for Terrible Ted.
I suggest that this sound of silence represents its own unique kind of unintended tribute. It represents the measure of the offence that Byfield gave to the ungodly promoters of the new secular Canada—and therefore a measure of the man’s true worth and of how badly his witness was needed. Inspired by Ted I cherish the hope that at the news of my own departure the ungodly will uncork champagne, but I admit this is unlikely, given how far my influence is from that of Ted’s. Byfield set the bar pretty high.
The Prairie Lion has ceased to roar, and his poignant pen is stilled. We who were encouraged by his roaring and his words cherish his legacy. But more than that, we are called to inherit his prophetic mantle. The long day is not done, and the battle not yet over. Before we join him in the Kingdom, perhaps we could do a little roaring of our own.