Retracing Haile Selassie’s State Visit to Canada 50 Years Ago at Tadias Magazine

by Zelalem

Haile Selassie during a state visit to Canada in 1967. This week his grandson, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, travels to Canada to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historical journey. (Photograph: Library and Archives Canada)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

November 14th, 2017

New York (TADIAS) — Fifty years ago this year before Haile Selassie departed from Palm Springs, California to begin a state visit to Canada — becoming the first foreign head of state to make the opening call in celebration of Canada’s 100th year anniversary — he spoke to a large crowd at UCLA in Los Angeles applauding the Golden State for its world class college & university programs. “The Emperor’s praise of the California system of higher education brought his audience of 4,000 to its feet for four standing ovations,” writes Professor Theodore Vestal of Oklahoma State University in his book The Lion of Judah in the New World, noting that UCLA conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree upon the Ethiopian leader. “UCLA was an appropriate place to honor Haile Selassie. Almost 1000 Peace Corps volunteers had trained there for service in Ethiopia and other countries, and its law school had a cooperative program with Haile Selassie I University. Haile Selassie presented the UCLA library with antique illuminated manuscripts written in Ge´ez on parchment.”

Following his UCLA tour Haile Selassie was off to Canada arriving in the country via Vancouver, British Columbia on April 26th, 1967. “Haile Selassie was the first of some 60 heads of state to visit Canada’s centennial celebration,” Vestal notes, with the trip including stops in Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal.

May 2, 1967: Haile Selassie was the first dignitary to have been welcomed at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal, Canada. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada)

The one-week trip, however, was not without controversy. The sixties were a time when turmoil was brewing back home and the media was beginning to ask uncomfortable questions regarding political developments in Ethiopia. Vestal adds that “en route to Ontario [the Emperor] issued an announcement that all questions to his press conference had to be in writing and submitted in advance,” which did not at all impress the local journalists documenting the activities surrounding the state visit.

“The edict apparently was made in response to what the emperor thought had been rude treatment on the west coast by Canadian reporters who peppered him with embarrassing questions about what was happening in Ethiopia,” Vestal observes. “His pronouncement was anathema to the proud Canadian press. At the same time 14 Ethiopian students were demonstrating in front of the Ethiopian mission to the UN in New York City protesting the treatment of fellow students at Haile Selassie I University. The protestors were carrying signs saying “Down with Haile Selassie and his Clique.”..this was the first time Americans saw Ethiopians demonstrating against HIM. Times were changing in Ethiopia.”

Nonetheless the official trip itself was very successful in terms of advancing relations between Ethiopia and Canada. “In Ottawa, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson greeted the emperor and accompanied him to a guard of honor ceremony at Canada’s 100th birthday flame in front of the gothic parliament building,” Vestal says. “Haile Selassie received assurances from Pearson that Ethiopia would receive more foreign aid from Canada. The emperor announced that he soon would appoint an Ethiopian ambassador to Canada. In Addis Ababa, there was already a Canadian ambassador at work.”

Haile Selassie concluded his trip to Canada in Quebec City following a brief meeting with Prime Minister Pearson and short speech hailing “cultural diversity as enriching nations.”

Fifty years later the emperor’s grandson, Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, will make a private, commemorative visit to Canada this week with planned events in Ottawa, Toronto, and Hamilton. According to the announcement “the purpose of the visit to Canada, from November 15th-19th, 2017, apart from invited engagements, is to commemorate the half-centenary of the State Visit to Canada of Emperor Haile Selassie I, in 1967. The 2017 private visit is designed to enhance fundamental Ethiopian-Canadian relations.”

Sponsored by the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) and the Zahedi Center the visit by Prince Ermias is being coordinated with the knowledge of the current government of Ethiopia, “but not at Government expense or in an official capacity,” the announcement states. “No official discussions will take place during the visit, nor will the visit touch on political issues relating to either country.”

Prince Ermias took similar trips to Australia earlier this year and Jamaica the previous year in honor of the 50th anniversary of Haile Selassie’s state visit to those countries as well.

In Ottawa Prince Ermias, who is 57 years old, will be recognized by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), which will induct him as an Honorary Fellow.

In addition organizers say the tour in Canada will include at least two events that are open to the public. On Saturday, November 18th at 1pm, Prince Ermias will give a presentation on youth violence and hope at All Nations Full Gospel Church and on Sunday, November 19th, along with wife Princess Saba Kebede, Prince Ermias will attend mass at Menbere Berhan Kidest Mariam (St. Mary) Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Toronto.

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