By Greg Clark, May 19, 1928
American Tourists Have Quaint Notions About Canada
The lanky, well-dressed stranger strolled up to the bell captain of the King Edward.
“I’m from the States,” he said. “I want to take a run around your city and see the points of interest – the state house and that sort of thing. Whereabouts is the residence of the Prince of Whales?”
The bell captain informed him that the Prince of Whales did not live in Toronto.
“Ah, he’s in Montreal, eh? Or is it Que-bec?”
No, the Prince of Whales, the bell boy regretted to inform the American visitor, lived in London, England, and only visited Canada on rare occasions, spending most of his visit aboard Pullman cars.
“But he’s got a ranch here somewhere,” said the American.
He doubted the bell captain’s knowledge and inquired elsewhere, with the result that a most curious and interesting conversation developed.
“I had it firmly fixed in my mind,” confessed the American during this discussion, that the Prince of Whales lived in Canada the way the King lives in England. I thought you had princes instead of governors, you know, state governors.
“But tell me, it’s a fact, is it not, that you have British regiments quartered here in Canada?”
“No. We have one permanent infantry regiment in Canada – but it’s Canadian.”
“But you pay taxes to the King of England don’t you?” asked the American, shrewdly.
“No. We pay no taxes and we put a duty on nearly everything that comes from Britain.”
“No!” said the American, entirely out of his depth. “Well, I declare. Still, all your officials in your government at Quee-bec are sent out from England, aren’t they?”
“No, the only official sent out to this country from Britain to the governor general, and even at that we choose the one we want out of a number suggested by the King’s advisers. A matter of fact, there is a discussion under way just now regarding the appointment of a Canadian as governor general in future.”
“Then you’re turning?’ suggested the American.
“Turning away from England,” added the American.
“England has nothing to do with it,” explained his Canadian Baedecker. “Canada is more British, in the sense of empire, than England. Canada is peopled by English, Scotch and Irish who have done something for the British Empire besides stay at home. The King, as far as we are concerned, is a Canadian. It may hurt a Californian to know that your president is a New Englander. But it doesn’t bother us Canadians to know that our King is an Englishman. We still think he would be better if he were a Canadian, just as your Californian thinks the President would be better if he were a Native Son.”
It’s Hard to Beat the Movies
“Well, sir, yesterday,” said the American, “I saw lot of cavalry riding out near your Sunnyside park and I thought you were a hundred and fifty years behind the rest of America.”
“We are a little backward,” said his Canadian adviser, “in some respects; for instance, it worries us Canadians that we can’t seem to put on quite as much of a celebration for the Prince of Wales whenever he comes to America as New York can.”
All of which is a quaint and comic but by no means rare instance of the extraordinary point of view entertained by countless numbers of our American visitors.
At the Niagara Falls office of the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association, a party of ladies and gentlemen drew up in a costly car and came in to get information about crossing the border.
They stood in the office, glancing about. Then one of the ladies said under her breath to her husband:
“Why, they’ve got everything printed in English.”
They made no move to ask for anything. 50 the young lady who is manager of the office step ped forward.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I knew you were an American!” cried the lady enthusiastically.
“I’m proud to tell you I’m a Canadian,” said the girl.
“But you’ve been educated in the States?”
“No, I was educated in Toronto, Canada.”
“Well, what in the world language do they speak over there anyway?” cried the American.
It takes a lot of propaganda to defeat the movies, for example. And what little of Canada has ever been in the movies has been mounted police, French-Canadians coureur de bois, Eskimos and dogs. When Canada gets into the news in a big way in the States, it is when trans-atlantic fliers pass over the Labrador wastes or land on our coasts so that it takes weeks to get them off even by flying machines. Or when balloonists land in Canada, they nearly die of it. The news reels that show glimpses of Canada are not views of our tall cities but shots of the arrival of the governor-general surrounded by protective soldiering or perhaps a bit from the Calgary stampede which is a circus mostly made up of troupers and trick performers from over the border.
Since 1926 the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association has been striving to defeat the movies and the sensational reports as part of its propaganda.
“But Toronto still remains,” states E. R. Powell, managing director of the association, “the poorest-known big city on the North American continent.”
“They Speak the Same Language”
There are three restaurants in Toronto that belong to a well-known chain of American restaurants and these are eagerly seized upon by the American tourists as a little bit of home.
“Why!” declare those who have motored right through from the border, as they pay for their meal at the cash desk, “your money looks exactly like ours! Yes, one dollar bills, sure as you live. And dimes and nickels!”
The manager tells of countless curious angles.
“You eat practically the same as we do in the States,” said one shrewd visitor. “Why, when I was in France, I could hardly get a single bit of what you might call civilized cooking.”
“I’m glad your restaurants are over in this country. I’ve read a good deal of Canadian literature in the magazines, and the one thing I was scared about coming over here was the things I’d have to eat -pemmican and bannock and pea soup and those things, and I’ve delicate stomach.”
Ex-Mayor Webb of Winnipeg describes a trip he made last winter to Florida. At one stop they overheard the children, in disappointed voices, saying: “They wear the same kind of clothes we do!” “They speak the same language we do.”
At the Niagara Falls office one elderly woman asked if she could see the boat that sails for Europe If she walked across the bridge. Three young men were in this office getting information and they argued the question whether to have lunch in Niagara Falls or wait until they got to Montreal.
Montreal and Toronto are not merely close together in the minds of a large proportion of the tourists, but they are readily interchangeable. Montreal is where Toronto is and Toronto is somewhere else. Canada to them is a little colony on the northern border, back of which is the arctic circle.
Even when they see Toronto they cannot realize that their previous conception is shot. A party came into The Star office last summer to ask if we knew of a man named Billings, an American living somewhere in Ontario.
“In Toronto? We’ll look him up in the directory.”
“No, he don’t live in Toronto, but somewhere here in Ontario. He’s an American. We thought probably you’d know of him. An American, named Billings.”
And they meant it.
It is generally believed by Toronto people that our fine big policemen are a source of wonder and admiration to the American visitors. We print stories about what the tourists any regarding the force.
But there are other angles. We asked an American what he thought of our police, as compared with the general type of stick-swinging, lamp-post leaning cop.
“I guess you’ve got to have good big police men over here, with all those outlaws and lumberjacks riding into town every once in a while,” said the American seriously.
But Let’s Not Be Snooty
School book history was doubtless responsible for another remark about the Toronto police.
“Mostly old soldiers, aren’t they?” asked the American.
“A good many are.”
“The police are kept up by the English, I suppose.”
Won’t somebody please write the Great Canadian Novel – all about Canada us it really is today – with enough eternal triangle and it in it to make it a best seller in the States? We’ve got to do something soon to counteract Sir Gilbert Parker and James Oliver Curwood, not to mention school histories that cease to refer to Canada after the War of 1812.
Of course, the best possible educational work is being done now, regardless of any effort. The Americans are coming to Canada as a playground in annual tidal waves that seem to double in volume every year. The tourist traffic is now one of the greatest commercial assets of the province of Ontario and within a very few years may be the greatest asset, regardless of mines, agriculture and everything else. Because there is no credit in the tourist business. It is all cash.
A flood of cash business bursting on Ontario’s shore every summer. And the more the Americans are astonished and enlightened the more they will talk when they get home. And the more they talk about Canada the bigger will be the tidal wave next summer. They are coming from far and near. And no other kind of propaganda could do what word-of-mouth is doing to enlighten the huge population to the south with regard to the facts about Canada.
There is a certain kind of Canadian who is snooty with all Americans. There are various reasons for this attitude. Part of it originates in the natural jealousy of a small country for a powerful neighbor. Part of it is the same ignorance that makes the American imagine “England” rules Canada as a colony, a sentimental hang-over from a century and a half ago.
But there is one ready-to-wear attitude that Canadians can wear in their relations with Americans. One thing every American speaks about in Canadians is the “manners” of Canadians. We are supposed to be a graceful and well-bred race.
If we are well-bred, good-mannered and courteous to our visitors, and if we use our humor and imagination in promoting the disillusionment that is progressing rapidly every moment that they are in the country, we will build up a tradition that will be even more valuable than the legend of the mounties and the whiskered Pierre and the canoe sliding down a mighty torrent.
Because that movie legend has not been without value.
It has advertised Canada as a land of vast natural resources, water power, minerals, unlimited forests.
And that is what the tourists are coming over to see.
Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing, the Governor-General of Canada was still British, though as indicated, there had been public discussion of the post being given to a Canadian.
Baedeker was a publisher of travel guides.
I don’t understand what is trying to be said with the line that mentions “eternal triangle”. Eternal Triangle was a term that meant “love triangle”, so maybe it was a disdain against the kind of books that were popular?