THE UNKNOWN COUNTRY VII
AS AN exiled native son I always find Ontario baffling. It is the richest, the best known and the most mysterious region in all Canada. Every other region has been typed, if only with a caricature. Ontario has no recognizable image, accurate or inaccurate. In the national gallery its portrait is a composite blur of many faces.
After much rambling research I came to a stone house beside the St. Lawrence and asked a famous scholar to expound the mystery of Ontario.
“Never talk,” said he, “about Ontario. There’s no such place as Ontario, and no such thing as an Ontario person. The name is only a political, it’s not even a geographical, expression. Why, I can show you at least half a dozen typical Ontarios and as many typical Ontario breeds. They’re just lumped together on the map and they have one government. But they’re as different as, say, Nova Scotia is from British Columbia. Ontario is a fiction.”
Its name may be a fiction, its face a blur, but Ontario drags us all back to our beginnings. The roots of half the nation west of the Great Lakes are sunk and anchored forever in the old family soil.
Otherwise, why, should a stranger like me, finding himself on the bank of the great river, learn with personal hurt that a strip of this land will soon lie deep under the waters of the seaway? What is it to him? The approaching flood hurts because this is his father’s land, long cleared, farmed and dumbly loved; because, perhaps, he had played here as a boy, fished in summer, skated in the winter and—if he was a regular Ontario boy, well trained at Sunday school and taught at home to respect the law—smuggled his first skates, his baseball mitt or rifle across the ice from the American side.
That boy is dead, though still walking about, but he does not forget.
I am thinking of a church called St. John’s, some three miles east of Morrisburg, the oldest Protestant church built by the
PHOTOS FOR MACLEAN’S BY PETER CROYDON
Southern Ontario continued
"The roots of half the nation west of the lakes are anchored in the old family soil . . .
The people are kindly, rich, intelligent.
But they are conventional and smug to any westerner"
Loyalists in Upper Canada. The seaway’s waters are about to close over a tiny steeple, three graveyards and the bones of the original German settlers from New York State.
I am thinking of that church’s minister, Ferdinand Louis Howald, a wartime chaplain, a descendant of Swiss folk and a great-grandson of a Loyalist. Mr. Howald, wearing a look of tranquillity under his plume of white hair, received me in the study of his big brick house at Morrisburg. He was preparing next Sunday’s sermon in his shirtsleeves, with the aid of a pungent pipe.
The minister is proud of his church. When it is drowned under the tide of progress he will miss it like an old friend. But no doubt, he said, the seaway project was all for the best. The memorial windows of the church, the altar and a valued painting would be saved and installed in a new building. Maybe a few descendants of the Loyalists would dig up and re-bury the bones of their ancestors before the graveyards were flooded. In any case, it will take more than the seaway, the damming of the river and a revolution in North America’s transportation system to shake a man like Mr. Howald.
Art Laurin, editor of the Morrisburg Leader, is not so philosophical. Emerging, ink-stained and angry, from his print shop, Mr. Laurin admitted that the seaway would be a good thing for the
whole nation, but why must the town of Morrisburg be drowned?
Though a practical and earthy man of business, with a vigorous Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, he could not hide his hurt. This oldest of the several Ontarios, the separate region of geography and men along the river, was his home and he adored it. He would never reconcile himself to the inundation of half his town, the main street, the war memorial, the fine old trees and the stone houses. No such houses would ever be built again. No financial settlement could compensate the people of Morrisburg for the loss of their fathers’ work through this last century and a half.
J. A. Keeler, editor of the Iroquois Post, a spry, cheerful man, was all for progress. Why, sure, he said, busily setting headlines by hand, the present Iroquois would lie under twelve feet'of water but a much better town would rise on the margin of the seaway. You couldn’t stop progress. So Mr. Keeler was waiting confidently, like Noah, for the flood.
No. 2 Highway westward swarmed with freight trucks, the new rivals of the St. Lawrence ships, but the river didn’t seem to be doing too badly, even without the unbuilt seaway canals. Its fleet ambled along through fat meadows, hedges of hawthorn in white blossom, elms spouting like green fountains, herds of overstuffed cattle knee-deep in grass-—the heartland of Canada and its original
main street of water rdnning seven hundred miles to the sea.
Thus I came, full of illusions, to Prescott where, as I have been reliably informed, I was born about a hundred years ago. Anyway, it seemed that long when I saw what progress had done to a certain house at the corner of Dibble and Edward Streets.
Fifteen years before I had found the elms of the garden reduced to stumps, the stables gone, the shady porch torn off and everything improved beyond recognition. Now this house, which had seen so many generations of birth in one bedroom, was entertaining another visitor. It had become an undertaking parlor. I turned away. Most Canadian boys must make the same discovery in their birthplace-—they can’t come home again.
What had happened to Prescott and to every other town along the river?
The obese windmill, fortress of the American invaders in 1838, was turned into a lighthouse on the riverbank and snored comfortably in the sun. Fort Wellington looked natural enough within its wall of grass. But everything else had changed.
Where was that dark nest of spicy flavor, the grocery store, and the grocer, Mr. Mayberry, who gave a boy some sticky gumdrops on every errand? Where the tobacco store with the tank of live fish in the window, the rumors of card
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games and other shocking vices in the back room? Where the jewelry store and another back room in which a boy saw his first motion picture, of flickering cowboys and Indians?
Where all the clamorous family of grandparents, cousins, uncles and those saintly aunts who supported high tariffs and smuggled systematically from Ogdensburg, upholstered with contraband under their ample skirts? All gone.
As I was thus ruminating on a futile question, an aged man shuffled up Dibble Street. “I’ll tell you what it is,” he said, “the town has growed.” Yes, he remembered my people, but it was long ago. “Things,” he added, “ain’t what they was by a damn sight.”
In those few words he had uttered the obituary of an age, of an Ontario-beyond resurrection, of a native folk ; scattered from here to the Pacific coast but still holding a fragment of this place in their hearts.
It was comforting to find that Kingston still stood changeless and serene as the capital of that lost age, ! and that Kingston’s greatest son, John A. Macdonald, faced past and future ¡ unshakable in bronze Windsor uniform among the chestnut trees of the park. Town and man shared a hereditary j look. Both were fashioned here of hard, grey limestone, were carved with the Í same wrinkles and wore the same tired smile.
Professor Arthur Lower, our leading j historian, who lives not far from the dreaming towers and bulbous domes of Kingston, told me how it had achieved its perfect symmetry, as if designed by a single architect.
It was built for the most part by Scottish masons after their work on ! Colonel By’s Rideau Canal. They were ¡ men of one idea. Over and over again, on every street, they reproduced the house of lean, square lines that they j had built in Scotland. Later on, this sound sedimentary layer of limestone was overlaid in places by some pretty monstrous Victorian gingerbread, but Kingston’s sober face is little marked by these blemishes.
The town was built to last. Its Precambrian stuff is so hard that Alexander Mackenzie, an impatient mason, threw down his blunted tools in disgust, went into politics and briefly replaced Macdonald as prime minister.
It will never be easy to change Kingston, even for the better. A new resident recently hired a contractor to build a modern house. These newfangled plans, the old builder said, were a -passing fancy. He and his father before him had built a hundred satisfactory houses here and all of them had been precisely the same “since the War.” What war? The American Revolutionary War, of course, the only war worth remembering, the war that brought his Loyalist ancestors to Kingston.
I hasten to add that Kingston still retains a stone-faced humor even in the solemn halls of Queen’s University. One of its psychology professors went out to the adjacent penitentiary not long ago and lectured on “Escapism as an Art.”
If Kingston is one piece, Brockville is two. Its architecture and split personality deny the flattering myth that the Loyalist migration was composed mostly of aristocrats. The eastern half of Brockville, crammed with some of the finest homes in Canada,
was founded by the Jones family. The west side, of business and modest houses, was the work of William Buell, a successful laborer. Both the Joneses and the Buells were determined to affix their names to the whole town and in their long quarrel Brockville became known as Snarlingtown, until General Brock, asked to arbitrate, suggested his own name a few days before he died on Queenston Heights.
So Brockville it was, with its patron’s statue planted on the courthouse lawn to watch his town approvingly. Or so I was told by a local authority in the office of the Recorder and Times, which has never failed to publish since 1821, the first hand press still being used on odd jobs.
For reasons of timidity I decided to bypass the autonomous principality of Toronto for the moment and pursue my study of small-town civilization. My next stop was Hamilton, one of the largest small towns of the nation and, according to the natives, our third shipping port, a long way from sea. It is also, they complain, Canada’s least appreciated community.
The perpetual cloud of factory smoke at the western point of Lake Ontario, the crowded business streets, the handsome residential area and a laboring population two fifths of foreign extraction represent a miracle of industry. It had a queer origin.
When they were building railways hereabouts, some century ago, the steel rails from England buckled in the Canadian frost and wei’e re-rolled in Hamilton. Thus began Canada’s greatest steel industry and the transformation of fierce old Allan MacNab’s Loyalist village of Bui’lington Heights into a young metropolis.
Nevertheless, it remains a small town. Or so it always appears to me. The natives will reply, quite rightly, that I know nothing about Hamilton and that Canadians always go past it on the tx'ain without stopping to discover its peculiar vii’tues. Hamiltonians, living unknown off the main line, are rather irked by this neglect since their town is obviously the best in the country.
A business executive, moved to head office in Toronto, talked to me about his pi’omotion and increased salary like a man who has been sentenced to a concentration camp in Siberia. I agreed with him, expressed a sincere sympathy, dried the tears on my shoulder and set off for Niagara.
My flight thi’ough the battlefields of the War of 1812 was as badly organized as the American invasion. Like the invaders, I was soon lost in the maze of the escarpment (Hanxilton has elevated it into The Mountain), then in tunnels of spi’ing greenery beside the lake and then in an orchard of red cherries whexe the Americans were routed at Stoney Creek.
A farmer allowed that some kind of fight had occux-red in this vicinity, he wasn’t sure how or when, and kindly directed me back to Hamilton. For the second time I ran the gantlet of the town traffic before I rediscovered the broad and brutal Queen Elizabeth Highway. To keep abreast of the natives, I moved toward Niagai'a at a moderate speed of seventy-five miles an hour.
Now I was in another Ontario, the Ruhr of Canada. Two yeai’s before 1 had driven exactly the same sort of l'oad, built by Adolf Hitler, thi’ough exactly the same combination of factories and smokestacks in the middle of green fields, the same orchards and vineyards, the same process that is turning a peasantry into a proletariat -—a common, world-wide process but focused and perfected here as nowhere else in Canada.
I say it is perfected because most of the swelling satellite towns of Toronto are being admirably planned. The factories are as modern, comfortable and sightly as factories can be. The influx of urban workers, many of them recent immigrants, seems to get along well with the farmers who have tilled this land since Loyalist times.
To the old-timer of the Niagara peninsula it is tragic just the same to see the ravenous jaws of industry biting deeper every day into the orchards, the apple trees cut down to make way for a factory, the vineyards ovex-run by a subdivision of bungalows.
When I came in springtime Niagara was afoam with apple blossoms and now, on my second visit in the autumn, the trees wei-e heavy with apples, the air with the smoke of leaf fires.
On a quiet road I encountered the ancient spirit of Niagara: the man
by the wayside was a rosy apple on two legs. His great-grandfather from upper New York, he told me, had bi’ought the adjoining orchard with him in his pocket toward the end of the eighteenth century. In his pocket?
“Why sure,” the apple man said, “they dried out the seeds down there, they brought ’em up here and they planted ’em yonder.”
He pointed to the neat rows of ti’ees around his house. Well, these weren’t exactly the ti’ees planted from seed by his gi’eat-grandfather, but they came from the same stock. One of them, a gnai’led giant, was at least a hundx’ed years old. The present owner had grafted it with scions of Ben Davis just before the last war and it yielded more apples than ever.
“It’s the soil,” he explained. “There’s something in it that you won’t find anywhei’es else. The soil and the moisture and a little frost and the wind off the lake. That makes apples.”
Being a peaceful man and a cowardly traitor to my own province, I did not dare to admit that I was now a resident and honorary native of Bx’itish Columbia, home of the world’s best apples. The national debate between the eastern and western apple is not a thing
to be taken lightly. So I ventui’ed xnex-ely that the Okanagan Valley also seemed to produce quite decent fruit. At that the spirit of Niagai’a exploded.
The apple man’s face took on a deeper crimson. He grasped me by the arm, he looked sti’aight into my eyes and pronounced a solemn wai’ning: “Don’t let yourself be fooled, son! There’s no apples in the Okanagan. Not real apples. Oh yes, they’re coloi’ed all right but it’s just color. Might as well be paint—lipstick, I call it. No flavor. Why? Because they’re irrigated, that’s why! It’s against nature. Look at that”—he pointed to his row of glistening teeth—“I haven’t lost a tooth in seventy-eight years. That’s from apples. Niagara apples.”
I attempted to divert his fux-y by asking the apple man if he intended to sell his orchard. The question only incensed him the more. “Sell it?” he cried. “Why, my great-granddaddy planted it! No, sir, it’ll stand as long as I do. Oh, they’ve offered me a mint of money for a subdivision. They’re spreadin’ all over. They’re gobblin’ up ®the best land under the sun. But they won’t get mine, not while I’m around.”
His grandsons, three stalwart young men then picking apples nearby, might sell the orchard. “They’ll regret it if they do,” the apple man predicted. “You can only sell once. Apples go on foi’ever if you look after ’em. And there’s only one Niagara.”
When I got out of his grip at last, my stomach and car were full of apples much inferior (now I can safely tell the truth from a distance) to the product of my own little Pacific coast orchai’d.
I was soon lost again in the labyrinth of roads and secret valleys lying hidden behind the escarpment. My objective was the house of John De Cew, to which Laura Secord carried the news of Beaver Dams on June 24, 1813. As my wife is De Cew’s great-great-granddaughter and as we had failed to find the house together in the spring, I had promised to seek it out and bring her back a snapshot.
There was little left to photograph —only a square of stone walls two feet
thick, a waterfall splashing into a mossy cavern and an abandoned mill house. Meditating on life’s accidents that have spread the offspring of Niagara’s first miller across half a continent, I sought my way out of a solitary upland, only a few miles from the Queen Elizabeth Autobahn. Fortunately I was still lost or I might have not met Joseph Edward Culp (or Joe Ed as everyone calls him) and heard his story.
Mr. Culp is a brown nut of a man, eighty-four years old, though he would pass for sixty at most. He was driving his car alone as I encountered him and by a lucky chance was carrying, in massive scrapbooks and diaries, the genealogy of his people.
Great-grandfather Culp, a German by descent and a Mennonite by religion, had come from the U. S. in 1803, with apple seeds in his pocket, of course, and his descendants had been farming around Vineland ever since.
A learned amateur historian, Mr. Culp has conducted a meticulous study of his ancestors all the way back to Germany, recording every birth, marriage and death for six generations. Now he is compiling an exhaustive chronicle of the town council, the library board and the United Church in Vineland. It was not an easy job, he told me, and he had grown lazy in his old age.
“Everybody,” he said, “is getting lazy nowadays. If I want to go a couple of miles down the road do I walk? No, sir, I climb into the car. But in my day a hired man would walk five miles to work in the morning and turn up at the farm at six o’clock for breakfast.
“We didn’t have much money for fun, you know. Maybe a quarter for
an oyster supper now and then, but at a dance I doubt if you’d find a nickel among all the boys. Still, we had more fun than the youngsters these days. People should ought to work more to be happy and healthy.”
Mr. Culp was a living proof of his theory and of something else—the deep undying folk memory of the Loyalists.
“There should ought to be a law,” he said in parting, “to stop them cutting up the orchards for houses and factories. It’s all wrong. They’ll never get land like this again outside Niagara.”
I found my way at last and descended from the escarpment to the garden shelf of Lake Ontario. Its almost tropical growth, dense population, clotted traffic and ever-swelling factories amaze and rather terrify the westerner. In this Ontario something more fundamental than economic change is under way.
Here, indeed, the central dilemma of all human kind is being solved, or not solved. Man is trying to learn how to live with the machine and yet remain a man.
The factory workers in automobiles, crowding the town streets once crowded by farmers in wagons, the emancipated working girls in their invariable uniform of gay bandanna, tight sweater and blue jeans, the dark, potent faces of the immigrants from Europe—these are the shifting atoms in a chemistry more complex and far less calculable than atomic fission. What is coming out of Ontario’s gigantic test tube? What kind of city, what kind of society, what kind of human being?
From a hill near Welland one can see both the current symptoms of the revolution and a glimpse of its begin-
aings, long ago. Farms, towns, faciories and smoke roll out to the aorthern horizon. The towers of the Hydro dance in endless ballet, with outflung arms and pirouette of steel legs. Directly below the hill lies Canada’s most revealing monument, the three Welland canals, triple signature of the nation in stone.
The revolution began right here when Canadians undertook their first big construction job and bypassed the continental stepladder of Niagara Falls. First they built a narrow, winding ditch with queer little locks, rising in places by seven separate steps to the mile. Then they built a wider, straighter ditch with larger locks and higher steps. Finally they built the beeline of the present Welland Ship Canal, a broad man-made river carrying an unbroken procession of ships day and night.
Most of the stone walls are still as tie masons left them in the old canal and should last as long as Egypt’s pyramids. Aeons hence, when visitors from distant planets ask what manner of folk lived in Canada, let them look at these three ditches. They could have been built only by a folk of imagination, courage and faith, hidden under a deceiving look of mere competence and thrift.
A stranger visiting any European town is shown the ruins of some cathedral, castle or royal tomb. In a Canadian town the proud local citizen always showed me the new factory, the marble-faced bank or the improved sewage system. These are our castles and cathedrals. As a national monument I prefer the three canals. They say just about everything that needs to be said.
The ditch dug by Loyalists
A barefoot boy was fishing that afternoon from the wall of the oldest canal. The water ran cleanly through the deserted lock and provided good sport. Behind him, in silhouette, a cigar-shaped ship wallowed into the locks of the new canal. The upper gates swung shut as smoothly as your front door. The water gushed out, the ship sank like a toy in a bathtub as the lower gates opened, and she glided downstream with a toot of thanks from her whistle. The barefoot boy, the narrow ditch, the broad ditch and the big ship—there was Ontario’s history.
When the river channel is finally gouged out by the seaway, when the revolution of Niagara is complete, what then? We can be sure of only one thing —some small boy will still fish in the old ditch, dug by the Loyalists.
A few miles from Welland one reaches the rebuilt wooden fort of General Brock and the river road where he galloped to his death on Queenston Heights. As that ride and death probably saved the chance of an independent Canadian -state, Queenston should be a place for meditation. No one seemed to be meditating. A steady stream of cars raced along the river cliff. How many drivers remembered the man on horseback, galloping alone into the rainy dawn?
The house of another great Canadian, William Lyon Mackenzie, stands just below Brock’s monument. These memorials to the loyal soldier and the rebellious scribbler tell a strange tale.
Brock’s memorial column was half finished just as Mackenzie launched his Rebellion of 1837. Since copies of the rebel’s Colonial Advocate had been buried in the base of the monument, with other documents, it was necessary, of course, to tear the stones apart, burn the offending journal and start all over again.
Those passions have cooled. Brock
looks benignly down at Mackenzie’s little stone house, which workmen were repairing at public expense as I passed by. Beside Niagara Falls Mackenzie King made sure that his rebel grandfather’s lifework would be understood by erecting there a granite arch and vault in honor of Mackenzie and the less fortunate rebels, Peter Matthews and Sam Lount, who were hanged for their principles at York. History always moves in circles.
I never pause long at the Falls, for there is nothing new to say or think about them. The mechanics of the cataract, as Winston Churchill found, have not changed for quite a while. It still revolves like a mangle wringing out a ragged white sheet and soon bores the observer by its monotonous motion. So I drove on to Simcoe, the ideal Ontario town, a relic apparently untouched by the revolution and living spaciously in big brick houses, shady streets and the perfume of blossom.
Such surroundings and a long experience create a definite type of man, one clear portrait in the blurred gallery of the many Ontarios. I found that man in a mellow mansion and listened all evening to his recollections.
His Loyalist grandfather, he said, had come to Canada from New Jersey in 1796. His mother had once ridden back there alone on a sidesaddle of doeskin which he still keeps as a souvenir. Her son remembers her homemade gloves of deer hide, her candles of tallow and, in bad times, her flour ground out of beechnuts. A few miles from Simcoe my friend had traced the rutted remains of the Loyalists’ skid roads. On these the first lumberjacks, with eight yoke of oxen, hauled white pine—some of it forty feet long and six feet in diameter-—to some local water mill. The descendant of those men watched the retreat of the forest, the advance of the plow and the arrival of industry. All this progress appeared to him a questionable success.
“On the farm now,” he said, “we’ve got water, plumbing, electricity, natural gas and God knows what all, even television. But I doubt we’re half as
happy as our fathers. And so I’ve kept my old privy as a kind of reminder. I can see the whole farm from there every morning. It helps me to remember.”
“Never underestimate,” a historian of this region warned me, “the deep groove of custom in these country people. It’s still the largest factor in their society. They take their ideas, or rather their instincts, from their fathers. They’re yeomen and they’re Tory to the bone, however they vote.
“They really don’t think much politically. They only feel. There’s no use talking abstract ideas to them. They care nothing for doctrines and theories. That’s why the CCF has been a total flop here, even when Ontario votes for socialism on a huge scale in the Hydro and the seaway. Take a good look at this breed. It’s being outnumbered and gradually drowned by industry, and in some places by immigration.”
A pocket of such immigration lies just west of Simcoe. There a worthless land of fine, brown dust, long ago abandoned by the Loyalist settlers, has been turned into Canada’s opulent tobacco industry.
New towns of fancy bungalows, farms polka-dotted with greenhouses and red-roofed drying kilns, curious machines to tend the tobacco seedlings; above all, the unmistakable foreign faces proclaim yet another Ontario, barely three decades old, a little enclave of separate methods, customs and people, making a fortune out of smoke.
A tractor hauled two girls of surprising beam, obviously immigrants, on a kind of wheeled rack. Their trained hands planted tobacco seedlings with the rhythmical motion of a machine. A young man of Canadian stock walked slowly across his field and replaced a few dead plants with an ingenious gadget.
“We’ve done all right,” the youth said, pausing at the end of the row to replenish his basket of plants. “This land was worth five dollars an acre a few years ago. We were going broke trying to farm it. Now it’s worth a thousand dollars anyway. See that old
guy on the tractor? He has a hundred acres. He’s worth a hundred thousand and he’s only been out from Europe about fifteen years. They’re mostly foreigners around here. But we’re Canadians,” he added quickly.
He, his brother and his mother, working twenty-five acres of tobacco, were friendly with the immigrants. You could hardly tell their children from Canadians, he said. Some of the old folks couldn’t talk English very well and cooked some mighty queer meals. “It’s good eating, just the same. Sometimes they make brandy out of grape juice, the best you ever tasted.”
No, he didn’t smoke himself, he thought nicotine dangerous to the health, but nothing would stop most people smoking, so the tobacco market was assured.
I ate my lunch a hundred yards from the road on a beach of sand as lonely as in Loyalist times, with Lake Erie as a blue-green backdrop. A few hours later I beheld the jagged skyline of Detroit, a miniature Manhattan, across the flat garden lands of the Windsor country. Here was another Ontario, much closer, physically and spiritually, to the American metropolis than to Niagara or Toronto.
Watching the unbroken stream of ships on the Detroit River, that narrow trench between two nations, and listening to the grunt of their whistles, I asked a Windsor editor how the boundary had been maintained when the people of Windsor crossed over to Detroit as easily as they crossed their own streets and when the automobile factories on the American side paid substantially higher wages than Canada could afford. The editor, like all Canadians, just didn’t know.
“Somehow,” he said, “our people like it on this side. Twenty years ago I think a referendum in this town would have given a majority for union with the States. Not now. This is a labor town, a radical town you probably would say, and a quarter of it is of French-Canadian blood, but it’s no suburb of Detroit. It’s strictly Canadian.”
The towers of Detroit soared up before us like a flimsy mirage. That mirage, I thought, had beckoned Canada for nearly two centuries but always faded under our northern sun.
\ colossal bust of Ponipey
From Windsor I wandered idly up the little Thames on the line of the. Canadians’ retreat to the battlefield of Moraviantown. The Thames naturally brought me to London, the old farm town now flanked with its “Golden Mile” of industries, and then to Stratford on its imitation Avon, complete with swans.
Stratford was in the final desperate throes of preparation for the Shakespearian Festival. Sculptors, painters and costumers worked against time to make a colossal bust of Pompey for Julius Caesar, three jewel boxes for The Merchant of Venice, some Roman helmets, armor of plastic and enough women’s gowns to stock a department store.
Caesar, Brutus and Cassius rehearsed under the big circus tent, wearing sweatshirts, slacks and sneakers. Even in this garb they brought the Roman Forum suddenly to life. Strangers are not usually admitted to rehearsals but the attendants kindly smuggled me into an obscure corner. Nowhere, not even in the Old Vic itself, had I felt so keenly the magic of the master’s lines, bubbling from the lips of these Canadian youngsters.
The inhabitants of Stratford appear a little bewildered to find their sleepy
Ontario town transformed overnight into the shrine of things unknown, the local habitation of airy nothings. Stratford has been lifted bodily out of the solid substance of Ontario, at least in the season ç>f the festival, and has become an independent city state of poetry, drama and imagination.
The proprietor of a delicatessen where I purchased a picnic lunch said it was all very strange and a little crazy.
“I can’t make head or tail of their lingo,” he admitted. “I’d rather see a movie myself. Shakespeare isn’t my dish. But they tell me it’s quite good for those that like it. Why, when the festival is on you can’t get a room for miles around. I’ll say this for Shakespeare—he sure is good for business.”
It was hard to tear myself away from perhaps the most interesting spot in Canada, to leap out of the Elizabethan Age into the rather drab Ontario fronting on Lake Huron and removed by several centuries from Shakespeare.
North of Goderich I met on the roadside a jolly old fellow whose white cane indicated his misfortune, but even in his blindness he could still make his way about the paths of his boyhood. His name was John L. Sullivan, his parents having fancifully christened him in honor of the current boxing champion.
Mr. Sullivan thought that a good joke. “I never got into a fight in my life,” he chortled. Nor had he strayed far from his birthplace. Why should he? It was the best country he’d ever seen.
Then he uttered a profound comment on that loose congeries called Ontario: “Folks go from here to Toronto and they just can’t talk to the folks there. And if folks come here from Toronto they just can’t talk to us. There’s an iron curtain between us. Yes, the city folks are smart all right and make a lot of money. But let the smartest businessman in Toronto try to run a farm. He’d go broke. You’ve got to be born to it.”
They don’t all say that much, though. I asked a farmer of Bruce County if it was likely to rain. “It might,” he said after reflection, “and then again it mightn’t.” Was this good farm land? “Some say so, some don’t.” Who would win the provincial election? “That depends.” Was Premier Frost a good man for his job? “Never saw Frost.” He asked my business and, learning that I was a reporter, gave me a hard look and added: “Don’t you
go quotin’ my opinions, young fella!”
An editor in the solid brick town of Owen Sound told me he wouldn’t take five times his present salary to work in Toronto, and Toronto apparently sees his point. A good part of the city population surges out here in summertime to litter the beaches of Georgian Bay with holiday cottages, to pollute the air with the smell and sputter of speed boats and to create several pretty fair imitations of Coney Island.
I fled from this appalling urban annex into the quiet of Huronia, the land of Champlain’s vain march to the western sea and the Jesuits’ martyrdom.
Barrie was filled that Saturday afternoon with hordes of Toronto refugees moving in solid ranks of cars to the healthful follies of their week-end camps. Orillia was likewise overwhelmed by these brief birds of passage, but I was assured by Bill Deacon, literary editor of the Globe and Mail, a veteran camping man, that the old small-town virtue of Orillia still survived. It would break through the crust of the week end on Monday morning.
Mr. Deacon and man/ like him regard Orillia as sacred ground since
it produced a genuine literary masterpiece and one of the greatest Canadians. This is Stephen Leacock’s town, the Mariposa of his Sunshine Sketches.
Barrie long claimed that distinction for itself but written proofs extinguish its pretensions. In the public library of Orillia the bronze bust by Elizabeth Wyn Wood—a leonine head that captures Leacock’s inner wistfulness and melancholy hidden by his brave banter and wonderful nonsense—presides over a collection of his manuscripts in a glass case. And among these records is a letter in Leacock’s penmanship stating definitely that Orillia is Mariposa, slightly distorted.
Mr. Deacon pointed triumphantly to this unanswerable testimony and Miss Mary Sheridan, the pretty young librarian, said there could be no more doubt about it. Neither Barrie, which hankers after Leacock’s glory, nor McGill, which housed him, disguised as an economist, has a leg to stand on. He is Orillia incarnate.
Leacock’s land, and all the many rural Ontarios, remained terra incognita to me, and its people strangers, though they were my people by ancestry. I had come far enough now to realize that I would never know them, nor they me.
That will hardly disturb the Ontarios. For all their wealth, culture and industrial revolution they remain, each in its own comfortable compartment, some of the most isolated and provincial areas I had found in Canada. Their people are kindly, intelligent and relatively rich. But they are provincial, conventional and smug to any westerner. You can’t go home again.
But there was another Ontario to be faced down the road. So, summoning up my frail reserves of courage, I headed south for that foreign island in the sea of Canada which bears the name of Toronto.
Every Canadian traveler and visiting fireman thinks he knows Toronto and usually dismisses it with a sigh or a sneer. In fact, Toronto has grown past all knowledge. It has become, like the province around it, a series of diverse elements loosely knitted together by stitches of steel and concrete, articulated by a subway, glued by the adhesive of business but not yet fused like its only rival, Montreal.
There are as many Torontos, I imagine, as the numerous Ontarios that feed its divided body—a Toronto of oldtimers appalled by the monstrous growth of skyscrapers around their quiet homes, of newcomers dazzled by their first glimpse of Babylon; a Toronto of sober politicians in Queen’s Park and brassy tycoons in Bay Street; a Toronto of churchgoers, organized crime and commercialized vice; a Toronto of writers, artists, musicians and scholars tending that tender little plant called Canadian culture; a Toronto of old Loyalist stock, who founded muddy York long ago and retain some of its flavor and all its prejudices; a dozen Torontos of foreign stocks speaking their own languages, eating their own diets and thinking their own thoughts in Canada’s central melting pot.
York was a village in a swamp. Toronto, York’s successor, was a town of fixed customs and cohesive mind. The several Torontos of our time compose neither a village nor a town and have yet to become a city. They are a series of communities in amorphous combination and continual flux.
Toronto ravens across yesterday’s farm lands. It breeds sub-Torontos wholesale. It proliferates in endless suburban checkerboards where a man can hardly find his own house among ten thousand others of identical design. But it is not yet a city as Montreal
is a city. Its body has grown faster than its mind.
That body is nourished by the farmstuffs, minerals, timber, oil and water power of half the nation, all sucked into this insatiable maw through the gullet of the lakes and cunningly centralized here by the national tariff until Toronto must soon become the nation’s largest metropolis. The mind, nourished by new people and new ideas from every corner of the nation, even from Quebec, is slowly building a second Canadian city.
Toronto fattens on mere paper, the sterile certificates of distant ownership, thrives on the labor of unknown men from here to the Rockies, clips every passing coin, wrings out abundant profits and in its own mighty labors ships back the products of its factories and an increasing trickle of thought.
Where is the old Toronto of familiar caricature-—the spinster lady in Victorian lace who abhorred drink, Sunday sports and the morals of her neighbor downriver? She is gone, or retired into some obscure mansion with blinds tightly drawn. Her voice may grumble sometimes in the morning’s Globe and Mail but is drowned in the afternoon scream of the Star and the Telegram, the new voice of a Toronto in birth
but not quite born, and all the more shrill and positive because it is so uncertain.
Still, a man walking downtown Toronto at dawn, before the traffic is awake, can see, in narrow streets and dark alleys, the imprint of York’s lanes and marshy cowpaths. Or if he penetrates the façade of University Avenue by a single block he will find old folks living in houses that looked out not long ago on a village green, a Chinese laundryman growing onions and lettuce in the shadow of the skyscrapers, a junkman with horse and wagon laboriously collecting in his back yard the flotsam dropped by Toronto’s furious passage.
Give Toronto time. A city will be born here in due season, a city of prodigious proportions and a collective soul. The shiny smugness, the well-fed, aldermanic look, the pathetic self-infatuation which so repel the stranger will disappear. A folk who could invent the commonwealth unconsciously at Gallows Hill and Montgomery’s Tavern can invent something better than this overgrown country town.
“Toronto,” said one of its leading citizens, “will soon be the New York of Canada.” He seemed to enjoy that prospect though, God save him, he should have known better, for he had been bred in the Yukon and educated in Vancouver.
“Why,” he added with the civic patriotism of an immigrant, “hardly anybody in this town seems to have been raised here. We’ve all come from somewhere else, like a gold rush. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
I left that man in horror and pity and escaped once more into Canada. A forced march took me past the innumerable lakes and week-end sanctuaries of Muskoka, into the safe recesses of the Shield, iç