Florida, Canada’s hottest province
Where do so many (more than half a million) good Canadians go before they die? Where do motel owners fly the Canadian flag, even though all they may know about Canada is that its money comes in several colors? Where else but in
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
MORE THAN HALF A MILLION Canadians went to Florida last year. Some went there armed with permanent visas, determined never to shovel snow again. According to the last analysis, which was made in 1957, two thousand former Canadians are now registered voters in Pinellas County, the tiny piece of Florida between Tampa Bay and the Gulf. But most went there for visits, ranging from four or five days to the maximum six months allowed on their tourist permits. In the 1958-59 season, according to estimates based on a tourist registration, the number of Canadians who visited the city of St. Petersburg — one of the most popular areas with Canadians — was 105,450. This was a greater number than from any state of the Union except New York.
For Canadians, part of the fun of visiting Florida, along with that of picking oranges and having grits for breakfast, used to be running into other Canadians. Now the Canadian visitor often finds himself driving against a line of cars in which seven or eight out of ten are from Ontario or Quebec. A clerk in the Suwannee Hotel in St. Petersburg said:
“Our bookkeeper is from Toronto. Ten years ago, if a Canadian registered here we’d say 'I have someone I want you to meet’ and introduce him to the bookkeeper. We never do it now. He’d be swamped.”
A woman in Streetsville, a community of 4,823 just outside Toronto, when 1 asked her over the phone how many people she knew who went to Florida for the winter, named twelve families from her community. She recalled their names by mentally going up and down the concession roads. All these people go to New Smyrna Beach, a small town just south
of Daytona. They hold an annual picnic in Orlando, Florida. At last winter’s picnic there were thirty-eight people from in and around Streetsville.
Last winter a customer in Furchgott’s department store in Daytona Beach noticed a clerk who was wearing a duplicate of the dress she was wearing. She smiled and said, “Oh, well, 1 guess it doesn’t matter. I’m from Toronto.”
The clerk said, “So am I.”
In another Daytona store, a man told a salesclerk that the pair of slacks he was wearing came from a place in Toronto called Eaton's. The clerk whipped open his jacket like an FBI agent showing his badge. The label on the inside pocket read “The T. Eaton Company, Toronto.”
“I used to work there,” he explained.
A Canadian woman driving in St. Petersburg saw a Union Jack flying outside a house and slammed on her brakes to have a better look. Another Canadian woman driver ran into her. She’d been looking at the Union Jack, too.
For the Canadian tourist Florida is largely a state of mind, and what it’s like depends on the visitor's idea of a holiday. There’s Miami Beach’s palm-decorated hotel area, where the breeze is scented with suntan lotion and the privilege of smelling it costs from $24 to $60 a room. There’s a Florida of bars and nightlife, and such sterling performers as Sheela the Peelah, who was last seen undressing in Daytona Beach; and the deepsea fisherman’s Florida of the remote keys south of Miami where the Caribbean mixes colors with the Gulf of Mexico. There's a Florida of trailer parks; a Florida of yacht owners who fly to
Miami while their captains take their sixty-foot motor sailers down the inland waterways, waving regally to the bridge tenders; the Florida of small-boat owners who live in quarters the size of a bongo drum, and a floating community of boat bums who scrounge rides aboard big pleasure boats as crew. There’s an illusive, secluded, mysterious Florida behind the high, snooty coquina walls of Palm Beach, and a bench-sitters’ Florida of old pensioners who rent a room for two or three months, at $15 or $20 a week, and spend their days sitting in the sun watching the pigeons, mockingbirds, and other tourists.
But the Florida of most Canadians is a workingman’s winter resort, populated by middleaged couples of average means who drive down from Ontario or Quebec, taking four or five days for the three-day trip to sightsee on the way. They start arriving in October, but most come down after Christmas. Each year more and more are giving it a try in summer, which is now a secondary season in Miami and the biggest season in the central and northern parts. There, a cottage that would rent for $100 a month in winter rents for $300 to $400 a month as soon as school is out.
The Canadian tourists head for Fort Myers, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater or Sarasota on the generally warm and languid Gulf of Mexico, or for towns on the more active Atlantic coast — St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Vero Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, Fort Pierce, or the built-up strip of towns between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Or they head for the quiet rural orange-grove area of inland Florida, to stay in or near cen-
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Florida, Canada’s hottest province continued from page 26
“We all sing that Canadian song that starts with Mar she said — meaning the Marseillaise
tres like Orlando or Winter Haven. They stay in housekeeping apartments in oceanfront homes or motels for $30 to $150 a week, or in small pastel-painted concrete-block Florida houses near the beach but not on it for $100 to $200 a month. Many come back to the same house or apartment year after year. They make most of their own meals, with roast beef on Sunday, but also dine out at places where they can have all the lobster they can eat for two dollars, or fill up for a dollar on oysters steamed in big boilers and dumped hot on wooden plank tables. They can buy wine at the A&P, drink beer at drive-in lunch counters, eat pizzas at drive-in movies and get hush puppies and grits, eggplant and black-eyed peas almost anywhere.
Many motel owners fly the Canadian flag, even though some know no more about Canada than the fact that Canadian currency comes in different pretty colors for each denomination. In Miami’s Sans Souci Hotel, they not only fly the Canadian flag but on a chosen day early in the winter season they have a flagraising ceremony that is broadcast over TV.
“We all sing that Canadian song that starts with Mar . . . ,” a woman behind the desk said — meaning, it turned out after a bit of explanation, the Marseillaise.
It sounds like Toronto
Most newsstands display Canadian papers. Toronto visitors have been surprised to hear the owners of small stores in sweltering inland Florida towns refer to the Tely and the Star as if they were local rather than Toronto publications. At one time last winter three out-oftown papers were carried in the rack outside Morrison’s Cafeteria, one of the bigger restaurants in Daytona — the Globe and Mail and the Telegram, from Toronto, and the Sentinel, from Orlando. The Chamber of Commerce people in Daytona refer to the Canadian National Exhibition as the Ex, like native Torontonians. Every year the Pelican, a small newspaper published in New Smyrna Beach, holds a party to elect a mayor of Little Montreal. There’s a taped radio broadcast of Canadian news, weather, sports and stock-market trends by Dave Price every day from Miami, Cypress Gardens, Tampa and Daytona. In Woolley's Newsstand in Daytona, stacked prominently near the entrance, is a book called CANADA — A Study of Cool Continental Environments and Their Effect on British and French Settlements, by Griffith Taylor, a retired professor of geography at the University of Toronto. At the Goddess of the Sun Festival in St. Petersburg, a Miss Canada is chosen every year.
“She’s nearly always a Canadian,” a Chamber of Commerce worker said.
In the super - spectacular Americana Hotel in Miami, there is a Dominion Coffee House, decorated with maple leaves and totem poles, where the menu is printed inside an almost-life-size color illustration of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policemans tunic. Canadian guests can amuse themselves trying to picture Canada as Americans see it, while ordering Totem Pole Sundaes (75c), Rose Marie Banana Splits (95c), Montreal Samplers of corned beef and pastrami
($1.35), and the most enigmatic bit of Canadiana of all: the Merry Widow, a concoction of ice cream, pecan waffle and hot fudge ($1.25).
Canadians go in for lawn bowling, which they introduced to Florida. But
it's played there on rolled sand or shell. They play shuffleboard. go swimming in winter (which horrifies the natives, who start swimming in June when the water is as warm as soup), go to auctions, talk about Canada, criticize Florida tomatoes.
and bristle when tourists from Tennessee, curious about Canada, ask them if they're still paying taxes to England. They're inclined to stick closer together than, say, Americans from one state. Members of Canadian clubs at Daytona,
Orlando. Miami. Lakeland, and St. Petersburg, among other places, hold picnics. cruises, shell-gathering expeditions, dances, bridge parties, and keep reminding themselves that they're Canadians.
"You can hear them singing God Save the Queen." said Pressley Phillips, director of publicity for St. Petersburg. "The people walking past on the street think they're singing America. It's the same tune."
They bridge - fish for sailor’s choice, whiting and sheepshead. They walk the beaches and enjoy the breathtaking
beauty of sky and sea. They watch the pelicans and porpoises and gingerly touch their toes to dead horseshoe crabs, jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-wars. For admissions ranging from $1.50 to $3 they can take a boat ride through Florida jungle and watch a water-skiing show at Cypress Gardens. At Weeki Watchee Spring they can watch through a glass partition while girls dive 921/2 feel into a spring - water - filled grotto. They can sec the porpoises fed by hand at Marinciand. drive past roaming African animals in Africa, U. S. A., visit
snake farms, parrot jungles, monkey jungles, Spanish missions and old English sugar mills. They can see the "biggest cypress in the United States” on the Sanford - Orlando highway, roam streets in St. Augustine that were there before the streets of Quebec, and get scalped by Seminole Indians, who charge what the traffic will bear for the privilege of looking at them in their villages in the Everglades. They can see stock-car and sports-car racing at the huge new' speedway in Daytona, and sports - car races at Sebring. They can play golf all
winter long in almost every community. They can watch major-league teams play spring-training games in peaceful, palmfringed surroundings, without having to fight ten miles of city traffic, and they can try to make enough money at the dog tracks to pay for their whole vacation.
I talked to motel and hotel people in Daytona. St. Petersburg. Miami and around New' Smyrna Beach about the Canadian invasion. Floridians are very aware of the sizeable chunk of money Canadians contribute to the $1.770 million spent annually by tourists in Florida, and they couldn't be happier about it. In part this is because of the universal love of making money. But it's also because Canadians are regarded throughout Florida as good guests, who behave themselves, speak courteously, put their beer cans in the trash containers, pay promptly, and leave their rooms clean and tidy.
"I wish we could fill up with them." said the manager of the San Marino
“I asked one Florida waitress what she thought of Canadians. ‘They’re poor tippers,’ she said”
Motel at New Smyrna Beach. The woman in charge of the rental bureau for the city of St. Petersburg was equally enthusiastic: ‘‘I have an apartment - house
owner on my list who always tells me, •Now be sure to send me all the Canadians you can.' "
But along with the Canadians' reputation for being clean, conservative and substantial, they have a reputation for being stingy.
"They're the finest people I’ve ever run into.’’ a two-hundred-pound motel owner said, "But damn it, they're thrifty!”
A girl told me, after some hesitation, knowing that I was a Canadian, "We have a joke here that Canadians exchange their tea bags."
Another motel operator said, "They’re very courteous," paused and looked at imc quizzically, and added, "Are there a lot of Scotch people up there?”
Some Floridians in the tourist business are so publicity-conscious in giving their opinions of Canadians that it's a bit painful listening to them.
“Aren’t there any taxes up there?”
"They're just lovely, lovely people,” one prancing hotel clerk kept saying. "But you'd better talk to our manager. Do you know a Mr. Fox in Canada?”
In restaurants, bars and shops, the answers are less subject to editing. I asked one tired-looking blond waitress in a sleazy restaurant what she thought of Canadians.
"They’re poor tippers,” she said, putling them in one of her two main divisions of mankind.
"How do you know they’re Canari ia ns?"
"They tell me," she said, lifting an aching fool and looking out the window absently at a cabbage palm.
I walked into one smart woman’s dress shop and asked a saleswoman at the front of the store if they got many Canadian customers. I told her I was writing an article about Canadians for a magazine. She looked at me in silence, then motioned me to the back of the store, where four other saleswomen were standing around waiting for customers. My guide told them 1 wanted to know about Canadian customers, and they all looked as if they couldn't believe their luck.
"The first thing they do is tell us that the woolens are better back home," a woman with robin's-egg-blue eyelids said.
"Everything's better in Canada,” a clerk called from behind a blouse display.
"Don’t they have any taxes up there?” another clerk asked.
"They ask ‘If I buy two or three, will you sell them cheaper?' " the first woman said.
Possible explanations for their reputation for frugality are: (a ) Canadians expect to be taken by Floridians; (/?) it's a carryover from wartime economy when they could take only $200 out of the country; (c) Florida prices vary so greatly that it’s downright negligent not to shop around.
“I wouldn't call them tight," a motel owner said. "I’d say they’re more conservative.”
But whether or not Canadians in Florida are regarded as frugal spenders, they are making Floridians a lot more conscious of Canada every year.
"Eight years ago," a bank employee told me, “we used to think of Canadian
money as funny money. T remember one time getting a ten-dollar bill for deposit. It was stamped for endorsement by someone who thought it was a traveler's cheque. Now we have as many Canadians opening new accounts as Americans from other states. We have a lot of Canadian accounts left open all year. We no longer think Toronto is the capital of Canada. We know Ottawa is.”
In this hank, four of the staff have been in Canada in the last year. One of them, a young man born and raised in Florida, said. "Do you know what impressed me most about Canada?"
1 waited for something about our great mines, wheat fields or at least the Toronto subway. He said. "The way that store — Loblaws — displays groceries.” When Dave Price had the Miami sta-
tion that carries his Canadian broadcast announce an essay contest on "Why 1 would like to visit Ontario.” for which only Americans were eligible, he got more than 4.000 entries in three weeks. It was not only a gratifying response, but a surprising indication of the number of Americans who were listening to the news from Canada.
Harry Elliott, executive assistant man-
ager of the Sans Souci Hotel in Miami Beach, who says fifty percent of his winter visitors arc Canadians, holds an annual cocktail party at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. A couple of years ago the southerner who operates Waverley Courts in New Smyrna Beach (lew up to northern Ontario to visit one of his Canadian guests. C. C. Hansen, co-owner of the Copacabana Motel in Daytona Beach, which accommodates special tours from Ottawa, said, “I'm getting in a supply of teapots for my Canadian guests.” One motel owner told me that he had become a lot more polite since dealing with Canadians. “I've called on a lot of people in Canada and I’ve learned to do things the way they do,” said Paul F. Cocke, manager of Holiday Shores Motel, in Daytona. “If someone comes in and we have no vacancies, I used to tell them to try soand-so’s motel down (he road. Now I say, ‘Can I call them for you?’ I’m telling you, I’m getting courteous.”
The only time Canadians are apt to get snappish is when an American bank won’t allow the premium on Canadian currency. The banks explain they can’t give Canadian money out as change but have to save it up until they have a sizeable bundle and mail it at costly postal and insurance rates to New York. If they paid the premium too they’d lose money. American banks, however, are happy to pay the going rate on Canadian cheques, passing on to the customer the premium they receive from New York. But some Canadians want the premium on the barrelhead. The driver of the airport limousine from Tampa airport into town told me about one Canadian woman who gave him a Canadian two-dollar bill and told him to keep the change for a tip. He pointed out that the fare was two dollars and that there wouldn't be any change left over.
“Take it to the bank,” she said. ‘‘They’ll pay you six percent.”
This was roughly equivalent to asking him to make a special trip down Toronto's Yonge Street, find a place to park, go into a bank and collect twelve cents.
“But Canadians don’t complain as much as other people about late flights and things like that,” the driver added thoughtfully.
In all probability more Canadians will go to Florida this winter than ever before. They'll go by plane, car, boat, train and bus. A few wives of well-heeled Canadians will brave eighty-degree temperatures in mink capes hoping to be seen by the mink-caped wives of other well-heeled Canadians. And some Canadians will go just to say they’ve been there; a lot more will go because Florida is just about as far as you can get on the continent from Canadian winters. Some will come home and say, “I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the whole state.” Others will start making plans to retire there. Many will get into hot arguments when they come back about what kind of weather they had in Florida. The people who haven't been there will think the ones who have been there found that it was a hoax but won’t admit it, and the ones who have been there will think the ones who haven’t been there are just sore because they didn't get there. In fact Florida has become Canada’s hottest province in more ways than one. There's only one way to settle the argument about whether it’s colder living without a furnace in weather that nips oranges, or living with a furnace in weather that nips people: by joining the thousands of
Canadians who will go to Florida this wihter.