THE AMERICANS WHO VOTED WITH THEIR FEET

The huddled masses of the American middle class, yearning to breathe free, are swarming to Canada in search of a saner life. This is a report on our ablest immigrants: what they’re trying to escape, and what they’re finding here

JON RUDDY March 1 1969

THE AMERICANS WHO VOTED WITH THEIR FEET

The huddled masses of the American middle class, yearning to breathe free, are swarming to Canada in search of a saner life. This is a report on our ablest immigrants: what they’re trying to escape, and what they’re finding here

JON RUDDY March 1 1969

THE AMERICANS WHO VOTED WITH THEIR FEET

The huddled masses of the American middle class, yearning to breathe free, are swarming to Canada in search of a saner life. This is a report on our ablest immigrants: what they’re trying to escape, and what they’re finding here

JON RUDDY

LAST AUGUST and September, a prosperous but vaguely discontented fruit-grower from Dinuba, California, vacationed in British Columbia with his wife and son and daughter and their families. One day they walked through a big, partly cleared valley near Chetwynd, 65 miles west of Dawson Creek, and it seemed to John Baerg that the place was beautiful in the empty way that California must have been beautiful once, before the fences and the freeways cut it up, when a man could stand stock-still and listen to nothing at all. The sky over the perfect horizon was hard-blue. The rippling grasses were lion-colored at the end of the fierce northern summer and the earth, when he kicked at it, was black, sweet-smelling, new.

“When we came home we just couldn’t forget it,” he says. “We flew back for another look. We decided we wanted to live there.” So Baerg, who grew peaches and grapes and apricots on 140 acres, and his son, also a farmer, and his son-in-law, a designer and cabinetmaker, raised about $200,000 and bought 2,180 acres of valley bottom near Chetwynd. They are going to grow grain and run cattle. And, being American and the most modern of pioneers, they have already shipped a $14,000 Caterpillar V-8 bulldozer to the site. The two younger men will do some clearing and construction in the spring. Baerg, who is 56, proposes to sell his California farm and move up next

summer with the three wives and the five children.

Why? He is a little vague about it. “The farmlabor situation doesn’t look good in California,” he says. “Not that we wanted out of the States. We’re Republicans. One factor is that we like open space. We’re a close-knit family and we want to work together. We couldn’t find a big enough piece of land here. The skiing and hunting will be kind of nice. There’s a certain freedom up in Canada ...”

In 1967, 19,038 U.S. citizens moved to Canada — probably for 19,038 reasons. Whatever they were — Canadian freedom, lebensraum, opportunity, U.S. congestion, racial and civic strife and all the attendant problems of the most powerful and committed postindustrial state — the long-lamented brain drain from Canada was offset by a surprising brain gain. Those “purveyors of gloom and doom,” in John Diefenbaker’s mortal phrase, who once saw a Canada emptied of everybody but trappers and Pierre Berton now saw an acquisitive American with landed-immigrant papers lurking behind every pine. There were grumbles about this new threat to the Canadian identity so lately acquired at Expo, most notably from two Carleton University English professors who discovered that the percentage of non-Canadians on university staffs may have swollen to 50 percent, most of them Americans. A recent motion that Canadians should comprise two thirds of the Carleton faculty was put to the faculty association — and defeated 130-5.

Meanwhile, government officials have been noting the tide’s turn with rather smug satisfaction. “We’ve been training people for the U.S. job market so long that it seems only fair to reverse the process,” says a spokesman for the Department of Manpower and Immigration. The southward flow may, in fact, still be ascendant. In the year preceding June 1967, the U.S.

admitted 22,729 persons on visas from Canada. An unknown number of them, however, were Europeans entering the U.S. the easy way — after a stopover in Toronto or Montreal. And there are plenty of signs that the influx of Americans — which has been growing steadily since 1964, when 12,565 moved here — will continue to accelerate. The government takes the opportunistic view that Americans’ loss of empathy with the situation at home is Canada’s gain.

A Canadian Immigration officer who recently manned a booth at the Oklahoma State Fair was astonished when lineups formed. “I talked to more than 1,000 people, and they were really worried,” he says. “They were worried enough to want to get out. They would start talking about moving to Canada. The older people would say, Tf I were young again I’d go to your country.’ You could feel the anxiety in the air all the time. There were no Negroes,” he adds. “We didn’t get one question from a Negro. It’s the whites who want to move.” W. D. Gruer, Immigration officer in charge at the Canadian consulate in Chicago, was all but buried in a blizzard of applications following the Democratic Convention last summer. “After conventions and elections there are always people who want to move away,” he says. “A lot of them have indicated racial strife, integration, political disaffection as reasons for leaving.” Gruer’s counterpart in New York, H. W. Thomson, makes a point of asking applicants why they want to move, “because most of them are doing very well where they are.” Thomson has found three common motivations.

“First, there’s room in Canada and they feel that it’s getting crowded in the States. There’s a certain amount of nostalgia for the way things used to be in a big, open country. They think they are going to get away from the regimentation, for one thing. I tell them that Canada’s got laws and regulations, too, but they don’t feel it’ll be the same. Second, a lot of them say, ‘Well, we’re moving for the kids’ sake. Your country has the resources and it’s going to boom.’ Third, I think they just like the challenge of a new country. They want to take a chance. The Americans are risk takers, you know. If a mountain is there they want to have a crack at climbing it. It’s a pioneering spirit. These fellows are still physical pioneers. Maybe they’re the last pioneers on earth.”

The last pioneers are scarcely the least. “They are

excellent immigrants,” says Manpower Minister Allan MacEachen, “a dynamic driving force no developing nation can overlook.” They are almost invariably welleducated and well-heeled. Of the 19,000-odd who settled here in 1967, fully 4,000 were professionals and fewer than 100 were laborers. Young married college graduates, typically, they came from New York, California, Michigan, Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois to Ontario (7,000), British Columbia (4,800), Alberta (2,700) and Quebec (2,300). They brought money: $3,000 came to Canada with each man, woman and child. They came to stay. “These people demonstrate a great deal of independence,” says Gruer at the Chicago consulate. “They read the want ads and scratch around and ring doorbells to get jobs.” In New York, Thomson can’t recall getting a single complaint from a U.S. immigrant to Canada. “They settle down pretty quickly and they don’t seem to come back,” he says. “Most of them have made connections up there before they move, and they’re not hard-pressed for initial living expenses. They go and they make it.” They come and, usually, they like it. Maclean’s talked with a dozen recent immigrants and encountered an optimism rare in native Canadians. If anything troubles the newcomers it is a sensed coolness, our seeming lack of involvement in shared problems. “Sometimes I want to shake Canadians and say, ‘Don’t be so damned apathetic,’ ” says pretty Lonnie Crocker, a tri-lingual journalist from Connecticut and upstate New York who chose Canadian stability after a period of deep commitment to U.S. racial problems. Sean Fitzpatrick, a former New York advertising copywriter working in Toronto, has discovered a “free feeling” and a “gentleness” lacking at home. But, he adds, “A lot of Canadians are not really motivated for excellence. They don’t feel they can be number one.” This same dearth of individual and national aggressiveness appeals to many Americans. “It’s comfortable not living in a super-power,” says William Rockett, an M.A. candidate at the University of Toronto and the son of a federal employee in New Jersey. “It’s nice having a city government that just mucks along. You can do your own thing here.” Alan Carmel, an economist from Baltimore and Philadelphia now teaching at the University of Manitoba, finds “less animosity among groups of people, less to be afraid of.” Tom Brose, a former Peace Corpsman and civil-rights work-

er who teaches political science at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, fears U.S. “institutionalized violence” and approves of the lack of seriousness with which Canadians view their “almost anarchistic” government. “Canadians are softer, more sincere, more humane,” he says. Richard Storr, a history professor from Chicago now teaching at York University, notes a pleasant disinclination among Canadians to erupt under pressure. “I have the feeling of a soldier who has served on a tough front for a while and has been relieved of duty — not through my own finagling,” he says carefully. “But I was ready for something new.”

The toughest home front of all is New York, and among the most appreciative U.S. immigrants to Toronto is photographer Barry Ashley, who lived there. Ashley, 32, competitive, self-made, born in a Brownsville slum, gave up half his considerable income to get, as he puts it, the hell out. “I would never go back to New York,” he says. “I was raised dreading a six-block walk to school. At the age of 14 all I did was fight Negroes. Things have got worse. Basically, New York has changed from a jungle to a zoo. I enjoyed it when it was survival of the fittest — I really loved New York — but now it’s like you’re stuck behind bars. The drug addicts and the weirdos and the Negroes keep poking at you. I can’t be a liberal when I’m scared to death of the Negro hordes. My wife and daughter couldn’t go out at night. We had a great apartment and a 25-foot cabin cruiser on the Hudson, but what good was that? I wasn’t happy with the political scene either, but it you can fight. You can’t fight the zoo thing. We went back for a visit — we both left our families there — and I just missed a riot. My wife couldn’t wait to get home to Canada. I took karate and judo because I’m a coward who hates to get hurt. I was always afraid I would kill somebody in New York. But I couldn’t stop them from poking through the bars at my wife and kid.”

It was a fairly easy decision for Ashley to opt out of a zoo and, having made it, to choose Toronto over Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles — all of which he abhors. Most Americans here are considerably less sure of their feelings and obligations. “If I thought my country had gone to hell, I would go back,” says Tom Velk, a McGill economist and a native of Milwaukee. “I’d think it was my duty. But all of the promise of the U.S., if it hasn’t been lost in the last

few years, is at least in a state of abeyance. I was watching Nixon on TV the other night, and I felt sort of thankful I was up here.” Dr. Storr, at York, found the move frankly agonizing. “The decision is whether to stay and fight reaction,” he says, “and that depends on your talent. A certain kind of mind wouldn’t work in California, for example. It would be silly to exhaust oneself to no purpose in a situation of tension.” Lonnie Crocker, who describes herself as “a well-bred little girl from Connecticut who refused to have a debut, eloped and became a civil-rights worker,” gave up after 10 years. “The movement has ended,” she says. “I’m not copping out or turning my back on the States. There’s nothing more I can do.

I want to live in Canada.”

On the night President Johnson dropped out of the election race, William Thompson, a 30-year-old associate professor of literature at M.I.T., got a call from York University and decided, to the amazement of his colleagues, to quit Cambridge and an immediate promotion and bring his wife and two children to Downsview, Ontario, and an uncelebrated campus he’d visited only once. Thompson, whose special area of interest is revolutionary behavior, felt there was no place for him in a new U.S. revolution polarized by Leftist radicals and what he calls liberal technocrats. He had got into an argument with Joan Baez in California, and she had told him that he must either “throw myself at the Pentagon or serve as a kept woman for the system.” Neither course appealed to him and he felt that in Canada he could do his thing. “I want to go back to California but can’t,” he says — and it seems doubtful that he ever will, since his conditions are ( 1 ) that “capitalists give up control of the universities (the way the churches did) and give up the idea that they’re job-training centres with some poetry thrown in as a sop,” and (2) that the U.S. “creates the first planetary, miscegenous society in history, the alternative being a racist nation state, in which case China will get us sooner or later.” York, he feels, is fairly enlightened, and Canada may escape the U.S. dilemma, even profit by it: “When the States gets more reactionary a lot of scientists will come here. After all, the intellectuals fled Hitler long before Dachau.”

If Canada doesn’t learn from U.S. mistakes, Thompson says, he’ll go home, albeit relunctantly. “I’d rather

be with the first of the stupid than with the imitators of the stupid.” Meanwhile, he tolerates his suburban townhouse and approves of his son’s school, “a brand-new sparkling showcase, solid McLuhan.” He wants to buy a farm near the campus, and has contrived a wonderfully fanciful analogy between North York gentleman farmers and the classical Athenians who had estates in nearby Attica and went downtown for conversation. “Torontonians can congratulate themselves on their classical heritage,” he says, quite seriously. He detests Cambridge. “The fortress suburbs are full of martini-sloshed matrons, the appendages of their station wagons. The downtown core is crumbling. The schools are terrible. I think I’ll be here for a long time.”

Many of the Americans were committed to causes at home and are engagingly anxious to participate in Canadian community life. A socialist who had to work within the Democratic Party framework in the U.S., Simon Fraser’s Tom Brose did not wait to become a citizen before posting an NDP sign on his front lawn during the last election campaign. (Some of the neighbors were annoyed.) U.S. mothers have revitalized many a Canadian PTA group. Services and institutions Canadians take for granted are praised and supported. Jon Caulfield, who came from Baltimore to take an M.A. in sociology at the University of

Toronto, offers a rare student tribute to Metro police. “I don’t think the students here were right in calling them pigs,” he says, referring to a recent demonstration. “The police here handle themselves in a very professional manner. Chicago is nothing to be envious of. A lot of young Canadians seem to feel a need to have their heads bashed in during some kind of urban disorder. Who needs it?” Caulfield plans to live in Canada “because people here mind their own business. There’s nothing in the U.S. for me. I’m not a revolutionary. There’s nothing I can do to help the Negro.” Some American reactions to Canada are a puzzle to the natives. Ad man Sean Fitzpatrick, who experienced bigleague air pollution in Manhattan and Detroit, strides along Toronto’s Bloor Street eyeing miniskirts and gulping dirty air. “Toronto is Atlanta without the peach trees,” he says, avoiding a puddle of slush. “This is the cleanest air I’ve ever lived in. In New York everybody runs away to the mountains on the weekends. I have the same feeling about Toronto that I had about the mountains.” Lonnie Crocker is always hot. “Apartments are too warm,” she says. Outside, she feels constrained to wear the heavy sweaters her family dispatched at Christmas. Barry Ashley describes Canada as “foreign in a million ways” and, when asked to name one, replies instantly, “You can’t get a 75-watt light bulb up here.” □