There's no place like New York—everyone knows that. Canada’s consul general in the city, George Haynal, is reminded of it every time he looks out the window of his office onto Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan. On three sides are the headquarters of international media companies—NBC, Time Warner and McGraw-Hill. “This place is unique,” reflects Haynal. “It’s a world capital that happens to have a country attached to it.”
Making a dent in the consciousness of New Yorkers is no easy task. The Canadian consulate has adopted a catchy CanApple logo, showing a red Maple Leaf sprouting from a shiny green apple, to symbolize Canada’s presence. It runs a CanApple Web site (www.canada-ny.org), and promotes Canadian artists, writers and performers in New York (the Alberta Ballet drew a warm review from The New York Times in midOctober, while Robert Lepage’s Elsinore, a one-man version of Hamlet, was panned by the critics). More than 60 Canadian firms are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, with another 175 on the Nasdaq. But promoting what Haynal calls “the Canadian brand” in the world’s most competitive city is an uphill battle—complicated by the fact that while there are many Canadians in New York City, there is no cohesive community.
Estimates of the number of Canadians start at about 100,000; if people of Canadian descent are counted, there may be as many as a million. A few cut a high profile, including ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Plummer, supermodel Linda Evangelista, Wayne Gretzky of the New York Rangers, Morley Safer of 60 Minutes, and Paul Shaffer, musical sidekick to Late Show host David Letterman. Around town, too, are Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Seagram boss Edgar Bronfman Jr. and publishing and real estate tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman. Bonnie Fuller, now editor of Cosmopolitan, arrived from Toronto eight years ago and confesses that she misses butter tarts, a convenient hockey rink for her children and Toronto’s clean subway system. But the trade-off is well worth it: “I love the energy. It’s going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Some other Canadians have been surprised by New York. Art curator Don Bonham, currently visiting home-town Toronto to supervise a show called Canadians in New York, moved to the Big Apple five years ago.
“I feel safer in New York than I do in Toronto,” he says. “My wife can ride the subway now. And New Yorkers are funnier than Canadians, and friendlier. I was shocked at that. It’s a huge city made up of a hundred little villages.” Typically, though, Canadians just blend in. “One of the great things about New York is that people don’t look at what school you went to or where you come from,” says Ken Ottenbreit, a Regina native who is managing partner at the Manhattan office of the Canadian law firm Stikeman, Elliott and past president of the Canadian Club of New York. “They just look at what deals you’re doing.” Ottenbreit laments that there is no informal Canadian meeting place in the city; even the Australians, he notes, have their own pub called The Outback on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But Ottenbreit has done his bit to increase Canada’s presence. In 1994, he established an annual Terry Fox run; it raised $60,000 for cancer research last year and, despitea heavy rainstorm, drew 300 runners again last weekend to the Upper West Side.
The established Canadian organizations—the Canadian Club, the Canadian Women’s Club and the Canadian Society of New York—have all seen better days.
In the early 1960s, the Canadian Club had more than 1,500 members and occupied two floors of the plush Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Now, it has just 500 and has a room*inside another organization, the Princeton Club. But this fall, the Canadian community will make its biggest splash in a long time.
The Canadian Society is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and all three organizations are coming together on Nov. 14 as the Maple Leaf Alliance to throw a gala centennial ball for 800 at the Waldorf.
The society’s energetic president, insurance executive Walter S. Tomenson Jr., is out to shake it up and attract younger members. He scored a coup last week by persuading Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to issue a proclamation declaring Nov. 14 Canada Day in New York. “I told him the great thing is, no parade,” jokes Tomenson. “Canadians aren’t big on parades.”
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