GENERAL ARTICLES

"A Tale of Two Cities"

"I know where to throw the bricks . . . " Canada’s great humorist tells the difference between Toronto and Montreal

STEPHEN LEACOCK March 1 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

"A Tale of Two Cities"

"I know where to throw the bricks . . . " Canada’s great humorist tells the difference between Toronto and Montreal

STEPHEN LEACOCK March 1 1943

MY DISTINGUISHED friend, Col. Jack Creelman, has told me that when he is at a football game between Varsity and McGill he always finds himself cheering for the wrong side, according to which city he is in. Many of us with a double citizenship in Toronto and Montreal feel that way. Personally I never care, here in Montreal, to have anybody say one word against Toronto—or not till I've done saying it. Nor in Toronto can I allow anyone to throw bricks at Montreal. If they need throwing I’ll throw them myself and anyway I know just where to make them hit.

As a matter of fact most of the comparisons made between Montreal and Toronto are silly and pointless generalities that have no basis in fact. Such statements as, “Montreal people are very hospitable,” and “Toronto people are terribly inquisitive,” are without meaning. There is no such thing as Montreal people or Toronto people any more than Montreal mosquitoes and Toronto mosquitoes. There are different kinds of people and some of each kind live in each place. Show me a Toronto man being taken to church by his wife when he ought to be playing golf and I’ll show you the same man under custody in Westmount.

Equally futile are the ideas that Toronto is a good city and Montreal a bad, quite unfit for a young girl at night (unless you take her round yourself), or that Toronto is terribly loyal (to Queen Victoria) and that Montreal needs watching. To avoid these vague nothings, let us proceed to make comparison, according to the fashion of a tourist guidebook, of some of the obvious features of the two places. I am afraid that on such a first view Montreal entirely eclipses Toronto.

Montreal, in point of natural beauty of situation, is excelled by no city in the world, and rivalled by only two or three. From the summit of its “royal mountain” the eye ranges over a vast circuit, in some directions over sixty miles, which reveals the city itself, the huge bridges of its harbor, the course of the mighty St. Lawrence from the Lachine Rapids, just seen in the distance, to the wide reaches moving toward the sea, dotted here and there with great ocean liners diminished to mere toys. The confluence of the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, the broken streams of the Rivière des Prairies and Mille Isles lend a wonder and charm of beauty, while over it all is spread the romance of a noble history. The view reaches to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and to the north is lost in the distant Laurentians.

Now let us speak for Toronto.

Toronto Out of Site

THE SITE of Toronto is such that you can’t see it. That’s why it was selected by Colonel Simcoe, the first Governor of Upper Canada, as the ideal spot for his capital. At Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), where Simcoe’s first Parliament had opened (1792), it turned out, after they had surveyed the exact treaty lines, that the Americans were just a stone’s throw away. So Simcoe moved from the commanding heights and broad beaches of Niagara to the friendly shelter of the mudflats of the Don and the marshes behind the Toronto sand bar. Give him this shelter and a fort to command the entrance, let him drive military roads through the forest, north to throw a force to the Georgian Bay, west toward Detroit, and he could bid defiance to the Americans.

Simcoe’s idea, one of those which dominated Canada for half a century, was to keep clear of American sin. To keep the young colonies of British North America away from Uncle Sam was similar to the idea of keeping decent young girls on a farm away from the hired man. In the end American sin won out and it turned out that the hired man was a prince in disguise. But just as animals carry a vertebrate structure that shows what they came from, Toronto, with its Old Fort, its Yonge Street, its Dundas Street, carries still the stamp of its anti-American origin; compare, to put it in good company the Rideau Canal, the existence of Ottawa, the Trent Valley Canal, Trinity College, and the Canadian Tariff.

The site, however, is beautiful only to the antiquarian. In itself it is not much. As we have said, you don’t see it. When you are downtown you can’t see uptown and when you are uptown you can’t see downtown and both uptown and downtown you can’t see sideways. The reason is that the main part of the city occupies a very mean elevation, rising a few feet from the level of the Bay and the marshes connecting with it (see under Ash bridge) and not rising any morefor two miles, then meeting a hill a hundred feet high, lifting itself to the top of that, and then falling fiat again. ;-A noble view is obtained from the Oak Ridges, twenty miles north, extending in very clear weather right ¡across Lake Ontario; but this view doesn’t include Toronto and Toronto doesn’t get this view.

Round One is thus in favor of Montreal. We continue:

Montreal: largest city in Canada; the name means “royal mountain”; a seaport at the head of ocean navigation on the St. Lawrence, 1,000 miles from the sea, the world’s largest grain port; occupies a commanding position on the continent, nearer to Liverpool (2,760 miles) than any other American port, and yet nearer the cities of the middle west than any American seaport. Regular steamship lines run to Liverpool, Glasgow, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Amsterdam (and Otherdams), the Havre, the Mediterranean, West Africa and the Antipodes.

Now let Toronto speak:

Toronto: second largest city in Canada; a lake port situated behind a sand bar in Lake Ontario; origin of name uncertain, probably, an Indian word meaning something to do with water—a creek, or neck, or gut. Toronto is situated on Toronto Bay, which is situated in front of Toronto. Excellent passenger steamers connect Toronto with Hamilton, thirty-three miles; with Niagara, right across the Lake, forty miles; and motorboats with Sunnyside, three miles.

Made By Nature, Marred By Man

NO, THAT’S enough of that. True or not it sounds too cruel and in any case there’s another side to it. It is quite true that Montreal possesses a situation of unique natural beauty. Probably only two cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, can challenge it. But we are talking of what nature gave, the original beauty that met the eye of Cartier on the ascent of his “Mont Réal” in 1535, not what man has added to it.

Well might a dweller in one of the quiet suburban streets of Toronto, leafy and airy and fresh, if not with mountain dew at least with a garden hose, or in one of the enchanted mansions that lie in the sunken ravines of Rosedale, among rock gardens, and crooked alleyways of flowers, irregular as enchantment itself, beauty spots with the peculiar appeal that goes with snugness, isolation an 1 privacy, something of one’s own—well might such a householder visiting Montreal stand aghast at the sight of its crowded unsightly rows of houses, reached by outside ladders, its stifling slums, its strangled apartments mere monkey cages with little metal balconies.

Honestly I would like to take Jacques Cartier up the mountain again, and show him what has been done with it. “Do you see, Cartier? Do you understand? These marked-out fences and barriers . . . they sold your mountain . . . the part of it that you called the South, the smaller mountain, that’s all gone. For the sake of a few dozen rich families, for the sake of a few big real estate speculations, the people parted with the whole of the Little Mountain—never thought of generations to come, never thought of the children of the poor for whom nature had made here a summer playground in the woods, summer camps for little boys . . .

“And, when private property uses its full rights the main mountain itself will be largely spoiled . . . very soon the apartment builders will be putting up their monkey cages there, rows and rows of monkey cages, with babies in prison behind railings ... twenty families in the space that used to be for one.”

Such is the general contrast between what man has made in Toronto and what man has marred in Montreal. Look at the abiding beauty of University College, Toronto, its spacious campus and woodland, all made from a flat piece of ground and a rivulet running in a hollow. Compare that with the sprawling hideousness of the new Université de Montréal to which was granted some two million dollars to disfigure as grand a site as ever a college received, the northern face of the Montreal mountain looking out over the Laurentians, clear to heaven. They haven’t even faced it the right way. It turns its—whatever we call the backside of a college—toward the Laurentians.

Hard Facts And Cold Figures

BUT enough of that. Let us turn from comparison in the warm colors of a guidebook to the comparisons of the statistician, hard facts and cold figures. Here they are:

Montreal has a population of 903,007; Greater Montreal, 1,138,835.

Toronto has a population of 667,457; Greater Toronto, 896,718. In Toronto proper there are 109,500 family homes of which fifty per cent are owned by the occupiers.

Montreal is sixty-four per cent French, twenty-two per cent British, six per cent Jewish, and eight per cent something else.

Toronto is eighty per cent British, seven per cent Jewish, one and a half per cent French and the rest scattering.

Montreal is seventy-five per cent Roman Catholic, eighteen per cent Protestant, six per cent Jewish and one per cent lost at the start.

Toronto is seventy-eight per cent Protestant, fourteen per cent Roman Catholic, seven per cent Jewish, and one per cent nonstarters.

Montreal has 2,501 industrial plants and employs 103,000 hands; Toronto, 2,835 industrial plants with 88,000 hands.

In the volume of financial transactions, as evidenced by bank clearings, Toronto before the Great War was regularly outclassed by Montreal (clearings of 1908 respectively, $1,467,000,000 and $1,166,000,000). Since 1937 the balance is turned the other way; the last Government-revised return (1941) showed Toronto $6,537,000,000 and Montreal $5,911,000,000.

The statistical scales therefore balance fairly evenly between the two cities.

Bygone Aristocracy

AND NOW having set the scene with statistics - we will talk of the people who live in the two cities. Here we may properly begin with the “aristocracy,” since there isn’t any now in either place. In Toronto there used to be; the town began with that and the idea of it lived on long after the reality had passed away. Thus it is with many things. Everyone has noticed how an aged mother sees in her grown sons in the fifties a couple of little boys; a farmer still sees a prize-winner in the old mare out in the pasture; and a geologist sees a thing of life in what we recognize as only a fossil in a rock. So it is with the fossil aristocracy of Toronto. It’s gone.

It was Governor Simcoe, the founder, who laid the gift of aristocracy in the cradle of the city which he established. Simcoe was a born Tory, a churchman, a monarchist. He threw more pageant into the opening of his little “Parliament” at Newark in 1792—more uniforms, more ceremony, more color—than the drab American republican Congress had had in its eighteen years of life. He set the pace as to what-was-what that lasted till Mitchell Hepburn cleared out Government House in 1936. He drew a sharp line in his Parliament between “gentlemen” and common fellows, those who ate with their servants, “men of one table.” He wanted nothing later than Queen Anne—a loyal colony, a respected aristocracy and with that a “stubborn peasantry” to defend them. Lord Dorchester, Simcoe’s senior, had the same idea of “stubborn peasantry” for Lower Canada. Unfortunately stubborn peasantry had run out; they refused to play.

But Simcoe’s ideas, though he left York in 1796, dominated it, or a part of it, as York and Toronto, for over half a century.

From the first it had its aristocratic class of people recruited, more or less, from “good families” in the old country, from retired British officers and officials—people better than common people. With these was “the Church,” meaning the Church of England which Simcoe tried hard to endow under the Act of 1791—and which at least long kept its social prestige. This close-connected aristocracy turned into a sort of “family compact,” not really connected by marriage but by class interest, and helped to foment the abortive rising of 1837. “Family compact” was originally a joke, taken from the French and Spanish Bourbons. The phrase outlived the joke. The Toronto of Charles Dickens (1842) reflected its aristocratic origins on the mind of young Dickens, fresh from a tour of the United States, and horrified with vulgarity, slavery and tobacco spitting.

But later than Dickens, as late as the town I first remember sixty years ago, much of the original pattern was still there. Elsewhere, in a book as yet unpublished, I have given a description of the Toronto of that day which I may here without impropriety quote, in summary, from myself.

Toronto was at that time a commodious city of brick and stone of some 60,000 inhabitants. Its streets were embowered in leaves above which rose the many spires of its churches. Its wooden slum district was herded into the centre and, like poverty itself, forgotten. Where the streets ended a sort of park land began and in it stood the University of Toronto, secular and scientific, but housed in Norman architecture of unsurpassed beauty. To the west, more rural but less beautiful with earthly beauty, was Trinity College, founded in protest against secular Toronto.

Down below, along the waterfront, was a business district, built like a bit of London, all of a sky line and cobblestones rattling with cabs. The new railways sliced off the shore line of the Bay, vilified with ash cans and refuse. All over Canada, between the vanishing beauty of nature and the beauty of civic adornment still to come, there extended this belt of tin cans and litter.

The tone of society was English at the top but the barber shops spoke American. There was profound peace and order and on Sunday the town was all church bells and Sunday best. It seems, as most places do, a pleasant place in retrospect.

Certain of these bygone aspects, its Sunday quiet (overquiet), its habitual law and order, Toronto still retains. But most of the picture only survives in memory and affection. The city spreads now miles and miles beyond these sylvan precincts. The centre slums have been so shovelled up, so cleared away, so filled with thoroughfares and gas stations that only the antiquarian eye can trace them.

Greatest of all is the social change. The old aristocracy is gone. New people with newer money and more of it built palatial houses and taught luxury to a city that had never known it. Upper Canada College after a brave fight (I was one of the boys there and recall it) gave up the struggle to make gentlemen. The school democratized itself. There is no class line now (happily for Toronto and for Canada) between boys at a boarding school and boys at a collegiate. One by one the lines of Simcoe’s pattern were wiped away. His despised dissenters grew till the lean kine ate up the fat. The Church lost its reserved lands, its endowed rectories and in the end its superior social position. Nor was that all. As years went by, the English of the top of society once spoken as in England passed into plain Ontario English, free at least from affectation; not good enough to get affected over.

The visible sign of the social change of Toronto was the abolition (or is it suspension?) of Government House. In the days of which I speak that would have meant just the same as trying to abolish Queen Victoria. Yet with all the change Toronto preserves intact and unbroken its British aspect, its British unity. This is its greatest contrast with Montreal, a city where only twenty-two per cent of the population are British.

It is this very unity, this fact that so many of the people think alike, that has led Toronto (along with its province) into the social tyranny which is its chief disfigurement. This could never have grown up in a mixed population, compelled to mutual tolerance. I am referring here chiefly to the ghastly Sunday legislation, and to the liquor legislation.

Few people in Toronto realize the full meaning of their Sunday legislation which forbids under penalty of law all games such as tennis, cricket, baseball, all games indeed except those played by lawyers and judges such as golf. In place of games Toronto has the Toronto Sunday— sermons, sleep and indigestion. Of the liquor legislation and of social conduct molded by it in Toronto—in all Ontario—it is hard to speak without contempt. In well-appointed golf clubs you will find men of position, standing and influence taking surreptitious drinks together in dirty locker rooms and such places. If it’s a sin out with it; if it’s right upstairs with it, in the open, and alter the law.

Whether Toronto taught this subservience to Ontario or Ontario taught it to Toronto is a controversial point. I had, in the time that was, a college colleague and friend, as vociferous as unrestrained professors are apt to be, who used to rail in one breath at Montreal for the tyranny of the rich (an “oppressive and plutocratic atmosphere”) and in the next at Toronto for the tyranny of the righteous. He attributed the social tyranny of Toronto largely to the influence of the women’s vote, particularly to that of the women of the farms. He used to thunder to us in the University Club of Montreal (how different an atmosphere is that!), “They all ran after the farmer’s wife, she cut off their tails with a carving knife,” and then muttered something, lost in a roar of laughter, as to what they were like when she had done with them.

They say that many slaves in bygone Virginia didn’t know there was slavery. So it is in Toronto. But if any Toronto person will come to Montreal of a Sunday and watch the younger priests and their pupils in the Grand Séminaire, shouting over their wholesome play, and praying all the better for it, he may learn something from it.

The Plutocrats That Passed

MONTREAL, oddly enough, never had an aristocracy, or never since the old French regime. That of course was aristocratic, feudal, all class. Everybody was better than somebody else. But the Conquest changed all that. The military and officials left; titles vanished; even a lot of the seigneurial families went to France though many remained as did the professional and commercial classes. The British traders who came in after the conquest, the McGills and the McTavishes and the Molsons, were mostly plain people in their ways, and the more they prospered the plainer they remained with that peculiar equality, crossmarked by the respect for clanship and for divinity, known only among Scotsmen. Generations of effort and success made them richer and richer and presently they turned into a plutocracy. They didn’t try to be it; they just turned into it. What else can you do, if you get rich enough, than be a plutocracy, and build beautiful houses and buy pictures. Then came the Great War and raised other and better values, and then the Great Depression that humbled all together. The pictures are sold, or stored, the mansions silent and to let, or crumbling down as stone quarries. When Omar Khayyam said that the lion and lizard keep their court where Jamshid gloried and drank deep, he wasn’t thinking so much of Persepolis as looking ahead to Montreal.

Yet the separatism of religions and races in Montreal, which allows priests and pupils to play their wholesome games on Sunday and leave the Protestants to go to hell in their own gloomy fashion, is a factor of our environment that may be of real danger, that cramps the life and threatens the future of Montreal. A dual, bilingual culture is, in a certain aspect, an admirable thing. It makes for tolerance, sympathy and openness of mind. We were vastly proud of it in Montreal, even felt superior about it——thirty years ago. The war has taught us a grim lesson which there is no need to spell out here letter by letter. We know now that things admirable in peace may be less so in national emergency, where union and unity mean survival.

But even a dual bilingual culture need not mean, should not mean, the extreme separation which it does here. People in Montreal get so used to the idea of French and English children utterly cut apart for their whole youth by the absolute separation of the school system that they do not see where it leads. It is as complete as Turk and Christian, as Mohammedan and Hindu. The breach is never healed; the boys and girls who never mingled at school never join in after life.

The Better Place to Live?

NOW you ask me, since I know both places so well, which is the better place to live in? That depends upon how long you are going to live there. For the casual residence of a tourist or the short stay of a temporary inhabitant, Montreal is incomparably the more attractive city. It has all the peculiar majesty of a seaport, that outward look overseas, which no inland town can ever emulate. Montreal, too, is all history. Every street has something, and over it all is the Mountain.

A casual residence in Montreal will give an enthusiast a fresh walk each day for a month and something new to walk to every day.

But people don’t live on the romance of casual residence. I’ve walked for forty years and more past the old stone Towers of 1694, where Marguerite Bourgeoys taught the Indians, so often that I can get no thrill from it. And anyway I taught longer at Montreal than she did— and some Indians too. But when you come to year-round residence and ask what kind of house you get for what kind of money, there is again no comparison.

For many people of an old-fashioned temperament, their house, with what they put into it in the way of children and furniture, is the greatest thing in life. In this respect Toronto leads and Montreal is nowhere. It was, I suppose, the cold that did it, that crowded the houses together so as to cut off distance, that piled them one on top of the other with outside flying staircases— and having made them, touched them off with French-Canadian architecture, all gingerbread and pinnacles and excrescences. Notice “French-Canadian” in the modern sense, not the architecture of old French Canada. That everybody still admires, the heavy stone walls, the steep roof, the dormer windows—or admires at least from the outside. But those houses were built when there were no professional architects in Canada, only plans brought from France and used by local builders too modest to try their own hand. Later they did try; that’s their hand that you see. And with it the English contractor’s hand contriving a monkey-cage apartment.

More recently the situation has been alleviated to some extent. Westmount has houses like those of Toronto, and Montreal West and the newer suburbs. Moreover new and commodious apartments offer all sorts of facilities to people whose backs have been broken to paying out fifty per cent of their income on rent. So the old Toronto house with the grass in front and the garden at the back and playrooms for the children is not so badly missed. Especially as people don’t need to have children, not people who can afford a first-class apartment. The poor still need them.

I suppose people will tell me that Toronto is as bad now as Montreal. This only means that they have never seen Montreal.

The Future

BUT now what about the future?

Will Montreal retain its position as the metropolitan city of Canada? It looks very likely at first sight, but I don’t think it really follows of necessity. Who could have thought, in the sailing-ship days, that Quebec could ever lose its place of primacy? But it turned out to be too far off sideways. So it may happen to Montreal.

In the purely maritime sense, no matter what changes the seaway may effect, Montreal seems bound to keep its place as a port, challenged only by Vancouver and that not physically but merely statistically.

But the seaway may make great differences. The current Montreal argument that ocean traffic will always transship and leave inland traffic to other and different types of ships is not to be accepted too readily. It all proceeds from interested quarters—people with plenty to lose (or they think so) and little to gain. Interested opinion is often honest, but it always sees through its own spectacles. People who know nothing about it, nothing about anything— professors, journalists and farmers— think that the new seaway may create a new type of ship that will load a whole economical cargo in Toronto for Liverpool and only stop at Montreal for a drink.

That may or may not be. But at any rate the seaway is only a lesser part. If, as we all expect, the war ends in a victory that leaves our country untouched and our industrial structure still standing, Canada will become the scene of a development never yet equalled anywhere, provided always that we have the national character to do it, and the statesmen to guide it; we ought to see a migration of millions (British and British-minded allies), an influx of capital, a development of latent resources that will mean a readjustment of the continent of North America. One can foresee already what it will mean to Vancouver as the world’s greatest Pacific seaport trading with a reconstructed Orient —Russia, the remade Indies, a new China.

But for the eastern side of Canada it is harder to prophesy. The Maritimes will gain no doubt a new impetus; but geography isolates them from the main theatre of economic advance. The opening of the enormous tract of forest and mineral wealth that lies round the Hudson Bay, the development and transmission of the water power that goes with it will mean an unprecedented call for men and transport, the manufacture of machinery, airplanes, trucks—and all that goes with the advance of civilization to the north. For all this there is nothing between Toronto and the North Pole. They can go ahead till they meet Soviet Siberia. That sounds as fanciful, doesn’t it, as Joe Howe’s talk about the whistle of the locomotive in the Rocky Mountains? Start to imagine such an industrial area spreading round Toronto, and fed'by farmers and fruit growers and poultry men of an area never yet half used—and you drift to wonderland. Nor is that all. It is quite possible that in this coming industrial readjustment of North America the manufacturing tariff separating Toronto from the United States will vanish away; in my opinion it will disappear by itself, needless as a division wall in a reservoir full both sides. Some great industries will prefer to have their main factories up in Canada; some contrariwise. Everybody’s interest will be the same as everybody else’s as far as the frontier is concerned; the less difference the better.

In such a situation Toronto may well find itself in the heart of industrial America, and Montreal find itself on one side.

All that of course is speculation. Perhaps it’s merely cheering for the wrong side—the thing we began with.