How Leo Lures the Yanks

Daniel Leo Dolan, the Barnum of the tourist business, has dedicated himself to making Canada a land fit for Americans to live in. And right now he's praying we'll all be nice to his five million cash customers

FRANK CROFT July 15 1953

How Leo Lures the Yanks

Daniel Leo Dolan, the Barnum of the tourist business, has dedicated himself to making Canada a land fit for Americans to live in. And right now he's praying we'll all be nice to his five million cash customers

FRANK CROFT July 15 1953

How Leo Lures the Yanks

Daniel Leo Dolan, the Barnum of the tourist business, has dedicated himself to making Canada a land fit for Americans to live in. And right now he's praying we'll all be nice to his five million cash customers


MORE THAN five million American tourists are about to enter Canada. The tide will flow steadily northward during July and August, flood our highways, summer camps, hotels and shops, then quickly ebb during the last week in August leaving on the Canadian strand a glittering array of about two hundred and seventy-five million dollars.

This, the greatest seasonal human migration on earth, is accepted by Canadians something like daylight-saving time—as a boon and a blessing by many, as a matter of complete indifference by most and as a source of irritation by some.

D. Leo Dolan, the man who is responsible for a good part of it all, is regarded in much the same way. As chief of the Canadian Government Travel Bureau, a branch of the Department of Resources and Development, he has for nineteen years tried to make Canada a land fit for Americans to live in, if only for a couple of weeks.

One of his suggestions for making Canada a greater tourist lure is that we should put pensioned RCMP constables back in uniform for the holiday season, scatter them about the country, and get those with good baritone voices to sing snatches from Rose Marie like so many Nelson Eddys. Dolan has also asked that the golf courses in our national parks be shortened and smoothed out so that American duffers would be able to take low score cards home for a winter of fireside boasting. He has suggested that Labor Day be put back to the third Monday in September, thus lengthening the holiday period by a couple of weeks. Labor unions on both sides of the border took a dim view of that one.

Just how serious Dolan is about these schemes, even his best friends aren’t sure. “Why should golfers who will never become experts knock themselves out on tournament courses?” he asks. “Think how they would flock here if Canada gave them a chance to get into the 90s or even 80s!” As for the other plans, Dolan says, “Well, they were suggestions, that’s all. Rememlier, I’m a publicist in the travel business.”

Tom McCall, former deputy minister of travel and publicity for the Ontario government, goes a step further and calls Dolan the Marco Polo of modern travel, and the late Mayor Gerry McGeer of Vancouver described him as the greatest publicity getter since Barnum. Walter S. Thompson, former director of public relations for the CNR, says, “Dolan has covered more miles, spoken to more audiences, met more people and is probably more of an international citizen than any resident of either Canada or the United States, save it be an Indian.” Mayor Camillien Houde of Montreal calls him “the best Canadian public speaker in the English language,” and Alejandro Buelna, of Mexico’s National Tourist Commission, calls him “the foremost travel promoter of the western hemisphere.”

The subject of these superlatives is a fifty-eightyear-old man of medium heigh* dark-complexioned and with a slightly flattened nose. That feature, plus square shoulders and a quick shuffling movement, gives the impression that he is a former welterweight boxer who has quit the ring with all his wits. Yet boxing is one of the few sports he has never tried. He was a star football player in his native Fredericton, captain of his school hockey team and a baseball player of some local standing. In recent years he has become a better-than-average golfer (on regulation courses) and he likes to fish and swim a bit.

For a man who spends his time telling people where to go for their holidays Dolan is an erratic holidayer himself. He has no summer cottage or fixed retreat. Since 1930 he has split his vacationing between the more remote resorts of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. This summer he intends to try the fishing at one of the Great Lakes camps. He keeps his hideaways secret for fear he will be asked to speak to local groups.

Dolan has always kept a sensitive ear open for the beefs of Americans who have not found Canada exactly to their liking. His staf! of eighty-three handles around two hundred and seventy-five thousand letters a year. Most of the early complaints he met when he first went to Ottawa in 1934 were about food and roads, in that order. So Dolan packed up and took to the road in search of the right people to whom he could say the right things. “You overcook red meats and undercook the other kinds,” he told a meeting of hotelmen in 1936. “You boil vegetables to a tasteless pulp and your coffee is weak and tepid.”

Many Canadians have resented such criticism, but most have tried to reform. Dolan’s proof is a sizeable stack of letters from Canadians commercial travelers and others who live at the mercy of the hotel and restaurant operator—urging him to keep up the good work. In 1951 he told the Canadian Restaurant Association, “You have made great improvements, but you have quite a way to go yet.”

For nearly twenty years he has been needling provincial highway officials to expand their roads systems and build wider and better highways.

Dolan has several minor gripes as well. He thinks merchants should stop flying the American flag. “It’s an erroneous idea of hospitality,” he says. “It is a cheap attempt to lure the American buck. Don’t try to make the Americans feel at home. If they wanted to feel at home they would stay there.” To restaurateurs he pleads, “Get those Idaho potatoes, Cape Cod oysters and Oregon apples off the menus. Away with chicken à la Maryland. Serve Belleville cheese, Kitchener pig tails, Laurentian trout and Annapolis and Okanagan apples. Stop being a carbon copy of the U. S. A.”

Dolan can be just as forthright to an American audience when the need arises. In 1947 Canada’s shortage of U. S. funds put a crimp in Canadians’ visits to the U. S. and a group of Maine hotelmen tried to start a retaliatory campaign to persuade Americans from going to Canada.. Dolan put on the war paint and entered the enemy’s camp. “You New Englanders pride yourselves on being fair and having hard common sense,” he told a Boston audience. “I’ll give you the facts about Canadian travel restrictions, then you will have a chance to exercise those qualities.” He explained that the restrictions would not last long and, once lifted, would result in a grand rush of Canadians to their favorite haunts along the New England coast again.

Last year Dolan’s prediction came true with a vengeance. For the first time in history Canadian tourists spent more in the U. S. than American tourists spent here—$294,000,000 to $258,000,000. Confronted with these figures Dolan will tremble slightly, but he quickly recovers.

“Those figures don’t tell the real story,” he claims. “American spending in Canada is nearly all for recreation. Oh, they take back some crockery, maybe, or some British woolens, but most of it is for services. It’s gravy. Apart from winter travelers, a lot of Canadian spending in the United States has been by the in-and-outer who spends ten dollars for accommodation and a hundred dollars for lingerie, cameras and electrical goods.”

Some of the enquiries reaching Dolan’s office require the tact of a diplomat. Four girls from Boston asked him last year to have four Mounties ready for them when they arrived at Antigonish, “so there’ll be one for each of us.” A Delaware man asked to have a full-blooded Indian girl picked out for him when he arrived, and a man from Michigan asked that Dolan arrange to have him summonsed

by the “Canada Federal Police” on any charge at all so that he could get away for a holiday. An Ohio man two years ago wrote: “Keep your damned fish, we’re through ...” This was followed by a bitter denunciation of the criticism he had heard from Canadians of MacArthur’s conduct of the Korean war. “That, of course, had nothing to do with accommodations or roads,” Dolan hastily points out.

Most beefs these days are about liquor regulations. “I could buy an oil well anywhere in the United States with less red tape than I went through to buy a bottle of rye in Toronto,” a Chicagoan wrote last year. “What’s more,” he added, “the oil well wouldn’t have cost much more than the rye.” A letter in the Cleveland Plain Dealer two years ago warned all Americans to take a full supply of cigarettes to Canada. “The cigs up there cost three times as much as ours and have all the bite of good corn silk,” the writer grumbled; then generously added, “but the scenery is good, the towns are clean and your view of the countryside isn’t blocked off by billboards as it often is in our country.” Horace Sutton, a contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, says in a recently published book on Canada that Canadian cities on Sundays “show no more signs of life than a week-old cadaver.” “He couldn’t have got as far as Montreal,” Dolan comments.

Soft Answers Turn Away Wrath

Canada’s higher prices come in for almost as much comment as the food and roads used to. Gasoline prices, especially, provoke some bitter remarks, although a few will acknowledge that the Canadian gallon is larger than the U. S. gallon.

Americans who go to the trouble of lodging complaints frequently have suggestions for improvement. They usually fall into one of two categories: 1, “We ought to take your country over and run it properly.” 2, “As long as you are ruled by England

you will pay high prices in order to keep the English royal family in luxury.” While most Canadians would feel that such solutions discount the critical value of the complaints rather heavily, Dolan’s stall sends polite and temperate replies to as many as they can.

Some complaints cause more amusement than consternation among travel officials. When Canadian city police gradually abandoned the “bobby” type helmet about twenty years ago pleas were heard from Americans to restore the traditional British helmet. “I crossed the border one Sunday just to show my children what a policeman looks like,” a Niagara Falls, N.Y., man wrote. “Now they aren’t policemen any more they’re just cops!” There are still a few suggestions each year from disappointed Americans that our police be given back their helmets.

Recently the difference in exchange between the Canadian and U. S. dollars has been the cause of considerable grouching. Americans’ pride in the worth of their dollar has been dealt a blow during the past two years and many visitors have been unable to roll with the punch. In Alberta a tourist turned back after his first encounter with the monetary problem, announcing he would stay out of Canada until the U. S. dollar was back at par. Some visitors insist on having their money received at par, and many of them get it. There are a few who demand the old ten-percent premium. But individual surveys made by the provincial tourist bureaus revealed that money exchange did not cause as much friction as was at first feared. The ' Ontario bureau reported that much of the hostility sprang from a gloating attitude by Canadians more than from the facts of the situation itself. With the Canadian dollar this year being less robust, no trouble at all is expected.

Dolan, who is a second-generation Canadian of Irish stock, showed early signs of a rare selling ability. When still a schoolboy he sold the Fredericton Gleaner on his promise ELS a sports reporter, and was soon dabbling in politics. One story I from his early days, which be will j neither deny or confirm, is that when handling the publicity for a candidate j in a by-election, the opposing candi| date’s publicity man was taken ill and Dolan carried on for him as well as for ! bis own man. There were no kicks from either side.

Such versatility soon developed along : broader lines. In 1925 Dolan became I publicity director for the Nova Scotia j provincial Conservative Party. They won the election that year. Two years later the Liberals put him to work and fifteen months after that they were returned to power. At a meeting in Sydney around that time labor leaders J were discussing the chances of there ever being a socialist government in j Nova Scotia. They agreed the outlook was dark. A member at the back of the hall rose up and shouted, “Get Dolan and we’ll win next time out.”

In 1931 the New Brunswick government named Dolan as director of its Information and Tourist Travel Bureau and he started in enticing American tourists to New Brunswick at a time when most touring on this continent was being done via the rods in search of jobs. He felt that something different was called .for so he invited Babe Ruth and other greats of the sports world to come up for the bunting. Some of them came, and hundreds of American sports pages bore accounts of the big time they were having in New Brunswick. “Publicity on the sports page is the best you can get,” Dolan thinks. The theory worked. In the early Thirties New Brunswick’s travel-tourist income increased while it fell off everywhere else.

That first year Dolan showed up in Philadelphia for the world’s series between the Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals with a frozen moose carcass. He announced that he was backing the As and that if fed on good New Brunswick moose meat they couldn’t lose. It was a good publicity stunt and even when the As lost Dolan was undismayed. “The boys must have over ate,” he announced. Millions of Americans read daily stories of the moose diet and of the wonderful hunting to be found in New Brunswick.

The next year Dolan appeared in Boston with a bear cub which he presented to the Bruins hockey club. The presentation was made on a radio hookup and Dolan spoke eloquently for one minute on what a sterling bunch of fellows the Bruins were, and for ten minutes on what a wonderful place New Brunswick was.

By 1934 it was felt at Ottawa that the American tourist business was a sufficiently important source of U. S. dollars for the federal government to do something about increasing it. A senate committee was formed to make enquiries and Leo Dolan was one of the witnesses. Opponents of the plan had no chance against Dolan’s salesmanship, and when the Canadian Government Travel Bureau was established two months later Leo Dolan was director with an initial one hundred thousand dollars to spend.

Tourist revenue increased that year by about one million dollars. In the following year it jumped thirty millions and continued to increase until the outbreak of war in 1939. During that period Dolan was traveling about sixty thousand miles and delivering a hundred speeches a year, mostly in the U. S. He can still talk by the hour about Canada without once using “limitless resources,” “God - given heritage” or even words like “vast,” “unspoiled,” or “grandeur.” After addressing a travel association in Hawaii early this year he was asked to speak to the combined Hawaiian Senate and House of Representatives.

Canadian hunting and fishing organizations engaged for several years in a quiet war with Dolan. They resented Americans coming up to kill off our moose, deer, ducks and fish. They wanted to kill them off themselves. The visiting hunter was accused of shooting game from planes and of killing antlered animals wholesale and just taking home the heads, leaving the carcaases to rot. Dolan came in for censure as the man largely responsible for the hunters coming up in the first place. His answer was to prod provincial game authorities to investigate the question of American hunters abusing their license privileges and to use their legal powers to stop abuses. He also suggested that some of the illegal hunting could be laid at the door of the resident hunter.

Dolan’s bureau is now given $1,550,000 a-year to spend. Of this, about two thirds goes in advertising in American magazines, newspapers, radio, pamphlets and 16-mm movies made in cooperation with the National Film Board for distribution to any responsible American organization which will show them. The ten provincial government travel and information departments are not under Dolan’s jurisdiction, but all work in close touch with the federal office.

“This year will be a banner one for the tourist industry,” Dolan says, as he has been saying since 1934. “Our enquiries are running fifty-three percent higher than any previous year.

“We are all in the tourist business in this country, so we may as well act like it. It’s an export business. It doesn’t denude our forests, empty our mines or exhaust our fields. It is merely a service, so let’s make it a good one.”