I wish my Vancouver friends could see this, the front page of today's online Toronto Star. Emphasis on "Toronto." Actually, I wish every Canadian west of Lake of the Woods and east of Cornwall, Ont. could see it. And, oops, they can - it's online. They can see it in Singapore!
I've grown up with regional alienation. the one scar on my otherwise charmed Canadian existence. It started when my Grade 12 classmate Ross Macdonald, native of Red Deer, told me emphatically that Easterners don't like Westerners, don't even care about them. Veteran magazine feature writer Harry Bruce, a transplated Nova Scotian originally from Toronto, wrote "What about us Down Easters? When Westerners express their anger about the 'East', they mean Central Canada. But the real East is the Maritimes. I guess we don't even exist. I'd rather we were hated, like Toronto, than not even exist!" Some Newfoundlanders, taking note of that, reminded Mr. Bruce that "Maritimes" is the term for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. Bruce obviously didn't give a rat's ass for Newfoundland and Labrador, or he would have used the term "Atlantic Canada."
And so it goes.
Joe Clark has said Canadians are most easily united in their hatred of Toronto. (The former PM is a native of High River, Alberta.) And Mordecai Richler, Montrealer incarnate, some 20 years ago threw up his hands and described Canada as nothing but a stewing pot of grievances.
I've lived in Hogtown, my birthplace, all my life. From age 4 on, when I became aware of the world beyond the nursery, I've loved every part of this country, sight unseen, hoping more than anything to someday see the Rockies, Cape Breton and the Calgary Tower.
I suffer acrophobia now, alas. But until about 25 years ago my object in visiting any new place was to climb to the greatest height in town. My proudest youthful accomplishment was a really stupid but exhilarating midnight walk with the aforementioned Ross Macdonald on the pitched roof of the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, along the line where the two sides of the pitched roof meet. Yes, we had been into the Black & White, and no, we meant no disrespect, only awe.
I don't imagine that all Americans harbor a resentment toward New York, or that Lyon schoolchildren are taught to resent Paris. And I don't know why one the defining aspects of my past 49 years has been knowing that people elsewhere in the country - and that includes fellow Ontarians - just instinctively hate my hometown.
Also, I've never tried to fight it. People believe what they wish to believe.
Quebec City is one of those few places I love more each time I visit. Paris, not so much. The Quebec capital is 99% francophone. I am 99% anglophone. My Quebecois vocab is maybe 50 words. I love the sound of Canadien French. The way the sentences are constructed. The nuances. There is music in it.
I love the riverside jogging trails that wind through Calgary, a triumph of smart urban planning the likes of which are rare on this continent. I could go on like this all day. I could work for Tourism Canada. But that would mean working in an office, and thus a parting with the indispensible Gus.
And I can tell you, in those 49 years of my sentient life, post-toddlerhood, I have never heard a Torontonian bad-mouth "the West." I have seen a handful of Torontonians returned from Winnipeg with T-shirts bearing extraordinarily large images of mosquitos. I ask, and they say, "Well, I didn't actually see any, wrong season I guess." What they've wanted me to know is how incredibly friendly Winnipeggers are.
We know there is no "West," and no "East." There is Calgary, one of the world's three energy capitals. A very different place from Edmonton, which of course is more of a university and government town. Saskatchewan routinely elects socialist governments and, naturally enough, is the birthplace of Medicare. Which, because we do pay heed of things "Western," we rolled out across the entire country. The Alberta-born Reform Party, in its current incarnation as the Conservative Party of Canada, now rules from coast to coast. And the Official Opposition in the federal parliament, the NDP, also hails from the West.
Halifax is where many of our brave soldiers, since the Boer War, have had their last moments on home soil before heading off to war in far-distant lands. It's also home to more universities, per capita, than maybe any town in North America. Torontonians send their kids there because Dalhousie has a reputation of having the best law school in the land, among other virtues; and the small "boutique" Nova Scotia universities with their enrolments of 2,500 students have the comparative intimacy of high school yet with first-class graduate and post-grad faculty and dorm mates. I've had maybe 70 people over the years, some native to the place and others having visited from Toronto, tell me that if Cape Breton doesn't take your breath away, you've been dead for some time and should be interred.
I can't help it that Toronto is the financial and media capital of the country. It could be worse. London and Paris have that distinction, plus they're national capitals.
Speaking of Ottawa, and what travel writer Jan Morris describes as the most beautiful ensemble of government buildings in the world, and the tulips, and the winter commuters skating to work on the Rideau...As I said, I could go on.
The Canucks might win the Cup. I hope they do. I'm mostly just thrilled they made the finals. And the day they did, the other five Canadian NHL teams having fallen short, that very day the Vancouver Canucks became "Canada's Team."
Toronto is highly populated with diehard fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Red Sox, the Rangers, the Lakers, Manchester U, U Conn, Michigan State, Britain's Premier League, Portuguese football clubs and Kolkata cricket teams.
But in the biggest moments, we root for the last Canadians standing. Every Olympic rower hailing from Drumheller and every Canuck defenseman.
I feel these are words being cast to the winds. But some "Westerners," convinced that the world for Torontonians is bordered by Mississauga and Oshawa, will know that at least one person is telling you that isn't true.
I have visited your towns and cities, your farms, neat as a pin and with the Maple Leaf flying proudly out front, I've seen the brightly colored row houses of St. John's, the immense shipyards in Saint John, the racoons that gather each night outside the front door of the five-star restaurant in Stanley Park, hoping for scraps.
Come to where I live and see for yourself what we know of you.
These days, the 47 TV sets at Wayne Gretzky's downtown, one of the biggest sports bar in town, are tuned to the great Canucks-Bruins contest. As they are at the small, 20-seat Brazil sports cafe in my west-end neighborhood. Two of my greatest women friends, one on my street and one on Salt Spring Island, pull out their Canadiens jerseys when their native Montreal is Cup-bound, and also on the first day of the season. And draping balconies at several apartment tower near me in High Park is the remarkable flag Christopher Pratt designed for Newfoundland and Labrador. Which also is on display in the "flag room" of my apartment. (I collect flags.)
"The West wants in" was the rallying cry of the Reform Party at its founding in 1987. The West has always been in. Settling it was the first order of business of this new confederation, lest the Yanks snatch it from us, John A. Macdonald's abiding fear. The West has always mattered, just as preserving and strengthening the "French fact" on this continent has. Were we ever prouder of our country, we in Toronto, than the days when Newfoundlanders took homebound Americans off their planes diverted on 9/11 from U.S. airspace that had been closed and brought them into their homes? Hadn't these travelers been traumatized enough, the Newfoundlanders thought, without having to sit in a fuselage on an alien tarmac for who knew how many days? No one asked them to do it.
We take our money in Toronto and invest it in shares of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. and Montreal's Bombardier Inc. It was the massive, Toronto-based Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board that financed the start-up of WestJet Airlines Ltd.
I met WestJet founder and then CEO Clive Beddoe a few years ago in the Star's editorial board room, with its expansive view of the Toronto skyline. And his first words, spoken through a scowl, were, "So this is the centre of the universe." The centre of the effing universe, I'm sure he meant.
As if Beddoe had never been here before, hadn't come here for the money to get his airline off the ground. Hadn't inspected every inch of Pearson International, which handles half of Canada's air traffic, in advance of negotiating landing slots and hangar space. Again, it was another of those occasions when I didn't try to fight it. I imagine Beddoe felt like a humbled supplicant having to come East for money.
Well, grow up, I felt like saying.
When you're financing a mining play in the Amazon, you must go to Sao Paulo for the money. If your geologists outline a zinc formation 100 km southwest of Alice Springs, which is to say, the middle of effing nowhere, you then have to go to Sydney or Melbourne for the money. Dallas-based Exxon Mobil Corp.'s bankers are in New York. (There are no major Texas banks; they were all wiped out in the oil-price crash of the 1980s. There is precisely one major bank west of the Mississippi, Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco.) The German commercial money is in Frankfurt, so that's where you go to fund your Munich-based start-up. Alberta once had two "Schedule A" commercial banks -the first-rank designation - in the 1980s. They each failed through rank mismanagement after a brief life, as Oklahoma City's leading lender did at about the same time.
These are facts of life. We concentrate excellence: finance in Zurich and Tokyo; drugs in New Jersey London, France and Switzerland, energy in Calgary, tech in Waterloo, Ont. and Silicon Valley, fashion houses in Paris and Milan. And Tobasco sauce on Avery Island, La. The money that finances that activity is merely stored in Manhattan for a time. And then, as needed, it goes from the New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Toronto banks to where it's needed. To finance Athabasca and the Calgary-based oil plays in Yemen, Kazakhstan and the North Sea.
The Canucks got where they are playing as a team. Oddly, that's something that "teams" frequently don't do, undermined by superstars playing their own game or by rampant resentment in the clubhouse.
Canada is a team that predates Confederation, fighting off Benedict Arnold's attack on Quebec City and the Yanks' 1812-14 assault on Canada East and Canada West, as they then known. We are a team among ourselves, Manitobans shoulder-to-shoulder with New Brunswickers in pioneering advanced medical treatments and higher crop yields. And that enables us to team more effectively abroad with other nations in humanitarian, peacekeeping, combat and scientific missions. I have a Montreal friend nominally based at a French-language university who routinely is teamed with fellow biologists in Dunedin, New Zealand and the University of Illinois.
Hating any place in yournative or adopted homeland is not a good plan - for you or your country. Actually, hating any place on the planet is a dubious proposition. Maybe that's why I don't fight it. I won't object, at least in person, to denigration of my hometown for fear of giving angry voice to a lifelong frustration. There will be no harsh words from me about fellow Canadians of goodwill. I know they must have reason for feeling as they do, and I respect that.
But do know that what you say of my beloved hometown hurts, it surely does. Hurts every bit as much as your sense of being ignored by mine. Heck, it hurts me to hear that Chicago is corrupt to the core. Have people who say that seen the Wrigley Tower or the city's "front lawn," and have they spent any time in Lagos - or Newark? And do they know the mountains Cory Brooker moved turning Newark in the right direction?
I thought it facile when first I learned of how IBM founder Thomas Watson erected plaques bearing the single word "Think" throughout the offices of the International Business Machines Co. I was wrong. If we don't starting thinking more about our prejudices, and how we undermine ourselves by harboring and giving voice to them, we'll have to start making signs.