Starr Gazing

Dr. Dan Starr
Retired Director of Athletics and Professor Emeritus of American History at Canisius College.


Happy 150th to Canada

The words of a prominent bilingual Canadian: “Je suis tellement fiere d’etre une citoyenne cnadienne et j’apprecie enormement mes amis americaines.”

Canada is 150 years old. So what is this 150th celebration all about? It’s its sesquicentennial! By the time After50 readers see this column, Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, especially in Ottawa, its capitol city, will be well underway.

Professor Warren Crouse of the Center for Canadian Studies stated that the British North America Act of 1867 created the Dominion of Canada. The Canadian Parliament and the position of Prime Minster were established at the same time along with four provincial governments: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

In the years that followed, other acts reinforced Canada’s independence. In 1931, the Statute of Westminster created the Commonwealth system. This meant the British Parliament could no longer make laws for Canada. In 1947, Canada opened its first independent embassy in Washington D.C. In 1965, Canada adopted its own flag. Then, in 1980, “O Canada” was officially adopted as the national anthem. Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day in 1982.

So as SSgt Friday would say, “There you have it, ma’am, just the facts.”

On a personal level, what has Canada meant for us, especially WNYers, these past 150 years or at least during our own lifetimes?

What memories do we have of Canada? What are our experiences with our Northern neighbor? What immediately comes to the minds of many Americans is the long (3,987 miles or 8891 kilometers), undefended border. Okay, if Zuke tried to smuggle cases of forbidden goods over the Peace Bridge, an armed gendarme might pursue him. But there is no Trump-style wall along the border. We have enjoyed good relations with nearby Canada for most of the past 150 years. There was that Fenian incident when the distraught Irish Americans caused a disturbance but that was long ago. For the most part, relations have been quite amicable.

In fact, there has been so much intermarriage and so many Canadian-American family relationships established that it is difficult to recognize who is an American and who is a Canadian. Friends of mine, the Sweeney boys, recently returned to WNY after having been away for six decades. The visit required a stop in Canada where their grandfather had worked on the Welland Canal and where he is buried nearby. There are many similar tales out there.

We have all been overwhelmed with stories of Crystal Beach and of Americans buying up the “Canadian Riviera” during the past century. However, there are so many other ways in which WNYers have benefitted from proximity to Canada, and, in turn, Canada has also benefitted.

Some call Niagara on the Lake the most beautiful little town in Canada. The Shaw festival is also just a stone’s throw away! Stratford on the Avon with its renowned Shakespeare Festival is an easy drive for Buffalonians as well.

Remember the famous watering holes just over the border, The Waverly Hotel and the Queens Hotel in Fort Erie? My dad thought he was in seventh heaven when he could sit down with family and friends to enjoy some Canadian cheddar and several O’Keefe’s Ale at the Queens. (O’Keefe’s was the favorite before Molson and Labatt knocked it out of the box).

For years, thousands of locals followed the Scully types to the Fort Erie Racetrack. What a colorful venue! Many also spent hours imbibing Canadian brews at Sheehan’s (later to become the Palmwood) at Crystal Beach.

For those without the wherewithal to own real estate in nearby Canada, there were always the trips to the North Country, and I mean way up north. Fishing with your buddies in one of the thousands of lakes and camping in Algonquin Park—it doesn’t get much better than that!

For some like my parents, there was the trip of a lifetime to the Western provinces, Alberta and British Columbia. Americans (and Canadians) still love that trip. It could involve the Trans-Canadian Highway or the Trans-Canadian Railway with its resplendent Canadian Pacific hotels. Those were impressive. They included the Chateau Frontenac, the Royal York, the Canadian Pacific Vancouver, or the Chateau Lake Louise. I once asked my parents what the most beautiful place they had visited was and Lake Louise was the answer.

Then, there is the world class city of Toronto, just 90 miles away from Buffalo. Many of us have witnessed the transformation of Toronto from a sleepy waspish city to a major multi-cultural (some say the most multi-cultural city in the world) metropolis. I took an American History class to the new Toronto City Hall in the early 60s where we discussed firsthand the recently legislated metro government. Yes, the city was moving forward.

Circa 1950, WNYers would drive to Toronto each September for the annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). Thank heavens for the Queen Elizabeth Way, also known as the QEW. The QEW was completed just about the time that Queen Elizabeth was crowned. She had just visited Niagara Falls, which, again, was a momentous occasion for the residents of the Niagara Peninsula and Western New York.

In the 50s, the CNE was about the only attraction back then. Now, Toronto has just about everything and the city is virtually at our doorstep. Major pro sports, theater, jazz joints, a mega zoo, highly regarded art galleries, and Yonge Street. Canada also has Peter Mansbridge, a veritable Walter Cronkite as CBC news anchorman. At a time when newsrooms are held in fairly low repute, a Peter Mansbridge is most welcome. Unfortunately, it is said that he may retire on Canada’s 150th birthday.

P.S. The quote at the very beginning is translated as, “I am very proud to be a Canadian citizen and appreciate enormously my American friends.” The reverse is manifestly true too.

Back to After 50 Home Page