Starr Gazing

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


Canada – United States: Great Friends?

Canadians and Americans are in the midst of celebrating Canada Day (still known as Dominion Day for some oldsters) and Independence Day. At this time, we often hear of the longest, non-fortified boundary in the world between two nations. We were reminded recently of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, particularly given the proximity of the Niagara Frontier where Americans and Canadians clashed. Actually, it was the British we were fighting; Canada was part of the colonial British Empire at the time.

Since then, relations between the two have been very amiable except for unusual incidents such as the Fenian fiasco or the reciprocity issues of the early 20th century. But there has been no more storming of Queenston Heights other than a bizarre incident when Zuke and his pal, Sid Warner, heard there were stockpiles of free Labatt Blue in that area. Those were exceptions to the prevailing peace. Now, however, a trade or tariff war looms.

Other than the border states, from Vermont and New York through the upper Midwest out to Washington, the rest of the United states does not realize how regularly we interact and intermingle with our neighbors to the north. Daily, Americans and Canadians cross the border to work in each other’s countries. Teachers, students, and even barbers such as Cary (Port Colborne) and Annette (Fort Erie) make the trip to do their superb job at Jim Lang’s Barbershop.

Americans flock to Toronto to watch the Blue Jays, especially when the Yankees are in town. Others venture there to watch the NBA Raptors, though some stay home to listen to Jack Armstrong, a commuter from Lewiston who is the regular broadcaster for the basketball games.

Meanwhile, fans from the Niagara region have proved vital to the stability of the Bills and Sabres franchises. Thousands trek over the Peace Bridge regularly. Do you know how many season tickets holders there are from north of the border? Plenty! The same goes for the Buffalo Philharmonic. WNED makes frequent pitches to its Canadian supporters; similarly, Canada’s top rated Jazz station, CJRT 91.1 asks for financial pledges from its Buffalo-based music enthusiasts.

Over a century ago, Buffalonians bought up real estate along much of the Canadian shore from Erie Beach up to Point Abino. Joe Bieron, authority on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, notes that Crystal Beach became virtually, as well as literally, an amusement park for Buffalonians. Canadians recently gained a solid foothold in the ski areas around Holiday Valley. Others from Ontario and Quebec who don’t relish an overabundance of snow flock to Florida. One sore point rankles Canadians: the historic Pt. Abino lighthouse allows very limited access.

Back in the 1950s, Canadians frequently visited downtown Buffalo. The bright lights as well as the murky Tenderloin district appealed to a certain clientele. The Palace Burlesk, the Alibi Room on Chippewa Street, The House of Quinn, as well as some establishments on Eagle street, were popular, as were the respectable Jazz emporiums like the Gayety and the Colored Musicians Club. My good friend, “Shoes” Bewick, had one of his treasured experiences sitting next to the great Canadian musician Oscar Peterson at the Colored Musicians Club.

A few decades later, the situation reversed. Americans sought entertainment at the so-called Canadian Ballet, a “cute” euphemism for strip joints in Fort Erie. Shady massage parlors operated from Ft. Erie to Niagara Falls, Ontario. On the other hand, culture also beckoned. WNYers became enthusiastic patrons of the famous Shaw Festival at Niagara on the Lake. Many also traveled to the highly regarded Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, and of course, there are numerous attractions in the huge multicultural metropolis of Toronto.

Most WNYers I know have similar Canadian-American stories to relate. I returned from Korea in 1956. To be reacquainted with family, my dad and brothers descended on the Queens hotel in Fort Erie. We imbibed significant quantities of O’Keefe ale, complemented by a block of sharp Canadian cheddar and a pile of crackers. Old times quickly were remembered.

Time marches on. Shopping malls became commonplace. By the 1980s, the parking lot of the Galleria Mall had so many cars with Ontario license plates that one might think he or she was in the middle of the parking lot at Air Canada Centre. Americans also like to shop for certain things in Canada, though Dr. Greg Reeds, an expert on Canadian-American relations, cautions that the price of the legendary maple syrup might become prohibitive if new tariffs are enacted.

Americans and Canadians often live side by side. The Eberls of Silver Bay, Ontario have frequent and friendly encounters with their Canadian neighbors. The same can be said for the Nogas and Marshes in Port Colborne.

Students from Canada are welcomed at Niagara, Canisius, and D’Youville Colleges. Basketball players are now recruited routinely from up North. Naturally, the same goes for hockey players.

Things change and interests wane. Years ago, the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), was a special, annual event held along the shores of Lake Ontario, near Toronto. For some, it resembled a world’s fair. Americans were drawn to it in big numbers. Now it is just one of many attractions that can be experienced in Toronto.

About 40 years ago, the Friendship Festival began in Ft. Erie at Mather Arch. It occurred over the July 1-July 4 holiday period. However, it seems to have lost some of its luster and now takes place in mid-July. Still, the very idea of a friendship festival is a good thing and an event that should be encouraged.

Despite the undiplomatic language that has come from some government officials, we can be assured that peaceable, warm, friendly relations between the citizens of both countries will continue.

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