Tuesday, November 6, 2012

# 33 ~ Toronto and the American President, Then and Now

On the night of an American election that has had everyone talking, even more than usual, we wish our neighbours to the south the best of luck, and hopefully, it all works out!  It's always interesting to meet visitors who are in town, up from America, and chat about the slightly different way that we do things here.  A lot of Canadian kids are just as confused as American visitors, as to whom exactly our Head of State is, and I enjoy watching their eyes glaze over, a bit, as I do my best to offer an explanation.

But, Canadians seem to follow American elections just as fervently, if not more so, than we follow our own.  It's true that our relations with America seem to be, at least economically and strategically, the most important alliance that we have out there, and the way things go down there will probably influence us up here, too.  In keeping with all of that, and in mind of the important decision being made south of the border tonight, I thought I'd look into visits that American presidents have made to Toronto.  The list is probably not exhaustive, but there have been a few highlights over the last couple of decades.

Apparently, the American president did not travel abroad, while in power, until the end of the First World War.  But then, in 1919, Woodrow Wilson went to Paris, to attend the Peace Conference that put the cap on the First World War, and Americans have been coming out of their shells a little bit more, ever since.  More foreign visits were added, and a trip to Canada became an integral part of the American President's time abroad, given the growth in the relationship between our two countries.  In fact, it is now common that a visit to Canada will be the first foreign visit taken by any new American President.  There have been exceptions to this custom.  George W. Bush (President Bush the Second) visited Mexico before he visited Canada, and a few, like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, never visited us at all.

THEN : American President Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Who greets the American President depends a lot on the nature of the visit.  If it's an official state visit, the President may meet with the Queen in her role as Canada's Head of State.  Probably the most memorable and perhaps the only time that this happened is when Dwight D. Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II opened the Saint Lawrence Seaway together, on June 26, 1959.  Other times, for more ceremonial State occasions, the visiting American President will meet either with the Governor General, or the Canadian Prime Minister.  Six American presidents have given an address to the Canadian Parliament, with both the House of Commons and the House of Senate in attendance - Harry S. Truman in 1947, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 and 1958, John F. Kennedy in 1961, Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1981 and 1987, and Bill Clinton in 1995.

THEN : American President Richard Nixon addresses a joint session of Canada's Parliament in 1972.

While there have been a number of presidential visits to Ottawa, to Montreal or Quebec City, and throughout both the Atlantic and west coasts, there have only been a few public visits to Toronto made by an American President while in office.  In June of 1988, Ronald Reagan assembled in Toronto, with other world leaders, to attend the G7 Summit.  Meetings were held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre down on Front Street, and there as a photo op at Hart House, at the University of Toronto, and it was all a lot quieter than the brawl we had a few summers ago.  That's a little surprising given the controversial nature of some of those in attendance, including the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and our own Brian Mulroney.

THEN : International leaders pose for a photograph at Hart House during the 1988 G7 Summit in Toronto.  Pictured from left to right are Jacques Delors (President of the European Commission), Ciriaco De Mita (Prime Minister of Italy), Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), Ronald Reagan (President of the United States), Brian Mulroney (Prime Minister of Canada), Francois Mitterrand (President of France), Helmut Kohl (Chancellor of Germany), and Noboru Takeshita (Prime Minister of Japan). 

Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush (President Bush the First) was in Toronto at least twice, in April of 1990 and then again in July of 1991.  On both visits he met with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

And tonight's incumbent, Barack Obama, made his first official foreign visit to Canada, coming to Ottawa in February of 2009.  He was in Toronto, in June of 2010, for the G8 Summit.

THEN : American President Barack Obama arrives in Canada in June of 2010.

Best of luck tonight, America.  Who ever your next president is, we'd like to extend a warm invitation, and if you're ever in town, look me up.  I have a special presidential rate for tours of the city.

1 comment:

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