Living in Toronto, where it’s not uncommon to hear hard-pressed ratepayers and greasy chamber-of-commerce types alike describe the city as “world class,” it often comes as a bolt from the blue to learn that in fact there are several other cities in Canada. An article I’ve just finished perusing this morning while aboard the Via Rail train bound for Montreal refers to a total of nine, including the locale I’ve just left, and the one where the locomotive is bound.
Nine cities: who knew?
The piece — which promises, “Nine Canadian mayors tell us what makes them love the cities they run. And no others!” — is contained in the Via passengers’ magazine, which is an oddball two-language publishing effort, rife with gratuitous exclamation points and Franglish goofiness. You’ll see what I mean in a few minutes.
The chief magistrates, eight middle-aged white men and the Sino-Canadian chap who evidently runs Victoria (there’s a city named Victoria?) fail to make a very convincing case for any of their burgs, but manage to keep their remarks noticeably brief, for a bunch of local politcos.
Mayor Sam Sullivan of Vancouver offers: “We are a compassionate city where people reach out to their neighbours.” Having strolled along the main drag of the city’s notorious Downtown East sector last summer, I’d have to say hizzonor is right on the money. I witnessed beer-soaked johns reaching out to child hookers, junkies and alms-beggars reaching out for bits of sandwiches discarded on the sidewalk, and at least one anxious fellow, well turned out in the latest women’s fashions and high-end cosmetics, reaching between the broken paving stones on Broadway, trying to retrieve an object I couldn’t quite discern. So brief were Mayor Sullivan’s remarks that he declined to comment on the thousands of terminal cases who teem about the Terminal City, in scenes you might recall from documentaries about the scuttling underclasses of Calcutta or Caracas.
I much preferred the comments of Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz. (Seems like every Podunk elects a guy named Sam.) Says His Worship: “I’ve always said that the greatest aspect of Winnipeg is our extraordinarily friendly people.” Winnipeggers do tend to be noticeably sweet-tempered and accommodating, it’s true, but regardless of Mayor Katz’s consistent and unyielding position on the issue, his observation might seem less like pandering if it came from someone other than a party due to face the local electorate. Nonetheless, you’ve got to love the ingratiating and vibrant Manitoba capital, just as you have to admire a civic leader who can keep his remarks down to a total of five sentences. I speculate that his brevity was learned from the more clever idlers at the intersection of Portage and Main, where they often choose to keep their lips clamped, owing to those chilly Prairie winds.
Speaking of slow-moving air-masses, make way for the non-Sam in the mayoral crowd, David Miller of Toronto, who commandeers occupancy of at least double the column-inches claimed by his companionable counterpart from Friendly Manitoba.
Where Mayors Sullivan and Katz are pleased enough to talk about their cities, Mr. Miller prefers a more important subject: himself. He describes his typical daily agenda as the leader of a great city, outlining how he “like[s] to have a bite to eat at the Sunnyside Cafe” and “always stop[s] for a classic peameal bacon sandwich at the Carousel Bakery” and “then I might head up to the Danforth for dinner at the excellent Allen’s Restaurant.” You work up quite an appetite being mayor, in which capacity your duties include speaking nonsense, eating, raising taxes, eating, self-aggrandizing, eating, mismanaging the treasury and resources, eating some more, being driven to the haberdasher’s to have your pants let out, and, if luck prevails, perhaps there might be time at the end of a long working day for a late-night snack. Good thing the mayor’s civic expense account contains a dining allowance commensurate with his belt-size.
For those disinclined to follow Mr. Miller’s chow-bound route toward self-induced Type II diabetes, he recommends a brisk stroll “on the trails alongside the Red, Don, and Humber rivers…” Now, this is truly peculiar. The Don and Humber are, of course, world-class waterways snaking through the east and west ends of People City. But the Red River belongs to Mayor Katz’s town, as does the Assiniboine, as every country music fan will tell you. A recommendation of that Big River in the ‘Peg would seem unusually generous coming from any Torontonian, let alone the town’s political kingpin. Figures there’d be a catch.
Reading the accompanying text in French, we discover a reference to “des rivieres Rouge, Don et Humber.” Mais certainment! Big Boy wasn’t talking about the Red River; he was plugging the Rouge River in Scarborough — only the Via magazine’s translation department got things all turned around, like.
Seeing this geographic/linguistic anomaly exposed, it may occur to the reader: Didn’t we hear something once about Canadian cities with names like “Calgary,” “Regina,” and “Quebec?” And wasn’t there another city reputed to be kitty-corner to Mayor Sullivan’s turf, and it was called something like “Saint John,” or possibly “St. John’s?” Perhaps we were misinformed, since each of those places obviously failed to make the Via list, if indeed they ever existed. Or it could be that those municipalities are administered by diffident mayors who are choosy about the kind of company they keep.
On the other hand, there may be another possibility.
The missing communities? Perhaps the Mayor of Toronto just got hungry and, you know, ate them.