O valiant hearts .. remembering the Toronto we love to hate .. and all who have served in Afghanistan

Nov 10th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Jack McLaren’s view of Toronto automobile traffic in the 1950s.

[UPDATED NOVEMBER 11]. It can’t come as much of a surprise to anyone in Canada over four years old that “a new survey conducted by Leger Marketing for the National Capital Commission and the Association of Canadian Studies” has found “Canada’s [current] biggest city is also the most disliked.”

As Andrew Moran at Digital Journal notes: “For years, there have been stories about many Canadians holding a less than favourable view of Toronto.” Just to start with, we have the 2007 documentary movie Let’s All Hate Toronto, co-directed by Albert Nerenberg and Rob Spence.

Let’s All Hate Toronto itself was also the title of a 1956 book by the “Scottish-born advertising executive and caricaturist Jack McLaren.” Some drawings from this volume appear in an excellent November 2009 Torontoist piece by the admirable local historian Kevin Plummer, called “The city that nobody loves.”

Among other similar mementoes, Kevin Plummer also alludes to what may be the great modern granddaddy of all such northern North American philosophizing : “Lister Sinclair’s We All Hate Toronto, a satirical radio play produced by Andrew Allen and broadcast on the CBC’s Trans-Canada network on January 17, 1946.”

As a born and bred Toronto boy myself, I like to give the last word in all such discussions to an older Toronto boy (1903–1990) — the late great Morley Callaghan (who once knocked Ernest Hemingway down at a boxing match in Paris). Early on in his rather unusual book of 1948, The Varsity Story, Callaghan writes: “As a city Toronto had a reticent coldness. In other Ontario towns and in the West they jeered at Toronto. But he had soon learned that many of these places were simply smaller Torontos. The more bitterly they mocked at Toronto the more conscious they seemed to be that the Toronto spirit was a skeleton hidden in their own closets.”

Jack McLaren’s view of Toronto’s new subway in the 1950s — after just three days.

Still more to the point, November 11, 2011 is yet another Remembrance Day — still a day many remember, in Toronto as in all other parts of the former first self-governing dominion of the British empire (whose modern history of course begins with the multicultural “French and Indian” fur trade, and will soon enough at last transcend the colonial British monarchy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper suddenly seems to love so much: what’s that about????). And here I am pleased to conclude by pointing in two related directions.

The first is “MEMORIES OF REMEMBRANCE DAY IN 1946” — an excerpt from Doug Taylor’s “novel Arse Over Teakettle, a story about a boy growing up in Toronto during the war years” — “available through Amazon.com, Chapters/Indigo book stores.”

Canadians at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, March 16, 2011.

My second pointing flows from Doug Taylor’s observation that his 1946 schoolroom “preparations …  for the Remembrance Day service” included learning “the song ‘O Valiant Hearts.’” I remember learning this Remembrance Day classic myself in Toronto schoolrooms, somewhat later. If you are hooked up for You Tube, here is an early 21st century performance … “A Tribute and Remembrance Video for the Canadians” who have served in Afghanistan (too many of whom have given their lives for their country, right or left). And whether you can hear this or not — and wherever you may currently reside in Marshall McLuhan’s dynamic global village —  Happy Remembrance Day 2011.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 11, 10:45 ET. This morning I bumped into Bernard Porter’s review of  Julia Lovell’s new book on the 19th century Opium War in China in the London Review of Books. And his castigation of David Cameron for “wearing a Remembrance Day poppy in his buttonhole … when he arrived in Beijing in November 2010” made me feel a little uneasy about the conclusion to my hasty thoughts above.

You can’t be too careful nowadays. I do not in any way mean to identify with David Cameron’s kind of insensitivity — and especially with what Bernard Porter has called “the right-wing press, when it heaped praise on him for allegedly refusing to remove it [ie the poppy] when the Chinese asked him?” What I do mean to identify with is the poppy worn on the Toronto TV station cp24 this morning by Ms. Farah Nasser — one of those people, it seems, who looks more attractive the more you see of her. Oh … and maybe I should have just ended above with Happy 11/11/11 — a rare date indeed!

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