Cartoons, Caricatures, and Propaganda
Friend or Foe

Friend or Foe

U.S.-Canada Relations

A friendly American neighbour? Or is it just a facade? 

To help make sense of their southern neighbours, early 20th century Canadians turned to the news. Editorial cartoonists found great amusement in characterizing the distrust between the United States and Canada.

When Uncle Sam Meets Johnny Canuck

One way artists portray abstract or complex ideas is through personification. Personification creates a human form to represent these ideas. Cartoonists used the characters of Uncle Sam and Johnny “Jack” Canuck to represent the U.S. and Canada.

Johnny Canuck wears the Stetson hat for Canada, while Uncle Sam often appears donning a top hat and clothed in stars and stripes.

Can you identify other characteristics of Uncle Sam in the following cartoons?

Uncle Sam and Jack Canuck smoke cigars together Johnny, or Jack, Canuck sits with Uncle Sam, the pair smoking cigars, with cordial smiles on their faces. Clouds of smoke billow about their heads. Canuck is dressed in a regular, plain three-piece suit and a wide-brimmed hat. He is leaning forward in his chair, pointing at Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam wears a black coat, a starry waistcoat, long striped pants, and a black tall top hat with stars on the band. He leans back in his chair, relaxed.

Just like any old friends, Uncle Sam and Johnny Canuck sit back and reminisce about old times. Johnny recalls a time when Americans invaded Canada in 1812 and burnt down the Toronto Parliament buildings. He makes a promise that Americans won’t be able to do that again.

“Jack Canuck: Yes Sam, you burned the Toronto Parliament Buildings once, but Sir James Whitney was not in power then”
Newton McConnell, circa 1913, C 281-0-0-0-115, Archives of Ontario, I0006044.

How to identify Uncle Sam?

Top Hat
Top Hat
Striped Pants
Striped Pants
Star-Shaped Vest
Star-Shaped Vest

Here Johnny Canuck wears a Stetson hat – a garment long associated with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). In contrast, Wilfred Laurier wears a more formal top hat. The cartoonist makes the clothing choice to reflect their values and beliefs. In this case, it works to show a difference between their stances on the relationship with the U.S.

“John Cannuck:-“No Sir Wilfrid; I’ll not expose myself to any disease that I don’t want to catch.”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, C 301-0-0-0-606, Archives of Ontario, I0006590

Jack/Johnny Canuck’s typical working man’s outfit:

Stetson Hat
Stetson Hat
Work Boots
Work Boots
Laurier fails to lure John Canuck into the United States. In the background is a house with the United States crest and a sign that reads “WARNING: THIS HOUSEHOLD HAS INDUSTRIAL DEPRESSION” on the door. Through the window next to the door, a bedridden Uncle Sam can be seen. Outside the house in the foreground, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, shown in a fine coat and top hat, stands positioned to guide the way into the house. In Laurier’s hand is a roll of paper that reads “RECIPROCITY TREATY.” Laurier looks concerned at John Canuck. John Cannuck [sic] turns his body away from while he looks back at the house and Laurier. His expression stern. Across the band of his hat reads “CANADA.”
Sepita photograph of Wilfrid Laurier seated
full opc arrow

You may recognize this face from a $5 bill. The portrait is of Sir Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh Prime Minister. For over 30 years he led the Liberal Party of Canada, one of the major political parties in the country.

As a frequent star of cartoons from this period, make note how this photograph differs from his cartoonish appearances.

Living Picture Series, Toronto Public Library
Canada kicks the United States out of the Dominion House. Young Canada, shown here smoking, kicks the rear of Uncle Sam, sending him down the front steps of the Dominion House, while John Bull and a bulldog — one of many personifications of Britain — oversees from behind. Bull smiles, while Young Canada looks sternly on a confused Uncle Sam. The caption at the bottom of the image reads: “UNCLE SAM KICKED OUT; YOUNG CANADA— ‘WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE;’ JOHN BULL— ‘THAT’S RIGHT, MY SON—NO MATTER WHAT COMES, AN EMPTY HOUSE IS BETTER THAN SUCH A TENANT AS THAT!”

Uncle Sam has been a personification of the U.S. since the early 1800s. With his distinct style, Canadian editorial cartoonists featured him prominently when discussing their southern neighbours. In this cartoon from the 1880s, he’s kicked out of Canada. The personification of Britain, John Bull, happily watches on.

“Uncle Sam Kicked Out!”
Library and Archives Canada/A Caricature History of Canadian Politics /OCLC 464860696

Fear of U.S. Annexation

In the Canadian imagination, the United States could be a friendly neighbour or fierce foe. As Canada moved away from Britain’s influence in the early 20th century,  concerns over American dominance grew. There were even worries about the U.S. annexing (forcibly taking over) Canada.

Canadians with British heritage held a strong connection to their “motherland.” And a growing closeness with the U.S. posed a cultural threat. Those without ties to Britain saw the U.S. as another imperial power able to take away their rights, freedom, and possessions – just as Britain and Canada did. 

Editorial cartoonists made the choice to portray the U.S. as either a welcoming neighbour or plotting enemy, often relying on stereotypes to get their point across.

Miss USA wears a taxidermied Canadian beaver on her hat

With her new Easter annexation hat, Miss U.S. Democracy couldn’t be happier. McConnell captions this cartoon with “designed by Champ Clark.” Clark was not a hat designer. In fact, he was an American statesman who openly promoted Canadian reciprocity and annexation, which is why McConnell chose to reference him in this cartoon.

In 1911, Clark made a speech to the House where he said: “I look forward to the time when the American flag will fly over every square foot of British North America up to the North Pole.”

“Miss U. S. Democracy’s new annexation Easter hat”
Newton McConnell, circa 1905-1914, Archives of Ontario, C 301-0-0-0-149, I0006055

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Tensions between the two countries grew when Canada’s Liberal Party proposed a new “reciprocity” agreement in 1911. Reciprocity would remove tariffs – a type of tax on goods crossing the borders. For example, if you were to help a friend with their homework, you might expect them to help you sometime in the future. This is a type of reciprocity: a win-win exchange.

The Liberal’s opponents, the Conservative Party, did not see the exchange this way. They took up the cause of the “common man.” Farmers were frequent figures in the cartoons, showing an affinity on the part of the cartoonist for the white, male, working class.

A tiger and her cub look to their next meal

In the cartoons, reciprocity and annexation were of the same stripes – tiger stripes in this case! The small tiger cub of reciprocity could one day grow into the annexation tiger. Why do you think the artists used tigers? Which country do you think they represent?

Look closely at the bones on the ground! They’re labelled Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Porto Rico [sic], and Philippine. Is Canada next?

“Looking our way”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, C 301-0-0-0-66, Archives of Ontario, I0005972


How much is the US and Canada trade and investment relationship worth today?

A. Over $1 million

B. Over $100 million

C. Over $1 billion

D. Over $1 trillion

Cartoon of caterpillars leaving a desiccated tree for a new, fruitful tree to consume In the foreground, a tree labeled “NATIONAL POLICY” bears a pethura of fruit, each labeled with different goods and industries. By this tree flies a flag, most likely the Canadian Red Ensign — the flag representing the Dominion of Canada for much of the 1800s through the early 1900s. In the background is another tree — bare, fruitless and leafless, it is labeled “GRIT POLICY.” Behind it flies the United States flag. An army of caterpillars, each labeled “ANNEXATION,” depart a sac labeled “UNRESTRICTED RECIPROCITY” hanging from the desiccated tree. The caterpillars march toward the fruitful National Policy tree, climbing up its trunk, intending to consume it.

What do sand, a 1960s Western novel, and Liberals have in common? 

They’re all called grit: sand is gritty and True Grit is a 1968 novel by Charles Portis. In the 1870s, the nickname became widely used to describe members of the Liberal party. 

 In the image above, the annexation worms have feasted on the “grit policy” tree. Now barren, the only thing hanging from it is the annexation cocoon that gave birth to the worms. Now the worms move towards the “national policy” tree.

Election Poster – Conservative Campaign against reciprocity.
Unknown artist, circa 1891, C 233-1-1-0-2065, Archives of Ontario, I0030235
Cartoon of a man in a boat on top of Niagara Falls, attempting to lure another man into the boat In this cartoon, on the far side of Niagara Falls flies an American flag. At the base of the Falls, amidst mist and spray are the words “DIRECT TAXATION.” On the near side, a man with glasses, a tall hat, and a beard sits in a small rowboat and beckons to a man in a suit with the tag “CANADIAN VOTER” on the shore. The name of the boat reads “GRIT POLICY” and a flag at the front of the boat reads “UNRESTRICTED RECIPROCITY POLICY.” The man in the boat says “Get in and I’ll row you over!”

Taxation without representation was a popular slogan from the American Revolution. It conveyed that the people would not pay taxes without a say in their federal government. In the 1891 election campaign, as shown in this election poster, the slogan was used by Conservatives to show they were against reciprocity. 

Many felt reciprocity was a slippery slope that would lead to Americans taking money away from Canadians without their say. Reciprocity is portrayed by the cartoonist here as something that would make it hard for Canadians to paddle against the current of American power.

“Election Poster – Conservative Campaign Against Reciprocity”
Unknown artist, circa 1891, C 233-1-1-0-2065, C 233-1-1-0-2066, Archives of Ontario, I0030235

Similar to editorial cartoons, posters visually convey a political message. This poster comes from the 1891 federal election. It attempts to humorously jab at the Liberal Party’s support of reciprocity. 

Your reaction to this poster may tell you what party you would be voting for.

“Election Poster – Conservative Campaign Against Reciprocity”
Unknown artist, circa 1891, Archives of Ontario, C 233-1-1-0-2066, I0055596
Two men beg at the feet of Uncle Sam. This cartoon shows Uncle Sam standing before two men in fine black suits. Uncle Sam is saying “BLAINE, IF THESE FELLERS GIT INTO OFFICE, CANADY IS OURS!” Behind him stands a man in a colorless suit holding a paper labeled “ANNEXATION.” At his feet, two Canadian men kneel. The first has his hands clasped together, and has lain at the feet of Uncle Sam a message that reads “PLEASE ACCEPT OUR COUNTRY.” The second man beckons to Uncle Sam with his top hat, and in a wavering text, says to him “GIVE US RECIPROCITY.”
Election poster showing a farmer defending his land The title at the top of the poster reads “THE FARMER OBJECTS TO BOTH.” Below is a a cartoon in three pictures, with captions in both English and French. In the first, a gentleman in a blue coat and top hat says to a farmer in a red coat and straw hat, holding a pitchfork: “SIR RICHARD: I TELL YOU SIR, YOU MUST HAVE UNRESTRICTED RECIPROCITY.” In the second picture, a third man in tattered clothes approaches, and says to the farmer: “TRAMP: AND AT THE SAME TIME MISTER, YOU'VE GOT TO TAKE ME TOO.” In the third picture, the farmer picks up his pitchfork and uses it to chase the other men away: “THE FARMER: YOU FELLOWS GET OFF MY LAND QUICKER THAN CHAIN LIGHTNING OR I’LL PROD THE PAIR OF YOU!”

For centuries, farmers have been the backbone of the Canadian economy. Worried about competition with American resources,  they were one of the biggest groups against reciprocity. 

Yet this poster shows that the Conservatives were not successful in convincing farmers they were on the same side.

Election poster, Reciprocity.
Unknown artist, circa 1891, C 233-1-1-0-2107, Archives of Ontario, I0055615
Cartoon of Laurier and Johnny Canuck in conversation at a railway station In the forefront, on the left half of the image, Laurier is seen in profile facing left, with his right hand on the shoulder of a man and his left hand resting on the man’s left forearm. Laurier is wearing a long jacket reaching down to his knee and an exaggeratedly tall top hat. The man next to Laurier is wearing a hat with the label “CANADIAN FARMER” on it. The man’s knees are slightly bent and his hands are deep in his trouser pockets. Immediately behind the man’s right foot is a small dog. Behind the two men on the left hand side is a railway station building with the title “PROSPERITY STATION”. Under this sign and to the leftmost side there are three signs. On the topmost sign is written “RECIPROCITY SPECIAL” and just under it “TO RECIPROCITY”. The sign underneath it reads “COMMERCIAL UNION”, and underneath it is another sign that reads “WASHINGTON”. To the right of the station building there is a train, with an attendant standing at the front of the train facing out to the station, with the word “TAFT” written on the front of his uniform. To his immediate right there is a sign hanging over the train that reads “DUE TO LEAVE SEPT 21ST 1911”. Underneath it the words “RECIPROCITY ROUTE” are written on the side of the train. At the immediate bottom of the drawing is a caption written in cursive that reads “AGENT LAURIER: YOU TRY IT FOR A YEAR, IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT THEN, JUMP OFF THE TRAIN AND WALK BACK" NEWTON MCCONNELL. CIRCA 1910.”.

You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. The cartoonist McConnell grew up on a farm and many of his cartoons featuring farmers were sympathetic towards the cause.

Here McConnell depicts Laurier trying to convince a Canadian farmer to hop on the train to Reciprocity. Note that heading towards Reciprocity means leaving Prosperity Station.

“Agent Laurier: You try it for a year, if you don’t like it then, jump off the train and walk back”
Newton McConnell, circa 1910, Archives of Ontario, C 301-0-0-0-468, I0006439

The reciprocity train has left for the U.S. market. Can the Canadian Farming Industry, pictured here as a farm dog, catch up?

“Try it for a year.”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, C 301-0-0-0-537, Archives of Ontario, I0006508
Drawing of a train being chased by a beaver. In the top left half of the cartoon there is a train that is receding into the distance. The word “RECIPROCITY” is written into the smoke from the locomotive. A banner with the words “U.S. MARKET” is being waived by an indistinct figure at the back of the train. The train rails run diagonally towards the bottom right of the drawing and off page. A beaver is running on the rails on the bottom right part of the cartoon. The beaver’s mouth is agape and sweat drops are visible around the beaver’s head. On the bottom left, a small do is watching the scene. The caption written in cursive at the bottom of the cartoon reads ““TRY IT FOR A YEAR.” NEWTON MCCONNELL. CIRCA 1911.”
Drawing of someone looking at an automobile that crashed into a tree. On the right hand side, a man is standing facing left, with his left hand resting on his left hip and his right hand scratching his forehead. In front of his feet on the ground a hat. Next to the hat a small dog looking to the left. On the left hand side a tree and adjacently to the right of it a badly crashed car with the word “RECIPROCITY” on it and with most of its parts visibly damaged and releasing smoke. On the ground at the immediate bottom left side of the tree lies a stone block with the words “1 YEAR FROM FISCAL INDEPENDENCE”. The caption written in cursive at the bottom of the drawing reads ""ONE YEAR'S TRIAL. CANADIAN FARMER: IF IT TAKES A YEAR TO MOTOR THIS FAR, HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO WALK BACK?" NEWTON MCCONNELL. CIRCA 1911.“

New inventions like the automobile sparked a belief in the power of American innovation. When reciprocity did not pass, McConnell represented it as a car crash.

“One year’s trial. Canadian Farmer: If it takes a year to motor this far, how long will it take to walk back?”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, C 301-0-0-0-538, Archives of Ontario, I0006509

Election Outcome

Who won the reciprocity argument? The Conservative Party was against reciprocity due to concerns over U.S. control, loss of revenue, and the replacement of British goods. They won the 1911 election and their leader Robert Borden became the 8th Prime Minister of Canada.

An eagle hunts for a beaver Soaring above a beaver pond, shored up by a beaver “PROTECTION DAM,” a “U.S. EAGLE” looks for the beaver it was hunting, wings outstretched, with a look of astonishment on its face. Below in the water, ripples on the pond suggest something has dove below the surface.

Eagles are often associated with strength and authority. From the Roman Empire to the U.S. government, they symbolize a state’s power.

The eagle is flying over the dam, lamenting their failure to trade with Canada. In this failure, the eagle finally reveals that what he wanted all along: Canada’s raw materials.

“I Thought I for sure I’d get the Canadian beaver’s raw material; but he’s ducked”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, Archives of Ontario, C 301-0-0-0-70, I0005976.
Johnny Canuck and Uncle Sam shake hands. Johnny Canuck, the personification of Canada, wears a wide-brimmed hat with a maple leaf and “CANADA” on the band. He shakes the hand of Uncle Sam, the personification of the United States. Below them, a caption reads “PEACE” and above is the faint hand-written impression of the years “1814-1914.”

Reciprocity came to an end with the election of the Conservative Party in 1911. They had campaigned on the idea of “Canadianism or Continentalism.” convincing voters to remain loyal to the British Empire. Borden would become well-known for leading Canada throughout World War I.

Newton McConnell, circa 1914, C 301-0-0-0-84, Archives of Ontario, I0005991

McConnell became well known for his drawings of the 1911 election. One of his most famous cartoons likens the defeated Liberals to an extinct species. But his prediction did not come true. The Liberal Party remains one of the major political forces in Canada today.

“In the year 2211.”
Newton McConnell, circa 1911, Archives of Ontario, C 301-0-0-0-637, I0006808.
A man looks at a pile of bones in a display case. In the Canadian Archives in Ottawa, a man wearing a suit, an ascot, and top hat holds a cane and smokes a cigar. He looks onto a glass domed display case with a pair of bones inside. The case is labeled “ONTARIO LIBERAL” THIS SPECIES IS SUPPOSED TO HAVE BECOME EXTINCT ABOUT THE YEAR 1911”


What year would the United States and Canada first sign an agreement to reciprocity (aka free trade)?

A. 1979 

B. 1988 

C. 1994 

D. 2018 


In their review of editorial cartoons, Peter Desbarats and Terry Mosher, authors of The Hecklers, A History of Canadian Political Cartooning and a Cartoonists History of Canada, said how “Newton McConnell was credited as being instrumental in the defeat of Laurier and his reciprocity policy in 1911.”

The dream of reciprocity would die for the next few decades. Despite being a big issue in the year’s editorial cartoons, reciprocity had a  small impact on Canada. Cartoonists love to exaggerate! So, can we trust editorial cartoons as a historical document?