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?
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?
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?