Story by Arthur Milnes
Vacay.ca Political Travel Columnist
Long before Barack Obama visited Ottawa and inspired a Byward Market merchant to name a cookie after him, leaders of the United States have journeyed to Canada, either for official business or for routine stops that became footnotes in history. Arthur Milnes, a popular historian who is Commissioner of the Sir John A. Macdonald Bicentennial Commission, joins Vacay.ca as its Political Travel Columnist and offers a look at five places where US presidents have made a unique impact. Tourists fascinated by history or the cultural ties between the two nations should certainly put these spots on their travel lists.
During the summer of 1923, while returning home from a trip to Alaska, US President Warren Harding stopped in Vancouver, becoming the first sitting US president to officially visit Canada while in office. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians came out to greet Harding. Shortly after leaving Vancouver, and arriving in San Francisco, Harding died. With American and Canadians united in mourning, this impressive monument commemorating this historic visit was planned and later unveiled. Today, it still graces Stanley Park, Vancouver’s 1,000-acre jewel that tourists and residents adore.
2. Township of Norwich, Ontario
Herbert Hoover, one of the most brilliant men of his generation, had the misfortunate to take office in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. Before that, he saved millions from famine as America’s coordinator for food relief for Europe during and after World War I — a feat he would repeat for President Harry Truman on a world-wide scale after World War II. Few Canadians realize that the 31st president’s mother, Hulda Minthorn, was born in Ontario. Of proud Quaker-stock, she was a Quaker minister. She died when young Herbert was only 9 years old. Although you won’t find much about Minthorn herself in the town, the Norwich and District Museum and Archives is one of the province’s oldest community museums and is in an 1889 property that was once a Quaker meeting house.
3. Chalk River, Ontario
In the early 1950s, Canada’s pioneering nuclear facility at Chalk River, Ontario, experienced a serious crisis in one of its reactors. At the very dawn of the nuclear age, a small team of sailors, then working on the construction and operation of the US Navy’s second nuclear submarine, the Seawolf, were sent to Chalk River to assist in the reactor’s clean-up. They were led by a young lieutenant from rural southwest Georgia. His name was James Earl Carter. Better known as Jimmy, he went on to become the 39th president of the United States. While there are no official tours of the Chalk River Laboratories, the area of Renfrew County offers beautiful rural Ontario scenery, as well as numerous hiking and cycling trails to enjoy.
Until very recently, former US President George HW Bush took an annual fishing trip to Canada’s Arctic in search of Arctic Char. One of his favourite places to fish in Canada was the Tree River in what is now Nunavut. He was so enamoured of his visit to the Tree River in 1997 that he responded positively to a request from the editor of the 1,000-circulation weekly, the Deh Cho Drum, in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, and submitted a glowing fishing column to the tiny paper describing his experiences. This article made headlines around the world.
On August 18, 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt travelled to this small Lake Ontario community and equally small university to deliver a historic convocation address. With the war clouds gathering in Europe, FDR pledged to Canada and Canadians that the US would not stand by idly if Canada were ever attacked. Later that day, FDR and Canada’s Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, jointly opened the International Bridge at Ivy Lea. A plaque now marks the spot where these two leaders made North American history. That story is among the many historical nuggets that Kingston, Canada’s first capital, has for both Americans and Canadians to enjoy.