Saturday, March 22, 2014

Oh Canada: Regional Pride through Commercials

Last week's episode of This American Life had a great segment where Ira Glass was talking about the types of ad campaigns on which cities sometimes embark to cultivate good will with their citizens, and the fact that, for the most part, these are met with blatant skepticism.  Ira grew up in Baltimore, where he remembers one particular campaign about Baltimore being the 'Charm City' that was rebuffed by Baltimorians as preposterous, particularly in the 1970s after the inner city had been devastated by a combination of white flight and riots (now I wonder if the Hairspray song is a parody).  His wife remembered that Detroit tried something similar, which was equally unimpressive (I would argue, however, that the Chrysler Superbowl ad for Detroit was a remarkable image of the city, and is certainly worth a look if you don't remember it).  Then Ira interviewed Ken Lima-Cuehlo of Calgary, Canada, who not only remembered his city's song, but remembered all of the words and even remembered singing it with friends as a communal Calgary moment:

Calgary, Lima-Cuehlo explains, was a city experiencing an identity crisis.  The other major city in the province of Alberta, Edmonton, had won the glory of the nation--or perhaps even the world--because they had the Edmonton Oilers, the most successful hockey team of the 1980s and the team that had the legendary Wayne Gretzky.  In this time of crisis, 'Hello, Calgary' was a solace that their city was important, special, and unique.

You can imagine Lima-Cuehlo's disappointment when he learned that the song had been originally written for Milwaukee and adapted for numerous other cities afterward (including Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Rochester):

[Ed. note: ballet and steel mills?  Clearly the inspiration for Flashdance]

The question that I had in listening to this interview was why had the Calgary song been so thoroughly embraced by its citizens--Lima-Cuehlo does not remember thinking that it was cheesy or contrived--while the others were a lesser footnote of history.  Undoubtedly, in part, this has to do with the image of the city in the first place.  I can imagine that there would be skepticism toward a song singing Baltimore's praises in the 1970s, for example, when the city itself was undergoing such challenging issues.  Calgary did not experience these same problems, of course.  But what also struck me was that the eagerness with which Calgarians embraced this anthem was likely tied to the larger identity crisis that English Canadians were encountering in the 1980s, when there was little to claim as our own.  I touched on this in my earlier post on Canadian identity, when I was remembering that most folk songs I learned as a kid were either French Canadian or from Newfoundland--two cultures that significantly differed from my own.  Something like 'Hello, Calgary' on the other hand could easily be transformed into a point of pride for the part of a nation that was seeking its identity.

Calgary was not the only place to have such commercials.  Ontario ran them too:

Why yes, that was a lion at 0:05.  Why no, I have no idea why.

Incidentally, Ontario license plates switched to say 'Yours to discover' in 1982, around the time this campaign started.

Both 'Hello, Calgary' and the Ontario ads are big on showing off landscape, much like the currency at the time.  Although there are people in both, they seem much more engaged with outdoor activities than anything else.  Also, did anyone else notice a real dearth of women?  I found that odd, particularly when compared to 'Hello, Pittsburgh.'

Montreal also had a series of ads in the 1990s to  And they ran in Montreal.  I am still missing the basic concept here:

Montreal, the ad proclaims, you are the future.  And indeed, much in this commercial is very future-tastic, such as the prominent scientists doing something with science and someone graduating with such joy that she kicks her heels up in the air.  Montreal!  City that is going places!

I could have sworn that there was a far more sedate, less future-oriented English version, but I am unable to locate it on YouTube. Conspiracy?  Maybe.  But I'm pretty sure that it existed.


  1. The lion is probably from Hamilton's "African Lion Safari" park ( Thanks for the post.

  2. Oh, I'm sure it is! I have been to African Lion Safari more than once. A giraffe once ate some leaves out of my hand there, which was very terrifying as a young child. But I think it's closed in the winter, so I'm still not sure why the lion is featured in the winter 'Yours to Discover' segment!