Welcome to Canada, Mr. President

Presidential stopovers in Ottawa have included fishing trips, protests and back-breaking labour

Since Barack Obama will be in Ottawa this week, we thought it timely to look back at some previous presidential visits to our nation’s capital.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: August 1943
The city proclaimed a half-day holiday to mark the first-ever U.S. presidential visit to Ottawa. About 27,000 people jammed Parliament Hill to hear FDR’s public address. During his car tour of Ottawa, spectators held up black Scottie dogs as a show of support for his dog Fala.

Harry S. Truman: June 1947
While in Ottawa, Truman met with Mackenzie King and Governor General Alexander. During his parliamentary address, Truman praised Canada for achieving internal unity. When he was finished, politicians thumped their desks in approval. Truman’s trip to the capital included lunch at the Chateau Laurier, a tree-planting and a state dinner at Rideau Hall. He also traveled to Montebello, where he fished for trout. It was his second trip abroad after the Second World War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: November 1953, July 1958
Both visits to the capital included a parliamentary address. In 1953, more tickets were sold to the House of Commons gallery than there were seats, and some spectators had to be turned away. In 1958, Ike drew fire for his virulent defence of U.S. trade interests in his speech. It was during his second visit that he and PM John Diefenbaker agreed to set up the Canada-United States Committee on Joint Defense. While in Ottawa, Ike played a round of golf at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club and took a trip to Gatineau Park.

John F. Kennedy: May 1961
When JFK and Jackie arrived on Parliament Hill, there were reportedly 50,000 people there to greet them. It was their first post-inauguration trip. Jackie looked on from the visitors’ gallery during the President’s Parliamentary address, during which he famously said: “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.” He even tried to articulate a few sentences in French — albeit poorly. And he hurt his back while planting a tree on Parliament Hill.

Lyndon B. Johnson: May 1967
While in Canada for Expo 67, Johnson spent some time at the prime minister’s official retreat on Harrington Lake, where he met with Lester B. Pearson. As the story goes, a security stopped PM Pearson on his way to the bathroom to ask him who he was and where he was headed. “I’m the Prime Minister of Canada and I’m about to go and have a leak,” he reportedly answered.

Richard Nixon: April 1972
Vietnam War protestors greeted Nixon when he arrived in Canada. Despite his infamously acrimonious relationship with Pierre Trudeau, he opened speech to the House of Commons with a joke about Ottawa’s weather, and cheered Canada for being a fine neighbour. “The Canadian-American example is an example for all the world to see,” he said. The Great Lakes Pollution clean-up agreement was inked during his visit.

Ronald Reagan: March 1981, April 1987
During Reagan’s address to Parliament in 1981, NDP MPs sported black armbands to indicate their opposition of the U.S. involvement in El Salvador. Though his relationship with Brian Mulroney was much warmer than it had been with Trudeau, Reagan only visited Ottawa once while Mulroney was in office. When Reagan spoke in the House of Commons in 1987, he was interrupted by MP Svend Robinson, who implored the president to “Stop Star Wars now.” During their time in Canada, Nancy Reagan urged students at Ottawa’s Brookfield High School to “say no to drugs.”

George H. W. Bush: February 1989, March 1991
George and Barbara traveled to Ottawa less than a month after Bush’s inauguration. While the President met with Mulroney, Barbara read to local students at a nursery school in  Fern Hill. Among the pupils was the PM’s son, Nicholas.

Bill Clinton: February 1995, October 1999
Jean Chrétien, with whom Clinton had a close relationship, took the President on a tour of the Centre Block while Hillary skated on the Rideau Canal. During his first address, Clinton touted Canada as an example “of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity and respect,” and spoke of the “ties that bind the United States and Canada.” In 1999, he came to Ottawa to dedicate a new Embassy building.

George W. Bush: November 2004

Though George W. was scheduled to address Parliament in May 2003, he cancelled the trip, citing the war in Iraq. Others suggested that the President’s relationship with Chrétien, which had become strained, was to blame for the change in plans. When he did arrive in Ottawa in November 2004, some 5,000 protestors demonstrated against the Iraq war. The first couple visited a Gatineau archival presentation centre, where they reportedly set eyes on Shania Twain’s songbook, and one of the earliest baseball rule books.

Welcome to Canada, Mr. President

  1. The visit today seems like a ‘lunch and learn’. I can’t help but feel that he is coming here to inform us of the new rules of engagement with the USA. And I don’t think he is looking for much feedback.

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