One of the first big public relations campaigns in Canada began on August 2, 1864. It was also one of the most successful. D’Arcy McGee, member of Parliament for Montreal West (see March 17 – State Funeral & a Hanging), was the organizer. Delegates from Canada were to attend the gates from Canada were to attend the Charlottetown Conference, in September, where representatives of the four Atlantic colonies were to discuss a union among themselves. The Canadian delegates wanted to popularize the idea of Confederation beforehand.
McGee felt that Canadians and Maritimers had never become acquainted, and it would be helpful if Canadians other than political leaders visited the Atlantic colonies. He enlisted the support of Sandford Fleming, and together, they organized a tour of members of Parliament, business and newspaper men. In all they numbered about 100.
The party left Montreal on August 2 and travelled by train to Portland, Maine, where they boarded a paddle wheeler. This took them to Saint John, where a crowd of 15,000 was waiting to welcome them.
The Canadians looked in wonderment as they were taken to their hotels in carriages, drawn through deeply rutted dirt streets, lined with livery stables, blacksmith ships, general stores, oyster houses and taverns. Saint John had a population of 42,000 and was then the largest city in the Atlantic colonies, almost as big as Quebec and Toronto.
Major Donald J. Goodspeed, a Canadian army historian, has written that the Canadians were a little shocked by Saint John. The men dressed informally, but wore new-style bowler hats on the backs of their heads. They smoked big Havana cigars even on Sundays! They chewed tobacco on the streets! The flashy according to Canadian standards. In Goodspeed’s words they had “tightly-corseted figures swelling incredibly at the bosom, their hair brushed up in short curls on the top of their heads, and their long skirts swirling and flirting over rustling crinoline petticoats.” It was the beginning of a wonderful tour, more of which will be described in future posts.