Academic journal article Urban History Review

"Tale of Two Cities": Boosterism and the Imagination of Community during the Visit of the Prince of Wales to Saint John and Halifax in 1860

Academic journal article Urban History Review

"Tale of Two Cities": Boosterism and the Imagination of Community during the Visit of the Prince of Wales to Saint John and Halifax in 1860

Article excerpt

Nineteenth-century inhabitants of Saint John and Halifax caught their first glimpse of the Heir Apparent in 1860, as Prince Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, visited various parts of the colonies and the United States as part of a cross-continental tour. Of what scholarly value is this much-publicized visit? Political historians might use the tour to measure the nature and extent of patriotism and royalism in the colonies at mid century.(1) This study, however, will analyze the visit as a vehicle of local boosterism. Boosterism is usually associated with the rise of Western Canadian cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,(2) but C.M. Wallace and D.A. Sutherland have shown that boosters also promoted the growth of Maritime cities in the mid-Victorian period.(3) This paper argues that an examination of the boosters' promotional strategies during the visit, as well as the logistics of their efforts will shed light on how a phalanx of politicians, newspaper editors, and leading citizens chose to imagine themselves, both on a local level and to an international community. This process of civic construction will provide important insights into the 19th-century rivalry between middle-class boosters in Saint John and Halifax, as they jockeyed for position in the race for the urban leadership of the East. In this sense, the visit is a case-study of the "politics of prestige," both on a regional and local level.(4)

Much has been written recently on the "imagining" of nation, and its intersection with empire.(5) What, however, of the imagining of local communities? Benedict Anderson, in his seminal work Imagined Communities, notes that "In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined."(6) Homi K. Bhabha also acknowledges that "... it is the city which provides the space in which emergent identifications and new social movements of the people are played out. It is there that, in our own time, the perplexity of the living is most acutely experienced."(7) How can festivals and ceremonials, like the visit, contribute to the negotiation and promotion of community? Allessandro Falassi argues that "the primary and most general function of the festival is to ... renew the life stream of a community, by creating new energy, and to give sanction to its institutions."(8) Most interesting about the visit is that the residents in Saint John and Halifax chose to give sanction to very different institutions, reflecting distinctive "styles" of community (image)ining. Anderson comments that "Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined."(9) How did the boosters of Saint John and Halifax portray their communities to local and international audiences? C.M. Wallace, in his analysis of 19th-century boosters in Saint John, argues that Saint Johners used the Prince's visit to parade their "commerce, capacity and capabilities before visitors," whereas Haligonians relied on their "institutions, conventions and scenery" to impress strangers.(10) It is the contention of this paper that these different styles and promotional strategies reflect the diverging civic (middle-class) cultures which were emerging in Saint John and, Halifax at mid-century. Drawing on their own cultural currencies, boosters in Saint John and Halifax hoped to impress not only the. royal visitor, but important British statesmen who would be accompanying him, such as the secretary of state, the Duke of Newcastle, who was the Prince's personal companion during the tour. Visiting press representatives from such influential papers as the London Times, the New York Tribune, the Toronto Leader,(11) and illustrated papers, such as Reynold's and Lloyd's, would also be broadcasting their impressions of the colonies to an international community. As Anderson has noted, print-capitalism "... made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves and to relate themselves to others in profoundly new ways. …

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