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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: October 2019

“Who Really Lives There?”: (Meta–)Tourism and the Canada Pavilion at Epcot

from Part III - Comparative North American Studies beyond Print


At the Tourist Centers in Boston and Orlando

AT THE TOURIST CENTER IN BOSTON, the speaker in Margaret Atwood's eponymous 1968 poem discovers a display that she immediately recognizes and yet, upon closer examination, finds almost unrecognizable. “There is my country under glass” (Atwood 1968, l. 1), the lyrical I exclaims when she notices the wall-sized “white relief- / map” (ll. 2–3) of Canada at the beginning of the poem, but the “10 blownup snapshots / one for each province” (ll. 5–6) that are placed next to the map show, at best, a carefully “arrange[d]” (l. 16) and “manufactured” (l. 24) version of “my country”—a version that is, in Valerie Broege's words, “practically unpopulated” and boasts of “a kind of sanitized natural splendour” (Broege 1981, 115). As she compares the pictures to her own lived experience in her homeland, the speaker's ironic comments register the various omissions in the display's idealized depiction of Canada: “I seem to remember people, / at least in the cities, also slush, / machines and assorted garbage” (ll.27–29). At the end of the poem, the speaker's critique of Canada's self-portrayal at the tourist center and her call for a more realistic depiction of her country culminate in a series of questions to the “unsuspecting window lady”: “Do you see nothing / watching you from under the water? // Was the sky ever that blue? // Who really lives there?” (ll. 40–43).

Eighteen years after the publication of “At the Tourist Centre in Boston,” a Member of the Canadian House of Commons complained in a very similar manner about yet another representation of Canada at an American “tourist center.” On April 23, 1986, Mary Collins, the Member of Parliament from the riding of Capilano, British Columbia, addressed the following remarks to the Hon. Jack Murta, then Canada's Minister of State (Tourism): “[The Minister] and I have received many complaints about the Canadian Pavilion at the Epcot Centre at Disney World in Florida. It certainly does not reflect accurately our country or our people. What action is the Minister prepared to take to get Disney World to make some changes so that we can have a Canadian Pavilion which truly exhibits the beauty and grandeur which await potential tourists to our country?” (Canada 1986, 12571).

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