October 4, 2013

Ambassadors to Canada

Peter Black, Canadian Dispatch

---- — Bruce Heyman will be the 30th U.S. ambassador to Canada —when the Senate gets around to confirming his nomination.

Heyman, a Chicago businessman and fundraiser for Barack Obama, succeeds Chicago lawyer and Obama bagman David Jacobson, who left Ottawa in July after his four-year stint.

It’s worth noting that Jacobson’s final official visit of his posting outside Ottawa was to Quebec City, where he went to the Citadelle military fortress to thank Canadian troops for their role in Afghanistan.

Coincidentally, it was at the Citadelle in May 1939 that an earlier U.S. envoy to Canada Daniel Calhoun Roper had personally presented his credentials to none other than King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The royal couple was on the first stop of a month-long tour of Canada and the United States ostensibly to drum up support for Great Britain as war with Nazi Germany loomed.

A fictionalized version of this royal visit features in the film “Hyde Park on Hudson,” starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney, as President Franklin Roosevelt and his lover-cousin Daisy.

Oddly enough, another Roosevelt cousin, career diplomat Warren Delano Robbins, served for two years in Ottawa. He may have caught a bad cold in the northern capital, as he died of pneumonia shortly after he quit the posting in March 1935.

Roper didn’t stay long in Ottawa either, feeling a need to return to Washington as dark clouds in Europe gathered. As it turned out he left Canada two weeks before England declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939.

Roper’s replacement was James “Jimmy” Cromwell, an ardent supporter of FDR who was, as his biography notes, “connected to three of the greatest fortunes in America through two of his marriages and one of his mother’s.”

His widowed mother, Lucretia, met on an ocean cruise and married E. T. Stotesbury, a railroad financier and associate of J. P. Morgan. Cromwell’s first marriage was to an heiress of the automotive Dodge dollars, and his second to one 22-year-old Doris Duke, once known as “the richest girl in the world,” thanks to her father’s tobacco fortune.

(We can’t help but note the cross-dressing parallel of the 2006 bio-pic “Bernard and Doris,” where Ralph Fiennes played the alcoholic Irish butler to Susan Sarandon’s Doris, and Matt Damon’s man-servant to Michael Douglas’s Liberace in HBO’s “Beyond the Candelabra.”)

Duke, who spent much of her life travelling around the world, providing gossips columns with fodder and funding a multitude of charities, must have wondered how she wound up exiled in Canada in the middle of winter.

There’s a telling front-page picture from Jan. 24, 1940, of a fur-swaddled and seemingly horrified Doris standing behind Jimmy being greeted by the odd little Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King at the Ottawa railway station.

Perhaps it came as a surprise to no one that Ambassador Cromwell’s Canadian gig only lasted 140 days. He fled Ottawa to run for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey but was trounced handily by the incumbent Republican.

Though Cromwell attempted a plunge into elected politics, all American ambassadors to Canada prior to him and afterward until 1979 were foreign-service careerists. That changed when Jimmy Carter named former DNC chairman and Maine governor Ken Curtis to Ottawa.

Since then, there’s only been one non-political appointee dispatched to the Canadian capital. Curtis was the first of three governors to hold the post, the others being James Blanchard of Michigan, appointed by Bill Clinton, and the late Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, a George W. Bush nominee.

Others have been either business types, lawyers or former holders of state office. There has never been a woman, which fueled rumors that Caroline Kennedy was on a short list to replace Jacobson, sending a shiver of excitement of the like that must have attended the arrival of glamorous Doris Duke to the snowy capital.

But Bruce Heyman got the nod. As one observer of Canada-U.S. relations put it, Canadians need to reconcile themselves “to the fact we’re going to get a bagman.”

Not that anybody is suggesting there’s anything wrong with a low-profile ambassador. Indeed, they tend to last longer.

Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at