City to City


174 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-921912-10-2
DDC 971.104'64





Reviewed by Boyd Holmes

Boyd Holmes is an editor with Dundurn Press.


For the past 35 years, Welsh historian and essayist Jan Morris has
distinguished herself as a witty and cogent critic of the urban world.
City to City brings together 10 of her essays on Canadian cities; most
appeared originally in Saturday Night magazine. Each piece is devoted to
a different city; St. John’s, St. Andrews, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto,
Saskatoon, Edmonton, Banff, Yellowknife, and Vancouver are the subjects.
Taken together, these essays express Morris’s contempt for this
nation’s suffocating niceness, as well as her conviction that Canada,
if “not the most thrilling of countries, has a genuine claim to be
considered the best.”

City to City contains the defects and assets one expects from a Morris
travel book. Flaws include the use of slang (“higgeldy-piggeldy”),
weak grammar (“go direct to Toronto”), patronizing diction
(“extraordinary little capital”), and unwieldy, nonexistent terms
(“Newfoundlandese,” “un-islanded”). As always, however, the
virtues of Morris’s writing easily outweigh the problems: City to City
is replete with striking images (“One afternoon, by driving . . . to
Cape Spear, I made myself . . . the easternmost person in North America,
and was chilled to think, as I stood there in the wind, that while at my
back there was nothing but the ocean, before me there extended, almost
as far as the imagination could conceive, the awful immensity of
Canadian rock, forest, prairie, and mountain”) and instances of
engaging humor (“Nowhere in the world, of course, is now insulated
against American culture: whether you are in Lima or Peking,
‘Dynasty’ will find you”). Morris also brings to these essays her
extensive travel experience and impressive range of knowledge. Who else
could compare Quebec separatism with its Welsh cousin, or contrast
Ottawa with the capital city of Montenegro? For that matter, who else
would remind us that in Saskatoon the misaskwatomins both grow and are
made into jam?


Morris, Jan., “City to City,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,