Tourist Go Home

Tourist Go Home: Vacationing in Canada circa 1959

ReviewsThe Craft

Summer has arrived in Canada once again. Time to plan your vacation. Will it be a trip overseas? A beach vacation in the Caribbean? A week at the cottage? Or maybe it’s time to pack up the car and head out to a part of Canada you haven’t seen before. Just be wary of rude waiters and hotel staff. And if you’re an American tourist… Go home! I’m just kidding—this is my way of introducing the 1959 NFB film Tourist Go Home.

The film is a humorous look at tourism in Canada and, more specifically, what not to do if you are in the tourism industry. Shot as a fiction film, it essentially contains 2 segments. The first concerns the Canadian Anti-tourist League, whose members meet to review uncut tourist films they have procured illegally. They are looking for sequences of people mistreating Americans who have come to spend their money in our great country. The Anti-tourist League is interested in editing these films to show only the worst possible behaviour from people in the tourist industry, in an effort to discourage Americans from vacationing here. Their belief is that Canada’s beautiful landscapes should be enjoyed by Canadians only. By the way, the actors who play in this segment overact to the point of caricature. (The character of the projectionist would not be out of place in a Bugs Bunny cartoon!)

The second segment is the film-within-a-film they review, which shows an American family visiting the Muskoka Lakes region in Ontario. This is easily the best part of Tourist Go Home. The late, great John Vernon (Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Nobody Waved Goodbye) stars as the man who takes his wife and kids (one boy, one girl) on a week-long vacation in Canada only to discover bad service, rude waitresses and inflated prices (much to the delight of the Anti-tourist League members screening the film).

This was one of Vernon’s earliest films, and he makes the most of the role. Whether it is a slow burn when being told that he must pay an exchange on the American dollar, or a look of disgust when he sees that a Canadian souvenir is actually made in Japan, Vernon’s performance is priceless. It is funny to see his reactions to all that life is throwing at him (I just love how he reacts to a pesky mosquito in the middle of the night).

The film was made at the request of the Canadian Tourist Association to be used as a training film for people in the industry. It was to show the importance of American tourism to the Canadian economy. Stanley Jackson, who co-directed, decided that humour would be the best way to get the message across. All the sequences with John Vernon and his onscreen family were shot in August 1958 in the Muskoka Lakes region (including Algonquin Park) where the crew had to deal with terrible weather. They eventually managed to get a few good days to shoot what they needed. The sequences featuring the Anti-tourist League were shot on the NFB sound stage in Montreal that winter.

The film was premiered to members of the Canadian Tourist Association in April 1959 and then sent throughout the country. The association loved the film and its president even sent a letter to NFB Film Commissioner Guy Roberge to say how much they enjoyed it. A French version was made (Mort au touriste!) with an entirely different cast playing the members of the Anti-tourist League, but the film-within-a-film with John Vernon and company was used as is.

The film is worth seeing if only for Vernon’s hilarious performance and some beautiful scenery. So if you don’t yet have any vacation plans, have a look at the film, it might just inspire you… to stay home. Enjoy the film.