National Treasure #97: John Bartlet Brebner

John Bartlet who?

You know, the historian and soldier.

The fellow  who was born in Toronto in 1895, a Canadian, and died in New York City in 1957, an American

The graduate of University of Toronto, Oxford, and Columbia, who taught for a few years at the U of T and then spent the rest of his academic career at Columbia.

Oh, that John Bartlet.  Yes, yes, I remember him well.

Or not.

But I do remember this quote (I think I got it from something Pierre Berton said in an interview), which I find attributed to him pretty consistently, although people do spell his name incorrectly and don’t say where or when he said it.

Americans are benevolently ignorant about Canada,
while Canadians are malevolently well informed about the United States.

Ya gotta love a guy who can skewer both peoples so pithily.  That, at least, is my story.  Others respect him for different reasons.

The publication of his North Atlantic Triangle marked the high-water mark of continentalist scholarship. In this seminal study his “primary aim was to get at, and to set forth, the interplay between the United States and Canada – the Siamese Twins of North America who cannot separate and live.”



  1. John Hatchard

    A neat turn of phrase indeed but to a New Zealander, looking out on the world from this relative speck on the edge of the Pacific, it smacks of elegant parochialism. In the current state of global affairs it could well read:-
    Americans are benevolently ignorant about everywhere else,
    while everywhere else is too well informed about the United States.
    This video clip is revealing about the USA. Maybe Canada too but perhaps not
    given intersting and interested folk like you Isabel, and Tom and Jim

    1. Isabel Gibson

      John – Oops. Yes, Canadians do tend to define ourselves in terms of, and contrasting against, the USA. It’s easy to forget about the big wide world out there.

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