I was downtown around Berri St. and René-Lévesque Blvd. last week, frustrated that I had just missed my night bus connection, when I walked down the street and noticed this curious beast parked next to a hotel. It’s a bus by a company called Great Canadian Coaches, based in Ontario. On the side is a mural of images of great Canadians past and present. The other side of the bus has another few dozen faces. By my count, there are 45 hand-painted images of Canadians (46 if you count Wayne and Shuster separately, more if you count the Group of Seven individually). I thought that was really nice.
Near the door, I spotted this image of Canada’s governor-general, David Johnston:
It didn’t take me long to notice the spelling of his name next to his image. Shouldn’t it have a T in it? I remember the newly appointed governor-general had the same name as a Gazette journalist (which led to some good-natured fun at his expense congratulating him on his new post).
Of course, I was right. Both the journalist and the governor-general are spelled “Johnston”. It’s kind of an embarrassing mistake to make on the side of a bus.
Here’s the kicker: It’s autographed.
I tried to wrap my head around the logic. Did the governor-general sign his name and not notice that his name was misspelled right there? Was the name added after the signature? Was Johnston just too polite to point out the error?
Rather than jump to conclusions, I asked the bus company and Rideau Hall’s press office about the mistake.
Rideau Hall’s Marie-Eve Létourneau responded to my email (in which I tried to be as protocol-friendly as possible, referring to him as the Right Honourable David Johnston, stopping just short of calling him “His Excellency“). She said Johnston did indeed sign the bus when both were in Waterloo, Ont. She said he did notice the misspelling of his name but “made no mention of the misspelling” to Great Canadian Coaches. She said they would address the matter with the company.
The story from Great Canadian Coaches differs slightly. Managing Director Lorna Hundt said the company was aware of the misspelling, and “we are waiting until we have the coach home long enough to have it corrected.
“We were very embarrassed about it, especially when we met him and had him sign his image on the coach,” she continued. “He was wonderful about it and showed his keen sense of humour, saying that he always spelled his name incorrectly when he stole sheep from the neighbour’s farm.”
It’s a cute little anecdote, even if it contradicts what Rideau Hall told me.
Hundt said the company felt bad about the error. “We take a great deal of pride in the images on our coaches, and this mistake was regrettable,” Hundt wrote in an email.
Great Canadian Coaches has many buses, each with a different mural honouring different people (with themes such as stage and screen, women, musicians and athletes). Though it was particularly embarrassing because it happened on the only image on this particular bus that has been autographed, it’s not the end of the world.
Except Johnston’s name isn’t the only one they misspelled.
(For the sake of those who may not be familiar with some of these figures – and I admit some were unfamiliar to me – I’ve linked the photos to their Wikipedia pages)
When I got home, I went on the company’s website to learn about them. I saw pictures of their other buses, and noticed that some of them also had misspellings.
When I asked Hundt about additional misspellings, she said “Let me know what you found, and we’ll take care of it.”
Well, here’s what I found. From the names I saw on that bus in Montreal, and the ones I found on photos online, about 100 total, I found nine errors.
I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether a 9% error rate is acceptable for names of supposedly famous Canadians that a company puts on the side of a bus.