His face hard, a dog-tag necklace hanging around his neck, Fraser Tolmie is sitting poolside in a pristine white robe, champagne bottle by his side, cucumber slices on his eyes.
The Mayor of Moose Jaw, Sask. projects an ever-so-slight aura of menace, which is heightened when he leans forward and says conspiratorially “Are you a politician taking heat for going away at Christmas? Listen up.” For just a second, it sounds like he’s about to make them an offer they can’t refuse—fitting for the leader of a community that bills itself as “Canada’s most notorious city.”
Tolmie became a minor Canadian internet sensation on Wednesday, when a tourism ad posted to the City of Moose Jaw’s social channels started pinging around social media. Tolmie admits to being caught slightly off-guard by a wave of media attention that has included interview requests from the CBC, CTV and Global News.
Shot in less than three hours at the city’s Temple Gardens Hotel & Spa, the 60-second spot features Tolmie speaking directly to those politicians who were busted for travelling out of country during the holidays, but also indirectly to anyone else who might be able and interested in travelling right now. He points out that Moose Jaw has all of the amenities available in swanky international resorts and, most importantly, its citizens can keep a secret. “We’ll never tell,” he says to camera, raising his eyebrows before swimming away.
“It’s low-hanging fruit and it’s something that we could work with,” said Tolmie of the creative approach. “There are [politicians] who travelled outside of Canada, and if they had just come to Moose Jaw, we would never have told anybody. They could have spent their money at our local businesses, and there would have been no issue.”
Tolmie exhibits none of the stiffness of a politician thrust into an acting role, seeming to relish a chance to demonstrate his skills as a thespian. It’s not his first time appearing in front of the camera. In 2019, he appeared in a response video to a SkipTheDishes ad, in which Jon Hamm lamented not getting his Canadian citizenship even though he’d already bought a “moose jaw” and a “yellow knife.”
He’s acutely aware of the power of marketing to put communities on the map, particularly as tourism has slowed to a standstill during the pandemic. “I know that’s what you need to do to capture money,” he says. “The largest contributor to the global economy is the consumer, and when people spend money in your community, it creates healthy businesses.”
And as last year’s viral video for the Newfoundland community of Mount Pearl proved, charming home-spun creations can sometimes strike a chord better than any slickly produced corporate video.
It was under Tolmie’s guidance that Moose Jaw—once known as “The Friendly City”—rebranded in 2019 as “Canada’s most notorious city.” The moniker is based in part on a purported link to the legendary crime figure Al Capone, who is said to have made trips to the city whenever things got hot in Chicago. A series of tunnels under the city were also said to be used to move bootleg liquor during prohibition.
“We wanted to brand ourselves and advertise according to that brand,” said Tolmie, who was elected mayor in 2016 and re-elected with 55% of the vote in November.
Previous attempts at developing a brand image lacked support of organizations like the Chamber of Commerce or its tourism bodies, he said. “There have been attempts that failed because nobody understood what was being branded at the time… When you create a strategic plan as a city council, you have to go out and explain it to people,” said the city of Moose Jaw’s literal “acting” mayor.