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Fred's Views


Canadian, eh!

Those of us who live in the great white north are a strange breed. To begin with, we refer to ourselves in ways that might make you think we are rugged individualists - things like referring to our country as "the great white north", for example. And while there is plenty of wild, rugged country in Canada - and plenty of snow over much of the year, too, the vast majority of Canadians huddle together within two hundred miles of the U.S. border and enjoy a climate that rivals that of much of the U.S. we both love and distain. We perpetuate the myth of the endless winter then laugh our heads off when we see an American car loaded down with skiis drive pass in July. (or June or May and often even April)

We love our hockey - or so the myth goes. I'm not a fair one to comment, because I don't like hockey much. Too much violence. However, perhaps that's a good thing. Perhaps we tend to "blow off steam" rooting for the thugs on skates rather than "going postal" ourselves - or so we'd like to believe. We'd like to keep hockey right here in Canada, but we haven't the money - which I suppose translates into we don't have enough foolish Canadians willing to shovel out a day's pay just to spend a night in an uncomfortable seat watching a game we could have seen, in comfort, for free at home.

Currently, there is a series of ads running trying to convince us that baseball is somehow different up here. For example, we choose the starting pitcher by picking the last man standing from a walk-in freezer. Or we celebrate a victory by dumping the Gatorade over the coach - only the Gatorade is frozen solid. And we tend to make a big deal about any Canadian who makes it to the majors. But we also honor the great players, too, like Ferguson Jenkins.

We tend to stick in superfluous "u"s wherever we please into words such as labour, colour, neighbour and so on. Some of us are slowing changing. We call Coca-Cola "pop". And we think that the only proper punctuation for a sentence is "eh!".

We tend to admire politicians who are either jet-setting playboys such as Pierre Elliot Trudeau or who seem to disappear into the woodwork so we have no idea what they are up to such as Jean Chretien. And yes, we tend to have a lot of prime ministers of French-Canadian extraction - which may be one of the reasons why many Americans think we all speak French. A few of us are bilingual, about a quarter of us speak French (Quebec French not Paris French), but most of us speak only English. I like to call it "broadcast English" because I think most of us sound just like the best American broadcasters. There are regional dialects and accents of course, just as there are in the U.S. And, of course, there are many Canadians who speak other languages as well.

We are a nation that desperately needs heroes, despises the home-grown heroes we have and quickly latches onto anyone with the flimsiest ties to Canada and claim them as their own. For example, I am laying claim to Walt Disney. Why? Because his father was born in Canada (and his parents were Irish immigrants). I am also thinking of claiming Zebulon Pike (of Pike's Peak fame). Why? Because he died near Toronto (then York) when the Americans attacked and burned the city during the War of 1812-14. But don't get me started about that war. An ancestor of mine, Billy Green, played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Americans at Stoney Creek. But I told you not to get me started.

All the great modern comics are Canadian: Jim Carey, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Mike Myers and many more. We do seem to have a disproportional number of "Canadian" entertainers ranging from our first man in space (and spaced-out) William Shatner to Raymond Burr, David James Elliott, Avril Lavigne and, of course, Celine Dion and Shania Twain. Just to name a very few. There have been some home-grown stars such as Juliette, Stompin' Tom Connors, Wilf Carter (aka Montana Slim), and Don Messer. And don't forget Hank Snow.

Canadians are somewhat paranoid. We are greatly influenced by our southern neighbor. And we are divided in our feelings. Some dispise Americans for their perceived arrogance. Others love them. Still others just envy them because they get all the newest gadgets and innovations several years before we do. And then there's American grocery stores where the food selections, especially for prepared foods such as cookies, crackers, snacks, etc. greatly outstrip the relatively few choices in Canadian stores. But increasingly, or so I'd like to believe, we tend to think of Americans as our neighbors and our friends. We grieved with America after 9/11. And although our military resources are few, they work with America to stop the spread of terrorism.

But we are not America's puppet. Every once in a while our views and America's differ. And so far, we have been able to remain friends and allies despite our occasional differences of opinion. We enjoy the mutual benefits of free trade and embrace much of American pop culture, occasionally sprinkling it with some of our own. We are more than friends or allies. We are compatriots. We relish the longest undefended border, but we are not interested in tearing it down anytime soon, believing that good fences make better neighbors.

Some of us, such as myself, are more "americanized" than others, but all of us take pride in our own rich heritage and embrace at least one French sentiment: "Vive La Difference!"

Copyright © 2003 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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