Being Canadian: A How to Guide

So you want to be a Canadian. I mean I can’t really blame you, most people would. Here is an introductory guide to help get you acclimated to your new hockey watching, syrup swilling, free healthcare receiving life.

A Brief History

Disclaimer: The majority of this section is based on things I actually paid attention to in school. If you want a history lesson, read a book.

Originally settled by Vikings, later settled by the French, and consequently settled and/or conquered by the British, Canada was eventually founded following a rather anti-climactic agreement with Britain that probably went something like this:

Sir John A. MacDonald: “Hey Britain, let us be our own country”

Queen Victoria: “Okay fine, but only if you keep my face on your money”

There it is folks, 1867, the Dominion of Canada was born. This was followed by 45 or so years of French-English tensions about who would get to start the first poutine franchise and other general niceties leading up to World War One. Due to the whole Queen on our money thing, we didn’t really get a say in this one. Gavrilo kills Franz and all of a sudden a couple hundred thousand Canucks are on a boat going to fight the Germans. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in pure bad-assery (let’s attribute that one to the Vikings). During WWI, Canadian troops became known to both the Allies and the enemy as Stormtroopers (minus the whole Force-choking dude in the cape leading us). We fought and won battles no one else could (look up the battle of Vimy Ridge) and were all around about as clutch as Jordan Eberle with 5 seconds to go (we’ll get to that).

One great depression and fanatical guy with a mustache later and it’s World War Two. Again, Canadians held their own. We made up for only having one beach to conquer by steamrolling through it and capturing Juno Beach faster than either the Americans or the British captured theirs, opening the doors to mainland Europe for the Allied armies. 

Over the course of the next 20-25 years with the help of a bow-tie wearing gentleman by the name of Lester B. Pearson, Canada would; be instrumental in founding the United Nations (you’re welcome world), decide we wanted a new flag, and create universal health care for all citizens.

The 70’s and 80’s consisted of us starring in the movie Argo, Pierre Trudeau creating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Montreal and Calgary hosting the Olympics, and Paul Henderson sticking it to the Soviets (again, we will get to that). During this time Canada also fell in love with Gretzky, said goodbye to him as well (Sorry Oilers fans, it didn’t really get any better from there did it?) and saw him pass to Lemieux to yet again stick it to the Soviets (seeing a trend here?).

The 90’s saw a Canadian team win the World Series of Baseball, our first female Prime Minister, and the forgotten child of our country get recognized as a territory. I’m looking at you, Nunavut.

As for Y2K, Canada wins our first hockey gold medal in 50 years, Steve Nash kicks ass in the NBA and Stephen Harper is elected Prime Minister in 2004. Okay I guess 2 out of 3 isn’t so bad.

2010 starts with a bang in Vancouver. I defy any Canadian to watch the following video and not get at least a few chills:

Lather, rinse, repeat in Sochi, throw in a new Prime Minister, son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, and here we are. 2016, where maple syrup is still plentiful, the country is still beautiful and the Toronto Maple Leafs still blow chunks. Good to know some things stay the same. 

Hockey

Canada has many great athletes spanning across all sorts of sports both past and present. We cheer them on, loudly and patriotically, but none will ever compare to what hockey can do to this country. It’s no coincidence that even when American NHL teams win the Stanley Cup, the rosters are filled with Canadians. All 7 Canadian teams have huge fan bases that eat sleep and breathe hockey. The one thing that can unite Habs and Leafs fans? Watching our boys don the Maple Leaf to face off against the world’s best. I have mentioned them all already, but there are 4 essential moments every Canadian must know.

1972 – “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

1987 – “He shoots, he scores! Mario Lemieux!”

2009 – “Can you believe it!”

2010 – “Sidney Crosby, the Golden Goal!”

Learn these well, make up a story about how you were having a pint of Molson at a bar in Medicine Hat when they happened. This will make for some excellent camouflage when blending in with your fellow Canadians. Nothing can bring such joy to this country as one of these moments. I mean really, look at this graph showing water usage in Edmonton during the gold medal game in Vancouver:

Water usage during Gold Medal Game

The only thing louder than the cheers across the country was the collective “Ahhhhhs” as an entire nation is no longer required to hold it in.

Stereotypes

Typically stereotypes are misunderstood generalizations of a population based on inaccurate or outdated information. Apparently no one ever told this to a Canadian. Somehow as a people we have managed to embrace our stereotypes and even do our part to enforce them. Hockey is of course number one, but there are also many others we adhere too possibly without even realizing it.

Being too nice

Canadians are known around the world for “sorry”, “excuse me” and “thank you”. American TV shows like How I Met Your Mother like to poke fun at this, and of course we are too nice to say anything about it. I was about to get defensive about the scene where a character bumps into a Canadian on purpose and the Canadian apologizes and offers her a donut. That was until I realized that has actually happened to me on several occasions. In order to blend in with your Canadians surroundings, the following is recommended:

  • Hold doors open for long, even awkward amounts of time for the people behind you
  • Apologize for being in the way of the person who clearly walked right into you
  • Insist it was your fault when they too apologize
  • When in a store that does not have the thing you wished to purchase, make sure to buy a pack of gum or something. You know, incase they might think you stole something if you leave without buying anything.

Being Immune to Cold

Whether out of biological immunity or pure stubbornness, Canadians settled and continue to flourish in a part of the world most of our species would deem to be uninhabitable. There’s a saying that Canada has four seasons. Almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. New England was recently hit by a “blizzard” that was supposed to set records for snowfall. Cities, transit and businesses shut down in anticipation of the storm. In Canada we simply call that “January”. A few years ago Kingston was hit by a blizzard equal to or even more intense than the so called storm of the decade that “ravaged” the Eastern seaboard. Not only was my university not even closed down, I actually saw a student walking to class wearing shorts.

Blending in on cold days in the Great White North will take some practice. Start by purchasing a parka. Now keep said parka in your closet and save it for really cold days (let’s say below -20 Celsius). Now purchase what you would normally call a fall jacket. Accessorize your fall jacket with a toque and some Canada mittens and there you have it, your winter ensemble. Essential to survival in Canada is to celebrate the first day of Spring (10 Celsius or higher) by wearing summer clothing such as shorts, t-shirts and skirts to welcome the arrival of warmth.

False Stereotypes

Many of our stereotypes are very true. These ones are not:

  • No, I do not know Timmy in Vancouver. That is on the other side of the country, has upwards of 2 million people, and I have never even been there. Be prepared to answer questions like these whenever you visit places like Florida or Buffalo
  • Sled dogs? Obviously, I keep them leashed up right outside my igloo. (If you couldn’t sense the sarcasm in that, then I will explain. I do not have sled dogs. Or an igloo. I live in a house and my dogs have never been capable of taking me to school). If you are surprised by the lack of sled dogs, I suggest you visit the Yukon. It’s lonely and could use some new friends.
  • I am a hockey fanatic. I can name the entire roster from 2010 and 2014 as well as what Phil Kessel had for dinner last night (it was probably a cookie). Surprisingly, I never played hockey. This is more common than people would think. Therefore if you come from somewhere like Jamaica and would rather bobsled, you can do that too. Playing hockey is not mandatory, just strongly advised.

Music

Many Canadian singers and bands have gone on to achieve great things. Being Canadian requires you to know the words to at least a few songs by each of the following:

The Tragically Hip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QE2joQsWXJg)

Rush (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Tq-UsaRchI)

Bryan Adams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f06QZCVUHg)

Great Big Sea (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7Bsb-8pxG8)

Our Lady Peace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1Z89zW-8sY)

Stompin’ Tom Connors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxJvrD80nJ4)

Sadly, we must also accept our poorer contributions to the world of music. So in stereotypical fashion, I apologize on behalf of our country for both Nickelback and Justin Bieber. You can keep them America, we don’t want them either.

Fashion

Step one, find your nearest Roots store. Step two, buy a pair of sweatpants. Step three, accessorize your sweatpants with flannel shirts, cabin socks and woolen sweaters. Congratulations, you now blend in.

Travel

The only piece of advice you need is to put a Canadian flag on your backpack. This will attract Australians and fellow Canadians to drink beer with. It will also distinguish you from Americans.

Friendly Advice

As a Canadian, there are certain things you should know before you venture on out into the streets of this great nation.

  • Don Cherry is right. Just accept it, even when he’s wrong, he’s right. Just ask Ron MacLean
  • Jaywalking in Halifax will get a friendly wave from drivers. Jaywalking in Toronto will get you a not so friendly wave with only one finger.
  • A sure-fire way to start a conversation with a Canadian is to talk about the weather. From Vancouver to Halifax, if it’s raining, complain about it. If it’s snowing, comment on how much and whether or not said snow is suitable for making a snowman. If it’s sunny discuss your weekend cottaging plans or upcoming beach days.
  • Learn how to canoe. I mean properly. There is nothing worse than being stranded out in the middle of Elephant lake with a canoeing partner who couldn’t differentiate between a canoe and a kayak.
  • Most Quebecers speak English. If they live in Montreal and say that they don’t, they are probably just screwing with you.
  • The CFL has 3 downs. You may find this confusing, but as Tim Hicks wrote “We’ve got bigger balls and a longer field” as well.
  • Do not pronounce the second “t” in Toronto. It’s “trawna”. The second “t” is merely a trap to spot outsiders

Parting Words

There you have it, the beginner’s guide to being Canadian. For extra credit, I leave you with the following video tribute to all things small town Canadian.

Keep your stick on the ice.

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