As it has with numerous other nationalities, American cinema has painted the picture of the typical Canadian as they are seen by the rest of the world. In their view, Canadians are polite, helpful, generous, cheerful, hard-working, well-educated, well-off, liberal, pacifistic, environmentally conscious, patriotic, hockey fans but most definitely not Americans!
However, few Canadians actually conform to this stereotype. Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Toronto and Vancouver are among the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. So, in Canada, people often have little in common with each other. Despite its diverse racial mix, Canada isn’t a universal melting pot where all cultures meld together to the point of no distinction. Rather, Canada is a cultural mosaic. The country’s multicultural approach places importance on the distinct cultural backgrounds of each and every one of its inhabitants thereby not allowing them to fade away. Therefore, Canada is more accurately described not as a homogenous nation but as a collection of different peoples and cultures coexisting on a single country.
Canada prides itself on its lack of class system as the distinctions and pretensions commonly found in other countries cannot be found there. Nonetheless, Canadian society isn’t classless. While status is usually based on economic and behavioural factors, not familial ones, it is as important in Canada as it is anywhere else. Although there may be no aristocracy or ‘old school tie’ barriers to success, meaning almost anyone, however humble their origins, can fight their way to the top, old money and political alliances are still important and there remain a number of barriers that even vast amounts of new money cannot breach.
Their southern neighbours
Despite the fact the vast majority of Canadians have European ancestry, modern Canadian lifestyles, unsurprisingly, have more in common with those of Americans than anyone from across the atlantic.
However, aside from lifestyle, Canadians have little in common with their southern neighbours. Indeed, Canadians go out of their way to emphasise the differences between themselves and Americans and don’t much appreciate being mistaken for them. Of course, it doesn’t help that the US is Canada’s biggest trading partner and so exerts great influence on the Canadian economy. In a much-quoted speech from 1969, the then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, remarked “Living next to the US is like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt”. Equally, one sure way of making yourself unpopular with Canadians is to say ‘America’ when referring to what they usually know as ‘the States’. As Canada is part of ‘the Americas’, Canadians don’t want the US to lay sole claim to this title.
Canada has also provided us with some important inventions including Trivial Pursuit (not many people know that), instant mash-potato, parkas, zips, snowmobiles (no surprise there), ice hockey and (more surprisingly and to the great pain of many Americans) basketball. Canadians have also made significant contributions toward various scientific innovations and discoveries such as the electron microscope and insulin. It is also worth mentioning Canadians were the original founders of Greenpeace (Vancouver, 1970). In other words, the world would be a much poorer place without Canadians (and zips).
The weather is a hot topic conversation among Canadians. For most of the year, much of Canada is frozen solid so many spend the majority of their time indoors trying to keep warm (hence their invention of Trivial Pursuit). Nevertheless, numerous Canadians revel in their winters and turn the weather to their advantage. They love outdoor life, have a thriving winter sports industry and spend the summers hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and boating. Although most live in cities, the great outdoors has a major influence on most Canadians' lives. They are passionate conservationists and have introduced many environmental and recycling schemes.
Life in Canada isn’t always a bed of roses - it has its problems. One which has been festering for some time now is the rights and treatment of its indigenous people, namely the Inuits and Native Americans, now collectively referred to by the politically correct term ‘First Nation’ people. Like the natives in every country ‘discovered’ by Europeans, First Nation people were treated abominably. First, they were ‘persuaded’ to part with their land, then their traditions and finally their lifestyle.
In 1999 the Canadian government granted around 800,000 square miles (2M km2) of the Northwestern Territories to the Inuits as a separate, autonomous territory called Nunavut (‘our land’). However, although this deal included the eviction of all non-Inuit-owned businesses and granted them both control of previously federal agencies and payments totalling $500m plus interest, it wasn’t as generous as it may seem. It forced the Inuits to renounce any claim of direct ownership of most of the territory, including the offshore gas and oil exploration areas.
Canada’s other major concern is the debate over the future of Quebec. There’s an ancient animosity between French and English speaking Canadians. The Québécois were party to a war with the British that culminated in their defeat in Quebec City in 1759. However, despite the triumph of british forces, Quebec remained a stronghold for French nationalism and in the early ’60s, French-Canadian Québécois, fed up with their almost second-class status, formed a separatist movement demanding Quebec’s autonomy. The campaign forced two referendums (or ‘neverendums’ as they’re frequently called) on the question of Quebec’s separation. The motion was only narrowly defeated in both (although a poll showed over 75 percent wanted to remain part of Canada).
Consequently, some English-speaking Canadians have a jaded view of their French-speaking counterparts and the French language more generally, with many believing it to do more damage than good. In an effort to appease the French-Canadians, the government made French Quebec’s primary language and Canada officially bilingual, printing all official documents in both languages. Nevertheless, the issue of Quebec’s autonomy is unlikely to disappear.
The pride of Canada
Now for the good bit. Canada is generally considered one of the most open, liberal, and stable societies in the world. It has a thriving economy, substantial domestic and foreign capital investment, political stability, abundant natural resources, steady population growth and a skilled workforce. Its renowned for its unspoilt environment, rich flora and fauna, friendly people, open spaces, sports facilities, cultural diversity, and excellent transportation, education, healthcare and local governance. Canada is one of the least corrupt and safest countries in the world.
Although immigrants may criticise some aspects of Canadian life, most feel privileged to live there and are proud to call themselves Canadian. In fact, immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds firmly consider Canada a ‘promised land’ and a great place to live and raise a family.