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Oh, Canada. My Misrepresented Land!

May 17, 2014
Hockey Hall of Fame

Hockey Hall of Fame, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The other day I plucked a novel off my bookshelf and curled up on the couch to while away a rainy afternoon reading a story by one of my favourite authors. I noticed (in the ‘Acknowledgements’) that the author had extended her thanks to an individual who had taken her to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and Maple Leaf Gardens (former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey team) in Toronto, and for ‘showing [her] more of the warmth and beauty of Canada than [she] already knew’. Apparently she had chosen to create a hero who was a French-Canadian NHL player. As a Canadian who thinks Canada and Canadians get short-shrift in popular fiction, I was pleased that ‘one of our own’ was going to be featured in a novel by a New York Times Bestselling author. That is, until I began to read the book.

Like so many Americans, this author did not seem to understand – or incorporate into her writing – the fact that Canada is a huge country (second only in size only to Russia, and larger by a small percentage than the United States) with ten distinct provinces and three territories (similar in concept to the 50 ‘states’ that make up the United States of America). Throughout the book she referred to a small lake ‘in Canada’ (as the central point of reference for the area where the hero was from); what she neglected to include was the fact that the lake is located in the Gatineau region of the province of Quebec. Considering there are more than three million lakes ‘in Canada’, skimping on the specific location would have made it extremely difficult for most readers to properly orient themselves in the story. Why leave this important geographical detail out?

How Many Americans View Canada

How Many Americans View Canada – as one big clump of land to the north with no specific identifiable provinces or territories

She also mentioned several Canadian cities throughout the telling of the story, and in every single case she neglected to mention the province they are in (e.g., ‘Calgary, Canada’). I’ve noticed this same sort of circumvention in American television shows and news stories – whenever something takes place in Canada, they simply refer to the city and the country and leave out the province or territory (for example, ‘Toronto, Canada’, ‘Whitehorse, Canada’). I find this very odd. You don’t hear or read about cities in the United States being referred to that way (e.g., ‘Los Angeles, USA’, ‘Houston, USA’; it’s always ‘Los Angeles, California’, ‘Boston, Massachusetts’ – and regardless of the country of origin of the story ‘USA’ is usually left out as if it’s assumed that everyone knows what country these places are in).

The Real Canada

The Real Canada – 10 distinct Provinces and 3 Territories

No EhAnother thing that really irked me was the way the author wrote a significant number of the hero’s lines of dialogue – she insisted on putting ‘eh?’ at the end of many of his sentences. Every time I saw it, I wanted to scratch it out with a pen! While some French Canadians do use this figure of speech, it is not all that common. In fact it is one of those ridiculous stereotypes (instilled in the public consciousness by comedians who think it’s funny to satirize a particular nationality or ethnic group by over-emphasizing some peculiar ‘quirk’) that drives most Canadians crazy! I actually had an aspiring writer – a member of a critique group I moderate who lives in Florida – email me not long ago to ask for clarification on ‘the correct way to use the vernacular eh?. ’ She had included an example sentence [with ‘eh?’ at the end] and wanted to know if it was ‘an appropriate use of Canadian talk’.  I was blunt and unyielding in my reply – I told her: DON’T DO IT!).

I will not deny that there are some Canadians who end sentences with a casual ‘eh?’ (or use it in conversation as a short form for ‘What do you think?’) but there are probably as many Canadians (and Americans and Australians and Europeans) who insert ‘You know?’, ‘Huh?’, ‘Okay?’ or ‘You reckon?’ at the end of sentences (and/or scatter ‘Um’, ‘Uh’, and ‘Like’ throughout their conversations). You certainly don’t want to read a story with those sorts of euphemisms peppered throughout dialogue!

The (Fictional) McKenzie BrothersTo be honest, I have lived in Canada for 60 years and met thousands upon thousands of people and I don’t recall a single one ever using ‘eh?’ at the end of a sentence! Bob and Doug Mackenzie (the fictional Canadian brothers from ‘The Great White North’, developed for the comedy show SCTV) aside, we don’t speak that way! (And while we’re on the subject of language, although French is our second ‘official’ language, only about 20% of Canadians are actually French-first speaking; 60% are English-first and the remainder primarily speak any one of almost fifty languages including Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Punjabi, Cantonese, Arabic, Tagalong, Mandarin, Portuguese and more than two dozen Aboriginal dialects.  If you put 100 Canadians and 100 Americans in a room together, you would be hard pressed to figure out who was who).

BC Desert

Desert in southern British Columbia

Another perverted view many Americans have of Canada is that the entire country is covered in ice and snow year round. Customs agents often tell stories of visitors from the US arriving at crossings in the middle of July dressed in parkas, with skis on their roof racks, as if they expect to encounter a sudden glacial wall of ice and snow at the border! It’s shocking that so many people living right next door to us know little or nothing about our climate.  While it’s true that 27% of Canada falls with the Sub Arctic/Arctic climate zone, the other 73% is a mix of Boreal, Temperate, Grassland, and even Semi-Desert (only 2% … but, still, we have a desert in southern British Columbia).  The largest state in the USA is Alaska – which means almost 18% of the country is SubArctic/Arctic – yet you don’t hear Canadians (or Europeans, Australians, etc.) suggesting that the USA is covered with ice and snow! Personally, I cannot fathom this kind of ignorance!

Summer In Ontario

Summer In Ontario

Temperatures in some areas of Canada (like Southern Ontario, where I live) can soar into the mid 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) for up to three months during the summer, and we’ve had some winters with almost no snow at all. (NOTE: Canada converted to the metric system a couple of decades ago, so perhaps some of our more ‘clueless’ neighbours don’t yet understand that ‘temperatures in the 30s’ [in Celsius] is the same as ‘temperatures in the 90s’ [in Fahrenheit]). It’s not unusual for parts of the eastern seaboard of the US (and as far west as Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) to actually have worse winter weather than we experience in many parts of Canada, especially southern Ontario and Quebec and western British Columbia. (NOTE: while the 49th parallel is considered the ‘dividing line’ between Canada and the US, a significant portion of both Ontario and Quebec and the Atlantic provinces [New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland] are geographically south of that latitude – in fact, they’re actually parallel to or more southerly than the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa; the southern-most point in Ontario is actually in line with northern California, Nevada and Utah).

Toronto

Toronto

There are lots of other misrepresentations or misunderstandings about Canada. I don’t have the space to list them all here but suffice it to say we are very similar to – and on equal footing with – our American neighbours when it comes to language, culture, entertainment, technology, medicine, education, fashion, music … and just about anything else you can think of. While we have only about 10% of the total population of the US (35 million compared to 315 million), our top ten cities are as modern and populated as the top 35 cities in the US (while we don’t have any cities the size of New York or Los Angeles, Toronto is equivalent in population to Chicago, Montreal to Philadelphia, Calgary to Dallas, Ottawa to Austin, Edmonton to San Francisco, Winnipeg to Boston, and Vancouver to Portland).

CanadarmSome of the world’s most popular and/or (in)famous actors have come from Canada – including Ryan Gosling, Jim Carrey, Donald and Keifer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Perry, Dan Ackroyd, Ryan Reynolds, William Shatner, and Eric MacCormack. We’ve also produced a huge range of musical talents – Celine Dion, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Sum41, Barenaked Ladies, Rush, Neil Young, Nickleback. And let’s not forget that Canadians invented quite a few miraculous products that have changed the world, such as AM Radio, IMAX, the telephone, the zipper, Pablum, basketball, SONAR, the Blackberry, the electron microscope, and the Canadarm.

All in all, we’re a pretty damn great nation and we deserve a great deal more respect and acknowledgement than we often get in the foreign media and from people who are too lazy or too arrogant to take the time to find out more about us.  I for one am proud to be a Canadian on … the other side of 55.

CanadaQuote

 

19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2014 7:37 pm

    All excellent points, Margo. When we lived overseas, some people who were from India told us they had been to Canada and didn’t think they would go there again because they had ‘done Canada’. I thought maybe they had done a cross country tour, but no, they had been to Toronto.

    Of course, we think we have ‘done India’ just because we have been to Delhi, Mumbai, Agra and Jaipur. In reality, we haven’t seen much of India either!

    • May 27, 2014 9:47 pm

      I’ve been to the east coast and the west but I’d never even dream of saying I’ve ‘done Canada’ (my guess is I’ve ‘done’ maybe 2% of it!) The world and the countries in it are much, much bigger than we realize!

  2. May 24, 2014 5:11 pm

    I have the awful feeling that the reason many Americans have no clue about Canada is that many Americans have no clue about geography, period. Once, when visiting some relatives, we queried two teenage second cousins about countries in South America. They looked at us as though we had asked about aliens from space. Absolutely no clue! (Nor did they care.)

    In terms of regional similarities, the US states, if grouped, are much closer to the nature of the Canadian provinces – even if most of us here in the states don’t know where they are.

    • May 24, 2014 6:11 pm

      Geography education has gone to hell in a handbasket throughout North America. I read a report not that long ago that said a significant number of Canadian University students couldn’t identify most of the world’s continents (never mind countries); at the same time, 50% of American senior high school students couldn’t find New York on a map, and less than 40% knew where Iraq and Afghanistan were (despite having troops stationed there for almost a decade). It’s very sad (and a bit frightening!)

      • May 24, 2014 6:52 pm

        To quote baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra:
        “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

  3. May 22, 2014 1:00 am

    Love it!! I hail from Toronto and I agree with ‘Let’s Cut the Crap’!! You said it all and did a great job!! Had relatives in the States on my dad’s side and would go to visit when we were younger and they didn’t gave a clue about their northern neighbours, yet we knew all 52 States and their capital cities! I too am tired of feeling like the poor cousin’s from the far north! Good job!!

    • May 22, 2014 9:24 am

      What ‘gets’ me is that we had to study the history and geography of the US in school but they don’t appear to study or know anything (much) about Canada. Don’t they even look at a MAP??!?!?

      • May 22, 2014 11:12 am

        EXACTLY!!!!!!! We study everything about their country and they think we live in Igloos!!! Nope, don’t think they even look at a map!!!!

      • May 22, 2014 11:14 am

        EXACTLY!!!! We were taught in school everything about our southern neighbours, but they still think we live in Igloo’s!!!! And nope, don’t think they even look at a map!!!

      • May 22, 2014 12:12 pm

        Canada is one big-ass country! Don’t know how they could possibly miss it!

  4. jeansansum permalink
    May 21, 2014 12:07 am

    Hello, Margo

    I don’t know how I got this post from you, but I would like to reprint it in my weekly newsletter, The Tale Spinner, which I have been publishing from New Westminster for the past 19 years.

    Did I subscribe to your blog? I admit my short-term memory is getting shorter, and I have a hazy memory of reading a post from you about owls nesting in your trees and driving all other nesting birds out. Was that you? I am a little tired of this memory loss, but can’t complain too much because I am on the other side of 90.

    I think that Americans have little knowledge of Canada, while Canadians know all too much about the US. The elephant may disregard the mouse next door, but the mouse is very aware of what the elephant does, because it can have a devastating effect on its tiny neighbour.

    Would you mind if I reprint your article?

    Regards,

    Jean Sansum

    • May 21, 2014 6:19 am

      I didn’t write an article about owls, but I have written about hawks and hummingbirds! You may well have subscribed to my blog from one of those! In any case, I’d be pleased to have you reprint my post in your newsletter. All the best to you!

  5. May 19, 2014 2:25 am

    I’m from Kansas, the most maligned state in America….and I couldn’t care less. Talk about weather! Blistering hot in the summer, arctic cold in the winter. Even worse out west around Colby and Goodland. Missus was born and raised in Montreal, the “ehs” can be pretty frequent there. Have relations in Toronto, even know where Dawson and Shefferville are. Not bad for a knuckledragger that barely made it out of high school. I couldn’t care less what others think of where I live, their loss not mine. Might I suggest you adopt the same attitude?

    • May 19, 2014 10:25 am

      Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s just that when I see or hear people talking as if we Canadian are just northern ‘bumpkins’, it gets my blood boiling. Their ignorance does not amuse me!

  6. May 18, 2014 11:35 am

    Nothing left to say. You’ve said it all and well. Yay, Canada.

    • May 18, 2014 12:13 pm

      Thanks. I just get so tired of feeling like the ‘poor cousins from the far north’!

      • May 18, 2014 5:49 pm

        I recall many years ago, a client from the U.S. was due for a meeting at my company on a Friday (and wanted to make a weekend of it) not too far down the road from you. He called to ask about the weather because he wanted to bring his equipment and get in some skiing in Edmonton. :-)

      • May 18, 2014 6:16 pm

        I’ve had Americans – when they hear I’m from ‘near Toronto’ ask if I know ‘so and so from Vancouver’ – as if they’re right next door and everyone knows everyone. The ignorance of some people is appalling!

      • May 19, 2014 7:21 am

        *nods*

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