What Does It Mean To Be Canadian?

Something huge happened in Canada…and I don’t care. On Saturday, August 20, 2016 at 8:30 PM, a third of the Canadian population of 35 million tuned in to our national broadcaster, CBC to watch a momentous event, one of those that in later years people will ask, “Where were you when…?”.

Tragically Hip’s last performance.

Several months ago, 52-year-old Gord Downie, the lead singer of the seminal Canadian band the Tragically Hip announced he had inoperable brain cancer and thus the band would embark on their final 11-date cross-country tour culminating in a live broadcast of the final show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario that was expected to be the most-watched Canadian program in history. For you non-Canadians, the Hip had minor success outside of Canada but at home are as beloved as the Beatles in England or Bruce Springsteen in the U.S. because in the minds of Canadians, they sang of distinctly Canadian places and experiences (or so a non-fan can gather). I have never enjoyed their music, like Springsteen a gutsy, earthy rock but featuring the distinctive voice of Downie which a friend likened to the vocal stylings of a goat. I do appreciate those who feel the impending loss of such an influence on their lives. What I don’t appreciate though is the suggestion that because I don’t like the Hip, I am somehow not a real Canadian…I (and several of my friends) have run across this sentiment, believe it or not and this is not the first time I’ve been accused of this offense. As someone who doesn’t appreciate the gentle nuances of Canada’s ‘national’ sport, hockey  (officially it’s lacrosse actually)…


…and the gastronomic pleasures of Canada’s ‘national’ (U.S.-owned) coffee shop Tim Horton’s…

Our U.S. owned ‘national’ treasure.

…I’ve been asked for the return of my Canadian citizenship on several occasions. This got me to thinking…what does it mean to be Canadian and as a traveler, how does the rest of the world see Canadians?

My favourite Canadian band, Rush!

The love (or lack thereof) of a band, sport or food does not make a citizen. Although I am a huge fan of one of the most popular Canadian bands ever (Rush), that alone doesn’t make me a Canadian as much as it makes any one of the millions who love them outside Canada Canadians. There are countless hockey fans in the U.S. but their love of the sport doesn’t make them even honorary Canadians. Italians might love coffee more than Canadians so don’t even get me started on that. I think what makes us Canadians (or Americans, or British, or…) is the attitude. When we show our attitude to those around us at home its comfortable because they often have the same basic attitude (this is called ‘frame of reference’) but when we travel, THAT’s when our attitude becomes obvious to others (and ourselves, hopefully) and in my admittedly limited travels, here are the things set Canadians apart:

Blue Jays Martin makes catches near Astros bench
Russell Martin making a tough catch.

1. We’re tough. Living in a climate that can span -40 degrees to +40 degrees (Celsius) in 6 months (and I’ve seen a 40 degree change in a single day) tends to toughen the skin and spirit. The fact that Canadians worship hockey, a sport that can only be played if the temperature is below zero should tell you something. If you look at some of the toughest baseball players (the sport I DO love), Canadians top the list: Russell Martin, Justin Morneau, Brett Lawrie…guys that will run through a wall to make a play.


2. We’re polite. Of course, this has become a virtual national joke. When Canadian Justin Bieber (who we’re all on the fence about including, by the way) released a song called Sorry, everyone said, “Of course, he’s Canadian!”. Virtually everywhere I’ve traveled, you can often tell the Americans (sorry, neighbour!) because they will be the loudest and sadly the rudest ones around and when asked if we are Americans, there is an audible sigh of relief when we tell them we’re Canadians. I’m not sure WHY we are this way although there is undoubtedly a treatise or two on the subject…I’m just glad we are. It makes the world more acceptable and makes us more acceptable to the world, which leads me to…

Canada Syria Refugees
Canadians rally to let refugees IN, rather than keep them OUT.

3. We’re accepting. This is tied intrinsically with politeness but as the world gets ever smaller through technology and travel, Canada has opened its arms to refugees when others wouldn’t. We never saw the red threat that was Cuba and maintained good relations for the past 60 years (inadvertently giving us a beautiful, relatively untouched and affordable vacation spot for the last 25 years). We need to embrace our differences and learn to get along. This fragile orb can’t afford World War III.

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug
A campfire and friends…typical way to celebrate our independence.

4. We’re not vociferously nationalistic. I think this stems from 2. and 3. Patriotic holidays (Canada Day) are spent taking it easy with some fireworks at the end, maybe. There are no parades, marches and excessive flag-waving. This non-nationalism is never more apparent than when I travel. We’re proud of Canada but we’re willing to admit that there are other places in the world that might be doing it better. My wish in fact is that Canada adopt some of these ways so we can be better…but not the best.


There are many more traits that come to mind: intelligent, giving, agreeable, law-abiding but my point is that I’m proud to say I’m Canadian. Many Canadians attach a Canadian flag to their luggage when they travel so others know they can be approached without reproach. This affirmation says everything you need to know about Canadians.




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