Another Amusing Take on Canadian Politeness



Similar to the “Canadian Standoff” cartoon by Roz Chast in an issue of the New Yorker from this past January, the above illustration by Robert Leighton in the August 5, 2013 issue of that magazine pokes good-natured fun at the Canadian penchant for politeness.  Not really a bad reputation to have though.

Imagining Canada: NY Times Photo Archive on Canada

Imagining Canada

I learned a lot by focusing on Quebec-themed posts over the past month.  With June now here, time to shift gears for a while back to good old random Canadiana.

For a nice transition, here’s a sampling from the recently published Imagining Canada: A Century of Photographs Preserved By The New York Times, a book I obtained shortly before last month’s trip to Montreal.  Over the past century The New York Times has covered many developments in Canada and Imagining Canada showcases some of the photographs that accompanied that coverage.  The images in the book and below only scratch the surface of the extensive archive acquired from the Times in 2009 by Canadian businessman Christopher Bratty and selections from which have been highlighted in the long-running “Photo of the Day” feature on TORO magazine’s website.

The photos are grouped by subject in the book, with each chapter accompanied by a brief, thoughtful essay on Canadian culture by notable figures.  The introductory essay by editor William Morassutti reflects on the relationship between Canada and the U.S. and the fact that, even if below the radar, many people in the States have been paying close attention to Canada for quite a while.

RCMP in Banff 1941

RCMP in Banff 1941

Leafs vs. Rangers 1966

Leafs vs. Rangers 1966

Deanna Durbin 1948

Deanna Durbin 1948

Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax 1919

Royal Canadian Regiment in Halifax 1919

Notre-Dame Basilica de Montreal

Notre Dame Basillica Montreal_edited-1

Quebec Month / Installment 15

Even to a casual observer of Quebec culture, the predominance of the Catholic church, at least historically, in the province is evident in many ways, not the least of which is the prominence in many towns of a centrally located Catholic church and the widespread naming of streets and other places for saints.  The Notre-Dame Basilica de Montreal, an impressive gothic structure situated in the Vieux-Montreal area of that city, is perhaps the crown jewel of all these.  My lovely wife took these two images of the intricately ornate interior of the Basilica.

notre dame basillica 3

What’s Up With Canada’s Currency?

2012 Polymer Series Notes

2012 Polymer Series Notes


Amusing article (“Canada’s New Banknotes Strike Some as Loonie“) in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal on the recent switch in Canada from paper to polymer currency.  The principal reasons given by the Bank of Canada, the official issuer of the currency, for adopting the new bills are  durability and prevention of counterfeiting.  I’ve previously remarked on the creativity of the Royal Canadian Mint with its wide variety of designs for the country’s coinage and I find it interesting how Canada has done away with the dollar bill in favor of the dollar coin, an effort that has been tried in the States but not done very well here.  This year also marks the first year that the Canadian 1 cent coin will not be minted.

In any event, it seems that among other complaints about the new banknotes is that in certain conditions the notes will melt, notwithstanding the Bank of Canada’s assurances to the contrary.   The WSJ article details some other related mishaps.  What I find more intriguing  from an American perspective — and even with an understanding of the historical connection to the British monarchy — is the continuation of Queen Elizabeth II’s image on one side of Canada’s current 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, 50¢, $1 and $2 coins (and the penny while it was minted) as well as the $20 note .   (I plan to return to that peculiarity in a future post.)

Image Credit:  Bank of Canada

The Pride of the Mounties

Mountie On the Rapids

Ask most Americans about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) — more commonly called the Canadian Mounties — and you’ll frequently hear comments indicating a generally high regard for the Mounties and their association with the frontier derring do.  With their iconic red serge coats and dimpled Stetson hats, the public image of the Mounties has had a warm reception in the American imagination, even if over the years, like many police forces, they have had their ups and downs and share of controversies.

My early introduction to the Mounties included watching as a kid countless Dudley Do Right cartoons, which presented an amiable if bumbling caricature of a Mountie, and educational reels from school about the valor of the Mounties.  Slightly later came Monty Python’s humorous send up of another Canadian icon, the lumberjack, which featured the good-natured Mounties providing a back up chorus.  Probably because of all these sources I almost always thought of the Mounties as a wilderness fighting force, and did not fully understand their broader policing role.

The idea that the Mounties “always got their man” also stuck with me from childhood.  Fittingly, that unofficial motto was attributed to the Mounties by an American publication (at least according to the Wikipedia entry on the RCMP).  The RCMP as we know it today resulted from the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which first patrolled the Northwest Territories starting in the late 1800s, and the country’s Dominion Police.   As testament to the acclaim enjoyed by the Mounties, they were frequent heroic subjects of popular American books, pulp fiction, magazine stories, radio shows and movies from the 1920s through the 1960s.  A sampling of related pop culture images is collected below.

Quotable Canada: Women in Combat, Skiing the Gaspe Peninsula, Arctic Exploration, and Common Law Relationships

Some notable quotes from U.S. and Canadian media I’ve come across in the past week or so:

“I can assure you that a mother misses a son as much as a father grieves for a daughter.  Grief has no gender”  — Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island resident Tim Goddard, commenting on combat roles for men and women, in Ian Austen, “Debate on Combat Roles Is Familiar in Canada,” NY Times, Jan. 25, 2013 

“The lucky ones got to sleep under a table.  You were so exhausted you didn’t care.”   — Montrealer Sharon Braverman, commenting on the initial Traversee de la Gaspesie, the weeklong 100-mile plus cross-country skiing trek across Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula in Tim Neville, “Quebec on Skis,” NY Times, Jan. 27, 2013

“I think it’s crazy.  Aren’t we far enough north already?”   — Deborah Iqualik, of Resolute, Nunavut, on the efforts each year (called the “silly season” by locals) by adventurers far and wide to reach the North Pole, in Margo Pfeiff, “‘If It’s Explorer Season, Why Can’t We Shoot Them?'”,  Up Here, Jan./Feb. 2013

“You’re in love, and all you think about is love and having kids, and you come last.  So a lot of women don’t see it coming.”Johanne Lapointe, of Montreal, commenting on Quebec’s  approach to common law relationships in light of a recent Canadian Supreme Court decision, in Ingrid Peritz & Sean Gordon, “Quebec is a Laboratory When It Comes to Domestic Life'”, The Globe and Mail, Jan. 25, 2013

Amusing Twitter Posts from December

Twitter Logo White

Some random Twitter posts from December connected to Canada:

@nora_z_93 on Dec. 3:  One of the most dreadful experiences in life is waiting for the bus in canada during the winter. Trust me on this.

@YaBoiDave on Dec. 7: I have to go to canada this weekend. My goals: 1: complain about the bacon 2: overuse the term “ey” 3: befriend and or conquer a moose

@silasagna on Dec. 10: why do i hear goose outside of my window i don’t remember moving to canada

@robroche on Dec. 11: I know I should know better, but I still think it’s winter 365 days a year in Canada — After Maine ends: Polar Bears and Snow Mobiles.

@noahcgrove on Dec. 17:  Going to see the nutcracker tonight, hope the Alberta ballet isn’t a whole bunch of old men in cowboy boots on their tip toes.

@psysal on Dec. 18:  True Sounds of Canada: The gentle warble of a Loon ‘pon break of day.  The unmistakable clik of some weirdo clipping their nails on the bus.

@laurenonizzle  on Dec. 18: Newfoundland consumes about 30% of the bologna produced in Canada, despite having just 2% of the population.

@archiemc on Dec. 18:  BREAKING: Yellowknife, Iqaluit and Whitehorse all have a 100% chance of a white Christmas.

@NarikaXo on Dec. 26:  Everytime I do something odd or just random and funny everyone blames it on me being Canadian.

@austinc00per on Dec. 29: alsask.  what a clever name for a town on the alberta-sask border

Tilting, Newfoundland and Quieter Times

Tilting by Robert Mellin

As I was going through my bookshelf last week in preparation for our family’s annual potlatch exchange, I came across Robert Mellin’s Tilting:  House Launching, Slide Hauling, Potato Trenching, and Other Tales from a Newfoundland Fishing Village, which I obtained several years ago following one of my visits to Newfoundland but which I had only skimmed through at the time.  There is so much to like in this neat little book about the sparsely populated and very scenic fishing village of Tilting, which is located on Fogo Island off the northeast coast of Newfoundland and is now mostly inhabited by descendants of Irish settlers from the early 1700s.  (See here and here for earlier O’Canada Blog comments about Fogo Island.)  It’s difficult to classify this work by genre — its subject matter ranges across fishing village architecture, local history, oral stories, traditional farming and fishing techniques, and cultural studies.

Mellin, an architecture professor at McGill University, complements his studious observations with an impressive array of photographs (most his own), line drawings and maps, as well as commentary from longtime Tilting residents.  I particularly liked the following amusing remarks by resident Jim Greene on local visiting customs and the frowned upon city-style practice of asking people to remove their shoes upon entering the house:

“They don’t bother to knock — because everybody around here knows one another and they knows what’s in there and they knows what kind of a person they’re going to meet and — there’s no need of them knocking — I think that’s the reason.  .  .  . Nobody don’t want to take off their boots — We had several people comin’ in stopped out in the porch tryin’ to get off their boots — come on in, boy!

“You know Mark Foley?  He was away into St. John’s and I met him one day — I said, “Mark, you were gone.”  He said, “Yes, boy, I was into St. John’s and I had a spell takin’ off me boots. ” Why, that’s bullshit!  They’re imitating that crowd in St. John’s and that’s the reason — we’re going to be just like the crowd that’s in St. John’s and you got to do the same thing in their houses as they does in St. John’s — full of bull.  I had a pair of boots one time I couldn’t get off — what’ll I do then?  You know the kind of boots they are — they calls them “flits” and they calls them “unemployment boots” — them rubbers with a couple of laces at the top.  I bought a pair one time and I put them on — didn’t have much trouble to get them on — but in the evening when I went to get them off I couldn’t get them off.  I lay down on the floor and I hauled on them and everything and I couldn’t get them off — after a while I got them off, and I never put them on no more.  Another fellow down there, Billy Broaders, he’s dead now, he put a pair on one time he had to cut his off!  Well, if you’re going to their house with them boots on you have to turn around and come back — you couldn’t get in, could you?”

Amusing Twitter Posts from November

Some random Canada-related posts from the Twittersphere over the past month:

@RolfMargeit on Nov. 29:  I love getting the odd nice quebec bus driver

@HeyitsMauri on Nov. 28:  I’d move to Canada but they don’t have black Friday’s over there.  :/

@jpadamson on Nov. 27:  The fact that we don’t have mulled wine carts on our streets in Vancouver is a travesty.

@homieschapels on Nov. 26:  tbh i didn’t know canada and the U.S were separate countries until like the 6th grade don’t laugh at me

@cjbeltowski on Nov. 25:  People in Canada think I’m weird for putting ketchup on my poutine, people in the US think I’m weird for eating poutine

@ddale8 on Nov. 24:  There is just a crazy amount of Canadian-ness going on in Toronto right now, aw ya yup I seen it on the subway I’m tellin’ ya.

@VickyMeunier on Nov. 19: Oh man, the new mayor of Montreal is so funny when he speaks french!!!! xD

@iseestarsmusic on Nov. 18:  Let’s get wild Calgary!! First time here!!! Don’t let us down 😉 open it up!!! <3@TulipFootsteps on Nov. 17: Canada has crazy drivers.

@3provincecanoe on Nov. 17:  Fishing licenses in Saskatchewan – $80.  Nunavut? $40.  Remind me to never take a date out to SK, what a ripoff that place is

@roryledbetter on Nov. 17:  Canadian money is crazy! It looks like Monopoly Bucks! & I’ve been here 3 hours and somehow I already have $20 worth of coins in my pocket!

Celebrate . . . Canada Day!

Today, being July 1, is Canada Day.  I find it interesting — and a nice piece of symmetry on the calendar — that this year’s Canada Day falls on a Friday while America’s July 4 holiday falls on a Monday.  Because these holidays are marked by specific dates, in some years they fall in the middle of the week, which can make their celebration sometimes a little strange.  This year the holidays make for a splendid long weekend on both sides of our shared border — and I suppose for those few who are dual citizens, an even longer long weekend.  (For the diehard monarchists amongst us, there is even a possible future king and queen of the old British homeland in our midst on this side of the big pond this weekend!)

So, I thought a few quotes on Canada are in order for this day:

“Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong. And our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.” — Pierre Trudeau

“Canadians have an abiding interest in surprising those Americans who have historically made little effort to learn about their neighbour to the North.” — Peter Jennings

“In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations, it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir.” — Stuart Keate

“I had no idea Canada could be so much fun.” — Bruce Willis

The above quotes and a variety of others on Canada can be found at a wonderful compilation that is available at the following link:

(Photo Credit:  Ikluft, Wikimedia Commons)

Fete Nationale du Quebec

The Fete National du Quebec — the  National Holiday of Quebec — is today and Canadians, particularly Quebecers, are celebrating this Canadian public  holiday that originated in that province.  The holiday is sandwiched on the calendar between Victoria Day (the Monday before May 25) and Canada Day (July 1),  and coincides with the celebration of St. Jean-Baptiste Day, which dates back to the 1630s in Canada when the French explorers carried it over from France to Canada in the 1630s.

Among the festivities marking this occasion was a very nice reception organized by the Delegation du Quebec – Atlanta that was held in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, which I had the pleasure of attending late this afternoon.   The event also marked the upcoming departure of the exceptional and very gracious Ginette Chenard, who has very ably served as the Delegate for the Delegation du Quebec – Atlanta and whose presence will be missed by many Atlantans.   Vive la belle province!

Photo Credit: Montrealais c/o Wikimedia Commons

Music Spotlight: Neil Young and The Band

Robbie Robertson’s recent receipt of an Order of Canada award reminded me that I had not posted anything about music lately and that I’d been looking for an opportunity to comment on both Neil Young and The Band. 

One of those cultural semi-secrets about which many of us in the States are unaware is how much of what we consider to be American entertainment derives from Canadian performers.  Sticking just with music, notable Canadian performers with numerous fans in the States include not only Neil Young and The Band, but also Arcade Fire, Tragically Hip, Hidden Cameras, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Rakish Angles, Leonard Cohen, Shania Twain, Gordon Lightfoot, Celine Dion, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell and Matthew Barber, to name just a few.   But of all these, I have a special regard for the classic folk-rock sounds of Neil Young and The Band.

Although born in Toronto, Neil Young spent much of his teen years in Winnipeg before later taking up a long time residence in California.  While there are many things to appreciate about Young, his deep lyrics and the shades of knowing melancholy in his delivery are what stand out most for me.  So many of his songs — “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “Ohio,” “My My, Hey Hey,” “Helpless,” and “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” among others — stand up well in the test of time. It’s amazing that well after his initial rise to prominence in the 1960s this guy is still going strong all these many years later, even having released two new studio albums since 2009. 

It’s probably no coincidence that The Band also initially hit it big in the rock music scene in the 1960s, carrying a bright musical torch until their break up in 1976, which was famously captured in Martin Scorsese’s documentary of their valedictory concert in “The Last Waltz”.  While all but one of their members was Canadian, the one non-Canadian, Levon Helm, was hugely influential in that group as the rare  drummer with so much talent that he brought his Arkansas-twanged voice to bear as lead singer on two of the group’s most notable songs, “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”   Nevertheless, as with NHL teams, which count many “cross-over” countrymen from both sides of the border among their ranks, it’s fair to regard The Band as being as much a product of Canada as it is of the States.

The following video nicely features Young performing with The Band at The Last Waltz concert, with Joni Mitchell providing back up vocals.

Order of Canada Bestowed on 43 Recipients

This past Thursday 43 individuals received the honor of being named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony over which the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston,  presided.  The recipients included several people who we might consider to be high profile, such as the actor Michael J. Fox (who over the past decade has worked to focus research and attention on Parkinson’s disease through the Michael J. Fox Foundation), the musical artist Robbie Robertson (who was most notably a member of the rock group The Band), and Howie Meeker (a former pro hockey player and commentator).

However, I find more interesting and heartening the recognition bestowed on individuals with less fame who have strived over many years in an unsung manner to make a difference in so many fields.  These include Michel Bergeron of Quebec, Queb., who is an infectious disease specialist; Mary Jo Haddad, of Oakville, Ont., an advocate for children’s healthcare; Rita Mirwald of Saskatoon, Sask., a senior mining company executive; and Earl Muldon of Hazelton, B.C., a promoter and defender of the Gitxsan First Nations culture.

Full list of 2011 recipients as released by the Governor General’s office 

Victoria Day Ushers in Summer

Canadians today celebrate Victoria Day, a holiday that officially commemorates the birthday of Queen Victoria and acknowledges the reigning British monarch and the peculiar British monarchial connection to Canada.  Less formally and probably more significantly for most Canadians, it marks the start of summer across the country.  So, if we see the cars of numerous “snow birds” — obvious by their Canadian plates — heading north this month back to Canada, this may be part of the reason.

To Canadians everywhere, here’s hoping this Victoria Day is grand and your summer is full of pleasure!

Canada’s Enterprising Gold Rushers

The New York Times Magazine ran a fascinating article today about Yukon Territory residents Shawn Ryan and Cathy Wood, who are among those leading the charge for what is turning into another Canadian gold rush.  The soaring prices of gold have much to do with the heightened attention to  prospecting for this precious metal in that area of the North.  However, the entrepreneurial spirit with which Ryan and Wood have pursued their ventures may be as much of a contributing factor.  While the article’s author, Gary Wolf, who is also a contributing editor for Wired magazine, focuses most of his attention on their ups and downs at prospecting, I think the innovative resourcefulness of this couple is best summed up by the following excerpt:

“It is tough to be penniless in Dawson in the winter. Wood cleaned some houses and served as court bailiff when the judge came to town, but in February 1993, they were down to their last $5. At the employment center, Wood saw a notice for a job removing the snow from the roof of Diamond Tooth Gerties, the local casino, which opened for a brief winter season coinciding with a dog-sled race. The job was usually taken on by a team of local residents for thousands of dollars. Wood bid 500. Townspeople came out to see how the low bidders were going to do it. She and Ryan cleared the edges of the roof with shovels, then Ryan climbed to the top and jumped up and down like a monkey. Gravity did the rest. The expressions of surprise on the faces of the onlookers made Wood laugh. People in Dawson had to acknowledge that for people at the bottom of the status hierarchy — and there aren’t many rungs beneath mushroom picker — they had some unmistakable gifts.”

Link:  Gary Wolf, “Gold Mania in the Yukon,” NY Times Magazine (May 15, 2011) 

Photo Credit: Nate Cull

Voices of the Floods

Flooding in Lumsden, Manitoba (Photo Credit: David Stobbe, Reuters)

Although wreaking havoc and presenting immense challenges, natural disasters allow us to better maintain perspective on the things that should matter most.  The record-breaking floods now affecting many areas of Canada, including Manitoba, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, and the similar flooding to the south that is inundating major swaths of the Mississippi River valley serve as powerful reminders of nature’s force and our inability to bend it to our will.    In an article about the floods near Louisiana, the reporter James Byrne on aptly quoted from T.S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages”:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities – ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons, and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.

Flooding Near Bonnet Carre Spillway, Louisiana (Photo Credit: Brett Duke, Times Picayune)

The flooding also had me thinking about the experiences and emotions being shared by people north and south of our common border.   In that spirit, I surveyed a variety of stories about the widespread flooding and below is a small sampling of quotes I found interesting from affected individuals in Canada and the U.S.

It speaks to our spirit. Flooding is not pleasant . . . People put their best foot forward and deal with it.  People tend to stay. This doesn’t drive people out of communities. If anything, it probably makes the community stronger when you have a (common) response to it.”  Chuck Sanderson, Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization, quoted in the Leader-Post

“I don’t think they can afford this flood.  I don’t think the government can pay for all the damage. It’s heartbreaking.  We worked hard all our lives to get established, to take care of our families. Now this.”  Glen Fossey,  Starbuck, Manitoba, quoted in Winnipeg Free Press

“I don’t think I’m afraid.  I just don’t know what to do.”  Chris Yuill, Starbuck, Manitoba, quoted in Winnipeg Free Press

“It’s been very, very long.  As long as the electricity keeps working, I can hang in till the end.”  . . . She added it was heartening to see how people are helping each other out, including one volunteer who has been using his all-terrain vehicle and a wagon to provide a free taxi service through chest-deep water to the main road.  Linda Durbeaum,  St.-Paul-de-l’Ile-aux-Noix, Quebec, quoted in the Windsor Star

 In my lifetime, we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s going to be serious.” Ray Bittner, Manitoba Agriculture, quoted in the Windsor Star

 “What I’ve seen in Shelby County over the past couple of weeks isn’t so much a rising river, it’s a rising community.  . . . Wave after wave of volunteers show up asking ‘what can I do?’”  Craig Strickland, Cordova, Tennessee, quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

“When you live in an area like this, you sometimes forget the magnitude and awe of the river.”  Susan Brown, Bartlett, Tennessee, quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

“This is all I got.  I’ll protect it the best I can.”   Francis Cole, Popular Bluff, Missouri, quoted in the Aribiter

“I packed everything, and I mean ev-ry-thing. . . . It’s depressing. But what are you going to do?  This is a resilient bunch of people, and I imagine the biggest part of them will come right back.”  Terry Bower, Butte La Rose, Louisiana, quoted in 

Vancouver Canucks Not Canadian Enough?

 Canucks Fans (Photo Credit:

Interesting and very entertaining piece written by Jeff Klein in today’s New York Times about the ambivalent feeling shared by many Canadians — at least outside of British Columbia — regarding the Vancouver Canucks, which is the only Canadian team still in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup.  While Canadians would undoubtedly be proud to see a home team win the championship for the first time since 1983, the persistent regional / provincial rivalries and the roster of Vancouver team (being comprised of fewer actual Canadians than some U.S. teams),  leave many hockey fans uncertain.  Among the humorous observations noted in the article is this quote by Paul McDonagh of Dawson City, Yukon Territory:  “Of course, we’re supporting the Canucks.  It’s kind of a love-hate thing [many Canadians] have with Vancouver, like with Toronto.  Only with Toronto it’s mostly hate.”

More Magazines: Canadian Geographic and Canada’s History

The last time I reviewed a couple of Canadian magazines the subjects were two interesting regional publications focused on the far North.  Now I’d like to mention a couple of other impressive mags to which I subscribe and the geographic scopes of which encompass the entire country.

Cover of April 2011 Canadian Geographic magazine April 2011

Canadian Geographic:  This magazine does an exceptional job of making accessible the country’s many natural wonders.  The writing and photography are superb and the content is varied enough that I believe there’s something for every type of reader in each issue.  The cover story for April’s issue explores the centennial of the establishment of Canada’s national park system, with additional features that include on dark sky preserves for infinite star gazing, the story of Quebec’s Lachine Canal and Labrador’s Mealy Mountains.  The magazine’s website features additional content that complements the print version as well as the mission of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Canada's History Magazine - Latest issue!

Canada’s History:  As its name suggests. this publication explores Canada’s history and is the organ of Canada’s National History Society.  Conceived in 1920 by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a promotional piece called the Beaver until 2010 (when it was given its current name), the magazine evolved to have broad national appeal.  Each issue contains a diverse selection of historical accounts and is well laid out and full of engaging book reviews, pictures, maps and other illustrations of bygone times.  Among the stories in the latest issue (April-May) are a piece on the Jesuits’ role in the country’s early history, a story on Canada’s first car and an exploration of many facets of the history of the far northern portions of the country.  Its website also nicely extends the features of print version.

Questions About Question Period

Election Season Installment 3:  Consider the “Question Period”, in which opposition members of Canada’s Parliament routinely have the opportunity to pose questions to the country’s ruling party government.  This is a feature of Canadian politics for which we in America do not have a very precise analog.   In concept the question period seems laudable, with the non-ruling parties being able to hold the government accountable by requiring the Prime Minister and the members of the ruling Cabinet to address questions on pressing issues of the day.

Americans are likely more familiar with the very similar practice in England of the Prime Minister’s Questions sessions in that country’s Parliament, from which the practice in Canada appears to derive.  I think we find it intriguing that the head of the executive branch of government would be held to account in so direct a manner.  In Canada questions and answers must also be directed in an almost stylized fashion to the Speaker of the House of Commons when, in fact, the comments are intended for the other officials sitting across the room.  All of this, of course, lends itself to vivid political theater.

Yet, that tendency toward theatricality may also be its Achilles heel.  Unlike the once-a-week sessions in England which are shorter in length (30 minutes), in Canada the Question Period occurs each day with more time (45 minutes) allotted to it.   You have to wonder how the ruling government gets any work done.  While not universally criticized, there appears to be wide sentiment in Canada that the practice has devolved to the point where it has become as much about scoring political points as dealing with the substance of governing.  It’s difficult for me to judge, though.  If anything, the political culture in the U.S. is defined in countless ways by a seeming overabundance of political posturing and, we would be fortunate, indeed, if all we had to deal with were the theatrics occasioned by something such as the Question Period.

Ottawa in 30,000 Frames!

Given the most recent post about Ottawa, this seems as good a time as any to share a cool video tribute to that fair city that I came across several months ago while searching on Vimeo.  This is by Will Cyr, a former resident of Ottawa, and it’s amazing the way Cyr has captured the essence of the place so creatively and diligently — frame by painstaking frame.  Hope you enjoy . . .

WireTap’s Wry Perspective on Life


Into the third month now of my trial subscription of Sirius XM radio and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for the varied programming offered on CBC Radio One.  The closest thing we have in the States is National Public Radio.   However, my sense is that a richer variety  of offerings is to be found on CBC Radio.  Not sure if that’s because of the limited funding that NPR receives here or the different traditions out of which these two public radio services developed, but there’s certainly a notable difference. Continue reading

Donald Sutherland on Tommy Douglas


The March 2011 issue of Esquire magazine just arrived and its “What I’ve Learned” interview column features the wry observations of the actor Donald Sutherland, including this one:

“There was this politician in Canada, his name was Tommy Douglas.  While he was campaigning, someone yelled at him, “Tell us all you know, Tommy.  It won’t take very long.”  And Tommy yelled back, “I’ll tell you what we both know, it won’t take any longer.”

The cleverness of the comment struck me as a witticism worthy of Mark Twain.  My ignorance about Douglas sent me in search of a little more information about him.  After a quick search of the Internet, I learned that this fellow, as many Canadians likely already know, achieved quite a bit during his time in the public arena, so much so that he was voted the greatest Canadian of all time in a 2004 BBC television contest.  Turns out as well that he is Sutherland’s former father-in-law and the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland, the elder Sutherland’s son.  Donald Sutherland is Canadian to boot!  Who knew?  (I didn’t.)

(Photo credit:  National Archives of Canada)

Awesomeness! Album of the Year Grammy Goes to Arcade Fire


“City With No Children” from The Suburbs

No big surprise to fans of Quebec-based Arcade Fire that this past weekend their superb album The Suburbs received the Grammy Award for 2010’s best album.   (See 8/15/10 O’Canada Blog posting here.)  What is particularly interesting to me are many of the comments I’ve seen posted on various blogs and popular music-related sites where so many people have expressed bewilderment about who is this group called Arcade Fire and how could they possibly have won this award.  Never a better moment for the good old “LOL”.  Fans of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber (another Canadian, of course), both of whom had albums nominated, seemed especially perplexed about the indie rock band’s win. 

Situations like this make me realize that with the extreme fragmentation nowadays of genres within the music world just how truly difficult it is for talented musicians of any sort to break through to the mainstream.  Anyway, I’m glad there are  enough critics and fans with discriminating ears who are able to help elevate to wider prominence underappreciated groups like Arcade Fire.

Getting Sirius About Canada

A little more than a month ago, I got a trial subscription to Sirius satellite radio for my car but until the past two weeks I had not paid much attention to it.   Then I downloaded a channel guide and skimmed through the varied options and was intrigued that in addition to channels devoted to music and musicians I like, there are several channels devoted to Canadian music, news and sports.  It seems fitting that my attention would be drawn to these channels given that the first occasion I had to listen to satellite radio was in a rental car on a trip to Nova Scotia a couple of years ago.   During that initial experience with Sirius’s offerings I hopped around from channel to channel appreciating what was for me a sense of novelty, but because I did not have a list of channels I was unaware of satellite radio’s breadth.

So, here are some of the Canada-related channels I’ve been sampling of late (descriptions and Sirius channel number in parentheses):

  • Iceberg Radio (Canadian Alternative Music, Ch. 85)
  • CBC Radio 3 (Canadian Indie Music, Ch. 86)
  • Bandeapart (Radio-Canada New French Music, Ch. 87)
  • L’Oasis Francophone (French Contemporary Music from Canada, Ch. 88)
  • The Score (Uncensored Canadian Sports Talk, Ch. 98)
  • CBC Radio One (Canada News, Ch. 137)
  • Canadian Weather Network (Canada Weather, Ch. 138)

Although I need to explore each of these more, I’m already impressed at the way these channels add another dimension to my understanding and learning about Canada’s diverse culture.   I’m not certain whether I’ll keep the Sirius subscription after the trial period but if I do I’m sure that being able to tune into Canadian radio will be the balance tipper.



Inuksuit - Silent Messengers of the Arctic

Perhaps because we in the South have been having one of the more intensely cold and icy winters in recent memory, my thoughts have turned of late to the Canadian Arctic.   Of course, my fascination with that region pre-dates the latest cold spell but the current chilliness causes me to contemplate in a more direct way the far north regions and what  difficult living that must be.   So, about a month ago I read through Inuksuit:  Silent Messengers of the North by Norman Hallendy, which clued me into the mysterious man-made rock structures called inuksuk (the plural being inuksuit) and the special role they play in keeping people connected with one another and spiritual forces across the vast and barren — and hauntingly beautiful — landscape.  Hallendy came to understand the intricate language and significations of inuksuit among the Inuit people over the course of his more than 40 years visiting the Canadian Arctic.    His book does a wonderful job allowing us to peek into the lives of the Inuit and their reverence for the natural world.

inukshuk in igloolik by arctic-wl

(Bottom photo credit: arctic-wl’s photostream on flickr:

Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Parliament in Pink (Sort of) for Breast Cancer Awareness

On a flight back from Toronto earlier this month, the unmistakable pink outfits worn by the flight attendants immediately reminded me that October in many places marks a month of awareness for the cause of addressing breast cancer issues.  To participate in that awareness campaign, I thought I’d share information on a handful of events in Canada to promote breast cancer awareness.   These include:

  • Parliament being bathed in pink lights in an October 7 awareness promotion sponsored by Estee Lauder.
  • The Run for the Cure in over 60 communities across Canada took place on October 3.
  • Niagara Falls illuminated in pink lights on October 1.
  • The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers (actually occurs in various places throughout the summer).

More information on breast cancer issues can be obtained by visiting the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation at

Captivate’s Toronto Sweepstakes

Captivate is the clever company that operates those small display screens in office building elevators.  The screens provide info-bytes that help to pass the time as the compartments ascend and descend throughout the day.  Last week while in the elevators I noticed the tell-tale maple leaf adorning various screen shots and that piqued my interest.   Captivate, in partnership with several Ontario tourism agencies, is running a sweepstakes for which the prize is a trip for two to Toronto.  Cool!  I had not made the effort before to visit the Captivate website but this caused me to track it down.  Here’s the link to the sweepstakes:

Whether or not you enter this sweepstakes, you should check out Toronto, which is indeed a great place to visit and explore.

Atlanta Canadians: The ATL’s Online Home for Canadian Expats (and Friends!)

Many Canadians “enjoying” the sweltering heat that Atlanta has to offer this time of year can take some comfort that inasmuch as misery loves company there is available at their fingertips a robust online community of local fellow expatriates and their friends.  I’m referring to the group Atlanta Canadians.  I first learned of the group through a Canadian friend locally and shortly thereafter attended a cocktail social at a nearby pub that was hosted by the  group.  It was good fun and good cheer all around.

Atlanta Canadians, which boasts over 600 members, was organized by the very amiable Marty Seed, who originally hails from Halifax and who has been in Atlanta for the past 8 years or so.  Marty serves as the lead instigator and orchestrator of social merriment for the group and, as the creator of the group’s website, is the driving force behind keeping the community organized.

Many interesting features can be found on the group’s website, including discussions forums, shared photos, and a regularly updated list of local events that usually have some Canadian connection.  Indeed, because of the offline gatherings of members facilitated by the site, it’s fair to say that the Atlanta Canadians is more than just a strictly online community.

Link to Atlanta Canadians:

(For ready availability, this link is also posted on the right sidebar of the O’Canada Blog under “General”.)

Ahhh . . . It’s First Monday in August!


No doubt things north of the border have been a bit quieter today, seeing as how today, being the first Monday of August, is treated as an official or semi-official holiday in nine of the twelve Canadian provinces.  Only Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and Quebec –what’s up with you guys!? — don’t recognize this August holiday that goes  by various names in the provinces that do celebrate it. 

From an American point of view, the idea of a holiday, official or not, that is as much about taking a break during the depths of summer seems both pleasingly quaint and consistent with the idea that many of us have of Canada as a laid back place.  Sure, we have things like Arbor Day, a holiday for which as a child we would occasionally take note of in school if a teacher was alert enough to make us aware of it.  But, as far as I know, we don’t have any holidays devoted simply to taking a break just because we feel like it.

So, here’s to our Canadian friends kicking back today to enjoy this day, whether for a specific reason or, even better, for no good reason at all!

(Photo Credit:  Nils Steindorf-Sabath)

Canada Takes Over The New Yorker


At the beginning of June, I noticed two full back-to-back pages of travel-related ads in The New York Times.  It stood out both because of the dense ad compilation and the fact that each of the ads was laid out as a sort of website screenshot including various social media links and references to comments, uploads, albums and the like.   I thought how cool that these Canadian organizations, including Tourism Toronto, Rail Canada, and Air Canada, among others, obviously banded together to make a more impactful impression.   I intended to comment on that before now but this past month has been unusually busy personally and professionally so I clipped the ads and set them aside for later comment (which is now!).

So, how much cooler is it that something similar but even more ambitious has been done with the June 28, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.  When I saw the ad on the inside cover (above) I was happy to see such a nicely laid out and to the point ad on Canada.  As I thumbed through the issue one after another distinctive maple leafs made it unmistakable that something was up with this issue.  Other than customary adverts for The New Yorker itself, every single ad was from a Canadian agency, province, business or institution.   In the online interactive edition there are also embedded videos that add to the message.

I’ve been a subscriber to this publication for over 20 years and the only other time I recall a similar campaign was when Target, the department store, took over every ad page and scattered its target logo throughout the magazine.  I’m sure the reason it’s not done more often is that it takes a good deal of expense and coordination, but that also makes it stand out all the more.  Bravo, Canada!

My fave is the fun “Bring Your Boots” ad by Alberta.

Link: (may require a subscription to access)

Worth a Thousand Words: Graphic and Scary Cigarette Warning Labels

As I was heading back to Dulles Airport outside D.C. earlier today to catch a flight home, the cab driver had his radio tuned to a segment on NPR in which there were a couple of speakers from the U.S.  discussing the recent controversy over the relatively new product called Camel Orbs, which are small tablets that release a dose of tobacco nicotine.   One of the concerns is that young children and teens may be more susceptible to such a product because they appear to be like candy or mints.  A piece of flotsam that surfaced from this conversation was the observation that tobacco warning labels here are not very effective and that perhaps we should borrow from the Canadian example of requiring tobacco products to be labeled with very graphic images accompanied by direct and candid warnings of the related dangers.   This is in the spirit of a picture being worth a thousand words.  If you’ve been to Canada for even a short time these warning labels are hard to miss.  The above label is one of the more tame.  I’ve not tracked down the data, but I wonder if the percentage of Canadians smoking or consuming tobacco products is lower than that of the U.S. and, if so, whether the labels are part of the reason.

In case you haven’t seen any of these labels, here’s a link to many of these labels from the Health Canada web site:

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