Canadian identity

Canadian identity refers to the set of characteristics and symbols that many Canadians regard as expressing their unique place and role in the world.

Primary influences on the "Canadian identity" are the existence of many well-established First Nations and the arrival, beginning in the 15th century, of French and British settlers. The relations between French Canadians, English Canadians, and First Nations have played a major role in Canadian history. Other immigrants from European, African, Caribbean and Asian nationalities have helped shape the Canadian identity since Canadian Confederation. Today, Canada has a diverse makeup of nationalities and cultures (see Canadian culture). Canada is also a bilingual and multicultural nation.

A major external influence on Canada has been its location next to its powerful neighbour, the United States. Canadians struggle with how to promote their image as Canadians and separate themselves from Americans.

In January 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper advised the creation of a new sub-ministerial cabinet portfolio with the title "Canadian Identity" for the first time in Canadian history, naming Jason Kenney to the position of Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity. The move prompted speculation that Harper wants Canada to move in the direction of Australia, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in the area of national identity policy.

Basic models

In defining a Canadian identity, six key distinctive characteristics have been emphasized.

First, special emphasis is placed upon the bicultural nature of Canada and the important ways in which English-French relations since the 1760s have shaped the Canadian experience.

Second, it is stressed that Canadians have shared quite a different historical experience than have Americans, and this radically different historical tradition shaped every aspect of contemporary Canadian life.

Third, many Canadians, especially during the past fifty years, have proudly contrasted the continuing strength and viability of democratic socialism in Canada with the fact that it remains an inconsequential, peripheral failure in the United States.

A fourth theme is that British parliamentary democracy and the British legal system, and the conservatism associated with the Loyalists and the pre-1960 French Canadians, have given Canada its ongoing collective obsession with "peace, order and good government".

Fifth is the social structure of multiple ethnic groups that kept their identities and produced a "mosaic" rather than a "melting pot".

Sixth, the influence of geophysical factors (vast area, coldness, northness; St. Lawrence spine) together with the proximity of the United States have produced in the collective Canadian psyche what Northrop Frye has called the "garrison mind" or "siege mentality", and what novelist Margaret Atwood has argued is the Canadian preoccupation with "survival". For Herschel Hardin, because of the remarkable hold of the "siege mentality" and the concern with survival, Canada in its essentials is "a public enterprise country."

The "fundamental mode of Canadian life" has always been, according to Hardin, "the un-American mechanism of redistribution as opposed to the mystic American mechanism of market rule." Most Canadians, in other words, whether on the right or left in politics, expect their governments to be actively involved in the economic and social life of the nation. [The typology is based on George A. Rawlyk, "Politics, Religion, and the Canadian Experience: A Preliminary Probe," in Mark A. Noll, ed. "Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the 1980s." 1990. pp 259-60.]

Historical development

Pre-colonial and colonial

Canada's large geographic size and relatively open immigration policy have led to an extremely diverse society, including a large set of First Nations and immigrants from the United States, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, as well as free blacks who came from the US before 1860. Unlike the United States, there is not a large Mexican, Cuban or Central American element, although this historically small population has grown significantly in recent years, in part due to the illegal immigration crackdown in the US.

Canada experienced periods under direct French then British rule, and has fought two wars with the United States: the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Several other immigrant groups have settled in sufficient densities to create somewhat insular communities.

From the mid to late 19th century Canada had a policy of assisting immigrants from Europe, including city people from Britain. Offers of free land attracted farmers from Central and Eastern Europe to the prairies. [ [ Pioneers Head West ] ] [ [ - Advertising for immigrants to western Canada - Introduction ] ]

20th century

The main crisis regarding Canadian identity came in World War I. Canadians of British heritage strongly supported the war effort, while those of French heritage, especially in Quebec, were far less supportive. A series of political upheavals ensued, especially the Conscription Crisis of 1917. Simultaneously, the role of immigrants as loyal Canadians was contested, with large numbers of men of German or Ukrainian heritage temporarily stripped of voting rights or incarcerated in camps. The war helped define separate political identities for the two groups, and permanently alienated Quebec and the Conservative Party. (A similar crisis, though much less intense, erupted in World War II.) During this period, World War I helped to establish a separate Canadian identity, especially through the military experiences of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Passchendaele and the intense homefront debates on patriotism.

In the 1920s, the Dominion of Canada achieved greater independence from Britain, notably in the Statute of Westminster. It remained part of the larger Commonwealth but played an independent role in the League of Nations. As Canada became increasingly independent and sovereign, its primary foreign relationship and point of reference gradually moved to the United States, the superpower with whom it shared a long border and major economic, social and cultural relationships.

The Statute of Westminster also gave Canada its own monarchy in personal union with the United Kingdom (and fourteen other Commonwealth nations), however, overt associations with British nationalism wound down after the end of the Second World War, when Canada established its own citizenship laws (1947), and later revoked British subject status. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, a number of symbols of the Crown were either removed completely (such as the Royal Mail, which became Canada Post) or modified to be more uniquely Canadian (such as the Royal Arms of Canada).

Modern times

As for the role of history in national identity, the books of Pierre Berton and television series like "" have done much to spark the popular interest of Canadians in their history.

Much of the debate over the contemporary "Canadian identity" is argued in political terms, and defines Canada as a country defined by its government policies, which are thought to reflect deeper cultural values. To the political philosopher Charles Blattberg, Canada should be conceived as a civic or political community, a community of citizens, one that contains many other kinds of communities within it. These include not only communities of ethnic, regional, religious, civic (the provincial and municipal governments) and civil associational sorts, but also national communities. For Blattberg argues that Canada is a multi-national country, one that contains at least three nations within it: Francophone Canadians, the Aboriginal nations, and English Canada.

In keeping with this, it is often asserted that Canadian government policies such as publicly-funded health care, higher taxation to distribute wealth, outlawing capital punishment, strong efforts to eliminate poverty in Canada, an emphasis on multiculturalism, imposing strict gun control, lienency in regard to drug use and most recently legalizing same-sex marriage make their country politically and culturally different from the United States.

Most of Canada's recent prime ministers have been from Quebec, and thus have tried to improve relations with the province with a number of tactics, notably official bilingualism which required the provision of a number of services in both official languages and, among other things, required that all commercial packaging in Canada is printed in French and English. Again, while this bilingualism is a notable feature to outsiders, the plan has been less than warmly embraced by many English Canadians some of whom resent the extra administrative costs and the requirement of many key federal public servants to be fluently bilingual. [ Sandford F. Borins. "The Language of the Skies: The Bilingual Air Traffic Control Conflict in Canada" (1983) p. 244] Despite the widespread introduction of French-language classes throughout Canada, very few anglophones are truly bilingual outside of Quebec.

Canadians and Americans: differences and similarities

Often English speaking Canadians are confused with Americans by many foreigners, including Americans. As American journalist Richard Starnes once famously remarked: "Canadians are generally indistinguishable from the Americans, and the surest way of telling the two apart is to make the observation to a Canadian."

Though today much popular culture available in Canada, such as television, movies, music, news, and literature, is both American and Canadian in origin, many Canadians believe a unique distinct Canadian culture exists, even in an era of deep economic and cultural ties between the two nations. In defence against the perceived American influence on television, however, Canadian broadcasters must conform to government-mandated "Canadian content" rules, which are allowed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because of their cultural, rather than economic, protection purpose. From a Canadian perspective, grouping a Canadian with an American, is often viewed as a grave insult. Unlike many Americans, Canadians often view Canada as strikingly different from the United States: in terms of politics, values are perceived to lean towards multiculturalism rather than assimilation, good government rather than rugged individualism, and a higher tolerance for social and quality of life considerations over pure free-market capitalism. Differences in life-style, culture and history are also pointed out. For instance, other than the population of transplanted African-Americans who escaped America from the underground railway in Nova Scotia, Canada does not have a long history with African-Americans.

Some Canadians also acknowledge that Canada and the United States share a somewhat common culture, even if it is best known as American culture. This acknowledgment stems from the fact that Anglophone Canada and the US developed on a similar timeline, based on similar (although not identical) immigration patterns, with a common language, with extensive media cross-over, and that there are few reasons for fundamental differences between the Anglophone Canadian and American cultures. For example, many American cultural hallmarks and distinctions such as American film and American television could actually be more accurately described as "collaborations" between the two countries or "representative of Western culture", since many of these culturally-representative projects often involve significant Canadian contributions. Hundreds of so-called "American" films, cartoons, musicians, videogames, music videos and commercials are actually created in both parts of Canada and the US, with significant Canadian casts, Canadian production houses and hundreds of Canadian technical workers. A great example is the popular rock song, "American Woman" by The Guess Who, which some Americans and even Canadians assume is an American song by an American rock band, but is actually an anti-American song written by a band of Canadian musicians. There are plenty of other popular examples of rock songs which are often assumed to be American, which are actually Canadian, like the widely-heralded classic rock songs, "Magic Carpet Ride" and "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf. Other examples of so-called American icons with strong Canadian participation include American Apparel, a clothing store with deep Canadian roots, the late night TV show "Saturday Night Live", and MAC Cosmetics. The list of Canadian comedians who have become popular in the USA include Dan Aykroyd, Tom Green, Mike Myers, Norm Macdonald, Jim Carrey, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Howie Mandel, Martin Short and Leslie Nielsen.

Migration to Canada

Canada is often viewed by many as the "alternative" to America for many immigrants seeking a different kind of Western lifestyle. Canada was the home for 'American' British Loyalists during the uproar of the American Revolution, making much of Canada distinctly more British, culturally; Canada also has the French-speaking province of Quebec; Canada was also the escape-route for slaves from America via the Underground Railroad (The 'North Star' as heralded by Martin Luther King Jr.); Canada was the refuge for American Vietnam draft-dodgers during the turbulent 1960s and has recently been a sanctuary for American deserters of the Iraq War. Canada is also the birthplace of Greenpeace. In addition, given these and other events or distinctions, Canada is often perceived as more left-wing than their Southern counterparts with government initiatives that tends to be more closely modeled after European or Scandinavian countries. In addition, others are attracted to Canada's cities which are perceived to be safe and tend to rank high, on international surveys, involving quality of life.

In response to a declining birth rate, Canada has increased the per capita immigration rate to one of the highest in the world. The economic impact of immigration to Canada is discussed as being positive by most of the Canadian media and almost all Canadian politicians. This contrasts sharply to the ongoing debates in the U.S. regarding the benefits of immigration.

Relationship with the United States

Within Canadian politics, there is a diverse range of reaction to the United States amongst individual members of the various political parties. In the early 20th century, the Conservatives portrayed themselves as loyal to the Empire and hostile to threatened American takeovers. They decisively won the 1911 election on these grounds. In World War II, however, Liberal William Lyon Mackenzie King built close ties with the US, working smoothly with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1957-1963 the Conservative John Diefenbaker took defiantly anti-American positions, especially regarding defence issues. In the late 1960s the Vietnam issue opened a difference of opinion between the two neighbours, and Pierre Trudeau tried to take political advantage in moving the Liberals to a more anti-American position in foreign affairs.

Generally speaking, however, in recent years parties of the political left, such as the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party, have tended to advocate a more distant relationship with the United States, particularly when conservatives hold office in Washington, D.C.. [ Cohen (2004)] In the past, the Canadian left has largely opposed economic deals such as free trade and Canada's participation in US-led military operations such as the Gulf War. Although some small-scale annexationist movements, both historical and modern, have promoted Canada becoming part of the United States, these have not attracted widespread support among Canadians.

The term "Americanization" is likewise frequently used by members of the Canadian political left to designate policies they dislike. For example, private, or two-tier healthcare is often described as simply "American-style" healthcare in political debates. Many of these criticisms ostensibly arise from the belief that the United States, and the United States government, is fundamentally more conservative than Canada, and as a result "Americanize" becomes synonymous with "right-wing reform". Some believe, however, that the frequent use of the word "Americanization", or the threat of Canada becoming the "51st state" of the United States, in Canadian political discourse has little to do with American politics or quality of life issues, but is rather used as a potent "scare tactic" to frighten constituents who base part of their identity as Canadians on not being Americans.

In recent years the Canadian right, mostly led by the Conservative Party of Canada and right-wing think-tanks such as the Fraser Institute, by contrast have generally tended to be more in favour of a closer relationship with the United States, supporting US initiatives such as the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Some conservative Canadians often argue that closer ties to the United States are both an inescapable reality and favourable economically. Because they may already oppose policies such as socialized healthcare or Canada's gun laws, the term "Americanization" is not as frequently used as a term of condemnation by those on the political right. See also Canadian and American politics compared.

Recent economic issues such as lingering trade disputes on softwood lumber and cattle, especially in areas of Canada harmed significantly by the closure of mills and inability of farmers (especially within Alberta) to sell their cattle likewise continue to be a source of political tension between the countries.

Books such as "Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values", by Michael Adams, head of the Environics polling company argues this point using polling research performed by his company as evidence. Critics of the idea of a fundamentally "liberal Canada" such as David Frum argue that the Canadian drive towards a more noticeably leftist political stance is largely due to the increasing role that Québec plays in the Canadian government (three of the last five elected Prime Ministers have been Quebecers, four if one includes Ontarian born Paul Martin). Québec historically was the most conservative, religious and traditional part of Canada. Since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, however, it has become the most secular and social democratic region of Canada. However, it is noteworthy that many Western provinces (particularly Saskatchewan and British Columbia) also have reputations as supporting leftist and social democratic policies. For example Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces (all in the West) to reelect social democratic governments and is the cradle of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and its successor the New Democratic Party. Much of the energy of the Canadian feminist movement occurred in Manitoba, led by Nellie McClung.

By contrast, the Conservative government of province of Alberta has frequently quarrelled with federal administrations perceived to be dominated by "eastern liberal elites." [ Panizza 2005] Part of this is due to what Albertans feel were federal intrusions on provincial jurisdictions such as the National Energy Program and other attempts to 'interfere' with Albertan oil resources.

In a poll that asked what institutions made Canada feel most proud about their country, number one was health care, number two was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and number three was peacekeeping. In a CBC contest to name "The Greatest Canadian", the three highest ranking in descending order were the social democratic politician and father of medicare Tommy Douglas, the legendary cancer activist Terry Fox, and the Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, which suggested that their voters valued left-of-centre political leanings and community involvement.

In 2000, Molson Brewing Company created an advertisement for its beer brand; Canadian ( [ view commercial] ). The commercial depicts an "average Joe" giving a rant about the finer points of being Canadian. Some critics suggested that this ad was revealing in that Joe's definition of a Canadian was more about what he is "not", which is a stereotypical American, rather than what he "is". The advertisement, and its subsequent criticisms, illustrate the common symptom of Canadian expression of identity.

Outsider perceptions

A very common expression of Canadian identity is to rail against the stereotypes they believe Americans hold of Canadian citizens. This ranges from Voltaire's purported assessment of Canada as "a few acres of snow" (which is, in fact, taken out of its proper context) to the myth of American tourists travelling to Toronto in July with skis tied to the roof of their car.

Canadian media personalities sometimes also play with this phenomenon for comedic purposes. During his years with "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", comic Rick Mercer produced a popular recurring segment, "Talking to Americans," in which he would pose as a journalist in an American city and ask passers-by for their opinions on a fabricated Canadian news story. Some of the "stories" for which he solicited comment included the legalization of staplers, the coronation of King Svend, the border dispute between Quebec and Chechnya, the campaign against the Toronto Polar Bear Hunt, and the reconstruction of the historic "Peter Mann's Bridge". During the 2000 election in the United States, Mercer successfully staged a "Talking to Americans" segment in which presidential candidate George W. Bush gratefully accepted news of his endorsement by Canadian Prime Minister "Jean Poutine".


Multiculturalism and the state of inter-ethnic relations in Canada is relaxed and tolerant, allowing ethnic or linguistic particularism to exist unquestioned. In metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Vancouver, there is often a strong sense that multiculturalism is a normal and respectable expression of being Canadian. Canada is also considered a mosaic because of the multi-culturalism.

Critics of Canada's multiculturalism, however, argue that the country's "timid" attitude towards the assimilation of immigrants has actually weakened, not strengthened Canada's national identity through factionalism. The indulgent attitude taken towards cultural differences is perhaps a side effect of the vexed histories of French-English and Aboriginal-settler relations, which have created a need for a civic national identity, as opposed to one based on some homogenous cultural ideal.

Supporters of Canadian multiculturalism will also argue cultural appreciation of ethnic and religious diversity promotes a greater willingness to tolerate political differences.

Distinctly Canadian

* Canadians often like to see themselves as brave warriors who have to endure each winter a never ending struggle against massive amounts of snow and ice and extremely cold temperatures. They proudly proclaim that Ottawa is the coldest capital in the Americas, and has the second coldest winter weather of any capital in the world after Ulaanbaatar.

* The search for the Canadian identity often yields some whimsical results. To outsiders, this soul-searching (or, less charitably, navel-gazing) seems tedious or absurd, inspiring the Monty Python sketch "Whither Canada?"

* In the 1970s, CBC Radio's "This Country in the Morning" held a competition whose goal was to compose the conclusion to the phrase: "As Canadian as..." The winning entry read: "... possible, under the circumstances." [ [ Salon | Letters to the Editor ] ]

* Robertson Davies, one of Canada's best known novelists, once commented about his homeland: "Some countries you love. Some countries you hate. Canada is a country you worry about."

* Pierre Berton, a Canadian journalist and novelist, once alluded to Canada's "voyageur" roots with this famous saying: "A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe without tipping it."

* British novelist Douglas Adams said each country was like a particular type of person, and "Canada is like an intelligent 35 year old woman". America, on the other hand, is a "belligerent adolescent boy" and Australia is "Jack Nicholson".

* American journalist Richard Starnes once famously remarked, "Canadians are generally indistinguishable from the Americans, and the surest way of telling the two apart is to make the observation to a Canadian."

* A half-joking definition of a Canadian, offered by "The Economist" in 1993: "an American with healthcare and no guns", in reference to the countries' contrasting levels of public medical care and gun ownership.

* The well known actor Mike Myers once commented about his native country: "Canada is the essence of not being. Not English, not American, it is the mathematic of not being. And a subtle flavour - we're more like celery as a flavour."

* Canadians are often said to be extremely polite.

ee also

* Canadian nationalism
* Music of Canada
* History of Canada
* Canadian English
* Canadian French
* Quebec Nationalism
* First Nations
* Sports in Canada
* Hockey
* Lacrosse
* Hoser
* Canadian beer
* Cultural cringe

Compare: Britishness, Pan-European identity




* Michael Adams. "Fire and Ice" (2004)
* Anderson, Alan B. "Ethnicity in Canada: Theoretical Perspectives." (1981)
* Association for Canadian Studies, ed. "Canadian identity: Region, country, nation : selected proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference of the Association for Canadian Studies, held at Memorial ... June 6-8, 1997" (1998)
* Sylvia B. Bashevkin, "True Patriot Love: The Politics of Canadian Nationalism" (1991),
* Carl Berger, "The Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, 1867-1914" (1970).
*Berton, Pierre [ "Why we act like Canadians: A personal exploration of our national character"]
*Charles Blattberg (2003) "Shall We Dance? A Patriotic Politics for Canada". McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-2596-3.
* John Bartlet Brebner, "North Atlantic Triangle: The Interplay of Canada, the United States, and Great Britain," (1945)
* Breton, Raymond. "The production and allocation of symbolic resources: an analysis of the linguistic and ethnocultural fields in Canada." "Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology" 1984 21:123-44.
* Andrew Cohen. "While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World" (2004), on foreign affairs
* Cook, Ramsay. "The Maple Leaf Forever" (1977), essays by historian
*Copeland, Douglas (2002) "Souvenir of Canada". Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-55054-917-0.
*Copeland, Douglas []
* Leslie Dawn. "National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s" (2007)
* Will Ferguson. "Why I Hate Canadians" (2007), satire
* Fleras, Angie and Jean Leonard Elliot. "Multiculturalism in Canada: The Challenge of Diversity" 1992 .
* Stephanie R. Golob. "North America beyond NAFTA? Sovereignty, Identity and Security in Canada-U.S. Relations." "Canadian-American Public Policy." 2002. pp 1+. [ online version]
* Mel Hurtig. "The Vanishing Country: Is It Too Late to Save Canada?" (2003), left-wing perspective
* Mahmood Iqbal, "The Migration of High-Skilled Workers from Canada to the United States:Empirical Evidence and Economic Reasons" (Conference Board of Canada, 2000) [ online version]
* Sabine Jackson. "Robertson Davies And the Quest for a Canadian National Identity" (2006)
* Kieran Keohane. "Symptoms of Canada: An Essay on the Canadian Identity" (1997)
* Andrew E. Kim. "The Absence of Pan-Canadian Civil Religion: Plurality, Duality, and Conflict in Symbols of Canadian Culture." "Sociology of Religion." 54#3. 1993. pp 257+ [ online version]
* Seymour Martin Lipset, Noah Meltz, Rafael Gomez, and Ivan Katchanovski. "The Paradox of American Unionism: Why Americans Like Unions More Than Canadians Do, but Join Much Less" (2004)
* Seymour Martin Lipset, "Continental Divide: The Values and Institutions of the United States and Canada" (1990)
* J.I. Little. "Borderland Religion: The Emergence of an English-Canadian Identity, 1792-1852" (2004)
* Matheson, John Ross. "Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country." 1980 .
* Robin Mathews. "Canadian Identity: Major Forces Shaping the Life of a People" (1988)
* Peter Moogk; "La Nouvelle France: The Making of French Canada: a Cultural History" (2000)
* Linda Morra. "'Like Rain Drops Rolling Down New Paint': Chinese Immigrants and the Problem of National Identity in the Work of Emily Carr." "American Review of Canadian Studies". Volume: 34. Issue: 3. 2004. pp 415+. [ online version]
* W. I. Morton. "The Canadian Identity" (1968)
* Francisco Panizza. "Populism and the Mirror of Democracy"(2005)
* Philip Resnick. "The European Roots of Canadian Identity" (2005)
* Peter Russell (ed.), "Nationalism in Canada" (1966)
* Joe Sawchuk. "The Metis of Manitoba: Reformulation of an ethnic identity" (1978)
* Mildred A Schwartz. "Public opinion and Canadian identity" (1967)
* Allan Smith. "Canada - An American Nation?: Essays on Continentalism, Identity, and the Canadian Frame of Mind" (1994)
* David M. Thomas, ed. "Canada and the United States: Differences that Count" (1990) Second Edition
* Wallin, Pamela [ "Current State, Future Directions: Canada - U.S. Relations" by Pamela Wallin (Canada’s Consul General to New York); April 28, 2003]
* William Watson, "Globalization and the Meaning of Canadian Life" (1998)
* Matthias Zimmer and Angelika E. Sauer. "A Chorus of Different Voices: German-Canadian Identities"(1998)
* Aleksandra Ziolkowska. "Dreams and reality: Polish Canadian identities" (1984)

External links

* []
* []
* [ Canadian Society @]
* [ Canadian Studies: A Guide to the Sources]

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