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Our Exploration of the Canadian Identity: Introduction

What makes Canadians Canadian?  
After much deliberation and thought, our group could not agree on what makes Canadians uniquely us. So in order to pursue a solution, we researched and explored different aspects of Canadian humour, media and art, international news, the olympics, and any symbols of canadiana that we could get our hands on to try to better understand this beautiful unique identity that we are indeed a part of. What you are about to read is a blog sharing our journey to a better understanding of the Canadian identity. We hope that it will help you to better understand it as well.

Canadian Humour

A humour built on embracing stereotypes
If there's one thing for certain, Canadians certainly know how to laugh at themselves. The stereotypes are everywhere, and we happily perpetuate them! Bob and Doug McKenzie were not all that far off in some respects. Laughing at the misguided stereotypes and accepting the ones that are not so misguided seems to truly bond Canadians together-what Canadian hasn't had to at one point or another say "No, it's not actually that cold". This can be shown through the widely popular "I Am Canadian" ads posted below, which were embraced and quoted by Canadians nation wide. 

Click here to watch "I Am Canadian" Pet Beaver 
Click here to watch "I Am Canadian", the Original  

Tim Horton's, another iconic "Canadian" company, also produces commercials that feature Canadian stereotypes (e.g. bulky knit sweaters, cold climate, and the ubiquitous toque) for its popular "Roll Up The Rim" promotion.

Click here to watch "Roll Up The Rim" 2010
Click here to watch "Roll Up the Rim" 2009

Jim Carey on Canada 

In this clip Jim Carrey, one of the world's most recognizable comedians and one of Canada's own, is ridiculing Americans for their out of touch perception of Canada and its people. As he points out, whenever he reveals that he was born and raised in Canada to people from the city of Los Angeles, they immediately present their distorted cliched views of Canada. It is even more mind-boggling that many happen to believe it! Jim Carrey confesses that after a while, he gets tired of the absurd questions being asked about Canada, and decides to play along with the cliche. This brings to mind the closing ceremony at the Vancouver Olympics, in which there were over-sized beavers, hockey players, and various other quintessential Canadian images. The method was one of self mockery in the hope that it would help the world realize just how misconstrued their perceptions are.

Click here to see a clip from the Closing Ceremonies.

United States of Canada

This cartoon presents the notion that America is split by religious ideologies. The "United States of Canada" seems to imply that the more liberated parts of America, are merely extensions of Canada, or vice versa. Some of the more populous cities in the U.S. including Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, etc., are part of this "United States of Canada". What this points out to us is the notion that these cities are more culturally and religiously diverse then those that live in "Jesusland". While this does necessitate a Christian minority in these cities, it does point to the fact that they citizens of these cities may not be as radically religious as those from "Jesusland". This also speaks volumes of those that live in "Jesusland". Their identity in this cartoon is that of overtly religious people. Most likely the kind of people that are narrow minded due to their religious beliefs. As well, this cartoon presents the belief that Canada as a whole is a liberated open minded state lacking any religious majority. The conclusive idea in this cartoon is that Canada and certain parts of America are identical in their ideologies, while the rest of the large majority of America is controlled by their religious beliefs.

Canadian, Please

Click here to watch Canadian, Please Video

          This video has spread like wild fire throughout social networks. With more than one million views on youtube, this comedic song entitled “Canadian, Please” is a perfect example of the Canadian will to embrace our stereotypes in the pursuit of humour and our national identity. The song is intelligent and fun, and goes as far as to not just simply accept Canadian typecasting, but to rather show pride in it. 

Stephen Colbert Visits, Attempts to Provoke Canada

        Stephen Colbert's Olympic interview with MP (and former Premier) Ujjal Dosanjh typifies, as much as it lampoons, the cult of politeness and avoidance of confrontation that surrounds the common definition of the Canadian identity. Filmed January 22nd and aired as a section of  Colbert's Vancouver 2010 coverage, Dosanjh was a model guest, ducking as many of Colbert's taunts and digs as can be expected, as well as playing along when necessary. When it came for more honest interchange between the two, however, Dosanjh made some particularly interesting and significant statements. As is his interviewing style, Colbert attempted to get a 'rise' out of Dosanjh, at one point reproaching him for a lack of passion, a lack of the confrontational spirit that typifies many of Colbert's American interviewees. Ujjal Dosanjh, when prompted for an aggressive response, simply stated "I won't scream." "Then you won't win!" Colbert retorted, prompting Dosanjh to calmly respond, "That's okay." Seemingly improvised, Dosanjh's response hits on an important part of Canadian identity: the avoidance and diffusion of confrontation, an unwillingness to enter into needlessly aggressive dialogue. Taken as both a serious statement or a subtle, self-referential joke, Dosanjh's response taps into this cult of politeness. His self-awareness of this fact was later made explicit, as his response when questioned about U.S. Foreign Policy consisted of a confident "I don't want to say anything about the U.S.A.", much to Colbert's exasperation. 

      Stephen Colbert may very well have been intentionally extracting these sorts of statements from Dosanjh, however Dosanjh's complicity is of note as well: at no point does he ever attempt to retract or modify his statements, regardless of Colbert's constant taunts. What this shows about Canadian identity, then, is a willingness to embrace our own characterization, a willingness to recognize our character and then parody it, while simultaneously retaining a character of dignity and distinct Canadian-ness. Dosanjh is at no point inauthentic, he is simply very frank. He says nothing of confrontational or offensive note. His tone throughout the interview embodies this part of Canadian identity, as much as his cheerful tone and laughs proceeding the interview betray his awareness of the situation. Dosanjh never attempts any sort of negative identification, nor any oppositional dialogue at all - he's fully willing to both remain calm and laugh at himself, and he's willing to do so within the setting of an internationally renowned comedy program. Much like the utterly inoffensive mascots, Dosanjh embodies the Canadian cult of politeness and stands in stark contrast to Colbert. His every word in the interview intentionally, self-referentially, contributes to a stereotype that is also a complement: Canada's fabled refusal to be openly rude. In reference to this self-awareness, as well as in parody of it, Colbert closes with a classic line, intentionally misdefining Canadian culture in the classic mode: "It doesn't matter whether you're Indian, Chinese, Asian, one thing unites you: you're not Americans." 

An Overview of the Interview 

In The News: International Opinion

Canadian’s Get in the Spirit of the Games

Journalists from around the world flocked to the Vancouver Winter Olympics not knowing what to expect, and left having to answer a question, how does Vancouver’s Winter Games compare with those previous? The Vancouver atmosphere may have sold Vancouver as one of the greatest Winter Games yet, with the party beginning at the opening ceremonies and lasting straight through to the lowering of the Olympic flag. This spirited atmosphere of celebration will challenge the upcoming London Summer Games and Sochi Russia’s games four years from now. In Vancouver, flags hung from shops windows, clung to cars, and were proudly worn in Canada attire; the city was painted red and white.
The beginning of the games may have begun with challenges that appeared to threaten the success of the games, “as the first week wore on, there was an overbearing sense that Canada ought to be ashamed of itself – that Vancouver's games were nothing but an expensive propaganda campaign, designed to push the nationalistic fervor for Canadian pride into everyone's face” (Colin Horgan), but the games went on and excitement grew.
For two weeks Downtown Vancouver was alive. It was a place for impromptu celebrations, high fives, and “GO CANADA GO!” as Canadian athletes competed and eventually earned a recorded breaking 14 Gold Medals in a single Winter Games. James Pearce of BBC Sport notes that these celebrations in some countries would have seemed like over-hyped nationalism however, “this felt spontaneous, natural and very good natured.” It appeared that Canadians and Vancouverites had finally joined hands to celebrate our national pride, just as John Furlong, chief executive for the Olympic committee, had hope. While Canadians embraced hosting the games, they also embraced a sense of nationalism never seen before.
Jacques Rogge of the IOC, proclaims that Canadians have been warm, and were enthusiastic crowds. Vancouver became a city that embraced the winter games like no games before, living up to the Canadian stereotype of kindness and hospitality, something that Canadian’s are arguably proud of. Jere Longman of the New York Times was in Vancouver, and found that Vancouver was likeable despite it’s unfortunate winter weather, “The people were generous and spirited, the volunteers cheery. Once, I saw a guy fail to smile; I think he was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.” The Olympics proved that in Vancouver, a good time was to be had despite challenges and massive crowds, “The large, celebrative crowds downtown were more remindful of the Summer Games than the Winter Games. And they set Olympic records for patience, waiting in line for hours to buy exotic hot dogs and souvenir mittens” (Jere Longman).
Vancouver it seems may have had a ‘coming of age’ or realization that nationalistic pride was alive in the city, seen right into the “cringingly nationalist closing ceremonies,” Canadians had celebrated together in a shared experience, uniting national pride. For Vancouver, a city of multicultural fragmentation, this experience has been the opportunity of a lifetime, having people of all types cheering together for a common goal; to support the Athletes.
In general, journalist appear to agree that Canadian’s came together to celebrate not just the Olympic games, but used this as an opportunity to join together in expressing their Canadian pride, less subtly than ever before. And while people celebrated in the streets, in the stands and in their communities, “Perhaps [what] is the most endearing trait of these Games, was to take things seriously, but not too seriously” (Jere Longman).
The games appear to have had a positive effect on Canadians, solidifying the Canadian identity by bonding Canadians together around an event that celebrates the values of Canadians. Those who consider themselves Canadian and embraced the Olympics were part of the Canadian pride, which is quietly increasing because of the Games, and for many the Olympics were the first time they as a Canadian they felt a sense pride and unity within their own country.

You gotta be here!
            The Canadian Tourism Commission and the individual tourism boards of each province are put in place by the Canadian government to attract people to immigrate to or vacation in Canada.  Although these boards are put in place to show all the beauty our majestic landscapes and culture possess to people across the country and world, the print and TV advertisements can at time seem slightly skewed while at other times be right on the money.

            Take for instance this add featuring Chihiro from “Spirited Away”, an academy award winning Japanese animated film. The movie follows Chihiro, a young Japanese girl, on her journey of leaving home and creating a life for herself despite new circumstances. Embodying the theme of the journey, this film could be undoubtedly interpreted as demonstrating something inherent in the Canadian experience, as in this theme it shares common ground with great Canadian literature such as Emily of New Moon, and The Innocent Traveller. Although this add may seem “uncanadian”, it represents the immigrant experience and the attempt to try to remain connected with your heritage while at the same time embracing a new land as your own.


This commercial was aired on repeat during the Olympic games, receiving mixed reviews. Although the commercial features some of Canada’s finest, the obvious use of green screen technology cheapened the effect of the commercial. The slogan “You gotta be here!” seemed just silly when it was obvious the famed person saying it wasn’t actually there. British Columbia is a province full of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and they were depreciated in this add by the poor production quality. That being said, the commercial gets an “A” for effort.

    This ad from the 1970’s, similar to the first add, places importance on the journey. Not only does it emphasize the Canada’s beautiful terrain, but it invokes in the viewer a sense of freedom within it; they believe that the landscape is something that they can become a part of. The add is clean and to the point, allowing the picture to speak for itself.

            What do these advertisements do when they are put out into the world? Do they help other countries to appreciate our culture and national identity? We like to think so despite how they can be misinterpreted. At the base of these adds is Canada’s stunning topography and the theme of the journey, and even though many Canadians are not consciously aware of it, these two elements contribute greatly to our national identity.


... But Enough about the 1936 Berlin Games. 

    Though to many it seemed as though the Vancouver Olympics, with all their flashing red promotions and riotous outbursts of patriotism, were the ultimate celebration of Canadiana, its important to note that this opinion is not shared across the board. To many, Star-Telegram journalist Gil Breton most famously, Vancouver's pro-Canada celebrations were a suffocating affair of perceived nationalism that threatened to drown out the achievements of foreign nations. Gil wrote an article, entitled "In these Olympics, Canada only paid attention to Canada", in which he articulates this frustration, claiming irritation at what he saw as an over-concentration of Canadian pride, a pride he claims crossed into the obscene. Breton goes so far as to compare Vancouver's Olympic games to the infamous 1936 "Nazi Olympics", which were saturated in fanatical pro-Nazi propaganda and as fanatically nationalistic and narcissistic as any world event could hope to be. Gil Breton's extremely controversial article, and the apologetic follow-up that followed it, are significant to the Canadian identity as a foreign perspective, as an outside look at an event many took as breaking the Canadian tradition of quiet and humble national pride. Breton attempts to show us the dark side of our celebrations, and the shocking reactions that can be evoked when Canada seems to step outside of its traditional, stereotyped character.

      "Flags were everywhere. The country's national symbol hung from windows and was worn on nearly everyone's clothing. Fervent crowds cheered every victory by the host nation," described Olympic-attendee Breton, following with the provocative, "but enough about the 1936 Berlin Olympics". So begins a tirade against what Breton sees as a betrayal of "the family of man" ethos presented at the 1976 games in Montreal, an Olympic event he claims celebrated all nations equally by pooling the accomplishments of all into a common sense of pride. "Only a token nod was given to the rest of the world's athletes" amid all the frantic pro-Canadian celebration, claims Breton, suggesting, somewhat interestingly, that what he sees as a newfound nationalism might be a function of the "Canadian inferiority complex finally [deciding] to bite back ... [or] a dark consequence of the Own the Podium program". He proceeds to list off many of the accomplishments of foreign athletes, comparing their relative celebration to the bombastic uproar he witnessed upon Canadian victories – proceeding from his previous statement, an uproar he cannot believe was drawn from Canadian hearts. Breton claims (erroneously) that he "never saw a simple flag or shirt with the five Olympic rings ...[a first]  after 15 Olympics", indicating his utter suffocation within a culture he had clearly identified as passively proud, or quietly patriotic. Leaving off with a brief political disclaimer against his Nazi remarks, Breton closes wondering "if Canadians can even recognize themselves."

      Now, Breton clearly has much to say about the Canadian identity – his Canadian-expectations were utterly subverted. What I find most interesting, though, is his final statement: can Canadians recognize themselves? This does truly not seem to be at issue. His article seems to be much less about Canadian self-identification, and much more about foreign misconceptions: Canadians were waving their flag, out-cheering foreign teams, yelling in the streets, even. I'm not convinced that any of this was done at the expense of foreign nations – that Canadian residents outnumbered foreign visitors in Vancouver is no surprise. What might surprise Breton is that many Canadian locals (from personal experience) represented their "native" countries for fun, wearing facepaint and bearing flags of foreign nations in a friendly, competitive spirit. Breton perceived Vancouver's raucous Canadian-themed celebrations as nationalistic, selfish and negative in their definition and competitive interaction with foreign nations. American winter games, however, are coated in American flags, London is expected to display profusely their national symbols as China did. Canada, for its part, is clearly expected to be more humble: if our cheers overthrow those of foreign nations, it is a function of our "inferiority complex [biting] back", a nation lashing back against foreign influence. Canada, for its part, seemed to embody a much more positive definition: Canadians in the streets and events were celebrating their nation, singing their anthem and engaging with stereotypes (the beaver, loon, "eh") in a more positive and playful manner than ever, allowing that good-natured definition to spill over into outbursts of pride. Gil Breton claims that Canada was acting nationalistic, celebrating itself over the folly and opposition of others, when this perspective seems largely to be a function of his own subverted misconceptions. Vancouver 2010 may very well have impacted the Canadian identity, but my argument is that it was a celebration of patriotism, a sudden display of positive self-identification that caught many off guard, and that bears little in resemblance to the "Nazi Games" of 1936.

Breton's Controversial Article

The Subsequent Apology 

The 2010 Olympics

The 2010 Olympics, as we know, took place in Vancouver and changed the opinion of Canada for the world and Canadians alike. In perhaps surprising fashion, the streets of downtown Vancouver were packed with a sea of red and white. Canadians, not known for their vocal patriotism, collectively let their voices be heard in a fashion not seen very often. There are very few things that unify Canada from coast to coast. The Olympics were evidentially one of them. However, it strikes me as interesting that one of the few things that unifies Canada as a country is sports. While other countries have citizens with strong patriotism due to religious, political, and geographical similarities, this is not the case with our country. With very little unifying measures in this country, the Olympics became that one thing that all Canadians could support. Canadians from Halifax to Vancouver were in support of the Canadian athletes. A Canadian victory in mens hockey seemed to be a matter of life and death for many of us. With one common goal to cheer for, the success of our athletes, many took the opportunity to use the Olympics as a chance to appropriately express their patriotism.It is for this reason that Canadians took such joy and pleasure in celebrating the accomplishments of our athletes, because it wasn't just an event that was a showcase of the talented athletes around the world, but a display by Canadians of their support and love for their country.


Canadians are usually quiet in regards to nationalistic pride, but during the 2010 Winter Games that all changed.  Canadians went wild, and the mitten’s came out! The Red Olympic mittens were the novelty item of the games, a must have at every Olympic event, street gathering, or just walking home from school; those mittens were must haves, despite the unseasonable warmth outside. 
The popularity of the mittens crept up on Vancouver and it’s visitors, selling out fast and exploding on the streets just in time for the Opening Ceremonies.  Canada’s usual subtle nationalistic pride was now held in the palms of everyone’s hands.  And while it’s arguable that the mittens played only a fraction of Canada’s visible patriotism, national pride was literally written all over Canadian’s sleeves.  Canadian apparel is now a staple to every proud Vancouverites wardrobe, with some bold Canadian’s terming our HBC Official Olympic attire as “lumberjack chic.”
What’s the significance of having Canada written across your chest, or covering yourself head to toe in Red, or painting the very difficult to draw maple leaf across your face?  In doing this, without using verbal words, Canadian’s are showing pride and support for their athletes and are taking ownership for their country.  Why else would someone wrap a flag around their shoulders and run around Robson Square if they didn’t feel some sort of pride for their country (this is assuming they are sober of course)?  This is the opportunity that Canadians needed to express pride that is so often hidden by stereotyped humbleness.
 Viewers from around the world witnessed Canadian’s turning up in massive crowds forming a seas of red.  And while standing within one of these seas of red, a Canadian was part of something monumental.  They were part of the Canadian experience of celebration.  One proud Canadian could identify another by the way one carried him or herself. Mittens? Check. Red Shirt? Check. Toque? Check. Proudly Canadian.  The Canadian identity is more than red mittens and maple leaves; it’s the collective gathering of peoples quietly demonstrating their pride in being part of a country where before being vocally prideful would have been going against the grain of expected Canadian behaviour.
Previously, Canadians wore the flag proudly sew to luggage when traveling to differ us from our American neighbours, but now we proudly bear our flag to commemorate the significance of our Gold achievements, the excitement of the games, and to quietly say, “Yes, I am Canadian.”

This is Our Game

The moment Canadian’s learned that Vancouver would be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games they expected to be winning Gold. The Own the Podium campaign was introduced and high expectations were set for Canadian athletes. However, without a doubt the greatest expectation was put on the shoulders of the women and men’s hockey teams. Gold was expected years in advance, and the pressure was on. Hockey is Canada’s Game, and we wanted the world to know.
Perhaps the greatest rivalry on the ice comes down to Canada vs. USA. There is nothing more satisfying for the Canadian hockey fan than beating the US, especially on home ice. Perhaps this comes down to the Canadian desire for separation from the American identity, but it might also just be friendly competition. The fact is, Canadian’s hate being identified and compared to American’s and its played right out into the sport of Hockey.
The tag line for Coca Cola’s This is Our Game campaign, “Let’s make sure, everyone knows, whose game they’re playing” is another sign of the intense pressure placed upon the Canadian hockey players; the audience is roaring with exciting and are beaming with national pride. Canadian’s take pride for being the best in the sport of hockey.
Of course, in Vancouver 2010 Canada won gold medals in both the men and women’s hockey and the country went wild. On February 28th, the Canadian men met with the American team and it was a nail-biter. The stakes were high, Gold was expected, and failure was not an option. The biggest game in Canadian history was highly anticipated. And everyone’s greatest fear was what would happen if we lost? Would it be a blow to our national pride, would sadness envelope the city, would blame be cast upon our players and coaches, or would Vancouver riot? When hockey happens, it’s not “the Team” and us, it’s “we.” Individual Canadians take so much pride in their teams they accompany their failures as their own, and the win’s as country success. When Canada won the Gold, the city erupted, and Canadian’s have never been so proud. We take ownership for our teams and our athletes and what happens on the ice is the collective effort of all Hockey loving Canadians. And while it seems far stretched that every hockey fan can feel the significance of winning Olympic Gold, Canadian’s take a pride in winning because so many Canadians enjoy the sport and participate whether it’s an NHL dream, or a hockey mom, or even the zambonie driver, individuals from across the country connect to this sport in a very personal way and “it’s a passion that brings Canada together.”
Now not all Canadian’s love hockey, and the center their lives around center ice, but for those who do it’s sacred. Hockey is coming together for the love of the game, for the love of the team and for the love of country, and for some its just the “the most fun thing anyone could imagine.” From Hockey Night in Canada, to playing on frozen lakes, to Tim Horton’s commercials, the sport of hockey is embedded into the Canadian identity.

Watch Harper talk Hockey

Dissecting Vancouver's Mascots

      Miga, Sumi, Quatchi, and to a lesser degree, MukMuk: these are the Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascots. Upon their unveiling in 2007 by designer Leo Obstbaum, they caused quite a stir, with responses ranging from confused outrage to outright glee - at least on the part of younger Canadians. Jeff Lee, in his December 17th, 2007 article, suggests that we "forget for just a moment that [we] are adult readers with adult ideas of what the [mascots] should look and act like", and goes on to describe the outbursts of joy evoked from the elementary-school audience at the mascots' official unveiling. "Oh, Miga. She's just so huggable. And she dances so well!" exclaims eight year-old Chantal Brasad, and of course she's right, but, there's a lot more to be said here. Like all Olympic promotional material, our resident Sea-Bear, Spirit, Sasquatch and marmot all bear a message. They are designed as representatives not only of the games, but of Canada as a whole. As such, they must be examined closely to distill what it is they have to say concerning Canadian identity, and whether or not these animals have anything new to tell us about the character of our home and native land.

      To start, the quartet's physical appearance is anything if not striking. Described as anime-influenced as often as they are First Nations-influenced, the mascots clearly make an appeal to younger Canadians -– they are mascots, after all. With their bright, clean vector colouring and passively welcoming eyes, the mascots are depicted with minimal detail; they are anonymous and friendy creatures meant to appeal to as wide a cultural demographic as possible, while retaining a trendy Asian influence and local First Nations styling. Their facial expressions are clear, distinct and simple: as in Chester Brown's "Louis Riel", they utilize masking to appeal to a universal ethnic audience, and their status as images to promote maximum identification. They are universally welcoming and never speak: the perfect omniglot international hosts. Though I will deal with their backstories shortly, on a purely aesthetic level (perhaps barring Quatchi's tattoo), the quartet is utterly inoffensive – though in an unfortunate Polish newspaper mixup, they happened fit remarkably well alongside Japan's re-appropriated "Safety Bear". In their official promotional photo each waves calmly, their black eyes never betraying excitement, fear or discontent; they are never angry, competitive, rude or in any other confrontational state. Miga, the most active of the three, dances on occasion, Quatchi is known to play goalie. In their aesthetic appearance as much as their actions, our Olympic mascots portray the exact sort of politeness that Canadians are known for as much as their passivity: for better or worse, the quartet of Olympic mascots embody the stereotype of the quiet, polite Canadian better than any Canadian possibly could. They support a Canadian Identity of non-confrontationalism: they are not 1996's flamboyant Izzy, though they bear uncanny similarities to Sydney's 2000 summer Olympic creatures. They are certainly not Sarajevo's 1984 mascot Vûcko the Courageous Wolf: they are the stereotype of calm Canadian achievement, welcoming visitors with a silent wave even as the nation itself explodes into excitement.    

    Abstracting away from a purely aesthetic interpretation, the backgrounds assigned to each mascot, and thereby the justification for their chimeric appearance, are also hugely important in understanding the sort of statement implicit to our set of poly-animals. It is no secret that the mascots are influenced by native culture, however the extent to which each mascot's form is justified and explicated has been somewhat less publicized. From a Global TV article referencing the official Vanoc statements, Quatchi the sasquatch represents both "the woman-of-the-woods (a slightly fearsome figure [used] to discipline young children) and a man-of-the-woods (a shy giant who lurks in forests". Miga, the sea-bear "lives in the ocean with her family pod" and is inspired by "legends of the Pacific Northwest First Nations tales of orca whales that transform into bears ...  turned white by Raven to remind people of the Ice Age." Sumi, the "Animal Spirit" (comprised variously of a fox, orca, thunderbird and black bear) is named after "the Salish word "sumesh," which means guardian spirit", and is derived from "connections and kinship between the human, animal and spirit world" in West Coast First Nations lore. MukMuk is simply "muckamuck, the chinook jargon for food, because he loves to eat", and is considerably less emphasized. Though artist Leo Obstbaum (now deceased) has come under fire for mis-appropriation of native fables (though of Haida descent), what emerges from the characterization of these four not only an attempt at a healthy respect of British Columbia's native community, but a fixation on the natural, the inexorable connection between landscape and Canadian identity we experience in "The Innocent Traveler" and "Emily of New Moon". The Canadian identity as implied by these three is one of a distinct connection with the animal and natural world, of an embracing and worship of our natural surroundings as integral to a positive and self-contained sort of self-identification. 

    To closely analyze the Vancouver 2010 Olympic mascots is to encounter the same sorts of themes recognized in Canadian literature, comedy and the popular foreign perspective: the mascots are defining Canada positively and in reference to no other nation. The Canadian identity they perform is one of a passive politeness and non-confrontationalism intricately sewn into an intimate connection with our natural surroundings; we are presented as welcoming of others, quietly proud of our own, and intensely connected to our natural landscape and First Nations roots. The degree to which these hold true, or do not, is the degree to which Quatchi, Miga and friends can be said to either embody the reality of the Canadian identity, or an idealized form of it. 

The Biographies of our Olympic mascots

Children adore Quatchi, Miga and Sumi. Parents bewildered.

Scholarship on Canadian Identity

I Am Canadian:National Identity in Beer Commercials
Robert M. Macgregor

This text takes a look at the 'I Am Canadian' beer commercials popularized by Molson. This commercial sparked intense patriotism in many of the Canadians that watched it. "The copy and visual elements of the advertisement addressed some of the commonly held stereotypes that others perhaps hold of Canadians" (pg 3). As Robert Macgregor points out that one of the main reasons that this ad was so inspiring was because of the many stereotypical Canadian images portrayed in it. As well, the rising speech given in it struck the hearts of many of us. However, if one were to look closely at this speech, it quickly becomes clear the inherent flaws it contains. Part of the script focuses on why were are NOT American, rather then why we are Canadian. "I have a prime minister, not a president.I speak English and French, NOT American" (pg 2). This in itself is entirely unneeded as Canadians get compared to Americans quite often enough as it is. It seems to be a running theme that one of the characteristics of being Canadian is not being American, which does the image of Canada no justice. Nonetheless, as Macgregor points out, the ad accomplished its goal, which was to inspire Canadian patriotism and sell a lot of beer!


Macgregor, Robert M. "I Am Canadian: National Identity in Beer Commercials." Journal of Popular Culture 37.2 (2003): 276-286. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 11 Apr. 2010.

Canadian Identity in Popular Media
In I am Canadian: Identity, Territory and the Canadian National Landscape, Erin Manning explores popular depictions of Canadian national identity.  According to Manning, the Molson Canadian beer advertisements – specifically the “I am Canadian” commercial – perpetuate a nationalistic identity based on a “familiar matrix of inclusion and exclusion” (4) that exploits the Canadian-American relationship.  In Canada, Manning says, “skewering our Southern neighbours has become a national pastime” (6).  This, Manning argues, is a “voicing of a nationalist sentiment that has been reiterated throughout Canadian history” (7) that maintains the myth that Canadian identity blends seamlessly with Canadian geography (10).  Manning suggests that this link between identity and landscape was forged by the Group of Seven and their landscape-laden artwork.  
Lawren Harris: Maligne Lake, Jasper Park, 1924.
Oil on canvas. 122.8 x 152.8 cm. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
Manning acknowledges that the “joining of territory and identity” (18) has, historically, contributed to Canada’s idea of nationhood.  Furthermore, she suggests, “the landscape highlights not only the spiritual one-ness of nature and self, but also the covenant of the mythical unity of a people who are created by the landscape they inherit” (23).  This romantic notion is quite attractive, so it is not surprising that many Canadians claim that there is an important link between geography and Canadian identity.  According to Manning, “we must remain attentive to the fact that the quest for national identity through the image of the landscape recalls the modern desire for authenticity… [and] the representation of the landscape of the motherland [is] a nostalgic longing for a lost, presumably less alienated culture” (24).  Certainly, Canada is an immigrant nation, first with French and British colonists, and more recently with Asian, Middle-Eastern, and European immigrants.  Therefore, one can easily imagine that the Canadian culture is one of alienation, both from the “motherland” and from other Canadian.  Perhaps this is why there is no definitive “Canadian identity” – despite the best efforts of Molson beer advertisements.  Indeed, Molson continues to propagate this sort of “nationalistic rhetoric” (49) in its most recent commercial, claiming, “it’s this land that shapes us.”  So while Manning states that modern artists like Jin-me Yoon are deterritorializing Canadian art, it is clear that nationalism and geography still play a large role in the popular perception of Canadian national identity.
Manning, Erin.  “I am Canadian: Identity, Territory and the Canadian National Landscape.”  Theory and Event 4.4 (2000).  Project Muse Premium.  Simon Fraser U Lib.  12 April 2010.

Canadian Music and Art

Vancouver Film Industry: “Hollywood North”        
            Vancouver’s film and TV industry is incredibly influential on the world stage, although you may not know it. Instead of getting credit for the role we play in successful major network shows and Hollywood Blockbusters, attention is focused on our poorer independent attempts in the two fields. Why is this?
Vancouver, B.C, lovingly nicknamed “Hollywood North”, has housed many popularized series’ such as Fringe, Andromeda, Highlander, Smallville, Supernatural, Dark Angel, and the Twilight Zone. The lush background of the Canadian wilderness and its proximity to the beautiful city center makes it an ideal location for shooting, able to provide a diversity of backgrounds, making it especially appropriate for science-fiction series’. Even though it is in large part Canadians that crew, stunt, write, and act on these and many other shows, these series’ are not thought of as “Canadian”; on the contrary, shows that are much less popular and arguably less entertaining are brought to mind when Canadian television is mentioned, such as the rural Canadian comedy “Corner Gas”. This CTV show based out of Saskatchewan just finished its sixth season of perpetuating the Canadian stereotype despite its questionable comedic value.  90’s teen dramas such as Degrassi (and its successor Degrassi the Next Generation) as well as Edgemont did well in Canada as well as in the United States because of Canadian televisions allowance to tackle more controversial topics such as teen pregnancy and homosexuality. Although these dramas exclusively about Canadian youth were well received by their intended audiences internationally, the lack of production value was evident and the acting was poor, making them disappointing efforts. Another show that has been picked up my American networks is Peak Season, a Canadian reality show currently airing on America’s MTV which follows a group of young people from Whistler through their day to day lives.
The semi-scripted antics of each episode are shallow and uninspired to say the least but the show has done well enough to be picked up for another season on MTV, although no one is sure how the show has any place on what is supposed to be a music network.
It is easy to say that Canada is poorly represented in the television programing deemed strictly Canadian, and unfortunately film is not much better. Just as with television, Vancouver has lent its inspiring scenery to many major Hollywood titles such as the X-men saga, the immensely popular Twilight saga, Fantastic Four and sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer, the A-team remake to come out this year, and also 2012 released last year. This is just to name a few of the hundreds of “Hollywood” movies that have called British Columbia home. But does anybody call these films “Canadian”? Despite the large role that Canadians and Vancouver itself have played in these films, because they are not funded by Canadian production companies the Canadian influence is not recognized on an international scale.  
Although we have provided cinema and television with countless talented actors and actresses such as Kiefer Sutherland, Michael J. Fox, Kim Cattrall, and William Shatner, their lack of participation in exclusively Canadian material is upsetting and shows a lack of ambition to forward a more uniquely Canadian industry. It seems that for an actor, to “make it” is to leave “Hollywood North” for its much more famous counterpart, only to be sent ironically back to Canada for filming.
            On a whole, the influence of “Hollywood North” on the television and film industry is severely underestimated. It seems like no matter the hand our country plays in popularized television and million dollar movies, unless we begin footing the bill proper credit will not be received. Like so many other faculties, the cinematic arts leave Canadians underappreciated on the world stage, and this lack of gratitude and approval contributes to an at times underwhelmed and fractured Canadian identity. This is understandable, as no nation wants to go unappreciated for their hard work.


"One Week": A Canadian Journey of Discovery and Realization
It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this. As much as the Canadian film industry has not received the credit it deserves, this film is an example of what can happen when you have great Canadian actors, writers, and producers coming together to create something distinctly Canadian. The story is simple: a young man (played by Vancouver-born actor Joshua Jackson), engaged to be married, discovers he has cancer and very little time to live. After rolling up the rim of a Tim Horton’s cup which simply reads “go west young man”, he decides to take its instructions to heart, departing on a journey by motorcycle all the way across the stunning Canadian landscape, from the east coast to the west. He stops in small towns, takes pictures with all the kitschy world record breakers (such as the world’s largest Adirondack chair and the world’s largest hockey stick), meets countless strangers making some of them into friends, and by the end completes a true journey of self discovery. Not only does this film embrace the theme of the journey making it feel Canadian, but it also embodies a certain subtlety of character development and plot movement that seems reminiscent of earlier works of Canadian Literature. Overall, the film is a must-watch for those who enjoy a good ol’ slice of Canadiana, and even more than that, it is a film that exemplifies the Canadian identity and spirit through the truly Canadian means of the journey. After watching this film, the definition of Canadian identity seemed a whole lot clearer.

Celine Dion: God Bless America?

In this clip we can see Celine Dion, who is an iconic Canadian musician, performing God Bless America at the 2003 Superbowl. The question that arises is whether this performance is appropriate, and what it says about her Canadian identity. Now whether this performance is appropriate or not is entirely ones personal opinion, however, it does speak volumes about how she perceives her national identity. With many musicians only becoming 'big' once they have penetrated the American market, it comes as no surprise that many of them get dual citizenship. However, is it fathomable that American musical legends such as the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, etc., would ever sing 'Oh Canada'? The theme that seems to prevail with celebrities that have done well in America seems to be this, being Canadian is great, being American is better. Michael J. Fox ironically sums it up nicely during his closing ceremony speech. He has lived in America for the past couple of decades despite being born and raised in Canada. But, if Canada is playing America in hockey, he's feels Canadian again! The lengths that Canadian musicians and actors will go to, to gain the acceptance of the American people, is quite surprising.

A Musical Nation

Though not nearly as internationally (or intranationally) famous as artists like Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and Avril Lavigne, groups such as Local Anxiety and Arrogant Worms are perhaps “more Canadian” than our fêted celebrities. At least, their song titles and lyrics suggest a certain sense of Canadian pride. Take for example the lyrics to Local Anxiety’s “Forgive Us, We’re Canadian:” they offer a tongue-in-cheek apology for being unapologetically Canadian. The lyrics highlight some of the stereotypes about (or should that be aboot?) Canadians, including:
• Our constant apologising
• Our general politeness
• Our aversion to patriotism
• Our view that violence is unacceptable – except on hockey night!
• Our large, frozen landscape
Of course, stereotypes are often based on perceived truth. And many Canadians will reply with a version of this list when asked what constitutes a Canadian. It seems, then, that principles such as politeness and peace are a part of the Canadian national identity. Indeed, Canadians have participated in almost all of the UN’s peacekeeping missions, thereby establishing an international reputation for a strong commitment to peacekeeping (Canada and Peacekeeping).
Our large and geographically diverse landmass also appears to be an important factor of our national identity. As Local Anxiety says, “there’s nowhere that we’d rather live/ than this vast and frozen land!” And the Arrogant Worms devote an entire song, “Canada’s Really Big,” to cheering the size of our country. The lyrics exclaim, “we stand out from the crowd/ ‘cause Canada’s really big!” This seems to suggest that land area is a prominent and important aspect of our national identity. Indeed, the Arrogant Worms even describe Canadian geography (“our mountains are very pointy/ our prairies are not/ the rest is kinda bumpy”) in this song, instead of merely maintaining that Canada is vast. Presumably, this indicates a strong pride in the diverse Canadian geography.
The Canadian aversion to patriotism probably stems from our fierce claim that we are “not American.” Indeed, this claim seems to be a primary definition of Canadians, at least within Canada. Americans are perceived to be extremely, and perhaps fanatically, patriotic, and so Canadians tend to deny any sort of patriotism. Instead, Canadians have adopted a nationalist philosophy. It should be noted that I use nationalist in Orwell’s sense – that is, “a nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige” (Orwell). Specifically, Canadians have made a “national pastime” (Manning 6) of vilifying or otherwise degenerating our Southern neighbours. Take for example, the lyrics to “The War of 1812,” in which the Arrogant Worms gleefully exclaim, “[the White House] burned, burned, burned/ and we’re the ones that did it.” These lyrics are obviously provocative and likely offensive to Americans, but they demonstrate the Canadian approval for “getting on over” on Americans (see Rick Mercer’s “Talking to Americans” and Colin Mochrie’s “Apology to America” for more pop-culture examples of this phenomenon).
The social and political satire present in these and other songs by Local Anxiety and especially Arrogant Worms not only reflects Canadian humour, but also the Canadian national identity.
Note: Click on song titles to listen to the songs.

“Canada and Peacekeeping.” UNA Canada. 12 April 2010
“Canada’s Really Big.” ST Lyrics. 12 April 2010
“Forgive Us, We’re Canadian.” Lyricspedia. 12 April 2010
Orwell, George. “Notes on Nationalism.” George Orwell: Notes on Nationalism. 12 April 2010
“The War of 1812.” ST Lyrics. 12 April 2010

Before There Was Luongo...
...there was Captain Canuck!  

And Wolverine.  

And Guardian.  

And the entire Alpha Flight superhero team.  

Clearly there is a rich history of Canadian comic-book superheroes.  Interestingly, Wolverine, a Canadian, was the original leader of Alpha Flight, but later defected to the American X-Men (Marvel).  Though they sometimes worked cooperatively, the X-Men and Alpha Flight were not always on friendly terms; Alpha Flight clashed with the X-Men on several occasions (Marvel).  This seems eerily reminiscent of Canadian history: many of our most talented celebrities (e.g. Mike Meyers, Celine Dion) have almost abandoned Canada in favour of the opportunities offered by the USA.  And while Canadian-American relations are usually friendly, there have been...disagreements.  Take for example the Alaska boundary dispute or the recent softwood lumber controversy.  Is this merely a coincidence?  Whether or not the Alpha Flight storyline is art intentionally reflecting life, once cannot deny that having superheroes based on Sasquatch and an Inuit demi-goddess is pretty neat.

Classified Takes on Canadian Stereotypes

     Nikki Janovksy's repetitive "I Believe"  may have been the Vancouver Olympic Games' official theme, but for many enthusiasts a very different sort of music was defining their Olympic experience. Certified gold in digital downloads, peaking at fourteenth on the "Canadian Hot 100" and a persistent presence on the Canadian iTunes Store's "top downloads" throughout the games (through it preceded them by a year), east-coast rapper Classified's "Oh Canada" was practically an unofficial national anthem, blaring out of bars, cars and Olympic venues across the city. Hip-hop as a genre has a rich history of addressing local listeners and appealing to a sense of greater identity, often incorporating lyrical themes centered around loyalty, familiarity and pride regarding a common place of origin. In the case of Classified, that place of origin is Canada as a whole. His "Oh Canada" is an attempt to address popular Canadian identity directly, both on an international and personal level. To analyze this immensely popular song, then, is to attempt to derive from Classified's lyrics a sense of Canadian nationalism, of a non-pretentious sort of pop-nationalism that has sprung up during and prior to the games, centered entirely and literally on street level.  

    Appealing to this sort of common experience, the title of the song, the video's lampoon of the CBC "Heritage Moment" commercials and the opening sample of "Oh Canada" (which endures in the beat) attract Canadian listeners, they draw them in and seal the audience within a collective bond of pride and familiarity. "Trans-Canada cross ... From the greatest of lakes to the greenest of greens/To the rockiest mountains and everything in between", rhymes Classified, demonstrating that even in hip-hop, a genre born and bred in urban centers, Canada's self-identification with its wilderness and the progress both across and within that landscape is an essential element, an inexorable part of Canadian-ness. Like so many of the closing ceremonies' performers, Classified is quick to point out the perception of Canada's easy-going sense of humour, claiming "we aint serious unless we really got to be" as he rattles off a list of Canadian comedy talents. Likewise, he pokes fun at the popular stereotype of Canadian vocabulary, seizing hold of the familiar Canadian mentality with lines bashing the comedic trope of "dude, eh and guy" as he plays with both self-deprecating humour and common international stereotypes. Abstracting away from the lyrics, Classified is attempting to craft a positive Canadian identity through the manipulation of these stereotypes, taking pride in the sorts of traits and experiences that have arisen as common to modern Canadians with a sort of wry self-awareness. His formulation of Canadian identity is one born of these common traits, not in avoidance or passive acceptance of them.   

    Proceeding from this, having firmly cemented his audience's attention and support with clear-cut and 'safe' Canadian tropes, Classified takes an interestingly confrontational step. Beginning the second half of his song with "I've been around the globe and heard the confusion/Honestly a lot of y'all are ignorant and stupid", Classified lays down a scathing survey of important Canadian inventions ("unintelligent f– we invented the telephone"), and athletic achievements ("bred he greatest players, Gretzky to Crosby"), highlighting foreign misconceptions alongside open bravado. Though brief, these clearly confrontational lines (along with the song as a whole), seem to reveal as much of a frustration with Canadian self-ignorance as they do international misconception, calling upon Canadians to recognize their own achievements openly, and advocating a vocal, national pride often unattributed to the nation. Backing away from confrontation, Classified proceeds to list off everything from Canadian cultural moguls ("Home of the Hells Angels and RCMP/Home of Gordon Lightfoot and SCTV") to health-care references ("Our health-care system, y'all know its free/Keep our girls bangin with a full mouth of teeth"). Clearly unafraid of addressing all sides of society, his attempt to fully communalize the Canadian experience is explicit; Classified is literally attempting to cover every possible demographic, and within that bookending web of familiarity, embed a frustrated call to Canadian nationalism. 

    Aside from the obvious visual references to be had in the lyrics and accompanying music video (all of which address common tropes with a theme of Canadian pride), what's left is to analyze Classified's tone, his lyrical content in conjunction with the way in which his message is conveyed and find out what sort of implicit message lies therein. Classified is not a subtle rapper - his rhymes rely more often on speed and confrontation than they do subtlety or symbolic intricacy, and this is important. He is addressing his comrades directly and foreign entities in a confrontational sense: in a clear tone of both pride and urgency, Classified is making a bid for a positive Canadian identity, an identity strong enough and clear enough to assert itself vocally. "North of America, Hard to ignore", he claims in a closing line, perhaps prophetically. "Oh Canada", in this context, is reinterpreted as a call to to arms, a cessation to passivity, even if that cessation simply results in a vocal embrace of our tropes and commonality. With a self-aware sense of humour and hometown pride, Classified is approaching "We stand on guard for thee" literally, and thinks its about time someone outlined what it is he's guarding. 

The lyrics, as cited throughout :
Classified's "Oh Canada"

Classified's "Oh Canada" music video,  an interesting spectacle, not to be missed:

Please make sure to read our Conclusion, you can find at the top bar.