What are Canadians Like?
Ask someone virtually anywhere in the world to describe a Canadian and they will likely use such adjectives as “friendly,” “peaceful,” “polite” and “modest” to describe us. With typical modesty, we won’t dispute the accuracy of such endorsements.
Other ideas about us, however, require some clarification.
Very few of us live in igloos in the Far North. Not every Canadian speaks French, one of our official languages. For that matter, not all of us speak English, the other official language. Though the majority of French speakers – called francophones – live in Québec, there are substantial groups in many other provinces as well.
While we live in North America and cherish the friendship we enjoy and close ties we share with our closest neighbour, the United States, we are not Americans. We are Canadians. We have a unique culture with deeply rooted traditions, customs and values.
Occupied by aboriginal people for thousands of years, settled by the British and French hundreds of years ago and built by generations of immigrants who have come here from all over the world, Canada is distinct. And so are its people, who have been shaped and influenced by a physical environment unlike any other.
As Canada’s greatest literary critic, the late Northrop Frye, said, “There would be nothing distinctive in Canadian culture at all, if there were not some feeling for the immense searching distance, with the lines of communication extended to the absolute limit” that “has no real counterpart elsewhere.”
It is Canada’s “land that anchors our sense of who we really are,” wrote Canadian journalist and author Peter C. Newman, adding that “a favourite rationalization for Canadians’ sense of identity is our climate: six months of winter followed by six months of bad sledding.”
Sometimes, there is a grain of truth in a stereotype.
Our country’s climate and huge expanse have helped shape our sense of individualism. For some of us, our nearest neighbour lives several kilometres away.
Established in 1867 as a nation without war or rebellion, Canada has become home to people who often fled oppression and persecution. As a result, individual rights and freedoms have become highly treasured values for Canadians, have shaped our culture and are enshrined in a Charter to protect those values from violation.
We speak our minds and voice our opinions, though remain open to ideas from others. We demand a free press and expect an open government. We respect authority, but it must be fair, honest and accountable to us.
Canadians value creativity and support its nurturing in all walks of life. After all, our creative expressions, whether they are in the arts, literature, social or natural sciences, are a reflection of all of us.
To be Canadian means to respect differences in gender, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, physical or mental abilities, and sexual orientation. We do not deny that intolerance exists in our country, but most of us are dedicated to educating people to open their minds to differences, beginning with our youngest children.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone fundamental freedoms: of conscience and religion; of thought, belief, opinion and expression; of peaceful assembly; and of association. Completing these constitutional safeguards are other legislative measures, such as employment equity that ensures that Canadians have equal access to opportunity.
For a country encompassing so much diversity represented by people from practically every country on the planet, we are united. The one day that brings so many Canadians together each year is our country’s birthday, July 1, when tens of thousands of people crowd on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and more flock to Canada Day celebrations in other cities and communities from coast to coast and in the North.
Though our patriotism may appear muted at times on the international stage, it is alive and well under various forms, such as the Canadian flags that adorn the backpacks of young travelers journeying around the globe.
We are a peace-loving people, though we will defend ourselves and our friends and allies when necessary.
We take the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship seriously, but love to laugh – often at our own expense, since we don’t always take ourselves too seriously.
We’re proud of our heterogeneous society where the regional distinctiveness of people from Newfoundland to the Prairies to Québec and the Arctic creates a rich tapestry of “Canadiana.”
Sure, we’re predictable in some ways. A lot of us play ice hockey. Even more watch the sport at the rink or on television (“Hockey Night In Canada” is a popular t.v. date). We also talk a lot about the weather. Sometimes, we complain about it – but that’s just our way. In fact, we rather pride ourselves on the splendid variety of our four seasons and our ability to take each of them in stride!