Jul 31, 2012
As a Canadian living the USA, I know Americans think Canadians are odd. I try to keep my identity hidden, but when an American finds out I am Canadian, they react with a sort-of “ohhh!! so that explains it!”, like a great realization has dawned on them that my being Canadian explains so many eccentricities.
In some ways, Canadians are a lot like Jews, we’re a strange tribe with our own customs, accents and food choices that has permeated all rungs of American society. Americans know we’re there, and some can even pick us out of a lineup, but very few know anything about Canadians besides ‘they aint Mexican!’.
So to my American friends, if you’ve always wondered about us and our strange ways, I’ve put together this list of 5 pieces of Canadian lore that should give you a glimpse into what makes us tick.
1.) the tragedy of Ben “I Cheetah all the time” Johnson
Ben Johnson ran a 9.79 second 100m dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, winning gold and more importantly, crushing the American Carl Lewis. I was only 6 years old at the time, but I remember watching this race and the collective joy that rushed across everybody when Johnson cruised into victory lane. Beating Americans at anything, from hockey, to the 100m dash, to softwood lumber trade is a really big big deal for us. This was huge!
But, our glory was short lived. Ben Johnson, the hero of Scarborough, was stripped of his gold 2 days later after testing positive for steroids.
Canada was crushed. But, disappointment is a part of being Canadian, and Ben Johnson was just another slap across the face of Canadians, one that we’re used to receiving and probably why we have such self-deprecating humor.
2.) the Avro Arrow conspiracy
The CF-105 Arrow was a supersonic interceptor developed by the Canadian Avro Aircraft corporation in the 1950s. By all accounts, it was a bad ass plane that could break Mach 2, a real triumph of Canadian engineering. But the Arrow never saw the light of day. In 1958, the Arrow was cancelled, all prototypes, tooling and plans were destroyed and an American plane was purchased to fill the role of the Arrow. The hearts of an entire nation were forever wounded.
The cancellation of the Avro Arrow is the closest thing Canada has to JFK-like conspiracy. To this day, I have friends who grow red with anger and yell at the heavens at the mere mention of the “Avro Arrow”. They bellow with maple syrup induced pride that the Arrow was the most amazing plane ever developed and that if it had not been for the Americans meddling, it would still be patrolling our skies and giving F-22 pilots reason to look in their rear-view mirror. Canadian conspiracy theorists claim the Arrow was cancelled because the Americans felt threatened by Canadian ingenuity and forced Prime Minister Diefenbaker (aka ‘Dief the Chief’) to cancel the program and adopt an American jet.
This is a really, really big deal for Canadians. The CBC (its like the Canadian BBC) even produced a nationally televised mini-series The Arrow, starring our very own Dan Akyroyd, that details the death of the Arrow and has become a staple movie-day film in classrooms across Canada.
The Avro Arrow is a very sensitive subject to us, tread lightly my American friends.
3.) the Canadarm
Meet the penultimate achievement of Canadian engineering, the Canadarm. You might know it as the giant robotic arm attached to the Space Shuttle.
Canadians know it as “the most bad ass thing ever built!”. I shit you not, growing up in Canada, whenever any type of conversation about space would come up, invariably the ‘Canadaarm’ would be trotted out as an example of Canadian brilliance in space. Just to make sure nobody mistakes the arm for say a Japanese or American one, the Canadarm has “CANADA” emblazoned down the side.
The Canadarm is a good arm, perhaps the best of all robotic arms, but at the end of the day, it is still just an arm! I wish Canadians would remember that it wouldn’t be much of an arm if the Americans hadn’t built the rest of the Space Shuttle; you know that old chestnut, just a slightly more complex and daunting engineering achievement.
We lost the Arrow, but by god, we will not ever lose the Canadarm!
4.) Ketchup chips
To Canadians, Ketchup flavored potato chips are what apple pie is to Americans. You won’t find these chips at any American gas pump, you’ll need to trek to the Esso Stations of the far north to catch a whiff of these bad boys. Ketchup chips taste kinda like what they sound like: imagine a potato chip dipped in ketchup-like spices that give it an extremely strong flavor. But just like socialized medicine, it’s an acquired taste. Be warned though, once you get hooked, there is no coming back from flavor country.
5.) the 2002 Men’s Olympic Hockey Team
Hockey is the national religion of Canada, its our game. But much like Ben Johnson, and the Arrow, the world stage has not been kind to Canada. Before 2002, the Canadian Olympic hockey team had not won gold since 1952. That all changed in 2002 when the Canadian Olympic hockey teams (both men and women) achieved a double-whammy national triumph: winning gold and beating the Americans!
The men’s game drew the largest TV audience in Canadian history, everybody in Canada was watching. When Joe Sakic scored the put away goal in the 3rd period, a collective roar erupted across Canada. You might have heard it down here. I am not kidding, I’ve never seen such rampant patriotism as I did that night when I drove back to my school in Waterloo. At almost every intersection there were people waving flags, banging pots, and screaming. The streets turned were an endless parade of honking horns and flashing headlights, it was like Time Square on VJ-Day, except we were happier.
Go ahead, ask a Canadian were they were when Canada won gold in 2002, I guarantee you they can tell you exactly where they were, what they were wearing and who brought the chip dip.
Being Canadian is tough, for every Donovan Bailey triumph there are many more Ben Johnson disappointments. But as a wise man once said, without the bitter, the sweet just ain’t as sweet. The great thing about Canadians is that we can laugh at our misery, its probably why so many comedians come from Canada.
We exist in the shadow of the U.S.A., and with only 30 million people, a tiny national defense, and a whole lot of tundra, we are in constant fear of being forgotten by the world, or even worse, grouped in with the Americans. So go ahead, the next time you happen across a Canadian at a cocktail party or evening soiree, just drop the words “Ketchup Chips” or “Ben Johnson”, and then stand back, you’ll soon see why we are the way we are.