Our Canadian Cousins
July 15, 2013
As a result of the tragic train derailment in Quebec, Canada has been in the news recently. It strikes me how little we hear about that country to our north. In fact, it seems only when some kind of tragedy occurs that we even remember they are up there. The truth is that most Americans have a tendency to take our neighbor for granted. Most of us cannot even tell you who the Prime Minister is. This is odd given that Canada is one of our closest allies and biggest trading partners. They also are a big reason why the United States is the global power it is today. How is that? Well, the US and Canada have the longest undefended border in the world. The fact that our two countries have never been at war with each other is a rarity in a world where nations have a tendency to be in conflict the closer they are to each other. If we had to spend our time and resources trying to protect that incredibly long border from military incursion by the Canadians, we probably wouldn’t have a lot left over to do anything else.
So what do most people know about Canada? They talk a little funny, eh. They appear to be very friendly and easygoing. They all apparently play hockey and also enjoy some strange sport called curling. However, for the most part, they generally seem not to be all that different from Americans. The culture and history of Canada does parallel that of the United States in many ways, some good and some bad. For example, the treatment of the native peoples (known as the First Nations in Canada) was equally as horrific no matter which side of the line you were on. But the desire to create a country based on democratic principles and justice is the same.
On the other hand, Canada is very different than America in several ways. For example, how many people know that Canada is a part of the British Commonwealth? That means that technically their head of state is the Queen of England. They also have a prime minister instead of a president. The Canadians also continue to deal with some internal strife. For example, the province of the aforementioned Quebec, which is primarily made up of French speakers, has tried several times to secede. There have even been occasions when this disagreement has become violent. The country has always had to work hard to balance two different languages and cultures.
For a long time, I also didn’t know that much about Canada, that is until I was thirteen and my family moved from Wisconsin to the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. This move was brought about by the merger of Republic Airlines, which my father worked for, and Northwest Airlines. Does anybody even remember Republic Airlines? As a result, we ended up just a short car ride away from Canada. The province of Ontario was right across the Detroit River, and so we got the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) as part of our cable package. This was the first time that I got to really experience some of the culture of that country, and I was a bit ashamed of how little I knew about our Canadian cousins.
My introduction to Canada did come primarily through the CBC, and one of the most interesting things to see was how Canadians viewed Americans. The general message that I got was that they considered us a bit arrogant, but otherwise, they were usually okay with us. They do seem to pay more attention to what has been going on in our country than we do in theirs. And they get frustrated at times with what they see as America’s lack of taking responsibility for our mistakes. One of the most painful examples of this was when Canadian troops helping out in Afghanistan were mistakenly killed by the American military. They didn’t want anything but a sincere apology and were very hurt when then President Bush tried to turn it around and make it seem like they were the ones that had messed up.
One of the things that I loved about living so close to the Canadian Border was the fact that on any given day, you could just drive across a bridge and be in another country. Of course, this has changed a lot since 9/11. For the first time, you actually need a passport to cross the border. I think this is probably one of the saddest legacies of those terrorist attacks. Every year when I was in high school, the Humanities classes would take a trip to the city of Stratford in Ontario to see the marvelous Shakespearean plays that were performed at the theatre there. Back then, there was just a quick check of the school bus when we crossed the border. I now wonder if they are even able to still take the trip given the new requirements about identification.
The general lack of knowledge about our northern neighbors means that most Americans are unable to appreciate them fully. And I think they could definitely teach us some things, like politeness. It is often said that the Canadian people are about the most polite in the world. Their welcoming attitude has made this country a wonderful friend for us, and I think that we should all take the time to learn more about our Canadian cousins. To find out more this great country, check out these books: