Canada Day: The land of hockey, mickeys, Mounties and Joni

O Canada: the Canadian flag

O Canada: the Canadian flag


Canada Day, this year celebrating the country's 150th year, falls on July 1st. In an article first published in 2010, radio presenter and Canadian Jenny Huston gives the lowdown on her homeland...

Some vital statistics

Canada is the second-largest country in the world after Russia, and the largest in North America, but its population is a mere 33 million, with vast amounts of land uninhabited by humans.

It’s got some great wildlife, including cougars, moose, caribou, elk and skunks. And it’s home to 15,500 of the estimated 20,000 -25,000 polar bears in global polar regions. Its natural resources include oil, forestry, fishing, minerals and hydro power. In fact, the largest electricity generator in Canada provides electricity for New York.

Canadians are not boring

They’re not, truly, but they are law-abiding and tend to follow the American habit of living to work rather than working to live.

The national anthem is short enough to learn

“O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide, O Canada,

We stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

You don’t want to dash across the road

Tourists are often shocked to see Canadians waiting patiently for the little man to light up and give them permission to cross the road. This is because jaywalking is an offence which carries a fine.

And don’t plan long holidays

With only two weeks of paid annual vacation a year (yes, it’s awful), Canadians don’t tend to travel far once they settle down into full-time employment. That’s why young Canadians are seen backpacking all over the world before or during their college years. After that, a week in Hawaii, Mexico or Florida is a trip away. More commonly, Canadians go skiing in the winter and to a cabin by a lake in the summer (Canada has more lakes than any other country).

Canadians are nice and apologetic

If they bump into someone (or even if you bump into them), they will say “Sorry!” at least once. Friendly and helpful to strangers, they smile, say hello and offer assistance as you enter a shop or restaurant. “Have a nice day” and “thanks for coming” roll off the tongue. It may rattle you at first, but it’s sincere.

But do they like to drink?

They can and do in vast volumes during their college years. Drinking slows after that and is mainly done at home while watching big sporting events or at barbecues. If someone asks you “Do you want to go for a beer?”, they may actually mean one, and plan to drive home after. Seriously.

NB This does not apply to Irish clubs or wine aficionados.

It’s a good place to get sick

Health care in Canada is a publicly funded system, which is mostly free.

What’s Canada ever done for us?

Oh, it’s only given the world the zipper, basketball, the chocolate bar, the Imax movie system, instant mashed potato, insulin, Java programming language, jet skis, lawn sprinklers, lightbulbs (Henry Woodward sold a share in the patent to the American, Thomas Edison), the prosthetic hand, Superman (co-created by Canadian Joe Shuster), the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell moved from Canada to the States while working on the invention, which was conceived in Brantford, Ontario in 1874 and born in Boston in 1875), and Trivial Pursuit. Plus, the Canadian side offers the best view and display of the Niagara Falls.

There are a great many famous Canadians

In Hollywood, there are Jim Carrey, Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers, Mathew Perry, Kim Cattrall, Pamela Anderson, Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner, Michael J Fox and Kiefer Sutherland. Musicians include Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Robbie Robertson, Arcade Fire, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. Writers include Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood.

What phrases will help you get by?

Eh (pronounced “ay)” = A multi-purpose word used at the end of a sentence to ask a question or seek agreement. “How’s it going, eh? Cold, eh?”

Oot n aboot= Out and about. This funny, slightly Scottish-sounding pronunciation is used by east-coast Canadians.

Ride= Lift. “Ride” has no sexual connotations in Canada, nor would it be used to describe an attractive person. If someone offers you a “ride”, they are offering you a lift in their car. No need to giggle or get excited.

Gorgeous= A very attractive person. A meal would not be described as gorgeous in Canada (“delicious” will suffice).

Loonie= Dollar (named after the duck on the coin, the loon).

Toonie= Two dollars.

Washroom= Bathroom. Asking “where is the toilet?” would be considered a bit vulgar.

Toque(pronounced “tewk”) = A winter hat.

Hoser= Eejit, or similar insult.

Hollywood North= Vancouver, British Columbia, a booming film and TV location (The X-Files, Fantastic Four, X-Men, I Robot, Juno, The Twilight Saga and Smallville were all filmed there).

Peeler= Stripper.

Gonch= Underwear (a somewhat crude expression).

Have at it!= Start doing something, go for it.

Hockey= Ice hockey (the ice is a given). It’s the most popular spectator sport, but the national sport is lacrosse.

Football= Either American (NFL) or Canadian (CFL).

Mounties= Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP (federal police force on horses with bright red uniforms).

What’s the local diet?

Poutine(pronounced as “poo-teen”) = Cheese fries, a legendary Quebecois fast food with gravy and cheese curds.

Two-Four= Twenty-four cans of beer sold on a cardboard tray (“two-fer” or “flat“), as opposed to a case of 12 or a six-pack.

Mickey= A pint bottle of liquor.

Forty-pounder= A large bottle of liquor like an American “fifth”.

Ice wine= A very sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes. Canada has become the world’s largest ice wine producer.

Pop/soda/soft drinks= Minerals or non-alcoholic beverages.

KD= Kraft Dinner of boxed macaroni and cheese – it’s an institution.

Tim Hortons= A donut shop with very popular coffee.

Tim Bits= donut holes (try the honey-glazed ones – yum).

Beaver tail= Fried dough topped with icing sugar.

Butter tart= A mini pecan pie with raisins instead of pecans.

Nanaimo bar= Chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and graham crumb base, named after a town on Vancouver Island.

There are no “Eskimos”

Indians are from India, with Canada’s indigenous people referred to as aboriginal peoples (First Nations, Inuit and Métis people) or by their tribe name.

“Eskimo” is not used anymore — Inuit is the correct name.

The Irish

Grosse Île, Quebec, an island in the St Lawrence River, is the largest famine grave site outside of Ireland. Grosse Île was a quarantine station for the Port of Québec from 1832 to 1937 and the main point of entry for immigrants coming to Canada.

Meanwhile, in parts of Newfoundland, you can hear a Waterford or Wexford accent. In the capital, St John’s, there is the Waterford River and a strong Irish community. Once poor due to the depletion of its primary industry fishing, it is now booming due to a large find of offshore oil and and increase in tourism.