Canada has not been in complete favor with Americans recently due to various current events, such as the Northern neighbor’s decision not to participate in the Iraqi War and more recently its controversial plans to ease up on marijuana laws. But this hasn’t affected U.S. families who have relatives residing in Canada. For them, visits across the border are frequent—and welcome.
There are U.S./Canada border stations set up from coast to coast. Crossing them requires some identification but it’s usually a quick process for citizens of either country. Crossings are generally a short distance over a bridge or, as in the Detroit-Windsor passage, a tunnel.
Anyone who’s traveled there knows that life in Canada is very similar to life in the U.S.. They find familiar store names, the same style of dress, the same holiday weekends, and the same lifestyles in many cases.
So why is it that Americans seem to know so little about their neighbors to the North?
There are a number of reasons. Canada, despite being the second-largest country in the world in land area (Russia is the only one bigger), has only 30 million people compared with over 200 million in the U.S.. California has a bigger population than Canada. Canada is also much younger, having become a country only 136 years ago in 1867 (though, much like the U.S., it celebrates its independence in early July; Canada Day is July 1).
The above information and a lot more can be found out by exploring Web sites. Start by checking out http://www.canada.worldweb.com, where you’ll find articles, information, a photo gallery, Web cams, and an interactive map.
Another good place to begin a discovery tour is at the Government of Canada’s Web site at http://canada.gc.ca, where you’ll find links to a wealth of information about Canada. What you’ll notice first is that you have to choose the language you want to view the site in. Since Canada is officially bilingual, you’ll find that the French language is quite prevalent, especially within the government, where the law requires that both languages be used. You’ll notice food products contain both languages as well.
Besides wondering if everyone in Canada speaks French (French is the mother tongue of only 25 percent of the Canadian population), what else do Americans want to know about Canada? The images most connected to Canada (in Americans’ minds) are snow ... beavers ... the maple leaf ... Molson ... and Mounties.
Those things are definitely part of the culture of Canadians. But there’s more, much more. Visit the Culture Canada Web site at http://culturecanada.gc.ca. Delve into various areas of history, beginning many centuries ago when the country was populated with native peoples. You’ll be able to follow the history through the British colonization and eventually its formation as a country, when the United Empire Loyalists formed English Canada.
Whether you’re looking for information on society, government, land, or economy, or information on such topics as veterans, Canada’s space program, or health, you’ll find it at this site.
You might prefer to check out information that’s not posted by the government. There’s a vast array of sites you’ll find of interest. You can actually tour Canada from your computer at http://www.tourcanada.com/tours.htm. The site takes you along some of the more famous sites in the country. Start off at #1 to get some facts about Canada and its provinces (the equivalent of states), then check out each spot along the map for some sightseeing, where you’ll gain even more knowledge about the country and some of its highlights.
There’s also a Canadiana resource page at http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/Unofficial/Canadiana that’s got a wealth of information. You’ve probably already seen some of this information, but look for some of the unique things, such as the lyrics to “In Flanders Fields,” which is a famous war poem written by Canadian John McCrea. Sports, music, and educational highlights are also offered through this site.
As you surf, you’ll likely notice that words like “neighbour” are spelled with a “u” in them. That’s because Canada has traditionally used the British spelling. Canadians have done that since 1890, when John A. Macdonald (the first Prime Minister) ruled in “favour” of the “u” so that the same system would be used throughout all of the British Empire. You’ll also find that there are many words that are exclusively Canadian. Canadians turn on the tap and not the faucet. They also use the metric system, so you’ll find highway signs in kilometers, not miles, and milk in liters, not gallons.
Of course, you won’t find as many discrepancies in things like newspapers, which follow a style guide. American television is also prevalent in Canadian homes. Canada did, however, pass a law requiring Canadian stations to provide a certain percentage of Canadian content.
Though Canada is not as advanced in television and movies, more and more Canadian productions are becoming available. Remember the popularity of Due South on American stations a few years back? The show, about a Canadian Mountie in Chicago, was the first Canadian-made series to earn a prime-time slot on a major U.S. network. It explored some of the stereotypes that exist between Canada and the United States. You can view the official Due South Web site at http://www.duesouth.com or go to one of the many other sites dedicated to the show at http://home.hiwaay.net/~warydbom/duesouth.htm.
Mountie is actually a slang term for Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP is unique in that it is a national, federal, provincial, and municipal policing body providing policing services to all provinces except Ontario and Quebec. Sir John A. MacDonald formed the RCMP in Canada’s early days to maintain order in what is now Alberta and Saskatchewan. Learn more by checking out the RCMP home page at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/index_e.htm.
Genealogists may be familiar with http://www.cyndislist.com/gencan.htm, a Web site that offers a vast amount of information about Canadian genealogy information. Though not a Canadian site, its categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet is one of the best resources for Canadian genealogy found online.
Still looking for those things that make Canada Canadian? Like Tim Horton’s coffee, Molson Canadian beer, and Canadian back bacon? What about the beaver and the maple leaf? Odds are, you’ll find some of this information on the more than 300 pages at Canada Info at http://www.craigmarlatt.com/canada. Don’t miss the link on Canadian-isms to find out some of the lingo that’s special to Canadians.
Still haven’t seen enough? There’s a wealth of information at Oh Canada at http://www.ualberta.ca/~bleeck/canada, which says it is attempting to define what it is to be Canadian through looking at the multicultural fabric, history, symbols, and values of the country.
Getting back to understanding how Canada deals with political and world issues (such as Prime Minister Chretien’s stand on the war in Iraq), you’ll find information at http://canadainternational.gc.ca.
Take the time to explore these Canadian sites, and next time there’s a question about Canada on one of those television game shows, you’ll be one American who knows the answers.