Tuesday, July 1, 2008

O Canada!

Happy Dominion Day!

Sorry, but I still call it "Dominion Day", partly because it harkens back to our Christian heritage of the Lord having Dominion over the land from sea to sea (to sea), and partly because "Canada Day" sounds ... well ... chintzy. It also sounds like a federal government agency.

Anyway, today is a day to celebrate the country, and as far as I'm concerned, there's plenty to celebrate. Sure, we have our faults (smug self-righteous comparisons with the US being front and centre), but there are a lot of things that make this country pretty neat.

  • Canadian football. Bigger field, fewer downs, more players, more opportunity for smaller guys to succeed, harsher weather conditions (speaking as one who has sat in blazing heat at one game at Taylor Field in Regina and then, later that same season, biting cold); it's a game that we need to preserve(although (att'n Sen Campbell) not through legislation to block the NFL from playing games in Toronto), not because it's "tradition" or "Canadiana", because I believe it's a superior game to the American version.
  • Box lacrosse. One of Canada's great exports, judging by the response to the NLL in the US.
  • small-town hockey
  • Canadian beer. My beer drinking averages lses than two glasses per month, but when I do have a beer, since I enjoy the taste and don't drink it to "have a good time", it's likely Labatt's Blue, Molson Canadian or a local microbrew like Granville Island Lager. The poncy, high-priced European brands leave me cold and US beers, to quote Mike Royko, all taste like they were brewed through the same horse.
  • "History Bites" (esp. the guy who "does" Don Cherry, and I'm thinking in particular about his rant that Baggattaway was a great game until the Europeans took it over and started calling it "lacrosse")
  • Red Green ... the early episodes ... Graham Greene as the explosives expert whose clothes are constantly smouldering ... Gordon Pinsent as the compulsive liar ... and the Great Canadian Salutation: "keep your stick on the ice!"
  • The Guess Who -- individually and collectively (and keep praying for Jim Kale!).
  • Tom Cochrane (with or without Red Ryder), Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLachlan, Ian Thomas, Oscar Peterson, Doug and the Slugs, Trooper
  • Loverboy. Not.
  • Rene Simard. My first TV gig as a writer and dialogue coach: I'll never forget the slight thrill of walking into the music studio at CBC while Rene was recording some of his tracks, and hearing him break off to say, "'ow are you, Drew, my frien'?". Also learned about The Great Divide in our own culture, when I had to explain to him who Wayne and Shuster were (recurring line in the show: "What did you expect here? Wayne and Shuster?").
  • Wayne and Shuster.
  • The Mackenzie Brothers.
  • The Ferguson Brothers. "How To Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One)" should be required reading for anyone living in this country.
  • Raymond Massey -- especially for his portrayal of an AWOL RCAF officer as a real "Holy Mackinaw!" hoser in that ghastly WW2 flick, "49th Parallel". Someone evidently said, "Ray, can you play a Canadian?", and Ray went to town. A good reason not to turn off the movie in disgust after Laurence Olivier's portrayal of a French-Canadian trapper.
  • Dorothy Davies. Earned her "Starwalk" spot on Granville Street -- and a passel of other honors -- by staying in Canada and not going to the US, which she could have done. Notable by-products of this: many next-generation actors who were influenced by her teaching or just being in the same cast with her; me.
  • Vimy
  • Sacrifices at Dieppe and Hongkong (back when the brasshats had this idea that Canadian soldiers were expendable)
  • my uncle, pulling a couple of extra missions in WW2 when he was supposed to be going home -- and getting shot down and killed
  • taking Normandy
  • our crack forces in Afghanistan: after hearing years of criticism from politicians that our forces were out of shape and under-supplied, I still remember the reaction of "where did we get these guys?" when the first reports of their taking out Taliban locations reached home. Nothing shuts up your critics like success.
  • Newfie jokes. Probably the last ethnic group we can make fun of in these PC days. Thank God for their sense of humour!
  • Winter. The Great Canadian Equalizer. In no other country can people from any area share a winter/snow story. Whether you live in Victoria or Iqaluit or Toronto or St John's, you have a story about "that winter when ...". It might be the unimaginably long dark periods in the far north ... or the time Victoria was paralyzed by a blizzard ... or square wheels in Winnipeg ... or playing hockey on a pond with new skates on Christmas morning ... or the time my dad and his sisters huddled under a blanket in their horse cart and Old Prince found his way home safely through a blinding Saskatchewan blizzard ... Minnesotans and Floridians can't share that kind of talk, nor can people from Maine discuss it with those in San Diego.
  • Our National Anthem, as sung by:
  • Roger Doucet (I didn't know this, but just prior to the 1972 Canada-USSR hockey series, he learned that "Stalinist" lyrics to the Soviet National Anthem had been excised by the current regime; so he got a professor at McGill to do some research and come up with something for him to sing. The result was officially adopted by Moscow a few years later.)
  • Sarah Cambidge (a girl who came to sing the anthem for the Surrey Stickmen lacrosse team back in 2004: at the time, 14-year-old a redhead with braces on her teeth, which we saw frequently because she smiles and laughs a lot ... and who unleashed this incredible operatic soprano on the great somewhat-less-than-washed at North Surrey Rec Centre. She's now studying on a music scholarship at Denver University).
  • Richard Loney (for many years with the Vancouver Canucks)
  • The US Navy Band (!).
  • Any group of happy, boisterous young people on any particular occasion, probably intoduced in the previous half-hour, their arms around one another's shoulders, belting it out (probably off-key) with sheer jubilation.

Happy about being a Canadian yet? As you hear in church sometimes, I'm preachin' myself happy here!


  1. "Newfie jokes" are something that makes this country "neat"?

  2. To my mind, yes. But now you've got me thinking, Mayo: what makes Newfie jokes different from other ethnic jokes? First off, they're unique: I know a lot of Newfoundlanders, and they don't seem to take offence, regardless of whether they're telling the joke or someone else is. But a lot of "jokes" about ethnicity are not jokes at all, but are cruel and told in a spirit of making the joke-teller feel better about his/her own ethnicity, because there's someone else (supposedly) who's stupider than he/she is. That's not really the case with "Newfie" jokes. Anyone could be the guy who marks an "x" on his boat so he'll remember where he caught all those fish. Anyone could be the ice fisherman who keeps hearing "there's no fish there!" when he starts cutting a hole in the ice, and then calls back, "is that You, Lord?" "No! It's the arena manager!". But somehow, those joke require a "label", and Newfoundlanders appear to embrace that role. It's a good reminder to all of us not to take ourselves so doggone seriously. We Canadians are past masters at Taking Offence, and we could all learn a bit about lightening up.