Now that we have a hot young Prime Minister, eyes are finally turning to Canada! (About time I say.) However during all my years of travelling, I’ve come across many people who knew very little about my home country, and often bought into one or more of these 7 myths about Canada.
7 myths about Canada and what the reality is
1. Canada is always cold
Although Canada does cover part of the Arctic and we do have polar bears, all the large Canadian cities are located between 44 and 55 degrees latitude which means we have four distinct seasons including a cold winter and a hot summer. Our climate varies from “continental” in the interior to “maritime” on the coasts. Between late June and late August, Toronto and Montreal often reach temperatures above 30C (86F). But the winters are indeed cold. Although Victoria (British Colombia) rarely drops below freezing, the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta often experience temperatures below -30C (-22F) in January and February.
2. All Canadians like hockey
Canada is considered the birthplace of ice hockey, where it’s also the most popular team sport. Besides being spectators, 1.3 million Canadians participate in the sport (almost 4% of the population). But of course not everybody here likes hockey. I, for one, am completely indifferent to any team sport, be it hockey, basketball, or baseball. However, probably everyone living in Canada knows somebody who likes hockey!
3. We’re just like the United States
In some parts of the world, people don’t seem to differentiate between Canadians and Americans. A fellow in Sri Lanka once told me “all the same”. Well, not quite. Granted, we resemble each other physically, and most of our cities have similar architecture, infrastructure and driving rules. (You can still easily tell where you are by looking at the flags, mailboxes, and road signs.)
Go below the surface though, and you soon discover wide differences in our political and social systems. For starters, Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy while the US is a Constitutional Republic, even though we are both Federations and Democracies. We have a prime minister; they have a president.
Canada offers much more extensive social programs, such as free medical insurance for all (at the provincial level). We have stricter gun laws which result in rare gun violence and even rarer mass shootings. Unlike in the US, there is no death penalty anywhere in Canada.
Canadians are also a lot more cognizant about the world outside their borders, and more likely to travel internationally. About 57% of Canadians own a passport versus 36% of Americans. Finally, Canada uses the metric system, while the US hasn’t yet relinquished the old imperial units.
4. We all get to enjoy nature and rugged wilderness
Although Canada does contain vast areas of forests, lakes, and wilderness, 81% of the population lives in urban centres. For someone living in downtown Toronto for example, it takes half-an-hour to an hour (depending on traffic) just to get out of the city, and close to another hour to get out of the suburbs and into natural areas. Algonquin Park, a true wilderness where you can camp, canoe, and hike, is a solid three-hour drive away.
Montrealers have it a little easier with the Laurentians and Eastern Townships (two popular vacation areas) being within one to one-and-a-half hour’s drive from town. Unless people own a cottage (country home) or a motorhome (RV) though, these kinds of trips are occasional at best. Public transit from the cities is sparse to non-existent. Since neither I nor my friends have cars, it’s easier for me to fly to New Zealand or Greece if I want to hike in nature!
5. Life stops after a snowstorm
Between December and March, most of Canada can experience severe snowstorms. Many people who live in countries that never see snow are puzzled as to what we do when we suddenly find ourselves buried under 40 centimetres of white powder. Do daily activities grind to a halt? Do we all huddle into our houses until the snow melts?
Of course not. We have these little machines called snowplows, which consist of a truck or tractor with a giant blade attached to the front. The blade is used to push the snow out of the streets and into piles on each side. Salt or sand (for colder temperatures) is also sprinkled on sidewalks to either melt the snow and ice or, in the case of sand, make them less slippery. Everybody has central heating in their homes and offices so they can stay toasty no matter the weather outside. Cars are also heated.
So, although people would probably prefer to stay home by a cosy log fire during winter, they still have to put on all their winter gear, shovel their driveway, scrape off the ice from their car windows, and go to work (or school), as life continues uninterrupted… unless you’re in Vancouver!
6. Everybody is bilingual
Many people know that Canada has two official languages: English and French. What this means, in practice, is that everything government-regulated, from food labels to tax forms and other federal documents, must be bilingual. Federal services, such as the postal service, must also be offered in both languages.
This doesn’t apply to individual provinces though. Each province makes its own rules regarding signage for example. In Ontario, English is often enough (even though at the municipal level, multi-ethnic cities like Toronto will communicate in dozens of languages). In Quebec, a controversial law requires that French text be larger than any other language (including English) on all the signs displayed in the province.
However, this doesn’t mean that everybody in the country knows both languages. Although French and English are taught in every public high school, only 17.5% of Canadians are considered bilingual (according to a government study based on 2011 data) with the largest proportions found in Quebec and New Brunswick (where 42.6% and 33.2% are bilingual respectively). Outside of Quebec, only 9.7% of people speak both languages.
7. We mispronounce some common words
There is a belief, especially among our American neighbours, that we pronounce “out” and “about” as “oot” and “aboot”. Personally, I never quite understood this. The following post takes a shot at explaining it.
Another thing Canadians are famous for, is saying “eh” at the end of every phrase. Now, I admit that we do sometimes say “eh”, but it’s a very subdued sound, almost like an extra vowel at the end of the sentence. 🙂
Watch this video if you want to know more about Canadian pronunciation from a native speaker.
Did you use to believe any of these 7 myths about Canada? Any others I missed? Let me know in the comments.