A friend from the Bahamas visited me recently in Toronto.
I baked butter tarts for her, a Canadian staple, and added a bottle of maple syrup. Next, I set about preparing the card I would include: a compendium of quotes about Canada, with noteworthy observations and commentary by both residents and visitors. And for fun, a soupçon of the ill-advised and the flat out wrong.
The first quote that popped us was this, attributed to the indefatigable Britney Spears: “You get to travel to overseas places, like Canada.”
From brainy Britney we move to, who else, the French explorer Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce de Lahontan (now that’s a handle!), who said in 1702: “To survive the Canadian winter, one needs a body of brass, eyes of glass, and blood made of brandy.”
The Iroquois wars gave him his glass eye, his blood would definitely have had a high brandy content, and he probably did have certain nether regions composed of brass to venture here 300 years ago.
Next up, the ever-capricious Al Capone: “I don’t even know what street Canada is on.”
Rather amusing, from someone who actually knew Canada rather well, since he visited with the infamous distiller Hiram Walker frequently at his Walkerville, Ontario mansion. The two would carouse while making arrangements to ship Canadian Club Whisky south. You see, CC was aged a minimum of five years in oak casks, while American whiskies and bourbons were aged a paltry year. Al knew his booze.
Comic Jon Stewart weighed in next with this: “I’ve been to Canada, and I’ve always gotten the impression that I could take the country over in about two days.”
Not so fast, Jon Boy…might not be so easy to do. It’s a common misconception that Canadians don’t have guns. But for good or bad, seven million of us are armed…that’s about 20 percent of our population. Not to worry, though; we tend to shoot mostly deer, bear, moose, and caribou..
Writers were no gentler with us.
Here is W. Bruce Cameron in his book Emory’s Gift: It was Canada where they let people do whatever they wanted because it was too cold to bother stopping them.”
Kelly Link in Magic for Beginners said: “The zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you.”
Ouch. Leave it to Jane Fonda to save the day with this love note: “When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.”
Jane, how you talk!
This also cheered me up, from Spook Country, William Gibson’s political thriller: “Canadian cities looked the way American cities did on television.”
Winston Churchill may have exulted about Canada more than anyone. “There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people.”
Nice schmooze, Winnie…that was in 1939, and he was desperate for volunteers. We did not disappoint him.
In my travels I find people’s knowledge about Canada has vastly improved; now the real facts are a few keyboard clicks away. But misconceptions still abound, mostly about our (yawn) weather.
Does it snow all the time? Do you snowmobile to work? Do you use British money? You all speak French, right? It’s stuff like this that really gets our fur collars up.
And no. We don’t all play hockey. Many of us have never even strapped on skates. I, for one, am allergic to ice and am still traumatized by the time I tangled skate blades with a bully at the local arena and was catapulted straight into the boards, effectively kyboshing the slightest affection I might ever have had for the colder climes.
A somewhat hardier Stephen Leacock, the country’s celebrated humorist, eloquently characterized our national sport this way in 1895: “Hockey captures the essence of Canadian experience in the New World. In a land so inescapably and inhospitably cold, hockey is the chance of life, and an affirmation that despite the deathly chill of winter we are alive.”
Another native, comedian Rick Mercer, offered this truism: “The U.S. is our trading partner, our neighbor, our ally and our friend… and sometimes we’d like to give them such a smack!”
Truth be told, Canadians are quite kindly disposed to our neighbours to the south. We visited you 23.4 million times in 2013!
Toronto activist and author June Callwood was ever the straight shooter. “The beaver, which has come to represent Canada as the eagle does the United States and the lion Britain, is a flat-tailed, slow-witted, toothy rodent known to bite off its own testicles or to stand under its own falling trees.”
Our very own Mike Myers quipped: “Canada is a subtle flavor — we’re more like celery as a flavor.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt after reading this sentiment from Jan Wong’s memoir, Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now. “Living in China has made me appreciate my own country, with its tiny, ethnically diverse population of unassuming donut-eaters.”
But leave it to Robin Williams to skewer us to perfection. “Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party. Like: ‘Keep it down, eh?’”
I can’t find out who came up with this little jewel but it may rank as my favorite of them all:
“Canada is like your attic. You forget that it’s up there, but when you go, it’s like ‘Oh man, look at all this great stuff!’”