From the Land of Hockey, Beer, and Back Bacon

Apr 16, 2013 | Updated Jun 16, 2013

Canada is a wonderful place.

On my travels around the globe, I get asked a lot of questions about Canada. Most of the questions are about what it is like being a classical musician from Canada. A lot of people seem to think that the very idea of a classical musician from Canada -- much less the prairies of Canada, where I grew up -- is hilarious, and surely worthy of some bizarre explanation. ("Maybe he was given a violin by a fur trader." "Maybe he just wasn't good enough at hockey." False, and true.)

But I also get a lot of questions on all sorts of non-musical Canada-related subjects. Hockey, doughnuts, wind chill, ice fishing, poutine... I am honored (honoured, actually), if somewhat baffled, that people would turn to a violinist for answers about things that can be answered so quickly, and undoubtedly authoritatively, by Wikipedia. But since people seem to have such unbridled curiosity about Canada and her people, I will try to explain, dear reader, why Canada is such a great place. In under 1000 words.

I will start with music, since that is a subject that I actually know something about. Canada has a rich musical culture, with strong traditions and history. In the classical world, we have a thriving new music scene, a handful of world-class orchestras as well as an additional half-dozen or so very, very good ones, an astonishingly large number of world-class singers and pianists, and a very healthy smattering of top-level string players, wind players and conductors. For much of the 20th century through the present, there has been an admirable attempt to provide Canadians from coast to coast to coast (think about it -- when I use that phrase among foreigners I'm often met with looks of surprise, but of course it is a fact) with access and exposure to classical music through CBC radio and the tireless efforts of entrepreneurs who, often with government support, bring live concerts to the most tiny, isolated, forbidding, and altogether unlikely destinations.

Outside of the classical scene, we have given the world Shania Twain (you're welcome) and Justin Bieber (we're sorry). Michael Bublé is Canadian, as is Avril Lavigne. We are the home of The Guess Who, the Barenaked Ladies, Diana Krall, Feist, Maynard Ferguson, Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen, Nickelback, Joni Mitchell, Paul Anka, Oscar Peterson, K.D. Lang, Rush, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, and Natalie MacMaster. Needless to say, there is a lot of variety in Canadian music.

Now, on to other subjects.

Though most people identify Canada with hockey, which is the "official winter sport," the official summer sport is lacrosse, a sport with a nearly 1000-year history that is most often associated with preppy kids from New England. There are legends of early aboriginal lacrosse matches that lasted several days, used up to 1000 players per side, and were played on fields several kilometers long. It is unknown how many doughnuts were consumed during these matches, but I am guessing it was a lot.

Canadians have an intense love of donuts. There are more doughnut shops per capita than anywhere else in the world. The only other country with a comparable obsession with doughnuts is Australia (or, as I like to call it, "Hot Canada" -- am I the only person who thinks that if you switch north with south, cold with hot, and moose with kangaroos, the countries are practical identical? I digress). I sometimes wonder if the doughnut thing is actually physically related to the Canadian border. My wife can go for a year in the States without eating a doughnut, but if we have been in Canada for more than five minutes without visiting a Tim Horton's she gets irritable. Of course, that's usually not a problem since Canadian law requires there to be a Tim Horton's every 50 meters in populated areas.

On the subject of that Canada/U.S. border, it is worth mentioning that 90 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of it, it is 5525 miles long, and it is the longest undefended border in the world. There is really no reason for it to be defended, as most Americans have virtually no desire to cross it, ever, and as far as the Canadian invasion goes, well, it already happened. And it happened in Hollywood.

The American entertainment world is overrun with Canadians. We are everywhere. The Starship Enterprise was captained by a Canadian (William Shatner), as was Doc Brown's DeLorean from Back to the Future (Michael J. Fox). Captain von Trapp and Anakin Skywalker are Canadian (Christopher Plummer and Hayden Christensen). The only reason anyone ever watched Baywatch was a Canadian (Pamela Anderson). Jack Bauer, that ultimate defender of the Great American Way, is Canadian (Kiefer Sutherland). Heck, for 22 years Americans even got their news from a Canadian (Peter Jennings). And then there are the comedians. Jim Carrey, Leslie Nielsen, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Norm MacDonald, Catherine O'Hara, Lorne Michaels, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and Tommy Chong are all from Canada. Actually, most of the funniest people in the world are from Canada. This is a fact, and I would post links to the various medical studies that have proved it, but I'm sure you believe me so I won't bother.

Canadians are funny, and Canada is funny. Canada has six time zones. When it is 9 a.m. in Vancouver, it is 1:30 p.m. in St. John's. Dog food is tax-deductible in Canada. Head-smashed-in Buffalo Jump is not just a real place, but is a world heritage site. Our Northwest Territories were very nearly renamed "Bob".

Oh, Canada! It is indeed a special and wonderful place, full of the most interesting people, places, and things. So, don't just ask me about what Canada is like. Check it out yourself. You won't be disappointed.

P.S. The Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Just click the link. I am not making this up.