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What Makes Us Canadian Essay Writing

The True North, Friendly & Free: What makes us proud to be Canadian

December 31, 2016

By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

In our final survey of the year, and as the country prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday, we decided to explore what makes Canadians proud of their country.

To do this, we came up with a wide-ranging list of 78 different items, realizing that we could have had an almost infinite list of ideas to probe for.

So, with the caveat that this is by no means the definitive list of items that could stir passion for Canada, this initial release will focus on the top 20 and bottom 10 from our list of 78. We’ll release more of the results over the next couple of days, and the entire list at the end of that process.

Here’s what we found:

• All but 3 of the 78 items made a majority of Canadians feel at least some pride. Those that did not meet this threshold were Conrad Black, Justin Bieber, and Lululemon.

• At the very top of the list, and a source of a great deal of pride for 59% (17.1 million adults) is our “freedom to live our lives as we see fit”. Fully 98% said this aspect of Canada made them at least some pride.

• Second was Terry Fox, an individual whose spirit and commitment captured the nation, and who passed away 35 years ago. Every year, thousands of Canadians participate in a run to honour his effort and to raise money for cancer research. Fox makes 50% or 14.7 million adults feel really proud.

• Third was “open-mindedness towards others”, and fourth was “politeness”, two characteristics at the heart of what it means to be Canadian for a great many people.

• In fifth, and first among several places tested in this survey, was the Rocky Mountains.

• Sixth went to maple syrup, tops among several foods included in the survey.

• Seventh was “enjoyment of the outdoors” a recognition of the passion Canadians feel for nature and for experiencing it first-hand.

• Eighth was Canada’s “reputation around the world”. While Canadians embrace humility, it matters to us that the world sees us in a positive light.

• Ninth is multiculturalism – reinforcing that diversity in Canada is not seen as a source of tension but rather of strength or advantage.

• Rounding out the top ten is our “sense of caring for the world around us”, reinforcing that Canadians take seriously our responsibility to the world we live in and to the people who face challenges greater than ours.

• Eleventh is our “steadiness and consistency”.

• Twelfth is “how we provide health care”.

• Canadian food makes it to 13th on the list.

Wayne Gretzky is 14th and the top of several hockey players tested.

Celine Dion is 15th and the top entertainer on our list.

David Suzuki is 16th.

Canadian wheat is 17th and the second highest food product after maple syrup.

• Our cities made it to 18th on the list. No doubt many people feel proud of the fact that several Canadian cities regularly make global lists of great places to live.

• 19th is Pittsburgh Penguin hockey star and Cole Harbour, NS native Sidney Crosby.

Leonard Cohen, who passed away earlier this year, rounds out the top 20.

Those that just barely missed making the top 20 include Gordie Howe, Alberta beef, and Queen Elizabeth II.

The bottom 10 in our list (which does not necessarily imply unpopularity but rather in some cases less familiarity or a meaningful, but smaller contribution to national pride, were: the Roots brand (18 million feel some pride) Ryan Reynolds, Drake (15 million feel some pride), Air Canada, Rachel McAdams, soccer player Christine Sinclair, the Toronto FC, Lululemon, Conrad Black and Justin Bieber.

For some of these, it’s especially important to note that there may be important regional or generational differences of opinion. In the case of Drake, for example, 14% of those aged 18 to 35 felt really proud of him compared with only 4% of those over 35.

Naturally, not everyone will agree about what contributes to their pride in the country or in being Canadian. Because of our desire to test a wide range of items, we had to split our sample and so our ability to examine subgroup differences is a bit limited.

Nevertheless, there are some important generational differences that bear noting in these results.

Compared to older Canadians, those under 45 were MORE likely to say they derive a great deal of pride from:

• Multiculturalism (23 points higher)
• Open-mindedness (23 points higher)
• How we provide health care (16 points higher)
• Our winters (14 points higher)
• Our politeness (7 points higher)
• Sidney Crosby (7 points higher)

Those under 45 were LESS likely to say they derive a great deal of pride from:

• the Rocky Mountains (19 points lower)
• Maple Syrup (18 points lower)
• Leonard Cohen (14 points lower)
• Wayne Gretzky (10 points lower)
• Terry Fox (11 points lower)
• Canadian wheat (12 points lower)

Differences by generation were small or non-existent on the following items:

• Our freedom to live our lives as we see fit
• Our sense of caring for the world around us
• Steadiness and consistency
• Our cities
• David Suzuki
• Celine Dion
• Justin Bieber
• Conrad Black


According to Bruce Anderson: this first pass at a what stirs our pride shows how important we consider our values to be. We define these as freedom to live our lives as we see fit, a polite, open-minded attitude towards other people, a commitment to helping others, including making sure everyone has health care, and our steadiness over time.

Our sense of space and nature is strongly linked to our pride. So too, is hockey, and in particular the two most famous players in the last 3 decades.

The place that Terry Fox holds is one of the most remarkable findings, in my view. His struggle with cancer is something so many can relate to, and his dogged effort to bring visibility and raise money for cancer research by launching a run along Canada’s national highway touch many different chords that illustrate what Canadians admire about the country and aspire to emulate.

The current debate about screening for Canadian values is topical for several reasons. These results confirm that a sense of shared values truly is important to a great many people. At the top of the list of values we share is the freedom to live our lives as we see fit.

However, some powerful generational differences then come into play. Young people are clearly more enthusiastic about cultural diversity and open-mindedness to people who are different. In contrast, the concept of individual freedom can include some qualifications among a higher proportion of older, compared to younger, Canadians.


Our survey was conducted online with 1,848 Canadians aged 18 and over from December 12 to 14, 2016. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 1,848 is +/- 2.3%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.


We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and value-added insight. Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, Ph.D.


If you ask anyone in or outside Canada what makes that country different from other nations, it doesn’t usually take long for hockey to emerge as something that seems characteristically Canadian.

Canada’s greatest and most wide reaching export, hockey cannot be ignored in Canada, whether one appreciates the game or not. There are outdoor and indoor rinks in every community across the country; there is year-round media coverage of hockey; most Canadians alive at the time can tell you where they were when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal to beat Russia in the Canada/Soviet series; a hockey scene figures prominently on the back of the five-dollar bill; and, when asked in 2004 to come up with a list of the ten greatest Canadians of all time, millions of Canadians polled put both Wayne Gretzky and Don Cherry in the top 10. “Hockey,” writes novelist David Adams Richards, “is where we’ve gotten it right” (60).

But how does hockey connect to Canada today? How can an extremely multicultural country that has long considered itself as a peacekeeping nation still see itself reflected in one of only two sports (the other is lacrosse, Canada’s official national summer sport) in which fighting is an accepted and even lauded part of the game?

I. Origins

In his introduction to the tenth-anniversary edition of Hero of the Play, poet Richard Harrison discusses the origins of hockey. There has long been a debate over whether hockey first developed and was played in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Kingston, Ontario, or Montreal, Quebec.  More recently, there appears to be strong evidence that hockey was played even earlier by sailors stranded in the Arctic as part of Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to discover the fabled Northwest Passage.

In Harrison’s eyes, though, “[w]hat’s important isn’t where the origins of hockey is found in Canada, but how Canada finds at least a part of its origin in hockey” (16). Indeed, although historians and hockey lovers debate where the first game make have taken place, no one questions the fact that the game develops Canada or, perhaps even that Canada develops out of the game. As Harrison puts it,

“Hockey emerges in the Canadian past at the time the Canada we lived in then as separate communities was being made into Canada we live in now as a people. In mythic terms, hockey is one of the few things that could be said to be ours from the beginning of Canadian time.

And for all its simplicity, like all creation myths, hockey is also about Canadian light and Canadian darkness. All creation myths have a place for the way their people experience not just the light and the dark of the seasons of the day, but the light and the darkness in themselves. Hockey’s simplicity and childish roots offer us the play that we love for its own sake; its skills and speed give us what we admire in those dedicated to excellence. Its violence gives us a view into our own.” (Harrison 16-17)

Hockey is, in writer Morley Callaghan’s words, “the game that makes a nation” just as much as it may be a game the nation made.

II. The Nation(al) Game

Naturally, there is a lot at stake in Canada’s claim to be the “first nation of hockey,” to quote the rant from “Joe Canadian” in the 2000 beer commercial from Molson’s “I Am Canadian” campaign. You’ll see the words “it’s our game” in everything from commercials for beer and Tim Hortons to school textbooks. The notion that hockey and Canada are equal parts of one another helps advertisers, the sport of hockey in Canada, and broadcasters trying to increase their audience numbers.

There is plenty of evidence, of course, to suggest that not only was hockey Canada’s game at its outset but that it also remains that way today. One need only look at the fact that over 500,000 children, women, and men are registered each year in organized hockey in Canada. At the professional level, Canadians still make up over 50% of players in the NHL, more than two and a half times the number of American players in the league. What makes that number even more extraordinary is that Canada has only one-tenth the population of the USA.

Canada’s dominance in international competition over the years also supports this idea.  While the men’s teams have won Olympic gold medals in 2002 and 2010, the women’s team has won gold in 2002, 2006, and 2010. The women’s team, along with that from the United States, have been so dominant in international play that there is pressure to have the sport removed from the Winter Olympics until players from other nations can catch up.

Television viewership of hockey in Canada also demonstrates Canada’s connection to the game.  The 2010 Gold Medal game between the Men’s hockey teams from Canada and the United States was the most watched sports program in Canadian viewers, netting 13 million viewers at its peak. The following chart from the City of Edmonton’s water utility provides another way of demonstrating just how many people were watching the gold-medal game on February 28th.

Regardless of how strong the connection of hockey to Canada might be, the increasingly aggressive assertions that hockey is “Canada’s game” and no one else’s naturally rubs other countries (and many, many Canadians) the wrong way. Such rhetoric, which one hears employed mostly by advertisers such as Molson, Coke, and Tim Hortons and by some commentators, most notably Don Cherry, seems counter to the modesty and humility for which Canada is known. Brash self-confidence seems, to many Canadians, to be “un-Canadian.”

As Bruce Dowbiggin points out in his 2008 book The Meaning of Puck: How Hockey Explains Modern Canada, it is not a coincidence that the most revered hockey stars in Canada are the ones who are the most humble and, like Crosby and Gretzky before him, are quick to point to their teammates as the reason behind their individual success. Unlike the more individualistic culture of the United States, Canada and Canadians see themselves, for better or worse, as being more concerned with the success of the collective rather than the individual. As such, they can be quick to put in their place those who are deemed to think too much of their own accomplishments. Dowbiggin looks to an earlier book on hockey for an explanation of this tendency:

“Whatever the origins of Canada’s self-abasement, Peter Gzowski understood the syndrome in his 1982 book The Game of Our Lives. ‘We are not good with our heroes, we Canadians. Starved for figures of national interest, we, or our media, seek out anyone who shows a flicker of promise and shove them on to the nearest available pedestal. We leave them there for a while, and then we start to throw things at them'” (Dowbiggin 75-6).

III. National (Contra)diction

As Bruce Dowbiggin points out in The Meaning of Puck, one does not need to scratch far beneath the surface to see how Canada’s connection to hockey seems to reveal some strong contradictions about the country and the sport:
“In its quick, brutal fashion, hockey is a perfect wedge in the emerging urban/suburban-rural split in Canada — the so-called Tim Hortons versus Starbucks. Hockey lovers regard urban Canadian culture as some extended episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a fashion/design industry that keeps Canada out of wars and in designer jeans. If Canada were a TV program, it would be The Odd Couple. Hockey is Oscar, lounging in his underwear in his a fraying BarcaLounger. The rest of Canada is Felix, asking ask Oscar to pick up his pizza boxes, put on a clean shirt and take the empties back to the beer store” (21).

Although I would argue that Dowbiggin overstates this case – the lines between urban and rural Canadians are hardly as cut and dry as he proposes – it is important to remember that Canada is much larger than hockey; for all the Canadians obsessed with the game, there are just as many who focus on other parts of Canadian life, even if they do sometimes tune into the Stanley Cup Finals or the Olympic Gold Medal game. One of the most crucial differences of opinion among Canadians revolves around the role of fighting in hockey. Despite its well-deserved reputation in both World Wars as some of the fiercest troops on the battlefield, Canada has, over the last fifty years, become known around the world as a peacekeeping nation, a moderating force in international debate that sees war as the last and most unappealing option.

“How,” asks Dowbiggin, “does the nation that has (until the recent Afghan mission) cherished its image as an international peacekeeper reconcile its pacifism with the brutal, pitiless heart of hockey, its national sport?” (22). While some critics see the acceptance of fighting in hockey as an aberration that should be eliminated once and for all, others, like Don Cherry, see this as part of the “code” of hockey that is as much a part of the game as anything else. While he doesn’t openly come down on one side or the other, Harrison sees this issue as less of a contradiction than an indication of Canada’s complex relation with the game and its own history; Canada is a country that, at least among certain segments of its population, sees an importance in “smiling ugly.”

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