#10 Canada

Do you remember bank calendars?

When I was little my sister and I always waited between velvet ropes with my dad to see the bank teller — while lines rounded, stamps pounded, and thumbs counted, bills. Sometimes we grabbed faded pink and green deposit slips — the ones printed on the thinnest paper ever — and amused ourselves drawing on them or making million-dollar withdrawals on behalf of Scrooge McDuck.

Trips to the bank were pretty boring with only three major highlights: 1) Watching someone slowly open that thick giant door to the vault with metal-prongs the size of tennis ball containers, 2) Listening to the dot matrix printer screech a few lines onto my dad’s vinyl bank book, and 3) If we were really lucky, being handed a brand new calendar for next year full of beautiful scenery shots of Canada.

Yes, my sister and I would flip through those calendars in the back of the station wagon on the ride home. Our eyes popped at misty rainbows over Niagara Falls, snow-capped peaks smeared like icing over mountains, and tiny people walking on Bay of Fundy floors. We stared at evergreens standing silent behind mirrory Algonquin lakes, red and yellow leaf-covered drives on twisting Cape Breton roads, and a dim orange sun setting over a sparkling Toronto skyline. We gazed deeply at mossy boulders beside frozen lakes, a majestic Chateau Frontenac looming over Quebec City, and bright green grasses rolling over Prince Edward Island hills.

“Just remember how lucky you are,” my dad used to say, while steering us back into our shady subdivision. “All those pictures are from your own country. It’s the best country in the world and you get to live here!”

Dad, you were right:

1. Drink till you drop. See all those blue puddles on the map of Canada? Yeah, the last ice age ripped deep holes up here and now they’re filled with the world’s largest supply of fresh water. Sometimes they’re not even frozen.

2. As the world turns. Our tiny planet tilts on its axis every year and since Canada is smacked on the top of Earth, those big tilts result in big seasons. There’s a quiet rhythm with the seasons in Canada — with ice scrapers, wet umbrellas, chipped picnic tables, and heavy wool sweaters all making annual appearances.

3. Share the wealth. Canadians toss about half of everything they make into a big glass jar and use it to pay for health care, education, and services for all. Oh sure, the system’s never perfect, but if you shatter your leg in an icy parking lot, need a dozen years of free school for six kids, or want to drive on clean roads across the country, well we got you baby, we got you.

4. Paint it black, and green, and blue. Canada has a long history of investing in culture and arts. There’s afternoon storytelling on public radio, film festivals all over the place, and musicians and movie-makers scoring cash from the government to make their masterpiece. People paint bikes, spraypaint alley walls, and busk on sidestreets, with folks always looking, finding, and sharing beauty.

5. Free to be you and me. “It’s a free country,” my dad used to say, and he meant it, too. You can live where you want, pray to anybody you please, marry anyone you like, and watch anything on TV. Plus, being one of the world’s most diverse countries means you can find temples, neighborhoods, and sports broadcasts to fit your taste.

6. Deliciously disgusting. With so many backgrounds and cultures a city in Canada might have samosas, schwarma, and ceviche on the same corner. But there are other very Canadian treats too like Nanaimo Bars (chocolate, coconut, icing squares), poutine (hot fries covered in gooey cheese curds and steamy gravy), butter tarts (melted brown sugar with raisins in a greasy pastry), Montreal smoked meat (salted, cured, steamed beef brisket served with mustard on rye bread), and Ketchup chips (ketchup chips).

7. Canadian animals seem polite too. No pythons, scorpions, sharks, crocs, or kimodo dragons here. Just cute and cuddly arctic hares, polar bears, Canadian geese, Canadian meese, and beavers. (Sidenote: Do not cuddle a beaver.)

8. This land is our land. Canada is the second largest country in the world after Russia. It’s big! You can drive from one side to the other in about a week if you floor it and don’t mind putting almost 8,000 clicks on your car. But size helps with other things, too. If you live in a city, it’s easy to get away go camping for a day. If you pee your pants at school, it’s easy to skip town and change your identity.

9. 2 Languages, 2 Distinct Cultures, 2 Legit 2 Quit. Hey, hey! The province of Quebec makes all Canadians richer with French culture smeared coast to coast. There are two official languages so French classes broadens minds while Cirque du Soleil, French films, and delicious foods keep adding to the Canadian identity.

10. It’s full of Canadians. Sure, we’ve got lots of faults like apologizing too much and beating each other senseless in hockey. (Sorry about that.) But Canadians are some of the most peaceful, progressive, and cultured people in the world, if we do say so ourselves. Shaped by waves of new folks (40% of Canadians are first- or second-generation immigrants) the community is inclusive, funny, and polite. Also, Canadians are extremely humble, rarely extolling their virtues in long, meandering essays published online. (Sorry about that.)

So … after my dad parked the wood-panelled wagon in the driveway Nina and I headed inside to hang up the calendar on the yellow kitchen wall. It was hidden behind December for a month but soon we’d slowly scroll through polar bears on frozen lakes and setting suns over silos and hay bales. We gazed fondly on those pictures and dreamed of distant trips to far off places… and of course, like any country, like your home country, it’s only with exploring  that we really truly see all the beauty that makes our home


Thank you! The Book of Awesome has been a bestseller for 100 weeks!

Live in Toronto? I’ll be doing an event to say goodbye to 1000 Awesome Things and reveal #1 at Chapters John & Richmond on April 18th at 7pm. Would love to see you there!

Photos from: here, here, here, here, and here

147 thoughts on “#10 Canada

      1. I really, really, REALLY want to visit Australia. It looks so beautiful and I wouldn’t have to bother with language. However, I’m more than a little timid. I’ve heard all these bad things about being careful because of race relations (think treatment of Aborigines) is that true?

        1. I LOVE Australia! Yes there are scary animals, but they are no reason not to go in my opinion :) also, the accents are wonderful!!

        2. What have you heard about race relations? Is it the big killings that happened between the whites and the blacks when Australia was settled, or the stolen generation? The first thing i mentioned happened like, late 1700s/early 1800s, and the stolen generation happened in the 20th century. A few people in Aus are racists but its kind of irrelevant to tourists, unless of course you start an anti-Aboriginal protest in the street or a pro-Aboriginal protest in front of Parliament house (like what happened on Australia day this year)
          Australia is beautiful! The so-called scary animals are really only found in the bush (if you go on a bushwalk, look out for snakes, and if youre in the water up north, look out for crocodiles), unless you find a cockroach or mouse in your hotel room :)
          And thank you Shari, at least foreigners like our accents! I think some people’s accents over here sound terrible, because of the way we sometimes pronounce our vowels (hell, I even say things that make me “Ugh! What was that!” hahah). But anyway, yes Australia is awesome so come visit and give us some money from your tourism spendings!

    1. Just came back from a month Down Under, and gotta admit it is a fabulous place, but Neil, you’re right on, Canada rocks on the scale of Awesomeness!

      I totally love the last photo with the CN Tower :)

  1. And also, I want to go to Canada now! Maybe. After Poland and Melbourne and England, in that order. Australia has many beautiful landscapes, but none like what you described, with the amazing snowy/icy/watery scenes and the two languages. And I liked that bit about Canadians themselves :P

  2. My boyfriend and I (both Americans) spent a chunk of time riding our bicycles in Canada in 2011–a few days in Vancouver (where we’ve been before) and then later coming up through Waterton, to Calgary, then to Banff up to Jasper, then to Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. And y’know what? I love Canada.

    I totally recognized Lake Louise. That part of Canada is gorgeous and I can’t wait to go back some day.

    Oh, but in terms of food: You forgot All-Dressed potato chips. No one could tell us what they’re “dressed” with! They’re good, though: like BBQ flavor but more vinegary and less spicy.

    1. I had no idea that All Dressed chips are a Canadian thing… is it weird that makes me even prouder to be a Canadian?

      Love this post. Love being a Canadian!

    2. I am a potato chip fiend and I’ve never had All-Dressed potato chips! Geez, I live in potato chip central (my hometown is home to not one, not two, not even 3, but 4 snack food brands!) and we have NO All-Dressed potato chips…Waaaaaaa! They sound delicious! Here I was, naively thinking we had every chip flavor possible (Old Bay…mmmmmm), but I’m sadly mistaken. I vaguely remember ketchup chips when they came out here (briefly), but not sure I ever tried them. Of course, now that we don’t have them, I want them! Me thinks a potato-chip-gathering trip to Canada is in order. :)

      1. Kathy – there are a bunch of interesting chip flavors that you may see from time to time in the US, but are much more common in Canada.. All Dressed (yum!), Ketchup (yum!), Dill Pickle (sort of yum!), Sour Cream and Bacon (yum, yum, yum!!)

        Definitely make sure you try some on your next trip!

        1. My brother just moved back home to Canada after almost 20 years state-side, and he was, like, “All Dressed? What’s that?” Welcome home, brother. Welcome home.

    3. I love Canada! I may be biased because I’m Canadian but everything you said about it is so true! I would like to point out that a lot of people can be rude, as in any other country. A lot of people will be on the streets acting like idiots and I mutter under their breath, “Ah, they’re from ______.” I know I’ve done it a couple of times to people even from Saskatchewan and B.C.(I was born and live in Manitoba.) Haha, but overall we’re nice people, so I agree. Also, poutine is very good! :P We are a bilingual country and we are very proud to be canadian!! :)

      J’aime le Canada! J’ai peut-être biaisée parce que je suis canadienne, mais tout ce que vous avez dit à ce sujet est vrai. Je tiens à souligner que beaucoup de gens peuvent être impoli, comme dans n’importe quel autre pays. Beaucoup de gens seront dans les rues et conduit comme un idiot et je marmonne sous mon souffle. Je sais que j’ai le fait un couple de fois à des gens des autres provinces. (Je suis née et vivre au Manitoba.) Haha, mais dans l’ensemble nous sommes des gens sympa, je suis d’accord. En outre, la poutine est très bonne! :P Nous sommes un pays bilingue et nous sommes très fiers d’être canadien!! :)

    4. You are really close with the lake, it’s Moraine Lake which is only about 30 minutes away from Lake Louise! I live about 3 hours away from there and it is by far the most beautiful lake in Alberta (in my opinion). The blue color is much more vibrant than Lake Louise and usually less busy!

      1. La Banquise has soo many different types of poutine. I didn’t even know it was possible until I was in Montreal last year.

  3. I’ve been thinking for a while now that I would fit right in with Canadians — and now I want to go there even more!

    But, oh my freaking God, when the HELL did we hit the Final 10?!

  4. Truly AWESOME post Neil!!! I love Canada :D I gotta say though that even though poutine is the epitome of all things evil, I still love it guiltily ;)

  5. I visited Canada for a week when I was in high school. I went to Quebec and Montreal and I absolutely loved it. I talk all the time about going back. I want to be able to share it with my hubby and kids.

  6. Asa fellow Canadian, I was quite pleased to read this title; nice work Neil! But you forgot one: Canadians are also known world-wide as HUMBLE and POLITE citizens of the world.
    We rarely go out of our way to BRAG about our many accomplishments as a nation or as INDIVIDUALS. People love us for that!

      1. LOL – nope, that encompasses Canada to a tee- if you didn’t hear – our Prime Minister (like a President, but not) let us all know during the 2010 Olympics that it was ok for us to be proud and shout how amazing we are when we won things. I’m not even kidding. We had actual permission granted to be over-the-top-proud of our accomplishments.
        Sorry about that ;)

    1. This is true, and it’s a point that many of the Canadian tourists and academics I’ve met have – without any provocation – made a point of letting me know. LOL. Canada’s beautiful and has a fascinating history. Someday I’m going to actually be able to travel there. Nice blog; I’m sorry I didn’t know about it until now.

  7. Another Australian piping up – Canada is absolutely beautiful and is one of the few places that truly resonated with me. Breathtaking landscapes, an amazing culture, wonderful people, sheer /Canadian-ness/. The only other place that has struck me in this way, apart from my hometown of Melbourne, has been New Zealand. (But don’t tell them.)

    1. Love that Catherine; the NZ reference – so true. I’m in Tasmania, and have spent a couple of months in Canada from Vancouver to Nova Scotia and could happily move there tomorrow. Actually Vancouver is very similar to Hobart in layout – water, city, mountains – it’s just bigger. And we can’t ski on our Mt Wellington overlooking the city. I often think of Aust, Canada and NZ as the beautiful trio.

      1. I’m glad I’m not alone in this and that my fondness isn’t unfounded – I do have a soft spot for Hobart as well and now it all makes sense!

        1. Haha catherine, as a Kiwi I think it’s actually mutual so don’t worry. NZ rules (is probably more like Canada than Australia) but Australia rules too. And I’ve been to Canada 3 times so far and its AWESOME. That’s all the description it needs :-)

  8. I went to Niagara Falls for my 1st anniversary (turned out to be our last) but I’ve since wanted to go back and make great new memories there. I’m definitely going back. We owe a lot to Canada; I’m certain that that’s where all the cold air comes from!

  9. Neil, what a lovely, lovely tribute to our home and native land! You are right, there are so many things that make our country awesome. Like knowing there are still places in our vast land that have not been touched by man, the awe-inspiring northern lights and the hot, muggy summers in southern Ontario, mosquitoes the size of your fist and the delight of scratching the bites afterwards, jumping off a dock at the cottage, popping into a little restaurant in Montreal and not knowing what delights lay therein, being hypnotized by fields of swaying wheat in the Prairies, taking in the history of St John’s, turning on the news at night and hearing the comforting voice of Peter Mansbridge, laughing yourself silly at Rick Mercer and the 22 Minutes crew, waking up to music you’ve never heard before on Radio 2…..I could go on and on! Canada is AWESOME! Canada est génial!

    1. I love Radio2 mornings! But if you REALLY want to hear music you’ve never heard before, thats 100% Canadian – check out Radio3 – ironically, not on the “radio” as such – you can listen at cbcmusic.ca or stream it on itunes, or satellite radio. I’ve discovered so many awesome bands and artists there.

  10. I second nads’ post. A very beautiful tribute to a land we call home :) I’ve been living abroad for school in the UK for the past couple of years and I miss Canada tremendously in a way that I never thought I would. Thanks for bringing a smile to my day!

  11. What a beautiful post about Canada- I really want to make it my next vacation destination! I only have one comment: there are many more than two languages in Canada, you’re forgetting about all the (very important) languages spoken by the First Nations, the Inuit, and the Metis of Canada! Their languages, and their cultures, are just another thing that makes Canada beautiful.

    1. AGREE!!! TWO languages?!
      Absolutely NO mention of OUR FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE… all they survived…by way of “SHARING” this land…A FOCUS on this being the humble-proud, heart and spirit of “our” nation, FIRST AND FOREMOST for this particular awesome would have been respectful, thoughtful and far more awesome.

  12. Oh yes, Canada. Out of my ENTIRE family, I was the first to become a Canadian citizen. :) My little sister came along four years later, but I was the very first Canadian in my family.

    Sure, the country might not be absolutely perfect, but I’d rather be Canadian than say…an alien [it rhymes! :D] Polar bears and arctic hares [more rhymes], and I love that all my friends come from different cultures. Sure, we might be an odd-looking bunch but it works well all the same.

  13. This post makes me happy to live fairly close to Canada! (Given a full day’s drive.) I’ve only been once but it was gorgeous. Must go back soon!

  14. Ok I’m high on pregnancy hormones but I feel like bawling…isn’t our beautiful country a wonderful place to live…magnifique!

  15. Don’t forget the way a simple “eh” can turn any statement into a question in Canadian speak! Although I really don’t think we say ouut and boouuut like everyone else claims that we do.

    Lovely post Neil. Thank you for reminding us again how lucky we really are.

    PS: To all the Aussies, I have to admit that I LOVE your country too. I can’t wait until I get to go back for another visit.

  16. I’ve been to Canada a few times and what struck me, apart from the dazzling beauty, was the cleanliness. Toronto was the cleanest city I’ve ever seen! It conveyed a real sense of love and respect for the environment and great pride in your homeland. I’ve never been far enough north to see the Northern Lights, but that is tops on my bucket list. Each of my visits have been wonderful and I hope to have many more in the future!

    I definitely suggest that this post be incorporated into some big national event at which the prime minister reads your homage to Canada! OK, who knows the prime minister? Somebody get in touch with him and relay this post. I’m pretty sure Neil may be knighted (do Canadians even do this? LOL) for this!

  17. Dude, if it is your goal to get us all to cry for every one of the top 10, you have started out strong (and free). This post brought back many good memories of ROAD TRIPS and other holidays exploring this vast and beautiful land of Canada. Come one, come all, come share this with us. It’s a beauty, eh?

  18. If that was #10, I can hardly wait to see #1. I have traveled to over 30 amazing countries, but I love mine the best!

  19. Various members of my family, I included have all immigrated to Canada over the years. I returned to the US for a job 2years ago and am a dual citizen. I fly my Canadian flag on my desk at work and in my car. I love Canada and always sing its praises to everyone I meet. Thanks so much for your comments on our beautiful country.

  20. Excellent post! I’m having a little fit of patriotism right now.

    I do have to disagree with you on one thing, though. In my experience, Canada geese are definitely not polite or friendly. Especially with nesting season coming up. Mostly they just poo everywhere, back up traffic while they cross the road, and attack my dog.

    1. Canada geese are definitely not friendly! And for that matter, there’s no way I’m going to cuddle a polar bear either, because he will see me as a tasty snack.

      But aside from a few less than polite animals, Canada is one of the greatest countries. I know I’m biased, but it is so, so beautiful here. I love the mountains, the awe-inspiring prairies, the Canadian Shield country, the beautiful arctic, and the colourful east coast. There is somewhere for everyone here.

      1. I agree about the geese! There are some that nest near my office, and once the chicks hatch they often hang out in front of our building, eating the front lawn grass, and we can’t get to the door!

  21. I used to live in Canada for years, still doing back and force between Tokyo and Vancouver area.
    Everytime when I get back Cacana, I thank god for all the beauty I can see there!

    I always telling my Canadian friends, “You are so lucky to be a Canadian, your country is one of the most beautiful place on the planet!”

    I feel happy whenever I think about Canada, the beauty of the great mother nature, and wonderful people there..I miss them all, too!

    1. I’m very glad you’re patriotic for your country, but “when in Rome, do as the Romans”…it kinda bugs me when people are in one place and wish to be in another – such as flying your country’s flag in a country not your own (embassies and special events excepted). Sometimes traveling to another country makes me happy that I live where I do but I save the enthusiasm for when I get back…

  22. Worst 1000awesomethings ever. These are supposed to make me feel good, not remind me of the six years of my life I spent in America’s oversized freezing hat.
    All-dressed chips are the best chips, though.

      1. Don’t worry guys, he’s just trolling. No one of any decency or common sense would actually believe what he said. As with all clowns and trolls and troublemakers, ignore him and he’ll take his unwanted opinions elsewhere.

  23. This is so awesome :D dont hate on neil because he thinks his home country is awesome! And i dont apologize for beating other people in hockey :)

  24. Love this! Makes me so proud to be Canadian. :) Can’t believe there’s only 9 more awesome things left!

  25. Pssh… don’t quite agree with Soviet Cannuckistan being awesome…

    I keed. I hope to one day go there and check it out. It seems like a cool place.

  26. This is one of my favourites! I love popping in here and reading all of the awesome things that come up, but this one is in my own personal top 10. I reference 1000 awesome things on a weekly basis at least, and cannot praise you enough for the joy you are spreading through the world.

    I’m a born and raised Canadian, and it’s great to be able to raise my kids in the same country. Economic turmoil can bring it on, we’re in it for the long haul. (Sorry about that)

    Ketchup chips (described as being “ketchup chips”) are phenomenal. Thank you for brightening my day, eh?

  27. And this is why you will see Canadians rocking their CANADA t’s and hoodies any day of the year :D. We love our country, and one more thing to be proud of, we have you, Neil to remind us of all thing Awesome!

  28. So I guess I’m one of your few American readers…
    Of course this is your own list so you can do whatever you want, but I’d just like to say that all countries are great and bad in their own ways, I don’t think that there’s one that tops all the rest. The Canadian stereotype is just that- there are mean people in Canada too, just as not all Americans are “angry, bitter New Yorkers.”
    This is just a thought and my only slight criticism of all of your posts. You are a wonderful writer. I can’t believe that I began reading this blog when I was 9th grader, and I’m about to graduate in May.
    Much love from the US, Meghan.

    1. Completely agree with you here. Many places and countries share lots of the traits shown here. Including the country that Canadians truly dislike, the USA. I’ve lived in Canada for several years and I can honestly say I’ve actually heard the US anthem booed, hundreds of people in a room answer a resounding “YES” to the question “Are Canadians smarter than Americans?” and seen physical violence inflicted upon Americans by Canadians during the Olympics (I live in Vancouver) because they dared to wear sweaters supporting their national team.

      I also have to take issue with a few things on the post…
      point 2: Canada is generally speaking less “fully seasoned” than most other countries. Many areas of Canada don’t see daylight for days at a time. Some don’t see it for weeks at a time. Those places barely get out of winter before seeing a month or two of what one might call “sprautumn” before the freeze starts again. Sure, the tiny section that people actually live in has relatively full seasons, but that is by no means the whole country. This is what happens when you’re on top of the globe.

      points 3-6: These happen in MANY countries. You nearly have to go to a developing country to not find examples of these things.

      Particularly point 4: When I think of cultural centres of the world, I think of Paris, New York, St Petersburg and Cairo. Toronto or Vancouver don’t come to mind. Vancouver’s single art gallery (known locally as the Vag) is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Nice building from the outside. Terrible upkeep inside and abysmal collection.

      point 7: have you met a canadian goose? They are the most vile creatures on earth, with the exception of maybe the komodo dragon. Those geese hiss and bite. If they were venomous, you’d classify them as snakes.

      point 8: You can get away from the big city just about anywhere. I just got back from Japan. If you can get away from the city there, you can get away from it anywhere.

      point 9: lots of countries are multi-lingual. And in all my years in vancouver, I have NEVER seen a French film with actual showtimes. The Artist doesn’t count. No words.

      point 10: You cannot possibly have a list of 1000 made by you and put your own country in the top 1% of that list and still call yourself humble with an expectation of being taken seriously. You also didn’t mention what happens when things don’t go Canada’s way. There was a game a Vancouver team lost a little while ago. Tear gas was deployed. Police cars were set on fire. Several blocks of retail space was vandalized, looted and destroyed. Two stanley cup finals, two riots. We’re batting 1.000 there.

      If you’re looking for people who truly act with humility and grace and are genuinely nice, look no further than the Japanese. They set the bar very high. Canadians appear like drunk Russians in comparison.

      1. Meghan, Todd, you guys need to chill! He’s not saying that other Countries suck in comparison to Canada, he’s merely displaying his affection and pride for his Country! I married a Canadian, and he she lives with me here in the States. She is a proud Canadian and I have never felt that same pride for my Country that she has for her Country! That says something about our wonderful neighbors to our north! No one or no Country is perfect, but Canada has a lot of great things going for it. Maybe if more Countries were like Canada there would be a little less tension and a lot more peace in the world! Just Sayin!

        1. I completely agree ‘UglyAmerican’. Neil is simply stating that he loves his country. He wants to share that with others, that’s all. We are proud to be Canadian and we want to show it. I love how some Americans say Canada sucks, but then they go travelling the world pretneding they’re Canadians to be treated better. Gotta love that, eh? :)

      2. It’s unfortunate that you don’t really understand what the author was trying to portray. I LIVE in Vancouver and yes, the riots suck, but did you live here during the Olympics? AMAZING! So proud!!! Unreal! The Japanese are many here and most don’t understand the customs of our country. i’m sorry you can’t appreciate how lucky you are to live in this gorgeous wonderful country. I wouldn’t trade it for the world (and I’ve lived in a few different countries…)

  29. I am Canadian and currently studying in the States. I must admit that Canada really is AWESOME! From Smarties, Aero, Caramilk, poutine, Ceasars, buttertarts, tarte au sucre, ketchup chips, Jos Louis, Passion Flake, grenache, Kraft Peanut butter; to Swiss Chalet, St Hubert, Tim Hortons; from our amazing musicians (currently loving Hedley and Marianas Trench), to our beautiful landscape and our amazing people, Canada really is AWESOME!

    1. Canada truly does sound awesome! But a very-muchly-not-awesome ‘musician’ from Canada is Justin Bieber. That, I am extremely sorry, is unforgivable.

    2. Those are the two Canadian bands I’m obsessed with at the moment. I don’t know what it is but even as an American I keep finding myself drawn to Canadian music!

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