#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’m sorry I keep forgetting how wonderful you are, but I love you Canada! And I love living here! Thank you for reminding me how great it is to be here :)

  2. Thanks for this awesome post. I love your books, and I love that you love Canada. My husband served in Afghanistan with our Forces. I am so proud to be Canadian, and even more proud of my soldier-husband. Thanks for reminding me of just how blessed and awesome Canada and Canadians are.

  3. I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming newcomers to Canada (I teach them English). It’s easy enough, there’s so much about it to love.

    side note: even if the animals are polite, the winter sure isn’t. =)

  4. Neil, as a Canadian living abroad this post brought tears to my eyes. You’re spot on about it all. We are so truly lucky to have been born in one of the most beautiful countries in the world filled with extremely kind people. Thank you for this.

  5. This is the vision I have for Canada. Unfortunately, not all of it is completely true. I wish Canadians supported their culture a good deal more…

  6. Re: 2 distinct languages/cultures — you’re forgetting the hundreds of languages and cultures that were obliterated so that the French and the English could occupy the land. Yes, our land is great, but don’t forget where it came from.

  7. Funny, last time I was there I was really turned off by the self-righteous and ill-informed anti-Americanism that seems to be part of the otherwise pure, clean air you breathe.

  8. Born and raised in Canada, and currently living in Anchorage Alaska, I truly miss the beauty of Vancouver Island. Growing up in Union Bay, I would always tell myself that I wanted to get off the Island to a bigger place. Now that I have lived in numerous cities throughout my life, my heart wants to go back to that peaceful little town. There was nothing like hearing loons at 6 a.m. waking you up. Or the sounds of the Southeasterly winds causing the waves to crash to the shore. The sweet taste of a double-double from Tim Horton’s, while huddled under a blanket on the beach late at night, watching the cruise ships make their way up to Alaska. The smell of the sea air ticking my nose.

    Thank you for reminding me of these things today with your post!


    p.s. Is it too much to ask to get a Coffee Crisp up here? :D

  9. Dad’s secret family Nanimo recipe…holding on to THAT one forever!!!
    Only 9 entries to go!!! Best of luck!

  10. I am a Canadian living in the US (where I’ve been for over a decade), and although I love my home here, I love my career here, I love my husband who was the reason I came here to begin with – I will never stop being homesick.

    Also, now I really, REALLY want a butter tart.

  11. I’ve been on your email list since I don’t know when, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention to the numbers because Postsecret just informed me that you would be ending this week. :( Even though I’ve never commented before, there have been so many times when I’ve smiled and said YES! THAT IS MY LIFE! Thank you for those little nuggets in my inbox for so long. I will miss you!

  12. I’m a Canadian and I love what you’ve written about the country, though as a West Coaster, I have to protest the lack of photos of our part of the world. Many of these points are completely accurate as to why I, and other people, love Canada. We have a strong cultural community and an adoration of culture and the arts, we laugh, and we embrace our environment. It’s not perfect, mind you, especially as we grapple with trying to decide our directions for the future and how to identify ourselves as a people and a nation in years to come.

    But do come visit. We love guests, and hospitality here means a great deal.

    Nanaimo Bars (hometown pride) are sinfully delicious, to the point the ready-mix box points out the serving size is 1/24 or 1/36th of the pan. Frightful, really.

  13. I would’ve preferred seeing it as no. 1, I mean us Canadians are that good…but I will politely thank you for putting us in the top 10, smile, and be on my way. Thanks, Eh??

    1. Paul you should know by now that Neil has never let what-is-or-isn’t-a-word stand in the way of what words he uses! :D All in the name of poetry and aurally pleasing reading :)

  14. I just wanted to say that there ARE scorpions in Canada!! Growing up in south-east Alberta, my brother and I used to go to the coolees to catch them sometimes.

  15. This is a beautiful post! I’m from the U.S., as is my good friend Pete, who always says that “Canada is the real American Dream.” I couldn’t agree more, especially after reading this post. Thanks, Neil!

  16. I did a project on canada when I was in year 3.
    lol i remember i had to specifically do quebec :) we then did a parade for canada for the entire school to see & I got to be the one up front holding your flag & I wore a beray (how ever you spell it – LOL) I loved that day :)

  17. New Zealand is on full swing with its scenic beauty all hurling before you, and you have it all right at the mouse click away. It’s the tour destination that has everything on the cards, and the tour that you dreamt to bring on. The scenic beauty intensified with all the glittery, and http://www.newzealandtravelsco.com is where you will be wishing to reach.

  18. As a prairie girl through and through, this post was heart-breaking in the way that so many inexpressibly beautiful things are – the image of a toddler twirling and giggling in her pretty dress at the edge of a wedding dance floor, my dog lifting his face to feel that infamous Saskatchewan wind, my grandmother crying as she opens her Christmas present, and the elderly couple sitting on a bench in the mall, holding hands. Things that push me to tears because they are so simply beautiful it hurts.

    This post was beautiful, just as the country it is dedicated to is. Canada will always be my home. Even though I am happy to leave it to visit new places, I am always so proud to call this bitterly cold, wretchedly windy, and wonderfully natural country my home. And I am always glad to come back to it.

    I love that Canada means “village”. I love that it is so hard for foreigners to pronounce “Saskatchewan”. I loved the nation-wide excitement during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. I love that when I went to Germany with my high school, we were identifiable as Canadians by the Maple Leaf on our jackets. I love that ditches in Quebec look like they’re on fire in Autumn because the leaves are so brilliantly coloured. I love that on the last night I was in the Yukon, the Northern Lights came out to dance as I have never seen and wolves were howling in a hauntingly beautiful song. I love how completely untameable and unpredictable this land is. I love that Canadian Tire ads try to play on how tough we think we are to survive Canadian winters. I love that tuques were made commonplace in Canada because we would lose our ears to frostbite without them. I love that when two people collide with each other, they both say sorry, even if only one person was to blame. I love that it doesn’t really matter that some say we’re America’s “hat”; we know we’re so much more, and that’s all that matters.Come to that, I love that Canadians aren’t really humble at all; we pretend to be, but so many of us are actually caught up in a wave of overwhelming pride for our home.

    I also love that Canada is home to wonderfully patriotic people like yourself. And I thank you for this exquisite post.

  19. I just came back from a trip to California (very beautiful state) but I was glad to come back home to Canada! I missed it. It was a wonderful moment when everyone who went on the trip with me climbed off the bus, still wearing shorts, and all went “Where did the heat go?” It’s not summer yet here. I have lived in Ontario all my life, and havn’t seen any other province yet. But I want to see them. And I’ve seen alot of Ontario. I’ve seen Algonquin Park, Niagara falls, Toronto, the Great Lakes and more! Canada is a wonderful country!

  20. I’m from Quebec and I’m grateful for point 9. Here, we only hear about “English Canadians” hating “French talking Canadians”…
    On point 4, I agree (Todd, in Quebec city and Montreal, there is a loooot of galleries and all kind of arts), but sadly the current Prime minister is trying as hard as he can to destroy that…
    Finally on point 7, you’re forgotting grizzly bears, pumas, and wolverines… but they’re king of rare, unless you’re deep in the woods.

    Still, I really love Canada, and I hope politicians won’t spoil it all.

  21. Ah, Canada… I must go there one day. You forgot one thing though…Degrassi Junior High, High, and The Next Generation. Not to mention the awesome bands from there (Hedley, Mariana’s Trench, Broken Social Scene, City and Colour, etc…). Anyway, good post.

  22. Neil, I LOVE LOVE this post! Canada is AWESOME and I’m very proud to be living here :D It is a beautiful, kind country and I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else.

  23. I love Canada too! And as an immigrant to this great country, I am anal about its every detail!! The image you show of Lake Louise is really Moraine Lake (about a 10 minute drive away). I have been there. On a sunny day, from the vantage point of that photo, the shade of blue of that lake will make you hear angels sing! Amen!

  24. I have lived in Canada all my life and I have always known how awesome our country is. However, it’s always great to be reminded. Thanks for that.

  25. A brilliant blog but it’s just made me sad, I really want to go back and see everything I missed the first time!

  26. Hi im from canada!YAY!one,any americans or other people who think we say “ay”all the time.I know many canadians and none of them say ay!thanks neil, for giving canada the respect it deserves.

  27. Im no pro, but I consider you just crafted a very good point point. You clearly fully understand what youre speaking about, and I can really get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so honest.

  28. I needed this, I immigrated to Canada 9 months ago and have really struggled to settle in, but this has helped me to see the forest through the trees.

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