The definition of culture is a complicated basket, woven of fragile strands and stretched by the imagination of the arts, humanities, and intellectual achievement of a nation. Culture exists, yet it is also difficult to define. The customs of a country are linked to the very fabric of its social institutions by way of traditions. All of those elements represent Canada’s culture, yet its definition escapes being captured because it is more complicated than mere words.
Maybe Canada’s culture is best defined within the individual, eh? It’s so easy to stereotype a group of people and assert that this is how they are. First and foremost, I’d say there is a certain quality in what defines Canadian culture. Look to the iconic Group of Seven, artists who set out to capture the quintessential beauty of the Canadian landscape. Is it possible that Canada’s geographic template is as responsible for who we are as a country as any other influence? These talented artists didn’t just put the Canadian landscape on canvas. Without painting the human form, they transposed our love of nature with bold brushstrokes, the use of light, style, and shadow. And still, a hundred years later, captivate the audiences visiting any of their exhibits in the Toronto or Ottawa regions.
But Canada’s culture isn’t just defined by art alone. Canadian culture is bred in our core values. Lets’ take Walter Gretzky as an example. No—you read that correctly, I meant to name the father of the hockey legend. Walter is credited for raising one of hockey’s greatest players in history. It was Walter’s love of the game and his tenacity that is as responsible for shaping the talent of the legend. Although Walter isn’t as famous as his son, he has his revered status in the city of Brantford, where at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Center, a parking spot is still allocated to the 81-year old. When Walter hosts an autograph signing, the lineup is still surprisingly long and the fans, young. Walter’s story speaks to both: reverence of sport and human nature. If you visit Brantford, you might bump into him at the sport’s complex or having coffee with a fan at a coffee shop.
And then there is our unique literature. Alice Monroe, Margaret Atwood, Jane Urquhart, Robertson Davies, Carol Shields, Michael Ondaatje, Miriam Toews, Leonard Cohen, Yann Martel, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Farley Mowatt and many other notable writers who have and will again influence the Canadian story. These prolific authors encapsulate the timeless essence of who we are as people. Through their creations, they convince readers that their perspective weaves the very fabric of what makes us Canadian, and yet we are as diverse as the Canadian landscape we call home.
As a culture, iconic symbols also redefine our Canadianness. Think of the beaver, maple syrup, the maple leaf, the cold and long winters, polar bears, and words like polite, welcoming, and multicultural as if they were part of our DNA.
The Beaver’s pelt made many fur traders at the birth of Canada into wealthy men. Did you know the famous Stetson was made from beaver fur? When the early settlers discovered that there were no riches to be made in the spice trade, these adaptable pioneers turned to the fur trade. That they had trespassed onto the cold northern climate probably sealed the fate of beavers. Beavers were driven to near extinction and ultimately spared by a shift in fashion: from fur to silk. As an animal, they are crafty and undoubtedly the best lumberjacks in the trade, but they should also be considered for their bridge-building and damming skills. Beavers are great symbols of tolerance and that everyone and everything serves a purpose.
The maple leaf is on our flag and has been proudly waving in the breeze since the year 1965. Its meaning contains traces of our military history and our strong Commonwealth bond to the United Kingdom. And every backpacker and tourist the world over proudly displays an emblem of the red maple leaf.
Maple syrup and its history deserve its own dedicated segment to explain the industry. In Canada, the price of syrup is staggering and commanded a recent barrel price of USD 1386, which is eye-opening. A barrel of oil at the current market value is USD 59* makes syrup a much more lucrative venture. And although it takes a complicated method of harvesting, it doesn’t take monumental resources, or complicated environmental studies and laws to drill for syrup. It literally just runs out of the bark if you tap it.
To conclude this sermon, the best way to garner an understanding of Canada’s diverse culture is to visit and engage in conversation. We are what we claim and a product of our environment.
*Oil is measured in barrels containing 42US gallons while syrup is measured in 55 gallons drums. It calculates that syrup is 13 times the price of oil.