Border demarcation, Caswell St, Derby Line, VT. Credit: Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff
We may look similar, especially to outsiders, but in fact Canada and the US are quite different beneath the resemblance, rather like cousins--sometimes kissing cousins, sometimes distant cousins, more rarely feuding cousins (well, except about softwood lumber--we are like the Hatfields and the McCoys on that). Of what relevance might this be to readers of this blog? Plenty as it turns out. Leaving aside that those entering a mixed marriage with a Canadian would be well advised NEVER to call their (usually) beloved Canuck an American--even in a fit of temper, even justifiably piqued, even as a joke, even ...unless you like cold...just don't!
Leaving that aside, there are reasons to be aware of some fundamental distinctions. Those reasons include making your stay in either country happier, learning about more than one Western model of doing things, and staying on the right side of Canuck and Yank friends (we each think we are superior, whether male or female, no need for debate).
From conception, through gestation, birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood there are distinctions in the history and formation of contemporary Canadian and USA societies. The experience of studying the history of both countries in parallel taught me that quite overtly. American history is definitely more grand and exciting. They were on the world stage in a bigger way earlier, and have been consistently since.
Where Americans began with a revolutionary bang, we had a couple of revolts, both in 1837, one each in Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec, respectively), and an Act of Parliament in 1867. Where Americans had a Civil War, still the war with the greatest number of casualties of any war they have participated in, we had some skirmishes with the Métis in the west. There were slaves in Canada, but not in the numbers there were in the US, no plantation structure, and many became freemen, or arrived in Canada as former slaves, whether by resettlement as a reward for fighting with the British against the American revolutionary forces, or via the underground railway prior to the Civil War. Slavery was abolished here in 1834 when it was in Great Britain, by an Act of Parliament, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, making slavery illegal throughout the Empire. Again, no war, just constitutional law.
Speaking of the West, theirs was settled by pioneers, Indian wars, and farmers vs ranchers. Ours was settled by the North West Mounted Police leading settlers forward. I am not sure, but I would imagine that our version of the shoot out at High Noon was a discrete letter written to the local constable. After the War of 1812-14 we burned the White House, and then agreed to a treaty, the Treaty of Ghent, that established the status quo ante, in other words we won, but gave back the captured land. We can be extremely polite and reserved in treaty negotiations.
Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, December 24, 1814
Americans have had the draft for lengthy periods; we have had conscription crises, one in 1917, and one in 1944. Having a World War? We are in with Britain at the very beginning (well 5 days late for WWII, a gesture to show our autonomy). Part way in we institute a draft (in both countries more rightly called a conscription), and have a national crisis over it, one which falls into the usual Liberal vs Conservative, French vs English camps. We stay in the war none the less, and end the conscription either before or at the end of the war. Then we play a major role in the development of UN peacekeeping forces, and as peacekeepers around the world.
We do take in US draft dodgers (and even the deserters) though. The Vietnam War coincided with a period of rapid growth in Canada and the need for specialists as well as the availability of work for most seekers of employment. There was an underground manual that instructed young Americans on how to get themselves to Canada and what to do when they got there, giving the addresses of major support centres which would help with safe houses and work. Some of my professors ran safe houses at that time, that is took in American draft resisters and helped them settle. One was part of a major centre and drove with a group in a van to the US as a decoy, "bunch of uni guys on a spring break trip to the US" so that the American contact in Canada could return to the US on family business, and also bring someone back across the border.
Those were the days when a Bachelor's degree in just about anything could get you a very good position in just about anything. A Master's, a part of a PhD, or recent graduation with a PhD was a ticket to a tenure-track professorship. Ever wonder why Canada is farther left on the political spectrum than the US? The impact of Vietnam and the number of young American men who came here before their draft number was ever called, and after, or whose parents brought them/ sent them here to study before they were 18 is a major factor. Most stayed, and some became prominent in the media, business, and academia. Thanks to tenure, students like myself have been taught by Vietnam draft resisters, and now have them as senior colleagues.
Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal
Another factor moving Canada farther left politically, or at least resulting in more social programs, and a predominance of public over private educational and health care institutions, is the greater predominance of the Roman Catholic religion, Anglicanism, and Presbyterians, with less impact ideologically of the other Protestant religions, particularly Puritanism, Calvinism, and Evangelism. We are more Latinate and less Teutonic. Individualism and autonomy are valued but are not as core to our main ethos, and religion and economics are not as clearly tied as they are in Puritanism and Calvinism. We have a small bible belt, south-west of Calgary, with little impact historically, but growing in importance. We have our neo-cons but they are not embraced in the same way as they are in the US.
As described in the previous 2 posts--Happy Birthday Canada!: From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy--A Model for MENA? Saudi?, and Canada at 143 years young: The Presence of Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims--our institutions and politics are still modelled on and tied to those of Great Britain. A number of distinctions in governance, at the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches follow on. We have elections approximately every 4 years, and the Prime Minister of the day must call an election before he has completed 5 years in office. The head of the party that wins the "first past the post" balloting on election day is immediately the new Prime Minister. There are no public primaries. Each political party chooses its leader from within party member ranks and by vote of the party delegates only. We have 3 viable parties--from right to left politically, Conservative, Liberal, and New Democrat--and a number of smaller ones (the most prominent being the Green Party, but also a Marxist-Leninist party, etc). We also have a federally supported separatist party, the Bloc Québécois--think of the North helping the Seditionists stay in power in Congress. At one point the separatist party also formed Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, ie the main opposition party to the party in power. Legislation goes through the elected House of Commons and is approved by appointed Senate (near lifetime appointments). The judiciary is also appointed but from within the legal system. Judges don't run for office, they are nominated by their peers and superiors.
German-American Anti-Prohibition (of Alcohol) Poster
Wer nicht liebt Wein Weib und Gesang Bleibt Ein Narr sein Lebenlang--on the banner
Who does not love wine, wife, and song will be a fool for his lifelong!--translated
Who does not love wine, wife, and song will be a fool for his lifelong!--translated
“Four and twenty Yankees, feeling very dry,
Went across the border to get a drink of rye.
When the rye was opened, the Yanks began to sing,
"God bless America, but God save the King!"
--drinking ditty in praise of being able to obtain "spirits" in Canada
Both of these, the cultural-religious and political structures, may contribute to our having less dramatic social debates. In the past the United States had a dramatic social experiment by prohibiting alcohol. This made certain families, Canadian, American, and Mafiosi, very wealthy "rum running" or transporting spirits from Canada to the US, via boat across the Great Lakes or along the Eastern Seaboard, or by truck across the mid-west and the west. Many now respectable families made their fortunes this way, the Seagrams in Canada, and the Kennedys in the US, for example.
Contemporary debates in the US, about health care, abortion, gun control, and the death penalty are largely resolved in Canada. There is more discussion here of fine tuning rather than a fundamental schism between the pro and the against. We have had universal public health care for decades, the same with legalized abortion (on demand, done by a licensed physician, under the age of viability), gun control raises few complaints and they are largely ignored, and the death penalty was abolished decades ago too. In fact, we keep certain prisoners rather than extradite them to certain US states which would have jurisdiction, so they won't be sentenced to death.
Americans who immigrate to Canada find us odd and vice versa. We are rather shameless about US bashing, and Americans are rather shamelessly ignorant about Canada (yes you do have to pay international postage rates to send us snail mail!). But mostly it is in good fun--until it comes to a "Coalition of the Willing" for Iraq, NAFTA, softwood lumber, Olympic Hockey, and who really won the War of 1812. Then the gloves come off!
There are maple leaves like these in the United States, but ours are better!
That said, we still have a very friendly border, as in the opening photo, and below.
Marker #543, Canada-US border, Holland Township, VT. Credit: Essdras M Suarez/Globe
What are your experiences of distinctions Canada/ USA or Canadian/ Americans?
Or are there any?
Can you tell us apart? How?
Have you travelled to or lived in one or both countries?
What were the circumstances and what was your experience like?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?
Happy Birthday Canada!: From Colony to Constitutional Monarchy--A Model for MENA? Saudi?
Canada at 143 years young: The Presence of Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims
Remembrance and Family Heritage in Bi-cultural Saudi/non-Saudi Families
Olympic Gold: Sports, Sportsmanship, Health, and Joy