150: 15 Things you might not know about Canada


From the land that brought us insulin and peanut butter, electric wheelchairs and buses that would accommodate them, here are 15 things you may not have known about Canada:

(just in case you were wondering)

1. We almost had a province called Buffalo. Instead we got Queen Victoria’s daughter, Alberta, and the tongue-twisting Saskatchewan, also known as the equally difficult Saskatchabush (for short).

In the early 1900s, Sir Frederick Haultain, first premier of the Northwest Territories, proposed the idea of a province called Buffalo. Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier wasn’t convinced and instead cut a swath down the middle of the area, creating Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. Am I the only one thinking that is one cool name for a province, or would it just be overshadowed by the place in upstate New York?

2. But we did get Wood Buffalo National Park which straddles the border of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, so maybe there is some consolation there. The largest herd of Wood Bison in the world roams an area larger than Switzerland; the bison share their space with whooping cranes, in what is their last known nesting site.

3. While we’re on the subject of Alberta and extinct creatures: Canada also boasts a sister park to Wood Buffalo. In Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, over 40 species have been found and more than 500 specimens extracted, making it one of the world’s mother-lodes of dinosaur fossils.

4. Staying for a while longer with the creature theme, the Loch Ness monster’s cousin, Ogopogo (N’ha-a-itk, to the First Nations residents), has been living in Okanagan Lake, BC (you thought it was going to be Alberta, didn’t you?!) since the 1800s. Green and snake-like, with a head like a horse, or a goat, or some sort of reptile (take your pick), it could be, as some believe, a plesiosaur left over from the cretaceous period or a relative of a primitive serpentine whale known as a basilosaurus. Sightings are still reported, and  recorded, though of course are never quite clear enough to substantiate Ogopogo’s existence. But we all know he’s there.

5. Canada was the first country to build a UFO landing pad (I’m thinking maybe the only country). Because, where else would they land? Back in the 60s, when all things were still possible, they held a grand opening in St. Paul, Alberta, with even the Minister of National Defence there. This was a Centennial project from 1967, which begs the question: what are we doing this year, Canada?

6. This doesn’t have anything to do with any of the others, but just want to throw it out there: not all Canadians are nice.

7. We have an Apology Act (2009). The Canadian overuse of the word ‘sorry!’ led to this act which makes an apology mean that you are expressing ‘sorry!’ (regret, sympathy) but not necessarily guilt. See number 6.


8. Canadian $100 bills smell faintly of maple syrup. Yes, I did test this one and it is true. It does bring up a lot of questions though, but I don’t have the answers.

9. Ironically, as the world’s second largest country by area, Canada got its name from the Iroquoian word kanata, which means ‘village.’ But of course this was not irony, this was a mistake (I really want to say stupidity because it was sounds good with the juxtaposition of irony). Explorer Jacques Cartier was allegedly invited by some Iroquois to their village (‘kanata’) and he thought it was the name of the country. Jacques, Jacques, Jacques: do you really think those people were inviting you to the whole country?! (and if they had known how their invitation would be taken, would they still have given it?).

10. Canada is home to the world’s first (only?) bathtub race. And yes, it is here, in my hometown. The Nanaimo Bathtub Race is an annual event that’s become a marine festival. It began as Nanaimo’s 1967 Centennial event (you have to admit we were pretty creative with the celebrations of our 100th anniversary) by a long-standing mayor who used to dress up like a pirate and go by the name Black Frank. That first year almost 200 people raced across 36 miles of open sea in — what else? — converted bathtubs. About 1/4 of them finished, which sounds quite amazing to me. Now, the ‘bathtubs’ are specially created fibreglass crafts that you wouldn’t necessarily find in a bathroom, and the course no longer crosses the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach, but loops out and around some of the islands and back into another beach in Nanaimo.

11. Not everyone who ended up here wanted to stay. The National Post has an article entitled “‘Indescribably Sad and Depressing’: a Gallery of Letters from Canadian Pioneers and Immigrants Who Absolutely Hated it Here.” The article begins:

“If you were born in Canada, chances are good that your family tree contains at least one person who spent much of their life absolutely hating this place.

Despite our treasured national mythos as a promised land of wealth and opportunity, our history is littered with tales of people crying or screaming with anguish after taking their first steps in the True North.” Part of the problem would have been subtle — or blatant — lies in the advertising of life in this new territory. Another part would have been, well, the climate, the emptiness, the harshness of the land, the wild animals, and the cold (yes, part of ‘climate’ but it does deserve its own mention).

12. There were many unusual religious groups that settled in Canada, mostly in the prairies, before heading west. The Doukhobors, from Russia, were known for their pacifism and nude protest marches; a group of Finns rowed hundreds of kilometres from Nanaimo to remote Malcolm Island to set up a utopian community, Sointula, in 1901 (Sointula is still there, but the utopian community – ahem – split because of differences). Two polygamous fundamentalist Mormon groups still live in the town of Bountiful, BC, with most of the 1000 or so residents descended from six men.

This has led to an interesting blend of people and communities, especially on the west coast.

13. Water. With the longest coastline of any country in the world, more lakes than all other nations combined, and 20% of the world’s fresh water, Canada is no stranger to the wet stuff. There are probably facts and figures about the amount of rain on the west coast, but we won’t go into that. It makes for beautiful rainforests.

Enjoying some of the coastline and one of the lakes.

14. Canada’s immigration website crashed hours after the last American election, but that was not the first or the second time Americans have tried to force their way north. There were two American invasions of Canada (1775 and 1812) which were also happily unsuccessful. However, one of the United States’ 1781 Articles of Confederation says that if Canada would like to join, it will be accepted. Now there’s a way to celebrate 150 years. (joking!)

15. Oh Canada! Although first performed (the French version, Chant National) in 1880, it was only approved by Canadian Parliament in 1967 as the unofficial national anthem (another question here: Why?!! Why bother approving something as unofficial after decades of having school children sing it before every assembly?) and then officially adopted on 1 July, 1980.








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