Living in Canada Today

Canadians are proud of their diverse heritage and achievements. Its proximity to the United States often means that they are perceived as similar societies, but the two countries do have many differences. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, highly esteemed by the Canadian public, once stated, “Americans should never underestimate the constant pressure on Canada which the mere presence of the United States has produced.We're different people from you, and we're different people because of you.” This statement describes the complex influence the United States has on the Canadian sense of identity.

Observations of human diversity help to more clearly define the essence of one's culture. Knowledge, traditions, and behaviors can set people apart who may, at first glance, appear to be essentially similar. In this chapter, we will embark on a snapshot tour of life in Canada today. Celebrations and traditions, leisure activities, a portrait of Canada's youth, Canadian and regional distinctions, and the environment all offer insight into the daily lives of Canadians in the twenty-first century.


Canada celebrates many of the same holidays as the United States, especially religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. In May, Canadians can also be found celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday, with gatherings of friends and family. This commemorative day, celebrated since 1845 in honor of then-reigning Queen Victoria of England, is viewed as the first of the summer holidays.

Celebrations large and small occur throughout Canada on July 1 for Canada Day. Fireworks, picnics, parades, and patriotic events commemorate the anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Another public holiday, occurring the first weekend of August, is known as the August Civic Holiday. This is the next to last (with Labor Day still to come in September) of summer holidays. During this holiday, Canadians can often be found enjoying the luxury of the mountains, beaches, lakes, and beautiful outdoor scenery that the country is blessed with.

Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated much as it is in the United States, except for an earlier date, reflecting the earlier end to the growing season further north. Celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada, this autumnal event truly incorporates a bounty of harvest to be thankful for. Incredible shows of leaves changing colors, active harvesting of the land, and plates of turkey with all the trimmings indicate the presence of Thanksgiving.


A rich tapestry of heroes from both the past and present color Canadians' lives. Canada seems to recognize the achievements of these heroes with unassuming pride, rather than elevating them to almost superhero status. By examining Canada's heroes, one can better understand the attitudes and forces that have shaped this country. The creation of Canadian identity is a dynamic, changing process. People from all walks of life inspire and enrich the national character.

Consider the life of Canadian Terry Fox, a particularly inspirational Canadian. After losing his leg to cancer, he set the goal of running (with an artificial leg) across Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia. His 1980 “Marathon of Hope” was a mission to raise funds and increase awareness for cancer research. Although Terry Fox's death prevented him from completing his mission, his legacy continues with the tradition of Terry Fox Runs that occur throughout Canada. Today, students and fellow Canadians partake in this annual September event that has raised more than $300 million (Canadian Dollars) worldwide for cancer research.

No matter where you look—science, law, Aboriginal Peoples, politics, religion, women, philosophy—the character and achievement of certain individuals have contributed to the identity of Canada.


Canada's long winters, with freezing temperatures for most of the country, have played a significant role in the development of Canadian sports. Hockey, a sport that evolved from varied games played on ice, is a much-played and muchwatched sport in Canada today. The first public ice hockey exhibition was played in 1875 on a rink in Montreal. Since then, many Canadian children (boys and girls) have taken hockey sticks to ice patches, quiet streets, playgrounds, and ice arenas with passion and hope. The passion of playing—or of being a spectator cheering for a favorite team—has made ice hockey the national winter sport of Canada. “Hockey Night in Canada” is a widely viewed Saturday evening event in many Canadian homes during hockey season. Speed and figure skating, skiing, snowboarding, and curling are also popular winter sports that many Canadians enjoy today.


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, commonly known as the CBC, offers television and radio programming for countrywide enjoyment.Approximately 9 out of 10 people view CBC's television programming. More than one-half of adult Canadians listen to CBC's varied radio services. Operating in French and English, CBC radio and television networks offer informative and entertaining programs. Canadians love to laugh about their political happenings, even though they may be worrisome at times! A weekly TV show, “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” is viewed by more than 1 million people. Poking fun at politicians, headline makers, and news events, this successful TV series emphasizes humor in daily experiences.

CBC Radio provides marvelous broadcasts that discuss issues of relevance from all regions of Canada. Incredibly, you can tune your radio to CBC in the Atlantic Provinces and listen to your favorite radio hosts as you drive all the way to Vancouver, nearly some 4,000 miles to the west. Perhaps you'll hear the regional range of phone-in responses to “Cross-Country Checkup,” Canada's open-line radio program. Broadcast every Sunday afternoon across Canada, lively discussions on issues of national interest or importance reflect a sampling of the ideas and thoughts of people living throughout this immense and highly diverse land. Listening to the cross-country dialogue is thought provoking—listeners can hear the shared perceptions and varied thinking of people living from coast to coast to coast!


Canada has captured worldwide attention with its incredible wealth of popular musicians. Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Diana Krall, Loreena McKennit, Bryan Adams, and the Tragically Hip are just a few of the many vocal gifts from Canada.

Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, and Dan Akroyd are talented performers who have been pulled across the border to the lucrative Hollywood movie industry of the United States. However, many movies and television shows are now being produced in Canada.

Financially encouraged by government policies, Canada has become a popular shooting location for movies and television shows. The landscapes of the Canadian Rockies and transformation of such cities as Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal are appearing more and more often in pop culture media. Along with Canadian movie and television performers, talented Canadian technicians and high-tech animation studios are affecting the balance in favor of Canadian influences in this industry.


With good news about the progress of Canada's youth also comes news of worrisome trends. The good news is that most of Canada's school-age children are doing better than they have in the past. More children are staying in school and enjoying access to computer technology. Crime rates among youth continue to decline, and employment rates for teens have increased. A connection exists between a modest level of parttime work and better school performance. However, increasing this level often has negative effects on school performance.

Worrisome trends related to technology and income are also occurring. A “digital divide” is taking place on the home front, with technology access related to family income. Widening gaps are occurring between Canadian youth enjoying school and community involvement with those who are at risk of falling behind economically and socially. Increased user fees for participation in quality recreation areas are creating barriers for equality in access. These recreational programs, such as art and music programs, swimming, and team sports, significantly contribute to optimal physical and emotional health.

Additionally, a divisive trend is developing in rural areas. These areas often receive inadequate funding for a variety of services. This seems especially to be true in funding for educational services of special-needs children.

The Prime Minister has stated that economic and social goals must be pursued hand in hand in the twenty-first century. He has spoken of the commitment of the Canadian government to establish an “investment timetable” to move toward the goal of ensuring opportunity for the youth of Canada. While some progress is being made and grassroots (local) involvements are striving to maintain and improve programs for all youth, much work remains to reverse the worrisome trends.


You have been reading about many elements of “Canadiana” in this chapter. So, what are common global perceptions of Canada's people? Tolerant, friendly, peace-loving, modest, and polite are descriptions one often hears.

Much of Canada's increasing population is a result of the migration of immigrants and refugees to the safer haven of Canada. Previous generations of immigrants welcome new generations of their families to Canada. The country is also becoming home to those fleeing oppression and persecution in volatile countries. This increasing population indicates the ongoing appreciation Canada has for its diverse population.

Individual rights and freedoms are recognized under the federal legislation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians do speak their minds and voice their opinions, but they do so with a polite openness to other ideas. Respecting differences and educating people about such differences are dedicated works of many individuals. Canada's regional distinctiveness offers examples of this “tradition of tolerance” approach as people across the country live their diverse lives.


The geographic locations of each of the distinctive regions of Canada are good descriptive tools to point out the differences in the people who live there.

Living in the North

Today, traditional activities mix with modern activities for people living in the territories of northern Canada.Children live in modern wood-framed houses, watch television, use the Internet, and attend school. Over the past decades, people have come to the North to work in the oil, gas, and mining industries. Usually, they work a short time for high wages, and then return to the more populated regions of the South, rather than settling in the territories.

Living in British Columbia

Mild winters and wonderfully scenic landscapes are key attractions for the nature-oriented residents of the highly populated lower mainland, coastal islands, and mountainous interior of British Columbia. A source of both beauty and wealth for the people, the forests of this region present conflict among the residents. Those who want to protect the original forests for future generations clash with the logging companies that log the forests for income. The fishing industry is also a source of conflict among the residents (Aboriginal vs. non-Aboriginal) of British Columbia, as are the “salmon wars” with the United States.

Living in Alberta

The oil and natural gas industries, along with agriculture, are important components of income for Albertans. In fact, they are the economic engines fueling much of the growth in Alberta, particularly in Edmonton and Calgary. Most Albertans live in cities and towns, but the ranching heritage of the past is still prevalent today. The famous Calgary Stampede offers ten days of rodeos, parades, and celebrations of cowboy ways of life.

Living in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has the highest percentage of Canada's population living on farms.Wheat, canola, barley, and rye are some of the main crops growing in the fertile flatlands of Saskatchewan. It is here that over 54 percent of Canada's wheat supply is grown. One-half of the province is covered by the boreal (northern, largely needleleaf ) forest, which provides an additional important renewable natural resource for Saskatchewan. Located in the only province with entirely manmade boundaries, the capital city of Regina is home to the training academy for the RCMP.

Living in Manitoba

Located at the center of Canada, Manitoba is an important transportation link between East and West. Major railways, highways, and airways pass through Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital, is home to more than one-half of the province's population. Although Manitoba has one of the lower population densities of the Canadian provinces, it is home to a number of large ethnic groups. One of the most important settlements of Ukrainian culture outside of Ukraine itself is centered in Manitoba. Significant Icelandic, Metis, and Mennonite populations further enrich the culture and economy of this province.

Living in Ontario

Most of Ontario's residents live in cities and work in the service or manufacturing industries. The automobile industry of the Golden Horseshoe region produces billions of dollars in exports of vehicles and automotive parts. Northern Ontario is a reverse image of the highly populated south. Here, small airplanes provide transportation for people and supplies from one forested location to another, as highways do not exist in this rugged landscape. The people living in Moosonee, on the southern tip of James Bay, do have the fortune of a rail link to southern Ontario!

Living in Quebec

The culture and passion of French-speaking Quebec has made Canada's largest province quite active on the political scene. Canada's largest hydroelectric power development in James Bay has also actively affected the people living there. Changing the courses of rivers and blasting high dams from solid rock have disrupted the lives of people and wildlife.

Living in the Atlantic Maritimes

Fishing, once the most important industry for this region, has fallen on hard times. As the people living here depend heavily on precious natural resources, any shift in resource supplies greatly affects the standard of living for the population. Oil has been discovered off the Grand Banks, but the high cost of extracting it has restricted its usefulness as an economic resource. Picturesque coastal towns and villages bordering the Atlantic Ocean have attracted millions of visitors to the Atlantic Maritimes. This has provided numerous job opportunities in the tourism industry for the friendly, welcoming people living in this region.


Another aspect of geography is movement: how people, goods, and ideas move from location to location. Having just read about the distinct regions of Canada, you have been able to consider such patterns of movement. People and goods are moved via major highway systems and trains in the populated southern regions. Snowmobiles and dogsleds are used for movement of people and goods in the northern lands of provinces and territories. A well-developed network of commercial and for-hire air transportation—including planes equipped with pontoons for landing on water surfaces—helps move people and goods across Canada's vast distances.

The movement of ideas is a vision of “Connecting Canadians.” This federal government plan hopes to make Canada the most Internet-connected country in the world. By becoming a world leader in the development and usage of the latest communications technologies, Canada stands to further benefit and empower its increasing population.


With or without an increasing population, a healthy environment is essential to a sound quality of life. Care for Canada's forests, grasslands, tundra, and wildlife are elements of this fragile balance. Air and water quality are also important in sustaining health and prosperity. The recognition of Canada's high life expectancy rate of 79 years is connected to the continued health of Canada's environment.

Combinations of federal and international initiatives are working to improve environmental concerns in Canada. Improved treatment of municipal wastewater, reductions in discharges of industrial pollutants and acid rain, and declines in fish and wildlife contaminants are goals on which Canadians are working daily to achieve.


As Canada looks ahead, its shared border with the United States increases in significance for a variety of reasons. In the next chapter, you will read about trading issues, Canada's role in international development, and other vital issues as Canada moves into the future.